|J . M. Barrie|
Barrie’s celebrated evocation of Edwardian childhood, Peter Pan, completely overshadows his underwhelming play Der Tag. Written without passion but with a sense of duty once war had been declared, this one-act morality play is basically a dialogue between the German Emperor and the Spirit of Culture (“a noble figure in white robes”) in which the latter attempts to dissuade the former from provoking a war. When she exits, the chastened Emperor tears up the declaration of war and falls into a dream in which Reims is bombarded and the centers of learning are destroyed. But this was the reality: the dream was his noble refusal to go to war. Culture re-enters and rebukes him for his crime reminding him that England had “grown degenerate, but you have made her great again.” She hands him a dagger and leaves. The curtain falls leaving the Emperor alone in the shadows.
Through the tense days of July 1914 when Europe was moving inexorably toward war, the British cabinet was almost exclusively preoccupied with the threat of Irish Civil War after the Asquith Government had proposed an Irish Home Rule Bill, provoking armed resistance from the Scots Presbyterians in Ulster. If the government had been required to send troops to Ireland, the belief of the German government that Britain might have remained neutral in a continental war was not beyond the realm of possibility. At any rate, the Emperor in Barrie’s play agrees that “Britain has grown dull and sluggish: a belly of a land, she lies overfed…and timid too—without red blood in her, but in its stead a thick yellowish fluid….Britain’s part in the world’s making is done: I was her epitaph.” The play received a poor reception but it did distinguish itself from other polemical productions in that he portrayed the Kaiser as a divided troubled man rather than a bloodthirsty tyrant. It is also tempting to regard his portrait of pre-war England as a macrocosm for his unflattering view of British manhood as epitomized by Mr. Darling from Peter Pan.