Jump to content

The lamps are going out

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Edward Grey, 1st Viscount Grey of Fallodon (1862–1933)

"The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time", British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey remarked to a friend on the eve of the United Kingdom's entry into the First World War. First published in Grey's memoirs in 1925, the statement earned wide attention as an accurate perception of the First World War and its geopolitical and cultural consequences.

Original sources[edit]

Grey's memoirs Twenty-Five Years 1892–1916 mention the remark as being made on 3 August 1914:

A friend came to see me on one of the evenings of the last week — he thinks it was on Monday, August 3rd. We were standing at a window of my room in the Foreign Office. It was getting dusk, and the lamps were being lit in the space below on which we were looking. My friend recalls that I remarked on this with the words: "The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time."[1]

In 1927, John Alfred Spender, editor of the Westminster Gazette until 1922, identified himself as the friend to whom Grey had spoken:

I had two short talks with Grey during the "twelve days."[2] I ran into him on the stairs of the Foreign Office on Saturday, August 1st [...] I saw him again late in the evening at his room at the Foreign Office on Monday, August 3rd, and it was to me he used the words which he has repeated in his book, "The lamps are going out all over Europe, and we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime." We were standing together at the window looking out into the sunset across St. James's Park, and the appearance of the first lights along the Mall suggested the thought.[3]

Later allusions[edit]

Grey's quotation has been used as a summation of the war in numerous historical works. The German author Ludwig Reiners (1896–1957) published an account of World War I entitled The lamps went out in Europe. Therein Grey's comment is followed by the assertion attributed to Otto von Bismarck: "The mistakes that have been committed in foreign policy are not, as a rule, apparent to the public until a generation afterwards."[4] Samuel Hynes began his 1990 A War Imagined with a paragraph covering the quotation, referring to it as the best-known and most often quoted response to the beginning of the war.[5] In 2014 Grey's words were the inspiration for part of the British commemoration of the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. Between 10 and 11 pm on 4 August 2014, lights were dimmed at many public locations and in private homes, including progressively at a national memorial service in Westminster Abbey.[6]

On 16 October 1938, Winston Churchill broadcast a speech known as "The Defence of Freedom and Peace (The Lights are Going Out)" to London and the United States. In the speech he says, "The stations of uncensored expression are closing down; the lights are going out; but there is still time for those to whom freedom and parliamentary government mean something, to consult together."[7]


  1. ^ Viscount Grey of Fallodon: Twenty-Five Years 1892–1916 (New York, 1925) p. 20 books.google.
  2. ^ Headlam, James Wycliffe (1915). "The history of twelve days, July 24th to August 4th, 1914: being an account of the negotiations preceding the outbreak of war based on the official publications". London: T. F. Unwin, Ltd. – via Internet Archive.
  3. ^ J.A. Spender, "Life, Journalism and Politics", Vol. 2. Frederick A. Stokes Company, New York 1927. Chapter 20, p. 14-15 archive.org
  4. ^ Reiners, L. The lamps went out in Europe, (London, 1955), p. 5 books.google. Translated from the German by Richard and Clara Winston. In Europa gehen die Lichter aus. Der Untergang des Wilhelminischen Reiches. Munich 1954.
    Bismarck's memoirs contain the following: "Concerning the blunders which had been made in our foreign policy public opinion is, as a rule, first enlightened when it is in a position to look back upon the history of a generation, and the Achivi qui plectuntur are not always immediately contemporary with the mistaken actions." The Kaiser vs. Bismarck. Suppressed Letters by the Kaiser and New Chapters from the Autobiography of the Iron Chancellor. Translated by Bernard Miall. Harper New York & London 1921, p. 183 archive.org
    "Ueber die Fehler, welche in der auswärtigen Politik begangen wurden, wird sich die öffentliche Meinung in der Regel erst klar, wenn sie auf die Geschichte eines Menschenalters zurückzublicken im Stande ist, und die Achivi qui plectuntur sind nicht immer die unmittelbaren Zeitgenossen der fehlerhaften Handlungen." Otto von Bismarck: Gedanken und Erinnerungen chapter 12 zeno.org
    Achivi qui plectuntur refers to the proverbial verse "Quidquid delirant reges, plectuntur Achivi" from Horace's Epistles Liber I Epistula II la.wikisource; "Whatever folly the kings commit, the Achaeans pay the penalty." Translation Henry Rushton Fairclough, Loeb Classical Library, 1926.
  5. ^ Hynes, S. A War Imagined, The First World War and English Culture, (London, 1990) p. 3 books.google.
  6. ^ The Times, 5 August 2014 and other newspapers
  7. ^ Churchill, Winston (16 October 1938). "The Defence of Freedom and Peace (The Lights are Going Out)". The International Churchill Society. Retrieved 5 April 2023.

External links[edit]