The Victoria Cross – Everybody knows that the Victoria Cross is the supreme reward which England gives for distinguished valor on the field of battle. But this reward is not given to the man who simply does his duty, even in the face of death. Every man is expected to do his duty. When a man goes out of his way to do a splendid thing which he did not need to do, and does it splendidly, he wins the Victoria Cross.
This man’s father won the cross in the Sepoy Rebellion at the siege of Chunderi. Chunderi was a stout and moated fortress. The stones of its walls were twelve feet thick, and the water of its moat was twelve feet deep. And in this fortress, when the Indian Mutiny began, were English women and children. And they had to be got out.
Now, this man’s father had gone fishing in the moat of Chunderi and had found a place where the moat was partly filled with rubbish, so that in that place the water was only two feet deep instead of twelve. And he volunteered to lead a company of soldiers over the moat against the walls. And this he did successfully. Over they went, in the face of the guns of the garrison, and scaled the walls and took the fort. And he was given the Victoria Cross. But that which especially interested me was this: The hero wrote a book for the reading of his grandchildren, containing the story of his life. And in this book of eighty printed pages he gave to the adventure of the Victoria Cross just two lines, about twenty words, the length of two frugal telegrams; while he gave some twenty pages to the record of his administrative work as governor of one of the central provinces of India. There, you see, is the same thing over again. The emphasis is put, as in the word of God to the captain of the host of Israel, and as in the answer of the Lord to the question of the rich young ruler, upon the common life.
The contrast is between two kinds of courage: the courage of the crisis and the courage of the commonplace. The hero gives twenty words to the courage of the crisis, and twenty pages to the courage of the commonplace.
Excerpt from The Columbia University Quarterly – 1906