This week, a short business trip took me to the small market town of Holbeach, where I stayed at the Mansion House Hotel. The front of the hotel was adorned with a blue plaque stating that the Nobel prize winner, Sir Norman Angell (1872 – 1967) had been born there (bedroom 2, I am reliably informed). I am embarrassed to say that I knew more about the town’s other famous son, Geoff Capes, than Sir Norman Angell, but the hotel manager gave me a potted history over my poached eggs the following morning, the rest I found on-line.
Like most authors, Norman read a lot as a child (Read until you overflow and then become an author – advice from Sir Terry Pratchett). His choice of reading material included Herbert Spencer, Huxley, Voltaire, and Darwin. (Mine was Alan Garner and Norman Lindsay.) Educated in England, Paris and Geneva, by the age of seventeen he had decided that the old world was done for. He emigrated to America where he tried his hand at number of professions including wine-making and cow-handling, before eventually settling on journalism.
Called home to attend to family business in 1898, he chose Paris as his next base, continuing in his chosen career. This was a time when the Dreyfus case and the Boer War were making world headlines. It was what he learned that prompted his first book, Patriotism under Three Flags: A Plea for Rationalism in Politics(1903). By 1912, when he resigned from his position as editor of the Paris edition of the Daily Mail, Norman Angell was famous.
The theory that he developed in the years that followed, covered extensively in forty one books, was that ‘military and political power give a nation no commercial advantage, that it is an economic impossibility for one nation to seize or destroy the wealth of another, or for one nation to enrich itself by subjugating another.’ Instead he advocated education, co-operation.
From 1929 to 1931 Norman Angell was a parliamentary candidate for the Labour Party, but he found this didn’t allow him to present his case for internationalism. In 1931 he was knighted. In 1933 he won the Nobel prize for literature. He went on to become a member of the Council of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, an executive of the Comité mondial contre la guerre et le fascisme [World Committee against War and Fascism], an active member of the Executive Committee of the League of Nations Union, and president of the Abyssinia Association. For over half a century, he lectured on the international circuit. Even at the age of ninety, he embarked on a two-month lecture tour of the United States.
I am not yet clear how, having travelled the world, Sir Norman Angells came to the end his life in a nursing home in Croydon – only 4 miles away from where I live. However, having seen the place of his birth, I am looking forward to discovering his final resting place. Born to a different world in 1872, he died ten days before I was born.