Quote of the moment: August 3, 1914, “Lamps are going out all over Europe”


According to Time Magazine’s edition of August 30, 1943:

Portrait of Sir Edward Grey at Balliol College; 1928 portrait by Sir James Guthrie

Portrait of Sir Edward Grey, 1st Viscount Grey of Fallodon, KG FRS (1862-1933), at Balliol College; 1928 portrait by Sir James Guthrie

On Aug. 3, 1914, Sir Edward Grey of the British Foreign Office, watched London’s street lamps being lit. Mused Sir Edward: “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”

On the same day, Germany declared war on France, Britain’s ally, as “entangling alliances” increasingly drew European powers into the conflict started by Austria’s declaration of war on Serbia a few days earlier.

Time explained further in that 1943 issue:

Sir Edward lived to see the lights come up; died when they flickered in 1933. Others saw the lights blow out again. Europe’s darkness this time spread to Africa, Asia, Australia, America; in the universal war, even neutrals had to accept the night. Among the world’s blacked-out cities: London, Berlin, Rome, Paris, Bern, Budapest, Helsinki, Honolulu. Dimmed-out cities: Moscow, New York, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, Bombay.

Portent. From Egypt last week came a hopeful ray for another dawn: Cairo turned on its lights, first of the war-benighted cities to do so. From Shepherds Hotel, caravansary for restless polyglots, lights blazed out again on the Mid-East mosaic: tanned cosmopolites sipping gin & limes on Shepheard’s terrace; rattletrap taxis twisting up dust from the swarming streets; soft-voiced dragomans swishing at flies and barefooted fellahin ignoring them. Dawn’s early ray found Cairo unchanged, unchallenging; but the city was free from fear.

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2 Responses to Quote of the moment: August 3, 1914, “Lamps are going out all over Europe”

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    But what could Time know in 1943? You’re right.

    For that matter, it was the conference at Versailles that set up the straight line, tribe-, alliance- and custom-shattering borders in the Middle East, especially Iraq, Syria and Jordan, that still give us fits today. I think one can make a good argument that the fall of the Berlin Wall was not the end of that legacy of blackouts.

    A nice, clear, constant flame of freedom would be a great thing to have — not in the time of the Tea Party, alas. I hope they don’t drag us back to watching the lights be put out.

    Like this

  2. Porllock Junior says:

    As I recall the story, he and his son (who was his secretary or some such) had been up all night at the Foreign Office trying to stave off the crisis. As dawn came, so did the lamp-lighter, to *put out* the lamps for the day. Makes his comment all the better.

    By my reckoning, he was right, and Time Magazine quite wrong, about the not-in-our-lifetime bit. It was 75 years and about 100 days later that the Berlin Wall fell, forming the actual end of the Great War.

    Sad that the lights have burned so fitfully and smokily since.

    Like this

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