‘Wars and Rumours of Wars’: Among the Soldiers

  • Peter Rawlings


‘I am grossly ignorant of military matters’, announced James in ‘The British Soldier’, ‘yet…I am always very much struck by the sight of a uniform’ (5). The ‘close-fitting uniform of a soldier’—of ‘clear blue toggery imperfectly and hitchingly donned’ (HJA 456)—appears to have given him the same ‘peculiar feeling’ as that experienced by Jacobus X in the Crossways of Sex (1: 94). His admiration for the Horse Guards in particular suggests a severe case of what was popularly known as ‘scarlet fever’ (Weeks, Sex, Politics, and Society 113).1 ‘I never see two or three of them pass without feeling shorter by several inches’:

When, of a summer afternoon, they scatter themselves abroad in undress uniform—with their tight red jackets and tight blue trousers following the swelling lines of their manly shapes…it is impossible not to be impressed, and almost abashed, by the sight of such a consciousness of neatly-displayed physical advantages. (8)

Reflecting further on this ‘heavy-handed picture’, James observes that it is when he is ‘armed and mounted’ that the guardsman is at his most ‘picturesque’, and that on such occasions ‘I am sure to make one of the gamins who stand upon the curbstone to see them pass’ (9).2 Towards the end of ‘The British Soldier’, and its continuous lingering over the tidiness of the soldiers’ ‘accessories’ and the ‘brightness and tightness of uniforms’ (11), the ambivalent delights of soldiering are considered; but James fears that having ‘too many masters’ would weigh ‘heavily against the assured comforts and the opportunity of cutting a figure’. He then recollects


Religious Experience Scarlet Fever Moral Equivalent Wounded Soldier Military Exploit 
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© Peter Rawlings 2005

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  • Peter Rawlings

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