Forgotten Peace Prophet
Almost a century ago a red-bearded, Messiahlike Canadian preached a plan to abolish war . . . he failed then—yet sowed the seeds of peace
R. S. LAMBERT
ONE afternoon in the fall of 1858 a tall, spare, well-dressed man, with blue eyes, ginger whiskers and a harelip, called at a large studio in the West End of London. John Ruskin, Britain’s foremost critic, was visiting his protégé, Holman Hunt, whose religious paintings were beginning to attract public attention. But Ruskin had not come to talk art. He wanted to satisfy his curiosity about Hunt’s strange fellow lodger one Henry Wentworth Monk, a Canadian, who claimed to be a “prophet” sent by God to save civilization from the horrors of approaching world war. Monk had written a book, and Hunt wanted Ruskin to help him publish it.
Between Hunt’s paintings and Monk’s writings there was a curious link. Hunt’s first successful
picture, “The Light of the World,” painted in 1853, had represented Christ as a white-robed figure, appearing at dead of night, lantern in hand, to summon the sinner to repentance. With the proceeds of the sale of this picture Hunt went to Palestine to seek local color; and there for the first time met Monk, in whom he at once recognized a startling resemblance to the Christ figure he had just painted.
Closer acquaintance revealed the fact that Monk came of a distinguished Canadian family, had been born near Ottawa and educated at an English public school, had practiced farming for some years, and then turned Christian mystic. He adopted vows of apostolic poverty, and made his way to the Holy Land, earning his passage as a common sailor before
the mast. Now he was working as a laborer on the first Zionist colony, near Bethlehem.
Henry Wentworth Monk claimed to be able to interpret all past history, current, and future events, in the light of the Book of the Revelation. This claim he first substantiated by identifying Armageddon with the Crimean War, which broke out while Hunt and Monk were in Jerusalem. Convinced that this war was the precursor of the millennium, Hunt threw aside all his other work to paint, at his friend’s suggestion, a new allegorical picture, “The Scapegoat,” with the object of bringing home to mankind the sense of sin and the need of immediate atonement.
The main feature of this gloomy but impressive piece of symbolism was a sacrificial goat, turned out into the wilderness and left to die on the shores of the Dead Sea. It was intended to emphasize the bloodguiltiness of Christian anti-Semitism which, said Monk, must be purged away by restoring the Jews to their national home in Palestine.
Monk’s next pronouncement was that, according to the Book of the Revelation, Great Britain and the U. S. A., as the two most civilized and enlightened powers, were destined to take the lead in repatriating the Jews and in establishing world peace. In support of this he pointed out that when the outbreak of the Crimean War threatened Palestine with anarchy (by the withdrawal of the Turkish garrisons to fight the Russians) the British and American consuls in Jerusalem had been able, merely by exerting their joint moral authority, to keep the peace and prevent Arab, Jew, Turk and Christian from cutting one another’s throats.
By now Hunt had fallen completely under the spell of Monk’s personality. When their stay in Palestine ended, the two young men joined forces again in London and lived together in Hunt’s studio. Here they planned a campaign, by book and by picture, to arouse the world to the coming crisis. Hunt’s “Scapegoat,” striking as it was, proved too grim and obscure to win popularity. But his next picture, “The Finding of Christ in the Temple,” sold for 5,000 guineas, and brought him, at one bound, fame and prosperity. Meantime Monk, after serving as Hunt’s model for the figure of Joseph, the father of Our Lord, had completed the book he was writing. When they set about finding a publisher for it Hunt at once thought of his friend Ruskin.
Message of Peace
NOW Ruskin had already done much to popularize the work of Hunt and his “pre-Raphaelite” group of artists and poets. He knew Hunt fairly well, as a high-minded, rather melancholy man with an almost morbid conscience, and an undoubted genius for drawing. But Hunt’s friend, Monk . . . what was he to make of this sun-tanned, red-bearded young “prophet” from Canada, who radiated a mysterious magnetism and burned with enthusiasm for his own message? A not unattractive message too.
Ruskin sympathized strongly with Monk’s denunciation of the materialism of modern industrialism and the barrenness of “ecclesiastical” Christianity. Nor could he deny the force of the prediction that the world was facing the prospect of a series of world wars, each more gigantic and devastating than the last. The crisis, said Monk, would culminate about 1935, when humanity would be confronted by a choice between going backward into world chaos or forward to world peace.
To ensure peace, Monk claimed, Britain and America must first restore Palestine to the Jews, and then summon all nations to send delegates to a conference in Jerusalem. Here they could set up a world council charged with maintaining world peace through an international police force.
Modern scientific inventions, added Monk — especially railways, steamships and the electric telegraph had made this kind of organization feasible, for the first time in history. Once a world council had been set up, disarmament would follow, the arts and sciences would flourish, poverty be abolished, and true Christianity be restored.
Much of this appealed strongly to Ruskin. He had been brought up by a rich father as a devout churchman—then, in manhood, had begun to entertain
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doubts about “revealed religion.” At t he moment when Hunt introduced him to Monk he was in the throes of scepticism, and ready to clutch at any means of jirojijiing up his faith. Darwin was undermining Christianity with his theories of evolution. Well, might not Monk's “millennium” be the answer to the “Descent of Man?” Might not ¡ Cod, at this moment of dire confusion in the world’s thought, be sending down to earth a new prophet, bringing a fresh dispensation of truth applicable to t he industrial age?
Henry Wentworth Monk certainly looked the jiart, and behaved in a Christlike way. He was unselfish, insjiiring. magnificently sure of himself and his mission. Indeed, even the fact i that he came from the backwoods of
Canada seemed to fit into the picture.
So, pressed tactfully by Hunt, Ruskin agreed to pay for the publication of Monk’s treatise. When it came out, in 1859, under the title, “A Simple Interpretation of the Revelation,” Hunt celebrated the occasion by painting a superb portrait of his friend the portrait now hangs in the National Gallery of Canada, in Ottawa.
This shows the young prophet at the height of his powers, aged 31 (the age at which Christ had begun his ministry 19 centuries before), serene, confident, in the attitude of a teacher. Head and shoulders are outlined against a large window with panes of whorled jadegreen glass. The projihet is viewed in three-quarter face, with broad unfurrowed brow, straight nose and ruddy comjilexion. The eyes are those of a seer, questioning, interpreting, gazing into the distance. He wears an
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embroidered linen ephod, like an oldj time rabbi. In bis hands be holds the symbols of his message—in the right a | Holy Bible, open at the Book of the j Revelation; in the left a sealed copy of j the London Times, signifying that the ¡ ancient prophecies were being fulfilled | in the chronicles of the day. About the j portrait hangs an indescribable air of triumph and expectancy, as though the subject were witnessing, just beyond | ¡ our sight, the dawn of a new epoch, j : the arrival of the long-awaited “Kingi dom of God upon earth.” This Utopianism links the picture with the j art of earlier ages of similar expectaj tion, especially the Reformation.
Soon after the painting of this portrait, Hunt, Ruskin and Monk planned ! together the next stage of their campaign. Hunt and Monk were to return to Jerusalem and there solemnly j proclaim the inauguration of the millennium, and summon all the governments of Christendom to send j their delegates to the World Peace j Conference. Ruskin was to provide the j j initial expense of their mission.
On Order: One Miracle
But suddenly these idealistic plans were rudely interrupted. War had ! broken out in the United States, between North and South. This was a i dreadful shock to the prophet. Civil j war in America threatened to cripple one of the two powers which he had I designated as leading agents in his international scheme. How could Britain and the United States exercise jointly the moral force necessary to lead the world into the paths of peace, and establish a world government in Jerusalem, if one of the two were now ¡ to tear itself to pieces in fratricidal strife?
Hunt and Monk were in dismay; but | to Ruskin the situation seemed simple. I Being of a more sceptical,more whimsij cal, turn of mind than his friends, he j saw in the Civil War an opportunity for the prophet to prove his divine mission —by working a miracle! If he was a prophet, if he had received a RevelaI tion, surely he could make his own I North American kith and kin listen to I his message. Surely he could intervene,
and call down some sign from Heaven that would put a stop to the War.
Since Ruskin paid the piper, he could call the tune. Hunt and Monk agreed to postpone their second journey to Jerusalem until Monk had returned to America and tried his hand at healing the feud. And so, in 1862, Wentworth Monk returned to Canada, and later visited New York and other American cities. He tried everything— interviewing Horace Greeley and other notabilities, writing letters and publishing manifestoes, urging a compromise peace of his own devising, whereby the North would agree to secession, if the South would abandon slavery !
Of course the prophet failed miserably in this mission. In addition—for the one and only time in his life—he fell deeply in love with a Canadian girl, who at first returned his affection but later refused to marry him because of his lack of material prospects.
In 1863 Monk crossed the Atlantic again, to make his second journey to Jerusalem. Rut to his grievous disappointment Hunt failed to keep tryst. Not only was the painter now intent on achieving “economic security,” by selling more pictures, but he, too, had fallen in love and was about to marry. So Monk found himself friendless, penniless and powerless in the Holy City, with no means even of issuing a manifesto in favor of world peace.
After six months he became a public charge, and had to be transported back to Canada by the consular authorities. In his later years the prophet, who possessed a decided sense of humor, used to tell his friends how, for the sake of his principles, he had suffered destitution on four continents in a single year!
Further trouble overtook him as he recrossed the Atlantic. The ship which carried him homeward was wrecked in March, 1864, on Nantucket Island. Every soul on board was drowned except Monk, who being a powerful swimmer reached land, although suffering concussion from a blow on the head. Wandering naked and exhausted on the shore he was shot at by a farmer, who mistook him, in the twilight, for a hear, and was seriously wounded. Nursed back to life by the farmer, he suffered from loss of memory; and it was over a year before he found his way back to his home in Canada.
Yet these experiences proved hut the gateway to a new stage of the prophet’s career. After recuperation he began to write, travel and lecture extensively and to restate his message more clearly.
He concentrated on two points — Zionism and plans for world peace. “What the world needs now more than anything else,” he wrote in 1872, “is some security against serious warfare between nations. Why not have a permanent high court yf arbitration? And why should not Palestine be chosen as the central seat of such a high court? And why should not every nation be fairly represented in such a universal high court of arbitration?”
Being without funds Monk carried on his propaganda mainly by interviewing and writing to prominent people in Britain, Continental Europe and America. Presidents, princes, statesmen, clerics, editors and financiers —all found themselves drawn into correspondence with him. A few sympathized, but most of them thought him crazy and his ideas wildly impracticable.
Once again he renewed old contacts with Ruskin and Hunt. Ruskin, after dabbling in spiritualism, had become still more uncertain in his views. Moreover he was passing through a
phase which his friend had already experienced—the pangs of unrequited love, in his case, for a schoolgirl.
Ruskin could not make up his mind about Monk. Sometimes he felt convinced that he was a genuine prophet sent by God; at other times he grumbled bitterly that the prophet left other people to pay his bills! But Hunt was more consistently sympathetic. He sent his old friend frequent sums of money, and urged him to come back to London and join forces with him again.
By now Monk had a fresh plan of action ready. From Ruskin’s famous “Guild of St. George,” he had borrowed the idea of raising a fund to purchase Palestine from the Turks and hand it over to the Jews. To inaugurate this fund a manifesto was to be published, appealing to rich Jews and Gentiles in Britain and America. And, pleaded Monk, the first two signatories to the manifesto ought to be the famous critic, Ruskin, and the famous painter, Hunt.
In 1878 Ruskin actually signed this manifesto, using the pen of Sir Walter Scott for the purpose. Then, before the manifesto could be published, he withdrew his support; and shortly afterward a nervous breakdown, leading to permanent invalidism, incapacitated him from further action. Rut next year Hunt signed the manifesto and pledged himself to contribute 10% of his income to the fund.
At that moment the Zionist cause looked promising. The cession of Cyprus by the Turks to Britain had convinced many people that Palestine, too, could be had by a little bargaining; so in 1879 Lord Beaconsfield, Britain’s Prime Minister, sent an unofficial envoy to Constantinople to negotiate the deal.
However, Lord Beaconsfield’s Government fell from office before the deal could be completed, and nothing further came of it. Instead, soon after Monk’s arrival in London, the assassination of Czar Alexander II by the Nihilists caused a violent outbreak of anti-Semitism in Russia. Everywhere Jews were murdered, robbed and hideously maltreated on a scale not repeated in Europe till the days of Hitler. A code of persecution, even, was introduced which resembled the notorious Nuremberg laws in presentday Germany.
For the next four years Hunt and Monk in London devoted their energies to combatting anti-Semitism, propagating Zionism, and calling for a world government. They published articles and contributed letters to the newspapers; they appealed to wealthy Jews and Christians to help transplant the persecuted Jews from Russia; they founded societies, and even tried to launch a “Bank of Israel” to finance the colonization of Palestine. But all proved in vain. Their only followers were the poor and the uninfluential. The rich turned a deaf ear to their pleadings. They would buy Hunt’s pictures, but not his friend’s prophecies.
At last in 1884, driven by poverty, Wentworth Monk returned to Canada. He had crossed the Atlantic 10 times in pursuit of his ideals. Now he settled down in his native Ottawa, to concentrate for the remaining 12 years of his life on plans for ending war.
In pamphlet after pamphlet he demanded the adoption of international arbitration, the setting up of a permanent international tribunal, the codifying of international law, the establishment of a League of Nations,
the prevention of aggression by an international Police Force, and the confederation of the English-speaking peoples.
He tried to stand for Parliament, found a newspaper, launch an association. His dearest wish was to induce Canada to take the lead in urging Britain and America to co-operate in establishing world order.
Here is the text of a resolution he drafted for introduction into the Dominion House of Commons in 1889:
“That this House recognizes the need of an International Tribunal, to settle all international questions reasonably, justly, impartially and equitably, before God and man; and that this House is of opinion that a representative should be appointed for the Dominion of Canada, in order that this subject may be fairly brought to the attention of the Imperial Government and of the United States Government —that these two great commercial and remarkably prosperous nations (whose interests are already so identical) should now set a worthy example to the other great nations of Christendom.”
Today Monk’s suggestions for international organization seem commonplace in the light of the plans drafted at Dumbarton Oaks. But in Monk’s day these ideas seemed revolutionary. Hardly anyone would take them seriously. As he grew older the prophet kept up a barrage of propaganda by leaflet and letter, aimed at the
Presidents of the United States, Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales, Mr. Gladstone and Lord Salisbury, the Governors-General and Premiers of Canada, the British aristocracy, and the plutocrats of New York. And then, slowly, opinion began to turn his way. Journalists and politicians talked more and more of the dangers of war, the burden of armaments, and the need for arbitration.
In the last year of his life, 1896, Monk was encouraged by the Canadian Senate, which debated his proposals and eulogized his life’s work. Afterward the prophet addressed two final appeals: one to Czar Nicolas II of Russia, urging him to call a peace conference; the other to the Right Honorable Arthur Balfour, urging him to help the Jews recover Palestine.
Soon after Monk’s death the Czar summoned the first International Disarmament Conference, to meet at The Hague. In 1897 the First Zionist Congress was held at Basel, and a few years later Balfour announced his conversion to Zionism; the prelude to his famous “Declaration” in 1917.
For almost 50 years Wentworth Monk has rested silent in his grave. Now the words that he spoke so vainly in his lifetime have ripened into common wisdom and, authorless, may be heard afresh on the lips of Canada’s statesmen at the Peace Table. Ottawa’s prophet could have wished no greater honor.