Contemporary Publications

Blyth, J. (1909) The Swoop of the Vulture – Contemporary Review


James Blyth (1909) The Swoop of the Vulture,  London: Digby, Long, and Company. Review from New ZealandEvening Post, Volume LXXVII, Issue 150, 26 June 1909, Page 19


“The Swoop of the Vulture.” By James Blyth. London: Digby, Long, and Company.

Now and then one meets with a literary work which brings the reader face to face with the question: Is it possible to estimate this production solely as a work of art? And when the question is faced — and it is a question that extends beyond literature into every department of human activity— the answer must always be in the negative. It is to motive or purpose in the first place that the work, whatever it is, owes its being; its sole excuse for existence is the effect it may be presumed to have upon those who are affected by it. If that effect it good, the work is good, with all its imperfections; if evil, the work is bad; and whatever its finish or its superficial grace, such art as it embodies is art perverted. Therefore, when we observe that the publication of books such as this, of which both Britain and Germany are at the present time suffering an infestation, is wholly to be regretted and deplored, as they must necessarily be” productive of grave evils, and, far as we see, of evil only. This does not affect the fact that there is remarkable ingenuity of plot in the work before us; that the characters are defined with a skill which is characteristic of the author, and that the life and characteristic dialect of the men of the marshes of East Anglia is very faithfully portrayed. But one never forgets that the book is a political tract of the “Wake-up, England” pattern — .that the author writes at a white-heat, which, while it gives undeniable power to his work, disfigures it oftentimes with signs of haste, and carries him into reckless irresponsibility.

The story is one of a German invasion of England in 1919. There has just been a convincing display of the strength of the Navy and the ammunition has been expended in manoeuvres. A sensational court-martial, arising out of quarrels between high officers, has withdrawn the admirals from the fleet. German men-of-war painted to resemble British, steal down in a fog, and transports effect an unopposed landing at Yarmouth, and land with no little loss and damage at .Lowestoft, where warning has arrived just in time. But the port is bombarded and destroyed. The invading force is penned in on the sea coast between the North Sea and the Bure and its marshes, Breydon and its flats, and the Waverney and its marshes, while railway communication is cut off and a defending army hastens from Colchester and London. The marshmen flood the fens, drowning about twenty five thousand invaders, and the British fleet — or what remains after the annihilation of the German Navy — lines up off the coast and knocks the rest of the German legions to pieces. A farcical element is introduced by a visit of the German Emperor (who is promptly captured by the marshmen) in a submarine. France seizes the opportunity of recovering Alsace and Lorraine, the German Empire disintegrates and ceases to be a Power, the component States regaining their independence. Into the details of this, vision of carnage it is needless to enter. One drawback of such books, the author himself has indicated when he remarks that every device that the ingenuity of fictionists could suggest has been already freely placed by English writers at the disposal of possible invaders. It is not easy to excuse the savage manner in which he permits himself to write of a nation with which Britain is and long has been at peace, of the egregious and insulting caricature he presents of the Kaiser, or .his suggestion bluntly made that Britain should at once find occasion of quarrel with her neighbour, fall upon her, and demolish her fleet as a precautionary measure. This kind of thing gives some excuse to those who long for a literary censorship. One is reminded of the trumpeter of the ancient fable who asked for quarter as a non-combatant.

We have referred to the passionate energy with which Mr. Blyth has thrown himself into his task. It makes him careless in style, and rushes him headlong into involved and seemingly interminable sentences. We will quote one only. It occupies twenty-five lines of the book on pages 135-136: — “Thus it was that while the German nation at large (from whence cometh wealth for the provision of army and navy) regarded the cast of a hundred or two hundred thousand men on the East Coast of England as a sporting gamble for wider sovereignty, the fact that France had less than half a million deficit in comparing her army on paper with that of the Bier-land, and might have a surplus in actuality, the other fact that the sons, the grandsons, and the great great grandsons of the French army and the French civilian population of 1870 would never forget the brutality, the coarse animal savagery, the crude inhumanity shown by the victorious Teutonic amalgamation to the Latin horde of masterless men, and by the Uhlans and departmental officers to the simple peasants and lovable hospitable provincial bourgeois, and the most weighty fact of all that if the Vaterland were assailed by sea by a British fleet which the German navies had failed to destroy, and by land by the sons of modern France, eager to avenge the gross wrongs of 1870, there would be such scenes among the hock and moselle vintage lands, among the Bavarian beer towns, as could only be justified by reference to 1870, and to the treatment meted out by Prussia to Saxony, Hanover, and, above all, SchleswigHolstein and Denmark.” Here the reader must draw a full breath for the next sentence, which is nearly as long (twenty-one lines) and equally defiant of analysis. We will refrain from citing it. With diction like this, the reader may play at hunt-the-slipper and catch-as-catch-can till the gunpowder runs out of the heels of his boots.