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Title:      Fifty Orwell Essays
Author:     George Orwell
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Date first posted:          January 2003
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A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook

Title:      Fifty Orwell Essays
Author:     George Orwell




CONTENTS

The Spike (1931)
A Hanging (1931)
Bookshop Memories (1936)
Shooting an Elephant (1936)
Down the Mine (from "The Road to Wigan Pier") (1937)
North and South (from "The Road to Wigan Pier") (1937)
Spilling the Spanish Beans (1937)
Marrakech (1939)
Boys' Weeklies and Frank Richards's Reply (1940)
Charles Dickens (1940)
Charles Reade (1940)
Inside The Whale (1940)
The Art of Donald Mcgill (1941)
The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius (1941)
Wells, Hitler and the World State (1941)
Looking Back on the Spanish War (1942)
Rudyard Kipling (1942)
Mark Twain--The Licensed Jester (1943)
Poetry and the Microphone (1943)
W B Yeats (1943)
Arthur Koestler (1944)
Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali (1944)
Raffles and Miss Blandish (1944)
Antisemitism in Britain (1945)
Freedom of the Park (1945)
Good Bad Books (1945)
In Defence of P. G. Wodehouse (1945)
Nonsense Poetry (1945)
Notes on Nationalism (1945)
Revenge is Sour (1945)
The Sporting Spirit (1945)
You and the Atomic Bomb (1945)
A Good Word for the Vicar Of Bray (1946)
A Nice Cup of Tea (1946)
Books vs. Cigarettes (1946)
Confessions of a Book Reviewer (1946)
Decline of the English Murder (1946)
How the Poor Die (1946)
James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution (Second Thoughts On Burnham)(1946)
Pleasure Spots (1946)
Politics and the English Language (1946)
Politics vs. Literature: an examination of GULLIVER'S TRAVELS (1946)
Riding Down from Bangor (1946)
Some Thoughts on the Common Toad (1946)
The Prevention of Literature (1946)
Why I Write (1946)
Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool (1947)
Such, Such Were the Joys (1952)
Writers and Leviathan (1948)
Reflections on Gandhi (1949)




THE SPIKE


It was late-afternoon. Forty-nine of us, forty-eight men and one woman,
lay on the green waiting for the spike to open. We were too tired to talk
much. We just sprawled about exhaustedly, with home-made cigarettes
sticking out of our scrubby faces. Overhead the chestnut branches were
covered with blossom, and beyond that great woolly clouds floated almost
motionless in a clear sky. Littered on the grass, we seemed dingy, urban
riff-raff. We defiled the scene, like sardine-tins and paper bags on the
seashore.

What talk there was ran on the Tramp Major of this spike. He was a devil,
everyone agreed, a tartar, a tyrant, a bawling, blasphemous, uncharitable
dog. You couldn't call your soul your own when he was about, and many a
tramp had he kicked out in the middle of the night for giving a back
answer. When You, came to be searched, he fair held you upside down and
shook you. If you were caught with tobacco there was bell to. Pay, and if
you went in with money (which is against the law) God help you.

I had eightpence on me. 'For the love of Christ, mate,' the old hands
advised me, 'don't you take it in. You'd get seven days for going into
the spike with eightpence!'

So I buried my money in a hole under the hedge, marking the spot with a
lump of flint. Then we set about smuggling our matches and tobacco, for
it is forbidden to take these into nearly all spikes, and one is supposed
to surrender them at the gate. We hid them in our socks, except for the
twenty or so per cent who had no socks, and had to carry the tobacco in
their boots, even under their very toes. We stuffed our ankles with
contraband until anyone seeing us might have imagined an outbreak of
elephantiasis. But is an unwritten law that even the sternest Tramp
Majors do not search below the knee, and in the end only one man was
caught. This was Scotty, a little hairy tramp with a bastard accent sired
by cockney out of Glasgow. His tin of cigarette ends fell out of his sock
at the wrong moment, and was impounded.

At six, the gates swung open and we shuffled in. An official at the gate
entered our names and other particulars in the register and took our
bundles away from us. The woman was sent off to the workhouse, and we
others into the spike. It was a gloomy, chilly, limewashed place,
consisting only of a bathroom and dining-room and about a hundred narrow
stone cells. The terrible Tramp Major met us at the door and herded us
into the bathroom to be stripped and searched. He was a gruff, soldierly
man of forty, who gave the tramps no more ceremony than sheep at the
dipping-pond, shoving them this way and that and shouting oaths in their
faces. But when he came to myself, he looked hard at me, and said:

'You are a gentleman?'

'I suppose so,' I said.

He gave me another long look. 'Well, that's bloody bad luck, guv'nor,' he
said, 'that's bloody bad luck, that is.' And thereafter he took it into
his head to treat me with compassion, even with a kind of respect.

It was a disgusting sight, that bathroom. All the indecent secrets of our
underwear were exposed; the grime, the rents and patches, the bits of
string doing duty for buttons, the layers upon layers of fragmentary
garments, some of them mere collections of holes, held together by dirt.
The room became a press of steaming nudity, the sweaty odours of the
tramps competing with the sickly, sub-faecal stench native to the spike.
Some of the men refused the bath, and washed only their 'toe-rags', the
horrid, greasy little clouts which tramps bind round their feet. Each of
us had three minutes in which to bathe himself. Six greasy, slippery
roller towels had to serve for the lot of us.

When we had bathed our own clothes were taken away from us, and we were
dressed in the workhouse shirts, grey cotton things like nightshirts,
reaching to the middle of the thigh. Then we were sent into the
dining-room, where supper was set out on the deal tables. It was the
invariable spike meal, always the same, whether breakfast, dinner or
supper--half a pound of bread, a bit of margarine, and a pint of
so-called tea. It took us five minutes to gulp down the cheap, noxious
food. Then the Tramp Major served us with three cotton blankets each, and
drove us off to our cells for the night. The doors were locked on the
outside a little before seven in the evening, and would stay locked for
the next twelve hours.

The cells measured eight feet by five, and, had no lighting apparatus
except a tiny, barred window high up in the wall, and a spyhole in the
door. There were no bugs, and we had bedsteads and straw palliasses, rare
luxuries both. In many spikes one sleeps on a wooden shelf, and in some
on the bare floor, with a rolled-up coat for pillow. With a cell to
myself, and a bed, I was hoping for a sound night's rest. But I did not
get it, for there is always something wrong in the spike, and the
peculiar shortcoming here, as I discovered immediately, was the cold. May
had begun, and in honour of the season--a little sacrifice to the gods
of spring, perhaps--the authorities had cut off the steam from the hot
pipes. The cotton blankets were almost useless. One spent the night in
turning from side to side, falling asleep for ten minutes and waking half
frozen, and watching for dawn.

As always happens in the spike, I had at last managed to fall comfortably
asleep when it was time to get up. The Tramp. Major came marching down
the passage with his heavy tread, unlocking the doors and yelling to us
to show a leg. Promptly the passage was full of squalid shirt-clad
figures rushing for the bathroom, for there was Only One tub full of
water between us all in the morning, and it was first come first served.
When I arrived twenty tramps had already washed their faces. I gave one
glance at the black scum on top of the water, and decided to go dirty for
the day.

We hurried into our clothes, and then went to the dining-room to bolt our
breakfast. The bread was much worse than usual, because the
military-minded idiot of a Tramp Major had cut it into slices overnight,
so that it was as hard as ship's biscuit. But we were glad of our tea
after the cold, restless night. I do not know what tramps would do
without tea, or rather the stuff they miscall tea. It is their food,
their medicine, their panacea for all evils. Without the half goon or so
of it that they suck down a day, I truly believe they could not face
their existence.

After breakfast we had to undress again for the medical inspection, which
is a precaution against smallpox. It was three quarters of an hour before
the doctor arrived, and one had time now to look about him and see what
manner of men we were. It was an instructive sight. We stood shivering
naked to the waist in two long ranks in the passage. The filtered light,
bluish and cold, lighted us up with unmerciful clarity. No one can
imagine, unless he has seen such a thing, what pot-bellied, degenerate
curs we looked. Shock heads, hairy, crumpled faces, hollow chests, flat
feet, sagging muscles--every kind of malformation and physical
rottenness were there. All were flabby and discoloured, as all tramps are
under their deceptive sunburn. Two or three figures wen there stay
ineradicably in my mind. Old 'Daddy', aged seventy-four, with his truss,
and his red, watering eyes, a herring-gutted starveling with sparse beard
and sunken cheeks, looking like the corpse of Lazarus in some primitive
picture: an imbecile, wandering hither and thither with vague giggles,
coyly pleased because his trousers constantly slipped down and left him
nude. But few of us were greatly better than these; there were not ten
decently built men among us, and half, I believe, should have been in
hospital.

This being Sunday, we were to be kept in the spike over the week-end. As
soon as the doctor had gone we were herded back to the dining-room, and its
door shut upon us. It was a lime-washed, stone-floored room, unspeakably
dreary with its furniture of deal boards and benches, and its prison
smell. The windows were so high up that one could not look outside, and
the sole ornament was a set of Rules threatening dire penalties to any
casual who misconducted himself. We packed the room so tight that one
could not move an elbow without jostling somebody. Already, at eight
o'clock in the morning, we were bored with our captivity. There was
nothing to talk about except the petty gossip of the road, the good and
bad spikes, the charitable and uncharitable counties, the iniquities of
the police and the Salvation Army. Tramps hardly ever get away from these
subjects; they talk, as it were, nothing but shop. They have nothing
worthy to be called conversation, bemuse emptiness of belly leaves no
speculation in their souls. The world is too much with them. Their next
meal is never quite secure, and so they cannot think of anything except
the next meal.

Two hours dragged by. Old Daddy, witless with age, sat silent, his back
bent like a bow and his inflamed eyes dripping slowly on to the floor.
George, a dirty old tramp notorious for the queer habit of sleeping in
his hat, grumbled about a parcel of tommy that he had lost on the toad.
Bill the moocher, the best built man of us all, a Herculean sturdy beggar
who smelt of beer even after twelve hours in the spike, told tales of
mooching, of pints stood him in the boozers, and of a parson who had
peached to the police and got him seven days. William and, Fred, two
young, ex-fishermen from Norfolk, sang a sad song about Unhappy Bella,
who was betrayed and died in the snow. The imbecile drivelled, about an
imaginary toff, who had once given him two hundred and fifty-seven golden
sovereigns. So the time passed, with dun talk and dull obscenities.
Everyone was smoking, except Scotty, whose tobacco had been seized, and
he was so miserable in his smokeless state that I stood him the makings
of a cigarette. We smoked furtively, hiding our cigarettes like
schoolboys when we heard the Tramp Major's step, for smoking though
connived at, was officially forbidden.

Most of the tramps spent ten consecutive hours in this dreary room. It is
hard to imagine how they put up with 11. I have come to think that
boredom is the worst of all a tramp's evils, worse than hunger and
discomfort, worse even than the constant feeling of being socially
disgraced. It is a silly piece of cruelty to confine an ignorant man all
day with nothing to do; it is like chaining a dog in a barrel, only an
educated man, who has consolations within himself, can endure
confinement. Tramps, unlettered types as nearly all of them are, face
their poverty with blank, resourceless minds. Fixed for ten hours on a
comfortless bench, they know no way of occupying themselves, and if they
think at all it is to whimper about hard luck and pine for work. They
have not the stuff in them to endure the horrors of idleness. And so,
since so much of their lives is spent in doing nothing, they suffer
agonies from boredom.

I was much luckier than the others, because at ten o'clock the Tramp
Major picked me out for the most coveted of all jobs in the spike, the
job of helping in the workhouse kitchen. There was not really any work to
be done there, and I was able to make off and hide in a shed used for
storing potatoes, together with some workhouse paupers who were skulking
to avoid the Sunday-morning service. There was a stove burning there, and
comfortable packing cases to sit on, and back numbers of the FAMILY
HERALD, and even a copy of RAFFLES from the workhouse library. It was
paradise after the spike.

Also, I had my dinner from the workhouse table, and it was one of the
biggest meals I have ever eaten. A tramp does not see such a meal twice
in the year, in the spike or out of it. The paupers told me that they
always gorged to the bursting point on Sundays, and went hungry six days
of the week. When the meal was over the cook set me to do the washing-up,
and told me to throw away the food that remained. The wastage was
astonishing; great dishes of beef, and bucketfuls of broad and
vegetables, were pitched away like rubbish, and then defiled with
tea-leaves. I filled five dustbins to overflowing with good food. And
while I did so my follow tramps were sitting two hundred yards away in
the spike, their bellies half filled with the spike dinner of the
everlasting bread and tea, and perhaps two cold boiled potatoes each in
honour of Sunday. It appeared that the food was thrown away from
deliberate policy, rather than that it should be given to the tramps.

At three I left the workhouse kitchen and went back to the spike. The,
boredom in that crowded, comfortless room was now unbearable. Even
smoking had ceased, for a tramp's only tobacco is picked-up cigarette
ends, and, like a browsing beast, he starves if he is long away from the
pavement-pasture. To occupy the time I talked with a rather superior
tramp, a young carpenter who wore a collar and tie, and was on the road,
he said, for lack of a set of tools. He kept a little aloof from the
other tramps, and held himself more like a free man than a casual. He had
literary tastes, too, and carried one of Scott's novels on all his
wanderings. He told me he never entered a spike unless driven there by
hunger, sleeping under hedges and behind ricks in preference. Along the
south coast he had begged by day and slept in bathing-machines for weeks
at a time.

We talked of life on the road. He criticized the system which makes a
tramp spend fourteen hours a day in the spike, and the other ten in
walking and dodging the police. He spoke of his own case--six months at
the public charge for want of three pounds' worth of tools. It was
idiotic, he said.

Then I told him about the wastage of food in the workhouse kitchen, and
what I thought of it. And at that he changed his tune immediately. I saw
that I had awakened the pew-renter who sleeps in every English workman.
Though he had been famished, along with the rest, he at once saw reasons
why the food should have been thrown away rather than given to the tramps.
He admonished me quite severely.

'They have to do it,' he said. 'If they made these places too pleasant
you'd have all the scum of the country flocking into them. It's only the
bad food as keeps all that scum away. These tramps are too lazy to work,
that's all that's wrong with them. You don't want to go encouraging of
them. They're scum.'

I produced arguments to prove him wrong, but he would not listen. He kept
repeating:

'You don't want to have any pity on these tramps--scum, they are. You
don't want to judge them by the same standards as men like you and me.
They're scum, just scum.'

It was interesting to see how subtly he disassociated himself from his
fellow tramps. He has been on the road six months, but in the sight of
God, he seemed to imply, he was not a tramp. His body might be in the
spike, but his spirit soared far away, in the pure aether of the middle
classes.

The clock's hands crept round with excruciating slowness. We were too
bored even to talk now, the only sound was of oaths and reverberating
yawns. One would force his eyes away from the clock for what seemed an
age, and then look back again to see that the hands had advanced three
minutes. Ennui clogged our souls like cold mutton fat. Our bones ached
because of it. The clock's hands stood at four, and supper was not
till six, and there was nothing left remarkable beneath the visiting
moon.

At last six o'clock did come, and the Tramp Major and his assistant
arrived with supper. The yawning tramps brisked up like lions at
feeding-time. But the meal was a dismal disappointment. The bread, bad
enough in the morning, was now positively uneatable; it was so hard that
even the strongest jaws could make little impression on it. The older men
went almost supperless, and not a man could finish his portion, hungry
though most of us were. When we had finished, the blankets were served
out immediately, and we were hustled off once more to the bare, chilly
cells.

Thirteen hours went by. At seven we were awakened, and rushed forth to
squabble over the water in the bathroom, and bolt our ration of bread and
tea. Our time in the spike was up, but we could riot go until the doctor
had examined us again, for the authorities have a terror of smallpox and
its distribution by tramps. The doctor kept us waiting two hours this
time, and it was ten o'clock before we finally escaped.

At last it was time to go, and we were let out into the yard. How bright
everything looked, and how sweet the winds did blow, after the gloomy,
reeking spike! The Tramp Major handed each man his bundle of confiscated
possessions, and a hunk of bread and cheese for midday dinner, and then
we took the road, hastening to get out of sight of the spike and its
discipline, This was our interim of freedom. After a day and two nights
of wasted time we had eight hours or so to take our recreation, to scour
the roads for cigarette ends, to beg, and to look for work. Also, we had
to make our ten, fifteen, or it might be twenty miles to the next spike,
where the game would begin anew.

I disinterred my eightpence and took the road with Nobby, a respectable,
downhearted tramp who carried a spare pair of boots and visited all the
Labour Exchanges. Our late companions were scattering north, south, cast
and west, like bugs into a mattress. Only the imbecile loitered at the
spike gates, until the Tramp Major had to chase him away.

Nobby and I set out for Croydon. It was a quiet road, there were no cars
passing, the blossom covered the chestnut trees like great wax candles.
Everything was so quiet and smelt so clean, it was hard to realize that
only a few minutes ago we had been packed with that band of prisoners in
a stench of drains and soft soap. The others had all disappeared; we two
seemed to be the only tramps on the road.

Then I heard a hurried step behind me, and felt a tap on my arm. It was
little Scotty, who had run panting after us. He pulled a rusty tin box
from his pocket. He wore a friendly smile, like a man who is repaying an
obligation.

'Here y'are, mate,' he said cordially. 'I owe you some fag ends. You
stood me a smoke yesterday. The Tramp Major give me back my box of fag
ends when we come out this morning. One good turn deserves another--here
y'are.'

And he put four sodden, debauched, loathly cigarette ends into my hand.



A HANGING (1931)


It was in Burma, a sodden morning of the rains. A sickly light, like
yellow tinfoil, was slanting over the high walls into the jail yard. We
were waiting outside the condemned cells, a row of sheds fronted with
double bars, like small animal cages. Each cell measured about ten feet
by ten and was quite bare within except for a plank bed and a pot of
drinking water. In some of them brown silent men were squatting at the
inner bars, with their blankets draped round them. These were the
condemned men, due to be hanged within the next week or two.

One prisoner had been brought out of his cell. He was a Hindu, a puny
wisp of a man, with a shaven head and vague liquid eyes. He had a thick,
sprouting moustache, absurdly too big for his body, rather like the
moustache of a comic man on the films. Six tall Indian warders were
guarding him and getting him ready for the gallows. Two of them stood by
with rifles and fixed bayonets, while the others handcuffed him, passed a
chain through his handcuffs and fixed it to their belts, and lashed his
arms tight to his sides. They crowded very close about him, with their
hands always on him in a careful, caressing grip, as though all the while
feeling him to make sure he was there. It was like men handling a fish
which is still alive and may jump back into the water. But he stood quite
unresisting, yielding his arms limply to the ropes, as though he hardly
noticed what was happening.

Eight o'clock struck and a bugle call, desolately thin in the wet air,
floated from the distant barracks. The superintendent of the jail, who
was standing apart from the rest of us, moodily prodding the gravel with
his stick, raised his head at the sound. He was an army doctor, with a
grey toothbrush moustache and a gruff voice. "For God's sake hurry up,
Francis," he said irritably. "The man ought to have been dead by this
time. Aren't you ready yet?"

Francis, the head jailer, a fat Dravidian in a white drill suit and gold
spectacles, waved his black hand. "Yes sir, yes sir," he bubbled. "All
iss satisfactorily prepared. The hangman iss waiting. We shall proceed."

"Well, quick march, then. The prisoners can't get their breakfast till
this job's over."

We set out for the gallows. Two warders marched on either side of the
prisoner, with their rifles at the slope; two others marched close
against him, gripping him by arm and shoulder, as though at once pushing
and supporting him. The rest of us, magistrates and the like, followed
behind. Suddenly, when we had gone ten yards, the procession stopped
short without any order or warning. A dreadful thing had happened--a
dog, come goodness knows whence, had appeared in the yard. It came
bounding among us with a loud volley of barks, and leapt round us wagging
its whole body, wild with glee at finding so many human beings together.
It was a large woolly dog, half Airedale, half pariah. For a moment it
pranced round us, and then, before anyone could stop it, it had made a
dash for the prisoner, and jumping up tried to lick his face. Everyone
stood aghast, too taken aback even to grab at the dog.

"Who let that bloody brute in here?" said the superintendent angrily.
"Catch it, someone!"

A warder, detached from the escort, charged clumsily after the dog, but
it danced and gambolled just out of his reach, taking everything as part
of the game. A young Eurasian jailer picked up a handful of gravel and
tried to stone the dog away, but it dodged the stones and came after us
again. Its yaps echoed from the jail wails. The prisoner, in the grasp of
the two warders, looked on incuriously, as though this was another
formality of the hanging. It was several minutes before someone managed
to catch the dog. Then we put my handkerchief through its collar and
moved off once more, with the dog still straining and whimpering.

It was about forty yards to the gallows. I watched the bare brown back of
the prisoner marching in front of me. He walked clumsily with his bound
arms, but quite steadily, with that bobbing gait of the Indian who never
straightens his knees. At each step his muscles slid neatly into place,
the lock of hair on his scalp danced up and down, his feet printed
themselves on the wet gravel. And once, in spite of the men who gripped
him by each shoulder, he stepped slightly aside to avoid a puddle on the
path.

It is curious, but till that moment I had never realized what it means
to destroy a healthy, conscious man. When I saw the prisoner step aside
to avoid the puddle, I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of
cutting a life short when it is in full tide. This man was not dying, he
was alive just as we were alive. All the organs of his body were
working--bowels digesting food, skin renewing itself, nails growing,
tissues forming--all toiling away in solemn foolery. His nails would
still be growing when he stood on the drop, when he was falling through
the air with a tenth of a second to live. His eyes saw the yellow gravel
and the grey walls, and his brain still remembered, foresaw,
reasoned--reasoned even about puddles. He and we were a party of men
walking together, seeing, hearing, feeling, understanding the same
world; and in two minutes, with a sudden snap, one of us would be
gone--one mind less, one world less.

The gallows stood in a small yard, separate from the main grounds of the
prison, and overgrown with tall prickly weeds. It was a brick erection
like three sides of a shed, with planking on top, and above that two
beams and a crossbar with the rope dangling. The hangman, a grey-haired
convict in the white uniform of the prison, was waiting beside his
machine. He greeted us with a servile crouch as we entered. At a word
from Francis the two warders, gripping the prisoner more closely than
ever, half led, half pushed him to the gallows and helped him clumsily up
the ladder. Then the hangman climbed up and fixed the rope round the
prisoner's neck.

We stood waiting, five yards away. The warders had formed in a rough
circle round the gallows. And then, when the noose was fixed, the
prisoner began crying out on his god. It was a high, reiterated cry of
"Ram! Ram! Ram! Ram!", not urgent and fearful like a prayer or a cry for
help, but steady, rhythmical, almost like the tolling of a bell. The dog
answered the sound with a whine. The hangman, still standing on the
gallows, produced a small cotton bag like a flour bag and drew it down
over the prisoner's face. But the sound, muffled by the cloth, still
persisted, over and over again: "Ram! Ram! Ram! Ram! Ram!"

The hangman climbed down and stood ready, holding the lever. Minutes
seemed to pass. The steady, muffled crying from the prisoner went on and
on, "Ram! Ram! Ram!" never faltering for an instant. The superintendent,
his head on his chest, was slowly poking the ground with his stick;
perhaps he was counting the cries, allowing the prisoner a fixed
number--fifty, perhaps, or a hundred. Everyone had changed colour. The
Indians had gone grey like bad coffee, and one or two of the bayonets
were wavering. We looked at the lashed, hooded man on the drop, and
listened to his cries--each cry another second of life; the same thought
was in all our minds: oh, kill him quickly, get it over, stop that
abominable noise!

Suddenly the superintendent made up his mind. Throwing up his head he
made a swift motion with his stick. "Chalo!" he shouted almost fiercely.

There was a clanking noise, and then dead silence. The prisoner had
vanished, and the rope was twisting on itself. I let go of the dog, and
it galloped immediately to the back of the gallows; but when it got there
it stopped short, barked, and then retreated into a corner of the yard,
where it stood among the weeds, looking timorously out at us. We went
round the gallows to inspect the prisoner's body. He was dangling with
his toes pointed straight downwards, very slowly revolving, as dead as a
stone.

The superintendent reached out with his stick and poked the bare body; it
oscillated, slightly. "HE'S all right," said the superintendent. He
backed out from under the gallows, and blew out a deep breath. The moody
look had gone out of his face quite suddenly. He glanced at his
wrist-watch. "Eight minutes past eight. Well, that's all for this
morning, thank God."

The warders unfixed bayonets and marched away. The dog, sobered and
conscious of having misbehaved itself, slipped after them. We walked out
of the gallows yard, past the condemned cells with their waiting
prisoners, into the big central yard of the prison. The convicts, under
the command of warders armed with lathis, were already receiving their
breakfast. They squatted in long rows, each man holding a tin pannikin,
while two warders with buckets marched round ladling out rice; it seemed
quite a homely, jolly scene, after the hanging. An enormous relief had
come upon us now that the job was done. One felt an impulse to sing, to
break into a run, to snigger. All at once everyone began chattering
gaily.

The Eurasian boy walking beside me nodded towards the way we had come,
with a knowing smile: "Do you know, sir, our friend (he meant the dead
man), when he heard his appeal had been dismissed, he pissed on the floor
of his cell. From fright.--Kindly take one of my cigarettes, sir. Do you
not admire my new silver case, sir? From the boxwallah, two rupees eight
annas. Classy European style."

Several people laughed--at what, nobody seemed certain.

Francis was walking by the superintendent, talking garrulously. "Well,
sir, all hass passed off with the utmost satisfactoriness. It wass all
finished--flick! like that. It iss not always so--oah, no! I have known
cases where the doctor wass obliged to go beneath the gallows and pull
the prisoner's legs to ensure decease. Most disagreeable!"

"Wriggling about, eh? That's bad," said the superintendent.

"Ach, sir, it iss worse when they become refractory! One man, I recall,
clung to the bars of hiss cage when we went to take him out. You will
scarcely credit, sir, that it took six warders to dislodge him, three
pulling at each leg. We reasoned with him. 'My dear fellow,' we said,
'think of all the pain and trouble you are causing to us!' But no, he
would not listen! Ach, he wass very troublesome!"

I found that I was laughing quite loudly. Everyone was laughing. Even the
superintendent grinned in a tolerant way. "You'd better all come out and
have a drink," he said quite genially. "I've got a bottle of whisky in
the car. We could do with it."

We went through the big double gates of the prison, into the road.
"Pulling at his legs!" exclaimed a Burmese magistrate suddenly, and burst
into a loud chuckling. We all began laughing again. At that moment
Francis's anecdote seemed extraordinarily funny. We all had a drink
together, native and European alike, quite amicably. The dead man was a
hundred yards away.



BOOKSHOP MEMORIES (1936)


When I worked in a second-hand bookshop--so easily pictured, if you
don't work in one, as a kind of paradise where charming old gentlemen
browse eternally among calf-bound folios--the thing that chiefly struck
me was the rarity of really bookish people. Our shop had an exceptionally
interesting stock, yet I doubt whether ten per cent of our customers knew
a good book from a bad one. First edition snobs were much commoner than
lovers of literature, but oriental students haggling over cheap textbooks
were commoner still, and vague-minded women looking for birthday presents
for their nephews were commonest of all.

Many of the people who came to us were of the kind who would be a
nuisance anywhere but have special opportunities in a bookshop. For
example, the dear old lady who 'wants a book for an invalid' (a very
common demand, that), and the other dear old lady who read such a nice
book in 1897 and wonders whether you can find her a copy. Unfortunately
she doesn't remember the title or the author's name or what the book was
about, but she does remember that it had a red cover. But apart from
these there are two well-known types of pest by whom every second-hand
bookshop is haunted. One is the decayed person smelling of old
bread-crusts who comes every day, sometimes several times a day, and tries
to sell you worthless books. The other is the person who orders large
quantities of books for which he has not the smallest intention of
paying. In our shop we sold nothing on credit, but we would put books
aside, or order them if necessary, for people who arranged to fetch them
away later. Scarcely half the people who ordered books from us ever came
back. It used to puzzle me at first. What made them do it? They would
come in and demand some rare and expensive book, would make us promise
over and over again to keep it for them, and then would vanish never to
return. But many of them, of course, were unmistakable paranoiacs. They
used to talk in a grandiose manner about themselves and tell the most
ingenious stories to explain how they had happened to come out of doors
without any money--stories which, in many cases, I am sure they
themselves believed. In a town like London there are always plenty of not
quite certifiable lunatics walking the streets, and they tend to
gravitate towards bookshops, because a bookshop is one of the few places
where you can hang about for a long time without spending any money. In
the end one gets to know these people almost at a glance. For all their
big talk there is something moth-eaten and aimless about them. Very
often, when we were dealing with an obvious paranoiac, we would put aside
the books he asked for and then put them back on the shelves the moment
he had gone. None of them, I noticed, ever attempted to take books away
without paying for them; merely to order them was enough--it gave them,
I suppose, the illusion that they were spending real money.

Like most second-hand bookshops we had various sidelines. We sold
second-hand typewriters, for instance, and also stamps--used stamps, I
mean. Stamp-collectors are a strange, silent, fish-like breed, of all
ages, but only of the male sex; women, apparently, fail to see the
peculiar charm of gumming bits of coloured paper into albums. We also
sold sixpenny horoscopes compiled by somebody who claimed to have
foretold the Japanese earthquake. They were in sealed envelopes and I
never opened one of them myself, but the people who bought them often
came back and told us how 'true' their horoscopes had been. (Doubtless
any horoscope seems 'true' if it tells you that you are highly attractive
to the opposite sex and your worst fault is generosity.) We did a good
deal of business in children's books, chiefly 'remainders'. Modern books
for children are rather horrible things, especially when you see them in
the mass. Personally I would sooner give a child a copy of Petronius
Arbiter than PETER PAN, but even Barrie seems manly and wholesome
compared with some of his later imitators. At Christmas time we spent a
feverish ten days struggling with Christmas cards and calendars, which
are tiresome things to sell but good business while the season lasts. It
used to interest me to see the brutal cynicism with which Christian
sentiment is exploited. The touts from the Christmas card firms used to
come round with their catalogues as early as June. A phrase from one of
their invoices sticks in my memory. It was: '2 doz. Infant Jesus with
rabbits'.

But our principal sideline was a lending library--the usual 'twopenny
no-deposit' library of five or six hundred volumes, all fiction. How the
book thieves must love those libraries! It is the easiest crime in the
world to borrow a book at one shop for twopence, remove the label and
sell it at another shop for a shilling. Nevertheless booksellers
generally find that it pays them better to have a certain number of books
stolen (we used to lose about a dozen a month) than to frighten customers
away by demanding a deposit.

Our shop stood exactly on the frontier between Hampstead and Camden Town,
and we were frequented by all types from baronets to bus-conductors.
Probably our library subscribers were a fair cross-section of London's
reading public. It is therefore worth noting that of all the authors in
our library the one who 'went out' the best was--Priestley? Hemingway?
Walpole? Wodehouse? No, Ethel M. Dell, with Warwick Deeping a good second
and Jeffrey Farnol, I should say, third. Dell's novels, of course, are
read solely by women, but by women of all kinds and ages and not, as one
might expect, merely by wistful spinsters and the fat wives of
tobacconists. It is not true that men don't read novels, but it is true
that there are whole branches of fiction that they avoid. Roughly
speaking, what one might call the AVERAGE novel--the ordinary, good-bad,
Galsworthy-and-water stuff which is the norm of the English novel--seems
to exist only for women. Men read either the novels it is possible to
respect, or detective stories. But their consumption of detective stories
is terrific. One of our subscribers to my knowledge read four or five
detective stories every week for over a year, besides others which he got
from another library. What chiefly surprised me was that he never read
the same book twice. Apparently the whole of that frightful torrent of
trash (the pages read every year would, I calculated, cover nearly three
quarters of an acre) was stored for ever in his memory. He took no notice
of titles or author's names, but he could tell by merely glancing into a
book whether be had 'had it already'.

In a lending library you see people's real tastes, not their pretended
ones, and one thing that strikes you is how completely the 'classical'
English novelists have dropped out of favour. It is simply useless to put
Dickens, Thackeray, Jane Austen, Trollope, etc. into the ordinary lending
library; nobody takes them out. At the mere sight of a nineteenth-century
novel people say, 'Oh, but that's OLD!' and shy away immediately. Yet it
is always fairly easy to SELL Dickens, just as it is always easy to sell
Shakespeare. Dickens is one of those authors whom people are 'always
meaning to' read, and, like the Bible, he is widely known at second hand.
People know by hearsay that Bill Sikes was a burglar and that Mr Micawber
had a bald head, just as they know by hearsay that Moses was found in a
basket of bulrushes and saw the 'back parts' of the Lord. Another thing
that is very noticeable is the growing unpopularity of American books.
And another--the publishers get into a stew about this every two or
three years--is the unpopularity of short stories. The kind of person
who asks the librarian to choose a book for him nearly always starts by
saying 'I don't want short stories', or 'I do not desire little stories',
as a German customer of ours used to put it. If you ask them why, they
sometimes explain that it is too much fag to get used to a new set of
characters with every story; they like to 'get into' a novel which
demands no further thought after the first chapter. I believe, though,
that the writers are more to blame here than the readers. Most modern
short stories, English and American, are utterly lifeless and worthless,
far more so than most novels. The short stories which are stories are
popular enough, VIDE D. H. Lawrence, whose short stories are as popular
as his novels.

Would I like to be a bookseller DE MÉTIER? On the whole--in spite of my
employer's kindness to me, and some happy days I spent in the shop--no.

Given a good pitch and the right amount of capital, any educated person
ought to be able to make a small secure living out of a bookshop. Unless
one goes in for 'rare' books it is not a difficult trade to learn, and
you start at a great advantage if you know anything about the insides of
books. (Most booksellers don't. You can get their measure by having a
look at the trade papers where they advertise their wants. If you don't
see an ad. for Boswell's DECLINE AND FALL you are pretty sure to see one
for THE MILL ON THE FLOSS by T. S. Eliot.) Also it is a humane trade
which is not capable of being vulgarized beyond a certain point. The
combines can never squeeze the small independent bookseller out of
existence as they have squeezed the grocer and the milkman. But the hours
of work are very long--I was only a part-time employee, but my employer
put in a seventy-hour week, apart from constant expeditions out of hours
to buy books--and it is an unhealthy life. As a rule a bookshop is
horribly cold in winter, because if it is too warm the windows get misted
over, and a bookseller lives on his windows. And books give off more and
nastier dust than any other class of objects yet invented, and the top of
a book is the place where every bluebottle prefers to die.

But the real reason why I should not like to be in the book trade for
life is that while I was in it I lost my love of books. A bookseller has
to tell lies about books, and that gives him a distaste for them; still
worse is the fact that he is constantly dusting them and hauling them to
and fro. There was a time when I really did love books--loved the sight
and smell and feel of them, I mean, at least if they were fifty or more
years old. Nothing pleased me quite so much as to buy a job lot of them
for a shilling at a country auction. There is a peculiar flavour about
the battered unexpected books you pick up in that kind of collection:
minor eighteenth-century poets, out-of-date gazeteers, odd volumes of
forgotten novels, bound numbers of ladies' magazines of the sixties. For
casual reading--in your bath, for instance, or late at night when you
are too tired to go to bed, or in the odd quarter of an hour before
lunch--there is nothing to touch a back number of the Girl's Own Paper.
But as soon as I went to work in the bookshop I stopped buying books.
Seen in the mass, five or ten thousand at a time, books were boring and
even slightly sickening. Nowadays I do buy one occasionally, but only if
it is a book that I want to read and can't borrow, and I never buy junk.
The sweet smell of decaying paper appeals to me no longer. It is too
closely associated in my mind with paranoiac customers and dead
bluebottles.



SHOOTING AN ELEPHANT (1936)


In Moulmein, in lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people--the
only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen
to me. I was sub-divisional police officer of the town, and in an
aimless, petty kind of way anti-European feeling was very bitter. No one
had the guts to raise a riot, but if a European woman went through the
bazaars alone somebody would probably spit betel juice over her dress. As
a police officer I was an obvious target and was baited whenever it
seemed safe to do so. When a nimble Burman tripped me up on the football
field and the referee (another Burman) looked the other way, the crowd
yelled with hideous laughter. This happened more than once. In the end
the sneering yellow faces of young men that met me everywhere, the
insults hooted after me when I was at a safe distance, got badly on my
nerves. The young Buddhist priests were the worst of all. There were
several thousands of them in the town and none of them seemed to have
anything to do except stand on street corners and jeer at Europeans.

All this was perplexing and upsetting. For at that time I had already
made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing and the sooner I
chucked up my job and got out of it the better. Theoretically--and
secretly, of course--I was all for the Burmese and all against their
oppressors, the British. As for the job I was doing, I hated it more
bitterly than I can perhaps make clear. In a job like that you see the
dirty work of Empire at close quarters. The wretched prisoners huddling
in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces of the
long-term convicts, the scarred buttocks of the men who had been Bogged
with bamboos--all these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt.
But I could get nothing into perspective. I was young and ill-educated
and I had had to think out my problems in the utter silence that is
imposed on every Englishman in the East. I did not even know that the
British Empire is dying, still less did I know that it is a great deal
better than the younger empires that are going to supplant it. All I knew
was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage
against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job
impossible. With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an
unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down, IN SAECULA SAECULORUM,
upon the will of prostrate peoples; with another part I thought that the
greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist
priest's guts. Feelings like these are the normal by-products of
imperialism; ask any Anglo-Indian official, if you can catch him off
duty.

One day something happened which in a roundabout way was enlightening. It
was a tiny incident in itself, but it gave me a better glimpse than I had
had before of the real nature of imperialism--the real motives for which
despotic governments act. Early one morning the sub-inspector at a police
station the other end of the town rang me up on the phone and said that
an elephant was ravaging the bazaar. Would I please come and do something
about it? I did not know what I could do, but I wanted to see what was
happening and I got on to a pony and started out. I took my rifle, an
old .44 Winchester and much too small to kill an elephant, but I thought
the noise might be useful IN TERROREM. Various Burmans stopped me on the
way and told me about the elephant's doings. It was not, of course, a
wild elephant, but a tame one which had gone "must." It had been chained
up, as tame elephants always are when their attack of "must" is due, but
on the previous night it had broken its chain and escaped. Its mahout,
the only person who could manage it when it was in that state, had set
out in pursuit, but had taken the wrong direction and was now twelve
hours' journey away, and in the morning the elephant had suddenly
reappeared in the town. The Burmese population had no weapons and were
quite helpless against it. It had already destroyed somebody's bamboo
hut, killed a cow and raided some fruit-stalls and devoured the stock;
also it had met the municipal rubbish van and, when the driver jumped
out and took to his heels, had turned the van over and inflicted
violences upon it.

The Burmese sub-inspector and some Indian constables were waiting for me
in the quarter where the elephant had been seen. It was a very poor
quarter, a labyrinth of squalid bamboo huts, thatched with palm-leaf,
winding all over a steep hillside. I remember that it was a cloudy,
stuffy morning at the beginning of the rains. We began questioning the
people as to where the elephant had gone and, as usual, failed to get any
definite information. That is invariably the case in the East; a story
always sounds clear enough at a distance, but the nearer you get to the
scene of events the vaguer it becomes. Some of the people said that the
elephant had gone in one direction, some said that he had gone in
another, some professed not even to have heard of any elephant. I had
almost made up my mind that the whole story was a pack of lies, when we
heard yells a little distance away. There was a loud, scandalized cry of
"Go away, child! Go away this instant!" and an old woman with a switch in
her hand came round the corner of a hut, violently shooing away a crowd
of naked children. Some more women followed, clicking their tongues and
exclaiming; evidently there was something that the children ought not to
have seen. I rounded the hut and saw a man's dead body sprawling in the
mud. He was an Indian, a black Dravidian coolie, almost naked, and he
could not have been dead many minutes. The people said that the elephant
had come suddenly upon him round the corner of the hut, caught him with
its trunk, put its foot on his back and ground him into the earth. This
was the rainy season and the ground was soft, and his face had scored a
trench a foot deep and a couple of yards long. He was lying on his belly
with arms crucified and head sharply twisted to one side. His face was
coated with mud, the eyes wide open, the teeth bared and grinning with an
expression of unendurable agony. (Never tell me, by the way, that the
dead look peaceful. Most of the corpses I have seen looked devilish.) The
friction of the great beast's foot had stripped the skin from his back as
neatly as one skins a rabbit. As soon as I saw the dead man I sent an
orderly to a friend's house nearby to borrow an elephant rifle. I had
already sent back the pony, not wanting it to go mad with fright and
throw me if it smelt the elephant.

The orderly came back in a few minutes with a rifle and five cartridges,
and meanwhile some Burmans had arrived and told us that the elephant was
in the paddy fields below, only a few hundred yards away. As I started
forward practically the whole population of the quarter flocked out of
the houses and followed me. They had seen the rifle and were all shouting
excitedly that I was going to shoot the elephant. They had not shown much
interest in the elephant when he was merely ravaging their homes, but it
was different now that he was going to be shot. It was a bit of fun to
them, as it would be to an English crowd; besides they wanted the meat.
It made me vaguely uneasy. I had no intention of shooting the elephant--I
had merely sent for the rifle to defend myself if necessary--and it is
always unnerving to have a crowd following you. I marched down the hill,
looking and feeling a fool, with the rifle over my shoulder and an
ever-growing army of people jostling at my heels. At the bottom, when you
got away from the huts, there was a metalled road and beyond that a miry
waste of paddy fields a thousand yards across, not yet ploughed but soggy
from the first rains and dotted with coarse grass. The elephant was
standing eight yards from the road, his left side towards us. He took not
the slightest notice of the crowd's approach. He was tearing up bunches
of grass, beating them against his knees to clean them and stuffing them
into his mouth.

I had halted on the road. As soon as I saw the elephant I knew with
perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him. It is a serious matter
to shoot a working elephant--it is comparable to destroying a huge and
costly piece of machinery--and obviously one ought not to do it if it can
possibly be avoided. And at that distance, peacefully eating, the
elephant looked no more dangerous than a cow. I thought then and I think
now that his attack of "must" was already passing off; in which case he
would merely wander harmlessly about until the mahout came back and
caught him. Moreover, I did not in the least want to shoot him. I decided
that I would watch him for a little while to make sure that he did not
turn savage again, and then go home.

But at that moment I glanced round at the crowd that had followed me. It
was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every minute.
It blocked the road for a long distance on either side. I looked at the
sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes-faces all happy and excited
over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be shot.
They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a
trick. They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was
momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized that I should have to
shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got
to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward,
irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle
in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the
white man's dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun,
standing in front of the unarmed native crowd--seemingly the leading
actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to
and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this
moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he
destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized
figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall
spend his life in trying to impress the "natives," and so in every crisis
he has got to do what the "natives" expect of him. He wears a mask, and
his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant. I had
committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got
to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind
and do definite things. To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two
thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away,
having done nothing--no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at
me. And my whole life, every white man's life in the East, was one long
struggle not to be laughed at.

But I did not want to shoot the elephant. I watched him beating his bunch
of grass against his knees, with that preoccupied grandmotherly air that
elephants have. It seemed to me that it would be murder to shoot him. At
that age I was not squeamish about killing animals, but I had never shot
an elephant and never wanted to. (Somehow it always seems worse to kill a
LARGE animal.) Besides, there was the beast's owner to be considered.
Alive, the elephant was worth at least a hundred pounds; dead, he would
only be worth the value of his tusks, five pounds, possibly. But I had
got to act quickly. I turned to some experienced-looking Burmans who had
been there when we arrived, and asked them how the elephant had been
behaving. They all said the same thing: he took no notice of you if you
left him alone, but he might charge if you went too close to him.

It was perfectly clear to me what I ought to do. I ought to walk up to
within, say, twenty-five yards of the elephant and test his behavior. If
he charged, I could shoot; if he took no notice of me, it would be safe
to leave him until the mahout came back. But also I knew that I was going
to do no such thing. I was a poor shot with a rifle and the ground was
soft mud into which one would sink at every step. If the elephant charged
and I missed him, I should have about as much chance as a toad under a
steam-roller. But even then I was not thinking particularly of my own
skin, only of the watchful yellow faces behind. For at that moment, with
the crowd watching me, I was not afraid in the ordinary sense, as I would
have been if I had been alone. A white man mustn't be frightened in front
of "natives"; and so, in general, he isn't frightened. The sole thought
in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans
would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning
corpse like that Indian up the hill. And if that happened it was quite
probable that some of them would laugh. That would never do.

There was only one alternative. I shoved the cartridges into the magazine
and lay down on the road to get a better aim. The crowd grew very still,
and a deep, low, happy sigh, as of people who see the theatre curtain go
up at last, breathed from innumerable throats. They were going to have
their bit of fun after all. The rifle was a beautiful German thing with
cross-hair sights. I did not then know that in shooting an elephant one
would shoot to cut an imaginary bar running from ear-hole to ear-hole. I
ought, therefore, as the elephant was sideways on, to have aimed straight
at his ear-hole, actually I aimed several inches in front of this,
thinking the brain would be further forward.

When I pulled the trigger I did not hear the bang or feel the kick--one
never does when a shot goes home--but I heard the devilish roar of glee
that went up from the crowd. In that instant, in too short a time, one
would have thought, even for the bullet to get there, a mysterious,
terrible change had come over the elephant. He neither stirred nor fell,
but every line of his body had altered. He looked suddenly stricken,
shrunken, immensely old, as though the frightful impact of the bullet had
paralysed him without knocking him down. At last, after what seemed a
long time--it might have been five seconds, I dare say--he sagged
flabbily to his knees. His mouth slobbered. An enormous senility seemed
to have settled upon him. One could have imagined him thousands of years
old. I fired again into the same spot. At the second shot he did not
collapse but climbed with desperate slowness to his feet and stood weakly
upright, with legs sagging and head drooping. I fired a third time. That
was the shot that did for him. You could see the agony of it jolt his
whole body and knock the last remnant of strength from his legs. But in
falling he seemed for a moment to rise, for as his hind legs collapsed
beneath him he seemed to tower upward like a huge rock toppling, his
trunk reaching skyward like a tree. He trumpeted, for the first and only
time. And then down he came, his belly towards me, with a crash that
seemed to shake the ground even where I lay.

I got up. The Burmans were already racing past me across the mud. It was
obvious that the elephant would never rise again, but he was not dead. He
was breathing very rhythmically with long rattling gasps, his great mound
of a side painfully rising and falling. His mouth was wide open--I could
see far down into caverns of pale pink throat. I waited a long time for
him to die, but his breathing did not weaken. Finally I fired my two
remaining shots into the spot where I thought his heart must be. The
thick blood welled out of him like red velvet, but still he did not die.
His body did not even jerk when the shots hit him, the tortured breathing
continued without a pause. He was dying, very slowly and in great agony,
but in some world remote from me where not even a bullet could damage him
further. I felt that I had got to put an end to that dreadful noise. It
seemed dreadful to see the great beast Lying there, powerless to move and
yet powerless to die, and not even to be able to finish him. I sent back
for my small rifle and poured shot after shot into his heart and down his
throat. They seemed to make no impression. The tortured gasps continued
as steadily as the ticking of a clock.

In the end I could not stand it any longer and went away. I heard later
that it took him half an hour to die. Burmans were bringing dahs and
baskets even before I left, and I was told they had stripped his body
almost to the bones by the afternoon.

Afterwards, of course, there were endless discussions about the shooting
of the elephant. The owner was furious, but he was only an Indian and
could do nothing. Besides, legally I had done the right thing, for a mad
elephant has to be killed, like a mad dog, if its owner fails to control
it. Among the Europeans opinion was divided. The older men said I was
right, the younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for
killing a coolie, because an elephant was worth more than any damn
Coringhee coolie. And afterwards I was very glad that the coolie had been
killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient
pretext for shooting the elephant. I often wondered whether any of the
others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.



DOWN THE MINE (1937) (FROM "THE ROAD TO WIGAN PIER")


Our civilization, pace Chesterton, is founded on coal, more completely
than one realizes until one stops to think about it. The machines that
keep us alive, and the machines that make machines, are all directly or
indirectly dependent upon coal. In the metabolism of the Western world
the coal-miner is second in importance only to the man who ploughs the
soil. He is a sort of caryatid upon whose shoulders nearly everything
that is not grimy is supported. For this reason the actual process by
which coal is extracted is well worth watching, if you get the chance and
are willing to take the trouble.

When you go down a coal-mine it is important to try and get to the coal
face when the 'fillers' are at work. This is not easy, because when the
mine is working visitors are a nuisance and are not encouraged, but if
you go at any other time, it is possible to come away with a totally
wrong impression. On a Sunday, for instance, a mine seems almost
peaceful. The time to go there is when the machines are roaring and the
air is black with coal dust, and when you can actually see what the
miners have to do. At those times the place is like hell, or at any rate
like my own mental picture of hell. Most of the things one imagines in
hell are if there--heat, noise, confusion, darkness, foul air, and,
above all, unbearably cramped space. Everything except the fire, for
there is no fire down there except the feeble beams of Davy lamps and
electric torches which scarcely penetrate the clouds of coal dust.

When you have finally got there--and getting there is a in itself: I
will explain that in a moment--you crawl through the last line of pit
props and see opposite you a shiny black wall three or four feet high.
This is the coal face. Overhead is the smooth ceiling made by the rock
from which the coal has been cut; underneath is the rock again, so that
the gallery you are in is only as high as the ledge of coal itself,
probably not much more than a yard. The first impression of all,
overmastering everything else for a while, is the frightful, deafening
din from the conveyor belt which carries the coal away. You cannot see
very far, because the fog of coal dust throws back the beam of your lamp,
but you can see on either side of you the line of half-naked kneeling
men, one to every four or five yards, driving their shovels under the
fallen coal and flinging it swiftly over their left shoulders. They are
feeding it on to the conveyor belt, a moving rubber, belt a couple of
feet wide which runs a yard or two behind them. Down this belt a
glittering river of coal races constantly. In a big mine it is carrying
away several tons of coal every minute. It bears it off to some place in
the main roads where it is shot into tubs holding half a tun, and thence
dragged to the cages and hoisted to the outer air.

It is impossible to watch the 'fillers' at work without feeling a pang
of envy for their toughness. It is a dreadful job that they do, an almost
superhuman job by the standard of an ordinary person. For they are not
only shifting monstrous quantities of coal, they are also doing, it in a
position that doubles or trebles the work. They have got to remain
kneeling all the while--they could hardly rise from their knees without
hitting the ceiling--and you can easily see by trying it what a
tremendous effort this means. Shovelling is comparatively easy when you
are standing up, because you can use your knee and thigh to drive the
shovel along; kneeling down, the whole of the strain is thrown upon your
arm and belly muscles. And the other conditions do not exactly make
things easier. There is the heat--it varies, but in some mines it is
suffocating--and the coal dust that stuffs up your throat and nostrils
and collects along your eyelids, and the unending rattle of the conveyor
belt, which in that confined space is rather like the rattle of a machine
gun. But the fillers look and work as though they were made of iron. They
really do look like iron hammered iron statues--under the smooth coat of
coal dust which clings to them from head to foot. It is only when you see
miners down the mine and naked that you realize what splendid men, they
are. Most of them are small (big men are at a disadvantage in that job)
but nearly all of them have the most noble bodies; wide shoulders
tapering to slender supple waists, and small pronounced buttocks and
sinewy thighs, with not an ounce of waste flesh anywhere. In the hotter
mines they wear only a pair of thin drawers, clogs and knee-pads; in the
hottest mines of all, only the clogs and knee-pads. You can hardly tell
by the look of them whether they are young or old. They may be any age up
to sixty or even sixty-five, but when they are black and naked they all
look alike. No one could do their work who had not a young man's body,
and a figure fit for a guardsman at that, just a few pounds of extra
flesh on the waist-line, and the constant bending would be impossible.
You can never forget that spectacle once you have seen it--the line of
bowed, kneeling figures, sooty black all over, driving their, huge
shovels under the coal with stupendous force and speed. They are on the
job for seven and a half hours, theoretically without a break, for there
is no time 'off'. Actually they, snatch a quarter of an hour or so at
some time during the shift to eat the food they have brought with them,
usually a hunk of bread and dripping and a bottle of cold tea. The first
time I was watching the 'fillers' at work I put my hand upon some
dreadful slimy thing among the coal dust. It was a chewed quid of
tobacco. Nearly all the miners chew tobacco, which is said to be good
against thirst.

Probably you have to go down several coal-mines before you can get much
grasp of the processes that are going on round you. This is chiefly
because the mere effort of getting from place to place; makes it
difficult to notice anything else, In some ways it is even disappointing,
or at least is unlike what you have, expected. You get into the cage,
which is a steel box about as wide as a telephone box and two or three
times as long. It holds ten men, but they pack it like pilchards in a
tin, and a tall man cannot stand upright in it. The steel door shuts upon
you, and somebody working the winding gear above drops you into the void.
You have the usual momentary qualm in your belly and a bursting sensation
in the cars, but not much sensation of movement till you get near the
bottom, when the cage slows down so abruptly that you could swear it is
going upwards again. In the middle of the run the cage probably touches
sixty miles an hour; in some of the deeper mines it touches even more.
When you crawl out at the bottom you are perhaps four hundred yards
underground. That is to say you have a tolerable-sized mountain on top of
you; hundreds of yards of solid rock, bones of extinct beasts, subsoil,
flints, roots of growing things, green grass and cows grazing on it--all
this suspended over your head and held back only by wooden props as thick
as the calf of your leg. But because of the speed at which the cage has
brought you down, and the complete blackness through which you have
travelled, you hardly feel yourself deeper down than you would at the
bottom of the Piccadilly tube.

What is surprising, on the other hand, is the immense horizontal
distances that have to be travelled underground. Before I had been down a
mine I had vaguely imagined the miner stepping out of the cage and
getting to work on a ledge of coal a few yards away. I had not realized
that before he even gets to work he may have had to creep along passages
as long as from London Bridge to Oxford Circus. In the beginning, of
course, a mine shaft is sunk somewhere near a seam of coal; But as that
seam is worked out and fresh seams are followed up, the workings get
further and further from the pit bottom. If it is a mile from the pit
bottom to the coal face, that is probably an average distance; three
miles is a fairly normal one; there are even said to be a few mines where
it is as much as five miles. But these distances bear no relation to
distances above ground. For in all that mile or three miles as it may be,
there is hardly anywhere outside the main road, and not many places even
there, where a man can stand upright.

You do not notice the effect of this till you have gone a few hundred
yards. You start off, stooping slightly, down the dim-lit gallery, eight
or ten feet wide and about five high, with the walls built up with slabs
of shale, like the stone walls in Derbyshire. Every yard or two there are
wooden props holding up the beams and girders; some of the girders have
buckled into fantastic curves under which you have to duck. Usually it is
bad going underfoot--thick dust or jagged chunks of shale, and in some
mines where there is water it is as mucky as a farm-yard. Also there is
the track for the coal tubs, like a miniature railway track with sleepers
a foot or two apart, which is tiresome to walk on. Everything is grey
with shale dust; there is a dusty fiery smell which seems to be the same
in all mines. You see mysterious machines of which you never learn the
purpose, and bundles of tools slung together on wires, and sometimes mice
darting away from the beam of the lamps. They are surprisingly common,
especially in mines where there are or have been horses. It would be
interesting to know how they got there in the first place; possibly by
falling down the shaft--for they say a mouse can fall any distance
uninjured, owing to its surface area being so large relative to its
weight. You press yourself against the wall to make way for lines of tubs
jolting slowly towards the shaft, drawn by an endless steel cable
operated from the surface. You creep through sacking curtains and thick
wooden doors which, when they are opened, let out fierce blasts of air.
These doors are an important part of the ventilation system. The
exhausted air is sucked out of one shaft by means of fans, and the fresh
air enters the other of its own accord. But if left to itself the air
will take the shortest way round, leaving the deeper workings
unventilated; so all the short cuts have to be partitioned off.

At the start to walk stooping is rather a joke, but it is a joke that
soon wears off. I am handicapped by being exceptionally tall, but when
the roof falls to four feet or less it is a tough job for anybody except
a dwarf or a child. You not only have to bend double, you have also got
to keep your head up all the while so as to see the beams and girders and
dodge them when they come. You have, therefore, a constant crick in the
neck, but this is nothing to the pain in your knees and thighs. After
half a mile it becomes (I am not exaggerating) an unbearable agony. You
begin to wonder whether you will ever get to the end--still more, how on
earth you are going to get back. Your pace grows slower and slower. You
come to a stretch of a couple of hundred yards where it is all
exceptionally low and you have to work yourself along in a squatting
position. Then suddenly the roof opens out to a mysterious height--scene
of and old fall of rock, probably--and for twenty whole yards you can
stand upright. The relief is overwhelming. But after this there is
another low stretch of a hundred yards and then a succession of beams
which you have to crawl under. You go down on all fours; even this is a
relief after the squatting business. But when you come to the end of the
beams and try to get up again, you find that your knees have temporarily
struck work and refuse to lift you. You call a halt, ignominiously, and
say that you would like to rest for a minute or two. Your guide (a miner)
is sympathetic. He knows that your muscles are not the same as his. 'Only
another four hundred yards,' he says encouragingly; you feel that he
might as well say another four hundred miles. But finally you do somehow
creep as far as the coal face. You have gone a mile and taken the best
part of an hour; a miner would do it in not much more than twenty
minutes. Having got there, you have to sprawl in the coal dust and get
your strength back for several minutes before you can even watch the work
in progress with any kind of intelligence.

Coming back is worse than going, not only because you are already tired
out but because the journey back to the shaft is slightly uphill. You get
through the low places at the speed of a tortoise, and you have no shame
now about calling a halt when your knees give way. Even the lamp you are
carrying becomes a nuisance and probably when you stumble you drop it;
whereupon, if it is a Davy lamp, it goes out. Ducking the beams becomes
more and more of an effort, and sometimes you forget to duck. You try
walking head down as the miners do, and then you bang your backbone. Even
the miners bang their backbones fairly often. This is the reason why in
very hot mines, where it is necessary to go about half naked, most of the
miners have what they call 'buttons down the back'--that is, a permanent
scab on each vertebra. When the track is down hill the miners sometimes
fit their clogs, which are hollow under-neath, on to the trolley rails
and slide down. In mines where the 'travelling' is very bad all the
miners carry sticks about two and a half feet long, hollowed out below
the handle. In normal places you keep your hand on top of the stick and
in the low places you slide your hand down into the hollow. These sticks
are a great help, and the wooden crash-helmets--a comparatively recent
invention--are a godsend. They look like a French or Italian steel
helmet, but they are made of some kind of pith and very light, and so
strong, that you can take a violent blow on the head without feeling it.
When finally you get back to the surface you have been perhaps three
hours underground and travelled two miles, and you, are more exhausted
than you would be by a twenty-five-mile walk above ground. For a week
afterwards your thighs are so stiff that coming downstairs is quite a
difficult feat; you have to work your way down in a peculiar sidelong
manner, without bending the knees. Your miner friends notice the
stiffness of your walk and chaff you about it. ('How'd ta like to work
down pit, eh?' etc.) Yet even a miner who has been long away front
work--from illness, for instance--when he comes back to the pit, suffers
badly for the first few days.

It may seem that I am exaggerating, though no one who has been down an
old-fashioned pit (most of the pits in England are old-fashioned) and
actually gone as far as the coal face, is likely to say so. But what I
want to emphasize is this. Here is this frightful business of crawling to
and fro, which to any normal person is a hard day's work in itself; and
it is not part of the miner's work at all, it is merely an extra, like
the City man's daily ride in the Tube. The miner does that journey to and
fro, and sandwiched in between there are seven and a half hours of savage
work. I have never travelled much more than a mile to the coal face; but
often it is three miles, in which case I and most people other than
coal-miners would never get there at all. This is the kind of point that
one is always liable to miss. When you think of the coal-mine you think
of depth, heat, darkness, blackened figures hacking at walls of coal; you
don't think, necessarily, of those miles of creeping to and fro. There is
the question of time, also. A miner's working shift of seven and a half
hours does not sound very long, but one has got to add on to it at least
an hour a day for 'travelling', more often two hours and sometimes three.
Of course, the 'travelling' is not technically work and the miner is not
paid for it; but it is as like work as makes no difference. It is easy to
say that miners don't mind all this. Certainly, it is not the same for
them as it would be for you or me. They have done it since childhood,
they have the right muscles hardened, and they can move to and fro
underground with a startling and rather horrible agility. A miner puts
his head down and runs, with a long swinging stride, through places where
I can only stagger. At the workings you see them on all fours, skipping
round the pit props almost like dogs. But it is quite a mistake to think
that they enjoy it. I have talked about this to scores of miners and they
all admit that the 'travelling' is hard work; in any case when you hear
them discussing a pit among themselves the 'travelling' is always one of
the things they discuss. It is said that a shift always returns from work
faster than it goes; nevertheless the miners all say that it is the
coming away after a hard day's work, that is especially irksome. It is
part of their work and they are equal to it, but certainly it is an
effort. It is comparable, perhaps, to climbing a smallish mountain before
and after your day's work.

When you have been down in two or three pits you begin to get some grasp
of the processes that are going on underground. (I ought to say, by the
way, that I know nothing whatever about the technical side of mining: I
am merely describing what I have seen.) Coal lies in thin seams between
enormous layers of rock, so that essentially the process of getting it
out is like scooping the central layer from a Neapolitan ice. In the old
days the miners used to cut straight into the coal with pick and
crowbar--a very slow job because coal, when lying in its virgin state,
is almost as hard as rock. Nowadays the preliminary work is done by an
electrically-driven coal-cutter, which in principle is an immensely
tough and powerful band-saw, running horizontally instead of vertically,
with teeth a couple of inches long and half an inch or an inch thick. It
can move backwards or forwards on its own power, and the men operating
it can rotate it this way or that. Incidentally it makes one of the most
awful noises I have ever heard, and sends forth clouds of coal dust
which make it impossible to see more than two to three feet and almost
impossible to breathe. The machine travels along the coal face cutting
into the base of the coal and undermining it to the depth of five feet
or five feet and a half; after this it is comparatively easy to extract
the coal to the depth to which it has been undermined. Where it is
'difficult getting', however, it has also to be loosened with
explosives. A man with an electric drill, like a rather small version of
the drills used in street-mending, bores holes at intervals in the coal,
inserts blasting powder, plugs it with clay, goes round the corner if
there is one handy (he is supposed to retire to twenty-five yards
distance) and touches off the charge with an electric current. This is
not intended to bring the coal out, only to loosen it. Occasionally, of
course, the charge is too powerful, and then it not only brings the coal
out but brings the roof down as well.

After the blasting has been done the 'fillers' can tumble the coal out,
break it up and shovel it on to the conveyor belt. It comes out first in
monstrous boulders which may weigh anything up to twenty tons. The
conveyor belt shoots it on to tubs, and the tubs are shoved into the main
road and hitched on to an endlessly revolving steel cable which drags
them to the cage. Then they are hoisted, and at the surface the coal is
sorted by being run over screens, and if necessary is washed as well. As
far as possible the 'dirt'--the shale, that is--is used for making the
roads below. All what cannot be used is sent to the surface and dumped;
hence the monstrous 'dirt-heaps', like hideous grey mountains, which are
the characteristic scenery of the coal areas. When the coal has been
extracted to the depth to which the machine has cut, the coal face has
advanced by five feet. Fresh props are put in to hold up the newly
exposed roof, and during the next shift the conveyor belt is taken to
pieces, moved five feet forward and re-assembled. As far as possible the
three operations of cutting, blasting and extraction are done in three
separate shifts, the cutting in the afternoon, the blasting at night
(there is a law, not always kept, that forbids its being done when other
men are working near by), and the 'filling' in the morning shift, which
lasts from six in the morning until half past one.

Even when you watch the process of coal-extraction you probably only
watch it for a short time, and it is not until you begin making a few
calculations that you realize what a stupendous task the 'fillers' are
performing. Normally each o man has to clear a space four or five yards
wide. The cutter has undermined the coal to the depth of five feet, so
that if the seam of coal is three or four feet high, each man has to cut
out, break up and load on to the belt something between seven and twelve
cubic yards of coal. This is to say, taking a cubic yard as weighing
twenty-seven hundred-weight, that each man is shifting coal at a speed
approaching two tons an hour. I have just enough experience of pick and
shovel work to be able to grasp what this means. When I am digging
trenches in my garden, if I shift two tons of earth during the afternoon,
I feel that I have earned my tea. But earth is tractable stuff compared
with coal, and I don't have to work kneeling down, a thousand feet
underground, in suffocating heat and swallowing coal dust with every
breath I take; nor do I have to walk a mile bent double before I begin.
The miner's job would be as much beyond my power as it would be to
perform on a flying trapeze or to win the Grand National. I am not a
manual labourer and please God I never shall be one, but there are some
kinds of manual work that I could do if I had to. At a pitch I could be a
tolerable road-sweeper or an inefficient gardener or even a tenth-rate
farm hand. But by no conceivable amount of effort or training could I
become a coal-miner, the work would kill me in a few weeks.

Watching coal-miners at work, you realize momentarily what different
universes people inhabit. Down there where coal is dug is a sort of world
apart which one can quite easily go through life without ever hearing
about. Probably majority of people would even prefer not to hear about
it. Yet it is the absolutely necessary counterpart of our world above.
Practically everything we do, from eating an ice to crossing the
Atlantic, and from baking a loaf to writing a novel, involves the use of
coal, directly or indirectly. For all the arts of peace coal is needed;
if war breaks out it is needed all the more. In time of revolution the
miner must go on working or the revolution must stop, for revolution as
much as reaction needs coal. Whatever may be happening on the surface,
the hacking and shovelling have got to continue without a pause, or at
any rate without pausing for more than a few weeks at the most. In order
that Hitler may march the goose-step, that the Pope may denounce
Bolshevism, that the cricket crowds may assemble at Lords, that the poets
may scratch one another's backs, coal has got to be forthcoming. But on
the whole we are not aware of it; we all know that we 'must have coal',
but we seldom or never remember what coal-getting involves. Here am I
sitting writing in front of my comfortable coal fire. It is April but I
still need a fire. Once a fortnight the coal cart drives up to the door
and men in leather jerkins carry the coal indoors in stout sacks smelling
of tar and shoot it clanking into the coal-hole under the stairs. It is
only very rarely, when I make a definite mental-effort, that I connect
this coal with that far-off labour in the mines. It is just
'coal'--something that I have got to have; black stuff that arrives
mysteriously from nowhere in particular, like manna except that you have
to pay for it. You could quite easily drive a car right across the north
of England and never once remember that hundreds of feet below the road
you are on the miners are hacking at the coal. Yet in a sense it is the
miners who are driving your car forward. Their lamp-lit world down there
is as necessary to the daylight world above as the root is to the
flower.

It is not long since conditions in the mines were worse than they are
now. There are still living a few very old women who in their youth have
worked underground, with the harness round their waists, and a chain that
passed between their legs, crawling on all fours and dragging tubs of
coal. They used to go on doing this even when they were pregnant. And
even now, if coal could not be produced without pregnant women dragging
it to and fro, I fancy we should let them do it rather than deprive
ourselves of coal. But-most of the time, of course, we should prefer to
forget that they were doing it. It is so with all types of manual work;
it keeps us alive, and we are oblivious of its existence. More than
anyone else, perhaps, the miner can stand as the type of the manual
worker, not only because his work is so exaggeratedly awful, but also
because it is so vitally necessary and yet so remote from our experience,
so invisible, as it were, that we are capable of forgetting it as we
forget the blood in our veins. In a way it is even humiliating to watch
coal-miners working. It raises in you a momentary doubt about your own
status as an 'intellectual' and a superior person generally. For it is
brought home to you, at least while you are watching, that it is only
because miners sweat their guts out that superior persons can remain
superior. You and I and the editor of the Times Lit. Supp., and the poets
and the Archbishop of Canterbury and Comrade X, author of Marxism for
Infants--all of us really owe the comparative decency of our lives to
poor drudges underground, blackened to the eyes, with their throats full
of coal dust, driving their shovels forward with arms and belly muscles
of steel.



NORTH AND SOUTH (FROM "THE ROAD TO WIGAN PIER") (1937)


As you travel northward your eye, accustomed to the South or East, does
not notice much difference until you are beyond Birmingham. In Coventry
you might as well be in Finsbury Park, and the Bull Ring in Birmingham is
not unlike Norwich Market, and between all the towns of the Midlands there
stretches a villa-civilization indistinguishable from that of the South.
It is only when you get a little further north, to the pottery towns and
beyond, that you begin to encounter the real ugliness of
industrialism--an ugliness so frightful and so arresting that you are
obliged, as it were, to come to terms with it.

A slag-heap is at best a hideous thing, because it is so planless and
functionless. It is something just dumped on the earth, like the emptying
of a giant's dust-bin. On the outskirts of the mining towns there are
frightful landscapes where your horizon is ringed completely round by
jagged grey mountains, and underfoot is mud and ashes and over-head the
steel cables where tubs of dirt travel slowly across miles of country.
Often the slag-heaps are on fire, and at night you can see the red
rivulets of fire winding this way and that, and also the slow-moving blue
flames of sulphur, which always seem on the point of expiring and always
spring out again. Even when a slag-heap sinks, as it does ultimately, only
an evil brown grass grows on it, and it retains its hummocky surface. One
in the slums of Wigan, used as a playground, looks like a choppy sea
suddenly frozen; 'the flock mattress', it is called locally. Even
centuries hence when the plough drives over the places where coal was once
mined, the sites of ancient slag-heaps will still be distinguishable from
an aeroplane.

I remember a winter afternoon in the dreadful environs of Wigan. All
round was the lunar landscape of slag-heaps, and to the north, through the
passes, as it were, between the mountains of slag, you could see the
factory chimneys sending out their plumes of smoke. The canal path was a
mixture of cinders and frozen mud, criss-crossed by the imprints of
innumerable clogs, and all round, as far as the slag-heaps in the
distance, stretched the 'flashes'--pools of stagnant water that had seeped
into the hollows caused by the subsidence of ancient pits. It was horribly
cold. The 'flashes' were covered with ice the colour of raw umber, the
bargemen were muffled to the eyes in sacks, the lock gates wore beards of
ice. It seemed a world from which vegetation had been banished; nothing
existed except smoke, shale, ice, mud, ashes, and foul water. But even
Wigan is beautiful compared with Sheffield. Sheffield, I suppose, could
justly claim to be called the ugliest town in the Old World: its
inhabitants, who want it to be pre-eminent in everything, very likely do
make that claim for it. It has a population of half a million and it
contains fewer decent buildings than the average East Anglian village of
five hundred. And the stench! If at rare moments you stop smelling
sulphur it is because you have begun smelling gas. Even the shallow
river that runs through the town is-usually bright yellow with some
chemical or other. Once I halted in the street and counted the factory
chimneys I could see; there were thirty-three of them, but there would
have been far more if the air had not been obscured by smoke. One scene
especially lingers in my mind. A frightful patch of waste ground
(somehow, up there, a patch of waste ground attains a squalor that
would be impossible even in London) trampled bare of grass and littered
with newspapers and old saucepans. To the right an isolated row of gaunt
four-roomed houses, dark red, blackened by smoke. To the left an
interminable vista of factory chimneys, chimney beyond chimney, fading
away into a dim blackish haze. Behind me a railway embankment made of the
slag from furnaces. In front, across the patch of waste ground, a cubical
building of red and yellow brick, with the sign 'Thomas Grocock, Haulage
Contractor'.

At night, when you cannot see the hideous shapes of the houses and the
blackness of everything, a town like Sheffield assumes a kind of sinister
magnificence. Sometimes the drifts of smoke are rosy with sulphur, and
serrated flames, like circular saws, squeeze themselves out from beneath
the cowls of the foundry chimneys. Through the open doors of foundries you
see fiery serpents of iron being hauled to and fro by redlit boys, and you
hear the whizz and thump of steam hammers and the scream of the iron under
the blow. The pottery towns are almost equally ugly in a pettier way.
Right in among the rows of tiny blackened houses, part of the street as it
were, are the 'pot banks'--conical brick chimneys like gigantic burgundy
bottles buried in the soil and belching their smoke almost in your face.
You come upon monstrous clay chasms hundreds of feet across and almost as
deep, with little rusty tubs creeping on chain railways up one side, and
on the other workmen clinging like samphire-gatherers and cutting into the
face of the cliff with their picks. I passed that way in snowy weather,
and even the snow was black. The best thing one can say for the pottery
towns is that they are fairly small and stop abruptly. Less than ten miles
away you can stand in un-defiled country, on the almost naked hills, and
the pottery towns are only a smudge in the distance.

When you contemplate such ugliness as this, there are two questions
that strike you. First, is it inevitable? Secondly, does it matter?

I do not believe that there is anything inherently and unavoidably
ugly about industrialism. A factory or even a gasworks is not obliged of
its own nature to be ugly, any more than a palace or a dog-kennel or a
cathedral. It all depends on the architectural tradition of the period.
The industrial towns of the North are ugly because they happen to have
been built at a time when modern methods of steel-construction and
smoke-abatement were unknown, and when everyone was too busy making money
to think about anything else. They go on being ugly largely because the
Northerners have got used to that kind of thing and do not notice it. Many
of the people in Sheffield or Manchester, if they smelled the air along
the Cornish cliffs, would probably declare that it had no taste in it. But
since the war, industry has tended to shift southward and in doing so has
grown almost comely. The typical post-war factory is not a gaunt barrack
or an awful chaos of blackness and belching chimneys; it is a glittering
white structure of concrete, glass, and steel, surrounded by green lawns
and beds of tulips. Look at the factories you pass as you travel out of
London on the G.W.R.; they may not be aesthetic triumphs but certainly
they are not ugly in the same way as the Sheffield gasworks. But in any
case, though the ugliness of industrialism is the most obvious thing about
it and the thing every newcomer exclaims against, I doubt whether it
is centrally important. And perhaps it is not even desirable,
industrialism being what it is, that it should learn to disguise itself
as something else. As Mr Aldous Huxley has truly remarked, a dark Satanic
mill ought to look like a dark Satanic mill and not like the temple of
mysterious and splendid gods. Moreover, even in the worst of the
industrial towns one sees a great deal that is not ugly in the narrow
aesthetic sense. A belching chimney or a stinking slum is repulsive
chiefly because it implies warped lives and ailing children. Look at it
from a purely aesthetic standpoint and it may, have a certain macabre
appeal. I find that anything outrageously strange generally ends by
fascinating me even when I abominate it. The landscapes of Burma, which,
when I was among them, so appalled me as to assume the qualities of
nightmare, afterwards stayed so hauntingly in my mind that I was obliged
to write a novel about them to get rid of them. (In all novels about the
East the scenery is the real subject-matter.) It would probably be quite
easy to extract a sort of beauty, as Arnold Bennett did, from the
blackness of the industrial towns; one can easily imagine Baudelaire, for
instance, writing a poem about a slag-heap. But the beauty or ugliness of
industrialism hardly matters. Its real evil lies far deeper and is quite
uneradicable. It is important to remember this, because there is always
a temptation to think that industrialism is harmless so long as it is
clean and orderly.

But when you go to the industrial North you are conscious, quite apart
from the unfamiliar scenery, of entering a strange country. This is partly
because of certain real differences which do exist, but still more because
of the North-South antithesis which has been rubbed into us for such a
long time past. There exists in England a curious cult of Northernness,
sort of Northern snobbishness. A Yorkshireman in the South will always
take care to let you know that he regards you as an inferior. If you ask
him why, he will explain that it is only in the North that life is 'real'
life, that the industrial work done in the North is the only 'real' work,
that the North is inhabited by 'real' people, the South merely by rentiers
and their parasites. The Northerner has 'grit', he is grim, 'dour',
plucky, warm-hearted, and democratic; the Southerner is snobbish,
effeminate, and lazy--that at any rate is the theory. Hence the Southerner
goes north, at any rate for the first time, with the vague
inferiority-complex of a civilized man venturing among savages, while the
Yorkshireman, like the Scotchman, comes to London in the spirit of a
barbarian out for loot. And feelings of this kind, which are the result
of tradition, are not affected by visible facts. Just as an Englishman
five feet four inches high and twenty-nine inches round the chest feels
that as an Englishman he is the physical superior of Camera (Camera being
a Dago), so also with the Northerner and the Southerner. I remember a
weedy little Yorkshireman, who would almost certainly have run away if a
fox-terrier had snapped at him, telling me that in the South of England he
felt 'like a wild invader'. But the cult is often adopted by people who
are not by birth Northerners themselves. A year or two ago a friend of
mine, brought up in the South but now living in the North, was driving me
through Suffolk in a car. We passed through a rather beautiful village.
He glanced disapprovingly at the cottages and said:

'Of course most of the villages in Yorkshire are hideous; but the
Yorkshiremen are splendid chaps. Down here it's just the other way
about--beautiful villages and rotten people. All the people in those
cottages there are worthless, absolutely worthless.'

I could not help inquiring whether he happened to know anybody in that
village. No, he did not know them; but because this was East Anglia they
were obviously worthless. Another friend of mine, again a Southerner by
birth, loses no opportunity of praising the North to the detriment of the
South. Here is an extract from one of his letters to me:

I am in Clitheroe, Lanes...I think running water is much more
attractive in moor and mountain country than in the fat and sluggish
South. 'The smug and silver Trent,' Shakespeare says; and the South--er
the smugger, I say.

Here you have an interesting example of the Northern cult. Not only
are you and I and everyone else in the South of England written off as 'fat
and sluggish', but even water when it gets north of a certain latitude,
ceases to be H2O and becomes something mystically superior. But the
interest of this passage is that its writer is an extremely intelligent man
of 'advanced' opinions who would have nothing but con-tempt for nationalism
in its ordinary form. Put to him some such proposition as 'One Britisher is
worth three foreigners', and he would repudiate it with horror. But when it
is a question of North versus South, he is quite ready to generalize. All
nationalistic distinctions--all claims to be better than somebody else
because you have a different-shaped skull or speak a different
dialect--are entirely spurious, but they are important so long as people
believe in them. There is no doubt about the Englishman's inbred
conviction that those who live to the south of him are his inferiors;
even our foreign policy is governed by it to some extent. I think,
therefore, that it is worth pointing out when and why it came into
being.

When nationalism first became a religion, the English looked at the
map, and, noticing that their island lay very high in the Northern
Hemisphere, evolved the pleasing theory that the further north you live the
more virtuous you become. The histories I was given when I was a little boy
generally started off by explaining in the naivest way that a cold climate
made people energetic while a hot one made them lazy, and hence the defeat
of the Spanish Armada. This nonsense about the superior energy of the
English (actually the laziest people in Europe) has been current for at
least a hundred years. 'Better is it for us', writes a Quarterly Reviewer
of 1827, 'to be condemned to labour for our country's good than to
luxuriate amid olives, vines, and vices.' 'Olives, vines, and vices' sums
up the normal English attitude towards the Latin races. In the mythology of
Garlyle, Creasey, etc., the Northerner ('Teutonic', later 'Nordic') is
pictured as a hefty, vigorous chap with blond moustaches and pure morals,
while the Southerner is sly, cowardly, and licentious. This theory was
never pushed to its logical end, which would have meant assuming that the
finest people in the world were the Eskimos, but it did involve admitting
that the people who lived to the north of us were superior to ourselves.
Hence, partly, the cult of Scotland and of Scotch things which has so
deeply marked English life during the past fifty years. But it was the
industrialization of the North that gave the North-South antithesis its
peculiar slant. Until comparatively recently the northern part of England
was the backward and feudal part, and such industry as existed was
concentrated in London and the South-East. In the Civil War for instance,
roughly speaking a war of money versus feudalism, the North and West were
for the King and the South and East for the Parliament. But with the
increasing use of coal industry passed to the North, and there grew up a
new type of man, the self-made Northern business man--the Mr Rouncewell
and Mr Bounderby of Dickens. The Northern business man, with his hateful
'get on or get out' philosophy, was the dominant figure of the nineteenth
century, and as a sort of tyrannical corpse he rules us still. This is the
type edified by Arnold Bennett--the type who starts off with half a crown
and ends up with fifty thousand pounds, and whose chief pride is to be an
even greater boor after he has made his money than before. On analysis his
sole virtue turns out to be a talent for making money. We were bidden to
admire him because though he might be narrow-minded, sordid, ignorant,
grasping, and uncouth, he had 'grit', he 'got on'; in other words, he knew
how to make money.

This kind of cant is nowadays a pure anachronism, for the Northern
business man is no longer prosperous. But traditions are not killed by
facts, and the tradition of Northern' grit' lingers. It is still dimly felt
that a Northerner will 'get on', i.e. make money, where a Southerner will
fail. At the back of the mind of every Yorkshireman and every Scotchman who
comes to London is a sort of Dick Whittington picture of himself as the boy
who starts off by selling newspapers and ends up as Lord Mayor. And that,
really, is at the bottom of his bumptiousness. But where one can make a
great mistake is in imagining that this feeling extends to the genuine
working class. When I first went to Yorkshire, some years ago, I imagined
that I was going to a country of boors. I was used to the London
Yorkshireman with his interminable harangues and his pride in the sup-posed
raciness of his dialect (' "A stitch in time saves nine", as we say in the
West Riding'), and I expected to meet with a good deal of rudeness. But I
met with nothing of the kind, and least of all among the miners. Indeed the
Lancashire and Yorkshire miners treated me with a kindness and courtesy
that were even embarrassing; for if there is one type of man to whom I do
feel myself inferior, it is a coal-miner. Certainly no one showed any sign
of despising me for coming from a different part of the country. This has
its importance when one remembers that the English regional snobberies are
nationalism in miniature; for it suggests that place-snobbery is not a
working-class characteristic.

There is nevertheless a real difference between North and South, and
there is at least a tinge of truth in that picture of Southern England as
one enormous Brighton inhabited by lounge-lizards. For climatic reasons the
parasitic dividend-drawing class tend to settle in the South. In a
Lancashire cotton-town you could probably go for months on end without once
hearing an 'educated' accent, whereas there can hardly be a town in the
South of England where you could throw a brick without hitting the niece of
a bishop. Consequently, with no petty gentry to set the pace, the
bourgeoisification of the working class, though it is taking place in the
North, is taking place more slowly. All the Northern accents, for instance,
persist strongly, while the Southern ones are collapsing before the movies
and the B.B.C. Hence your 'educated' accent stamps you rather as a
foreigner than as a chunk of the petty gentry; and this is an immense
advantage, for it makes it much easier to get into contact with the working
class.

But is it ever possible to be really intimate with the working class?
I shall have to discuss that later; I will only say here that I do not
think it is possible. But undoubtedly it is easier in the North than it
would be in the South to meet working-class people on approximately equal
terms. It is fairly easy to live in a miner's house and be accepted as one
of the family; with, say, a farm labourer in the Southern counties it
probably would be impossible. I have seen just enough of the working
class to avoid idealizing them, but I do know that you can learn a great
deal in a working-class home, if only you can get there. The essential
point is that your middle-class ideals and prejudices are tested by
contact with others which are not necessarily better but are certainly
different.

Take for instance the different attitude towards the family. A
working-class family hangs together as a middle-class one does, but the
relationship is far less tyrannical. A working man has not that deadly
weight of family prestige hanging round his neck like a millstone. I have
pointed out earlier that a middle-class person goes utterly to pieces under
the influence of poverty; and this is generally due to the behaviour of his
family--to the fact that he has scores of relations nagging and badgering
him night and day for failing to 'get on'. The fact that the working class
know how to combine and the middle class don't is probably due to their
different conceptions of family loyalty. You cannot have an effective trade
union of middle-class workers, be-cause in times of strikes almost every
middle-class wife would be egging her husband on to blackleg and get the
other fellow's job. Another working-class characteristic, disconcerting at
first, is their plain-spokenness towards anyone they regard as an equal. If
you offer a working man something he doesn't want, he tells you that he
doesn't want it; a middle-class person would accept it to avoid giving
offence. And again, take the working-class attitude towards 'education'.
How different it is from ours, and how immensely sounder! Working people
often have a vague reverence for learning in others, but where 'education'
touches their own lives they see through it and reject it by a healthy
instinct. The time was when I used to lament over quite imaginary pictures
of lads of fourteen dragged protesting from their lessons and set to work
at dismal jobs. It seemed to me dreadful that the doom of a 'job' should
descend upon anyone at fourteen. Of course I know now that there is not one
working-class boy in a thousand who does not pine for the day when he will
leave school. He wants to be doing real work, not wasting his time on
ridiculous rubbish like history and geography. To the working class, the
notion of staying at school till you are nearly grown-up seems merely
contemptible and unmanly. The idea of a great big boy of eighteen, who
ought to be bringing a pound a week home to his parents, going to school in
a ridiculous uniform and even being caned for not doing his lessons! Just
fancy a working-class boy of eighteen allowing himself to be caned! He is a
man when the other is still a baby. Ernest Pontifex, in Samuel Butler's Way
of All Flesh, after he had had a few glimpses of real life, looked back on
his public school and university education and found it a 'sickly,
debilitating debauch'. There is much in middle-class life that looks sickly
and debilitating when you see it from a working-class angle.

In a working-class home--I am not thinking at the moment of the
unemployed, but of comparatively prosperous homes--you breathe a warm,
decent, deeply human atmosphere which it is not so easy to find elsewhere.
I should say that a manual worker, if he is in steady work and drawing good
wages--an 'if which gets bigger and bigger--has a better chance of
being happy than an 'educated' man. His home life seems to fall more
naturally into a sane and comely shape. I have often been struck by the
peculiar easy completeness, the perfect symmetry as it were, of a
working-class interior at its best. Especially on winter evenings after
tea, when the fire glows in the open range and dances mirrored in the
steel fender, when Father, in shirt-sleeves, sits in the rocking chair
at one side of the fire reading the racing finals, and Mother sits on
the other with her sewing, and the children are happy with a pennorth of
mint humbugs, and the dog lolls roasting himself on the rag mat--it is a
good place to be in, provided that you can be not only in it but
sufficiently of it to be taken for granted.

This scene is still reduplicated in a majority of English homes,
though not in so many as before the war. Its happiness depends mainly upon
one question--whether Father is in work. But notice that the picture I
have called up, of a working-class family sitting round the coal fire after
kippers and strong tea, belongs only to our own moment of time and could
not belong either to the future or the past. Skip forward two hundred years
into the Utopian future, and the scene is totally different. Hardly one of
the things I have imagined will still be there. In that age when there is
no manual labour and everyone is 'educated', it is hardly likely that
Father will still be a rough man with enlarged hands who likes to sit in
shirt-sleeves and says 'Ah wur coomin' oop street'. And there won't be a
coal fire in the grate, only some kind of invisible heater. The furniture
will be made of rubber, glass, and steel. If there are still such things as
evening papers there will certainly be no racing news in them, for
gambling will be meaningless in a world where there is no poverty and
the horse will have vanished from the face of the earth. Dogs, too, will
have been suppressed on grounds of hygiene. And there won't be so many
children, either, if the birth-controllers have their way. But move
backwards into the Middle Ages and you are in a world almost equally
foreign. A windowless hut, a wood fire which smokes in your face because
there is no chimney, mouldy bread, 'Poor John', lice, scurvy, a yearly
child-birth and a yearly child-death, and the priest terrifying you with
tales of Hell.

Curiously enough it is not the triumphs of modern engineering, nor the
radio, nor the cinematograph, nor the five thousand novels which are
published yearly, nor the crowds at Ascot and the Eton and Harrow match,
but the memory of working-class interiors--especially as I sometimes saw
them in my childhood before the war, when England was still
prosperous--that reminds me that our age has not been altogether a bad
one to live in.



SPILLING THE SPANISH BEANS (1937)


The Spanish war has probably produced a richer crop of lies than any
event since the Great War of 1914-18, but I honestly doubt, in spite of
all those hecatombs of nuns who have been raped and crucified before the
eyes of DAILY MAIL reporters, whether it is the pro-Fascist newspapers
that have done the most harm. It is the left-wing papers, the NEWS
CHRONICLE and the DAILY WORKER, with their far subtler methods of
distortion, that have prevented the British public from grasping the real
nature of the struggle.

The fact which these papers have so carefully obscured is that the
Spanish Government (including the semi-autonomous Catalan Government) is
far more afraid of the revolution than of the Fascists. It is now almost
certain that the war will end with some kind of compromise, and there is
even reason to doubt whether the Government, which let Bilbao fail
without raising a finger, wishes to be too victorious; but there is no
doubt whatever about the thoroughness with which it is crushing its own
revolutionaries. For some time past a reign of terror--forcible
suppression of political parties, a stifling censorship of the press,
ceaseless espionage and mass imprisonment without trial--has been in
progress. When I left Barcelona in late June the jails were bulging;
indeed, the regular jails had long since overflowed and the prisoners
were being huddled into empty shops and any other temporary dump that
could be found for them. But the point to notice is that the people who
are in prison now are not Fascists but revolutionaries; they are there
not because their opinions are too much to the Right, but because they
are too much to the Left. And the people responsible for putting them
there are those dreadful revolutionaries at whose very name Garvin quakes
in his galoshes--the Communists.

Meanwhile the war against Franco continues, but, except for the poor
devils in the front-line trenches, nobody in Government Spain thinks of
it as the real war. The real struggle is between revolution and
counter-revolution; between the workers who are vainly trying to hold on
to a little of what they won in 1936, and the Liberal-Communist bloc who
are so successfully taking it away from them. It is unfortunate that so
few people in England have yet caught up with the fact that Communism is
now a counter-revolutionary force; that Communists everywhere are in
alliance with bourgeois reformism and using the whole of their powerful
machinery to crush or discredit any party that shows signs of
revolutionary tendencies. Hence the grotesque spectacle of Communists
assailed as wicked 'Reds' by right-wing intellectuals who are in
essential agreement with them. Mr Wyndham Lewis, for instance, ought to
love the Communists, at least temporarily. In Spain the Communist-Liberal
alliance has been almost completely victorious. Of all that the Spanish
workers won for themselves in 1936 nothing solid remains, except for a
few collective farms and a certain amount of land seized by the peasants
last year; and presumably even the peasants will be sacrificed later,
when there is no longer any need to placate them. To see how the present
situation arose, one has got to look back to the origins of the civil
war.

Franco's bid for power differed from those of Hitler and Mussolini in
that it was a military insurrection, comparable to a foreign invasion,
and therefore had not much mass backing, though Franco has since been
trying to acquire one. Its chief supporters, apart from certain sections
of Big Business, were the land-owning aristocracy and the huge, parasitic
Church. Obviously a rising of this kind will array against it various
forces which are not in agreement on any other point. The peasant and the
worker hate feudalism and clericalism; but so does the 'liberal'
bourgeois, who is not in the least opposed to a more modern version of
Fascism, at least so long as it isn't called Fascism. The 'liberal'
bourgeois is genuinely liberal up to the point where his own interests
stop. He stands for the degree of progress implied in the phrase 'la
carrière ouverte aux talents'. For clearly he has no chance to develop in
a feudal society where the worker and the peasant are too poor to buy
goods, where industry is burdened with huge taxes to pay for bishops'
vestments, and where every lucrative job is given as a matter of course
to the friend of the catamite of the duke's illegitimate son. Hence, in
the face of such a blatant reactionary as Franco, you get for a while a
situation in which the worker and the bourgeois, in reality deadly
enemies, are fighting side by side. This uneasy alliance is known as the
Popular Front (or, in the Communist press, to give it a spuriously
democratic appeal, People's Front). It is a combination with about as
much vitality, and about as much right to exist, as a pig with two heads
or some other Barnum and Bailey monstrosity.

In any serious emergency the contradiction implied in the Popular Front
is bound to make itself felt. For even when the worker and the bourgeois
are both fighting against Fascism, they are not fighting for the same
things; the bourgeois is fighting for bourgeois democracy, i.e.
capitalism, the worker, in so far as he understands the issue, for
Socialism. And in the early days of the revolution the Spanish workers
understood the issue very well. In the areas where Fascism was defeated
they did not content themselves with driving the rebellious troops out of
the towns; they also took the opportunity of seizing land and factories
and setting up the rough beginnings of a workers' government by means of
local committees, workers' militias, police forces, and so forth. They
made the mistake, however (possibly because most of the active
revolutionaries were Anarchists with a mistrust of all parliaments), of
leaving the Republican Government in nominal control. And, in spite of
various changes in personnel, every subsequent Government had been of
approximately the same bourgeois-reformist character. At the beginning
this seemed not to matter, because the Government, especially in
Catalonia, was almost powerless and the bourgeoisie had to lie low or
even (this was still happening when I reached Spain in December) to
disguise themselves as workers. Later, as power slipped from the hands of
the Anarchists into the hands of the Communists and right-wing
Socialists, the Government was able to reassert itself, the bourgeoisie
came out of hiding and the old division of society into rich and poor
reappeared, not much modified. Henceforward every move, except a few
dictated by military emergency, was directed towards undoing the work of
the first few months of revolution. Out of the many illustrations I could
choose, I will cite only one, the breaking-up of the old workers'
militias, which were organized on a genuinely democratic system, with
officers and men receiving the same pay and mingling on terms of complete
equality, and the substitution of the Popular Army (once again, in
Communist jargon, 'People's Army'), modelled as far as possible on an
ordinary bourgeois army, with a privileged officer-caste, immense
differences of pay, etc. etc. Needless to say, this is given out as a
military necessity, and almost certainly it does make for military
efficiency, at least for a short period. But the undoubted purpose of the
change was to strike a blow at equalitarianism. In every department the
same policy has been followed, with the result that only a year after the
outbreak of war and revolution you get what is in effect an ordinary
bourgeois State, with, in addition, a reign of terror to preserve the
status quo.

This process would probably have gone less far if the struggle could have
taken place without foreign interference. But the military weakness of
the Government made this impossible. In the face of France's foreign
mercenaries they were obliged to turn to Russia for help, and though the
quantity of arms sup--plied by Russia has been greatly exaggerated (in my
first three months in Spain I saw only one Russian weapon, a solitary
machine-gun), the mere fact of their arrival brought the Communists into
power. To begin with, the Russian aeroplanes and guns, and the good
military qualities of the international Brigades (not necessarily
Communist but under Communist control), immensely raised the Communist
prestige. But, more important, since Russia and Mexico were the only
countries openly supplying arms, the Russians were able not only to get
money for their weapons, but to extort terms as well. Put in their
crudest form, the terms were: 'Crush the revolution or you get no more
arms.' The reason usually given for the Russian attitude is that if
Russia appeared to be abetting the revolution, the Franco-Soviet pact
(and the hoped-for alliance with Great Britain) would be imperilled; it
may be, also, that the spectacle of a genuine revolution in Spain would
rouse unwanted echoes in Russia. The Communists, of course, deny that any
direct pressure has been exerted by the Russian Government. But this,
even if true, is hardly relevant, for the Communist Parties of all
countries can be taken as carrying out Russian policy; and it is certain
that the Spanish Communist Party, plus the right-wing Socialists whom
they control, plus the Communist press of the whole world, have used all
their immense and ever-increasing influence upon the side of
counter-revolution.


In the first half of this article I suggested that the real struggle in
Spain, on the Government side, has been between revolution and
counter-revolution; that the Government, though anxious enough to avoid
being beaten by Franco, has been even more anxious to undo the
revolutionary changes with which the outbreak of war was accompanied.

Any Communist would reject this suggestion as mistaken or wilfully
dishonest. He would tell you that it is nonsense to talk of the Spanish
Government crushing the revolution, because the revolution never
happened; and that our job at present is to defeat Fascism and defend
democracy. And in this connexion it is most important to see just how the
Communist anti-revolutionary propaganda works. It is a mistake to think
that this has no relevance in England, where the Communist Party is small
and comparatively weak. We shall see its relevance quickly enough if
England enters into an alliance with the U.S.S.R.; or perhaps even
earlier, for the influence of the Communist Party is bound to
increase--visibly is increasing--as more and more of the capitalist
class realize that latter-day Communism is playing their game.

Broadly speaking, Communist propaganda depends upon terrifying people
with the (quite real) horrors of Fascism. It also involves
pretending--not in so many words, but by implication--that Fascism has
nothing to do with capitalism. Fascism is just a kind of meaningless
wickedness, an aberration, 'mass sadism', the sort of thing that would
happen if you suddenly let loose an asylumful of homicidal maniacs.
Present Fascism in this form, and you can mobilize public opinion
against it, at any rate for a while, without provoking any revolutionary
movement. You can oppose Fascism by bourgeois 'democracy, meaning
capitalism. But meanwhile you have got to get rid of the troublesome
person who points out that Fascism and bourgeois 'democracy' are
Tweedledum and Tweedledee. You do it at the beginning by calling him an
impracticable visionary. You tell him that he is confusing the issue,
that he is splitting the anti-Fascist forces, that this is not the
moment for revolutionary phrase-mongering, that for the moment we have
got to fight against Fascism without inquiring too closely what we are
fighting for. Later, if he still refuses to shut up, you change your
tune and call him a traitor. More exactly, you call him a Trotskyist.

And what is a Trotskyist? This terrible word--in Spain at this moment
you can be thrown into jail and kept there indefinitely, without trial,
on the mere rumour that you are a Trotskyist--is only beginning to be
bandied to and fro in England. We shall be hearing more of it later. The
word 'Trotskyist' (or 'Trotsky-Fascist') is generally used to mean a
disguised Fascist who poses as an ultra-revolutionary in order to split
the left-wing forces. But it derives its peculiar power from the fact
that it means three separate things. It can mean one who, like Trotsky,
wished for world revolution; or a member of the actual organization of
which Trotsky is head (the only legitimate use of the word); or the
disguised Fascist already mentioned. The three meanings can be telescoped
one into the other at will. Meaning No. 1 may or may not carry with it
meaning No. 2, and meaning No. 2 almost invariably carries with it
meaning No. 3. Thus: 'XY has been heard to speak favourably of world
revolution; therefore he is a Trotskyist; therefore he is a Fascist.' In
Spain, to some extent even in England, ANYONE professing revolutionary
Socialism (i.e. professing the things the Communist Party professed until
a few years ago) is under suspicion of being a Trotskyist in the pay of
Franco or Hitler.

The accusation is a very subtle one, because in any given case, unless
one happened to know the contrary, it might be true. A Fascist spy
probably WOULD disguise himself as a revolutionary. In Spain, everyone
whose opinions are to the Left of those of the Communist Party is sooner
or later discovered to be a Trotskyist or, at least, a traitor. At the
beginning of the war the POUM, an opposition Communist party roughly
corresponding to the English ILP., was an accepted party and supplied a
minister to the Catalan Government, later it was expelled from the
Government; then it was denounced as Trotskyist; then it was suppressed,
every member that the police could lay their hands on being flung into
jail.

Until a few months ago the Anarcho-Syndicalists were described as
'working loyally' beside the Communists. Then the Anarcho-Syndicalists
were levered out of the Government; then it appeared that they were not
working so loyally; now they are in the process of becoming traitors.
After that will come the turn of the left-wing Socialists. Caballero, the
left-wing Socialist ex-premier, until May 1937 the idol of the Communist
press, is already in outer darkness, a Trotskyist and 'enemy of the
people'. And so the game continues. The logical end is a régime in which
every opposition party and newspaper is suppressed and every dissentient
of any importance is in jail. Of course, such a régime will be Fascism.
It will not be the same as the fascism Franco would impose, it will even
be better than Franco's fascism to the extent of being worth fighting
for, but it will be Fascism. Only, being operated by Communists and
Liberals, it will be called something different.

Meanwhile, can the war be won? The Communist influence has been against
revolutionary chaos and has therefore, apart from the Russian aid, tended
to produce greater military efficiency. If the Anarchists saved the
Government from August to October 1936, the Communists have saved it from
October onwards. But in organizing the defence they have succeeded in
killing enthusiasm (inside Spain, not outside). They made a militarized
conscript army possible, but they also made it necessary. It is
significant that as early as January of this year voluntary recruiting
had practically ceased. A revolutionary army can sometimes win by
enthusiasm, but a conscript army has got to win with weapons, and it is
unlikely that the Government will ever have a large preponderance of arms
unless France intervenes or unless Germany and Italy decide to make off
with the Spanish colonies and leave Franco in the lurch. On the whole, a
deadlock seems the likeliest thing.

And does the Government seriously intend to win? It does not intend to
lose, that is certain. On the other hand, an outright victory, with
Franco in flight and the Germans and Italians driven into the sea, would
raise difficult problems, some of them too obvious to need mentioning.
There is no real evidence and one can only judge by the event, but I
suspect that what the Government is playing for is a compromise that
would leave the war situation essentially in being. All prophecies are
wrong, therefore this one will be wrong, but I will take a chance and say
that though the war may end quite soon or may drag on for years, it will
end with Spain divided up, either by actual frontiers or into economic
zones. Of course, such a compromise might be claimed as a victory by
either side, or by both.

All that I have said in this article would seem entirely commonplace in
Spain, or even in France. Yet in England, in spite of the intense
interest the Spanish war has aroused, there are very few people who have
even heard of the enormous struggle that is going on behind the
Government lines. Of course, this is no accident. There has been a quite
deliberate conspiracy (I could give detailed instances) to prevent the
Spanish situation from being understood. People who ought to know better
have lent themselves to the deception on the ground that if you tell the
truth about Spain it will be used as Fascist propaganda.

It is easy to see where such cowardice leads. If the British public had
been given a truthful account of the Spanish war they would have had an
opportunity of learning what Fascism is and how it can be combated. As it
is, the News Chronicle version of Fascism as a kind of homicidal mania
peculiar to Colonel Blimps bombinating in the economic void has been
established more firmly than ever. And thus we are one step nearer to the
great war 'against Fascism' (cf. 1914, 'against militarism') which will
allow Fascism, British variety, to be slipped over our necks during the
first week.



MARRAKECH (1939)


As the corpse went past the flies left the restaurant table in a cloud
and rushed after it, but they came back a few minutes later.

The little crowd of mourners-all men and boys, no women--threaded
their way across the market-place between the piles of pomegranates
and the taxis and the camels, wailing a short chant over and over
again. What really appeals to the flies is that the corpses here
are never put into coffins, they are merely wrapped in a piece of
rag and carried on a rough wooden bier on the shoulders of four friends.
When the friends get to the burying-ground they hack an oblong hole a
foot or two deep, dump the body in it and fling over it a little of the
dried-up, lumpy earth, which is like broken brick. No gravestone, no
name, no identifying mark of any kind. The burying-ground is merely a
huge waste of hummocky earth, like a derelict building-lot. After a month
or two no one can even be certain where his own relatives are buried.

When you walk through a town like this--two hundred thousand inhabitants,
of whom at least twenty thousand own literally nothing except the rags
they stand up in--when you see how the people live, and still more how
easily they die, it is always difficult to believe that you are walking
among human beings. All colonial empires are in reality founded upon
that fact. The people have brown faces--besides, there are so many of
them! Are they really the same flesh as yourself? Do they even have
names? Or are they merely a kind of undifferentiated brown stuff, about
as individual as bees or coral insects? They rise out of the earth, they
sweat and starve for a few years, and then they sink back into the
nameless mounds of the graveyard and nobody notices that they are gone.
And even the graves themselves soon fade back into the soil. Sometimes,
out for a walk, as you break your way through the prickly pear, you
notice that it is rather bumpy underfoot, and only a certain regularity
in the bumps tells you that you are walking over skeletons.

I was feeding one of the gazelles in the public gardens.

Gazelles are almost the only animals that look good to eat when they are
still alive, in fact, one can hardly look at their hindquarters without
thinking of mint sauce. The gazelle I was feeding seemed to know that
this thought was in my mind, for though it took the piece of bread I was
holding out it obviously did not like me. It nibbled rapidly at the
bread, then lowered its head and tried to butt me, then took another
nibble and then butted again. Probably its idea was that if it could
drive me away the bread would somehow remain hanging in mid-air.

An Arab navvy working on the path nearby lowered his heavy hoe and
sidled towards us. He looked from the gazelle to the bread and from the
bread to the gazelle, with a sort of quiet amazement, as though he had
never seen anything quite like this before. Finally he said shyly in
French:

"_I_ could eat some of that bread."

I tore off a piece and he stowed it gratefully in some secret place
under his rags. This man is an employee of the Municipality.

When you go through the Jewish quarters you gather some idea of what the
medieval ghettoes were probably like. Under their Moorish rulers the
Jews were only allowed to own land in certain restricted areas, and
after centuries of this kind of treatment they have ceased to bother
about overcrowding. Many of the streets are a good deal less than six
feet wide, the houses are completely windowless, and sore-eyed children
cluster everywhere in unbelievable numbers, like clouds of flies. Down
the centre of the street there is generally running a little river of
urine.

In the bazaar huge families of Jews, all dressed in the long black robe
and little black skull-cap, are working in dark fly-infested booths that
look like caves. A carpenter sits cross-legged at a prehistoric lathe,
turning chair-legs at lightning speed. He works the lathe with a bow in
his right hand and guides the chisel with his left foot, and thanks to a
lifetime of sitting in this position his left leg is warped out of
shape. At his side his grandson, aged six, is already starting on the
simpler parts of the job.

I was just passing the coppersmiths' booths when somebody noticed that I
was lighting a cigarette. Instantly, from the dark holes all round,
there was a frenzied rush of Jews, many of them old grandfathers with
flowing grey beards, all clamouring for a cigarette. Even a blind man
somewhere at the back of one of the booths heard a rumour of cigarettes
and came crawling out, groping in the air with his hand. In about a
minute I had used up the whole packet. None of these people, I suppose,
works less than twelve hours a day, and every one of them looks on a
cigarette as a more or less impossible luxury.

As the Jews live in self-contained communities they follow the same
trades as the Arabs, except for agriculture. Fruit-sellers, potters,
silversmiths, blacksmiths, butchers, leather-workers, tailors,
water-carriers, beggars, porters--whichever way you look you see nothing
but Jews. As a matter of fact there are thirteen thousand of them, all
living in the space of a few acres. A good job Hitler isn't here.
Perhaps he is on his way, however. You hear the usual dark rumours about
the Jews, not only from the Arabs but from the poorer Europeans.

"Yes, MON VIEUX, they took my job away from me and gave it to a Jew. The
Jews! They're the real rulers of this country, you know. They've got all
the money. They control the banks, finance--everything."

"But," I said, "isn't it a fact that the average Jew is a labourer
working for about a penny an hour?"

"Ah, that's only for show! They're all money-lenders really. They're
cunning, the Jews."

In just the same way, a couple of hundred years ago, poor old women used
to be burned for witchcraft when they could not even work enough magic
to get themselves a square meal.

All people who work with their hands are partly invisible, and the more
important the work they do, the less visible they are. Still, a white
skin is always fairly conspicuous. In northern Europe, when you see a
labourer ploughing a field, you probably give him a second glance. In a
hot country, anywhere south of Gibraltar or east of Suez, the chances
are that you don't even see him. I have noticed this again and again. In
a tropical landscape one's eye takes in everything except the human
beings. It takes in the dried-up soil, the prickly pear, the palm-tree
and the distant mountain, but it always misses the peasant hoeing at his
patch. He is the same colour as the earth, and a great deal less
interesting to look at.

It is only because of this that the starved countries of Asia and Africa
are accepted as tourist resorts. No one would think of running cheap
trips to the Distressed Areas. But where the human beings have brown
skins their poverty is simply not noticed. What does Morocco mean to a
Frenchman? An orange-grove or a job in government service. Or to an
Englishman? Camels, castles, palm-trees, Foreign Legionnaires, brass
trays and bandits. One could probably live here for years without
noticing that for nine-tenths of the people the reality of life is an
endless, back-breaking struggle to wring a little food out of an eroded
soil.

Most of Morocco is so desolate that no wild animal bigger than a hare
can live on it. Huge areas which were once covered with forest have
turned into a treeless waste where the soil is exactly like broken-up
brick. Nevertheless a good deal of it is cultivated, with frightful
labour. Everything is done by hand. Long lines of women, bent double
like inverted capital Ls, work their way slowly across the fields,
tearing up the prickly weeds with their hands, and the peasant gathering
lucerne for fodder pulls it up stalk by stalk instead of reaping it,
thus saving an inch or two on each stalk. The plough is a wretched
wooden thing, so frail that one can easily carry it on one's shoulder,
and fitted underneath with a rough iron spike which stirs the soil to a
depth of about four inches. This is as much as the strength of the
animals is equal to. It is usual to plough with a cow and a donkey yoked
together. Two donkeys would not be quite strong enough, but on the other
hand two cows would cost a little more to feed. The peasants possess no
harrows, they merely plough the soil several times over in different
directions, finally leaving it in rough furrows, after which the whole
field has to be shaped with hoes into small oblong patches, to conserve
water. Except for a day or two after the rare rainstorms there is never
enough water. Along the edges of the fields channels are hacked out to a
depth of thirty or forty feet to get at the tiny trickles which run
through the subsoil.

Every afternoon a file of very old women passes down the road outside my
house, each carrying a load of firewood. All of them are mummified with
age and the sun, and all of them are tiny. It seems to be generally the
case in primitive communities that the women, when they get beyond a
certain age, shrink to the size of children. One day a poor old creature
who could not have been more than four feet tall crept past me under a
vast load of wood. I stopped her and put a five-sou piece (a little more
than a farthing) into her hand. She answered with a shrill wail, almost
a scream, which was partly gratitude but mainly surprise. I suppose that
from her point of view, by taking any notice of her, I seemed almost to
be violating a law of nature. She accepted her status as an old woman,
that is to say as a beast of burden. When a family is travelling it is
quite usual to see a father and a grown-up son riding ahead on donkeys,
and an old woman following on foot, carrying the baggage.

But what is strange about these people is their invisibility. For
several weeks, always at about the same time of day, the file of old
women had hobbled past the house with their firewood, and though they
had registered themselves on my eyeballs I cannot truly say that I had
seen them. Firewood was passing--that was how I saw it. It was only that
one day I happened to be walking behind them, and the curious up-and-down
motion of a load of wood drew my attention to the human being underneath
it. Then for the first time I noticed the poor old earth-coloured
bodies, bodies reduced to bones and leathery skin, bent double under the
crushing weight. Yet I suppose I had not been five minutes on Moroccan
soil before I noticed the overloading of the donkeys and was infuriated
by it. There is no question that the donkeys are damnably treated. The
Moroccan donkey is hardly bigger than a St Bernard dog, it carries a
load which in the British army would be considered too much for a
fifteen-hands mule, and very often its pack-saddle is not taken off its
back for weeks together. But what is peculiarly pitiful is that it is
the most willing creature on earth, it follows its master like a dog and
does not need either bridle or halter. After a dozen years of devoted
work it suddenly drops dead, whereupon its master tips it into the ditch
and the village dogs have torn its guts out before it is cold.

This kind of thing makes one's blood boil, whereas--on the whole--the
plight of the human beings does not. I am not commenting, merely
pointing to a fact. People with brown skins are next door to invisible.
Anyone can be sorry for the donkey with its galled back, but it is
generally owing to some kind of accident if one even notices the old
woman under her load of sticks.


As the storks flew northward the Negroes were marching southward--a
long, dusty column, infantry, screw-gun batteries and then more
infantry, four or five thousand men in all, winding up the road with a
clumping of boots and a clatter of iron wheels.

They were Senegalese, the blackest Negroes in Africa, so black that
sometimes it is difficult to see whereabouts on their necks the hair
begins. Their splendid bodies were hidden in reach-me-down khaki
uniforms, their feet squashed into boots that looked like blocks of
wood, and every tin hat seemed to be a couple of sizes too small. It was
very hot and the men had marched a long way. They slumped under the
weight of their packs and the curiously sensitive black faces were
glistening with sweat.

As they went past a tall, very young Negro turned and caught my eye. But
the look he gave me was not in the least the kind of look you might
expect. Not hostile, not contemptuous, not sullen, not even inquisitive.
It was the shy, wide-eyed Negro look, which actually is a look of
profound respect. I saw how it was. This wretched boy, who is a French
citizen and has therefore been dragged from the forest to scrub floors
and catch syphilis in garrison towns, actually has feelings of reverence
before a white skin. He has been taught that the white race are his
masters, and he still believes it.

But there is one thought which every white man (and in this connection
it doesn't matter twopence if he calls himself a Socialist) thinks when
he sees a black army marching past. "How much longer can we go on
kidding these people? How long before they turn their guns in the other
direction?"

It was curious, really. Every white man there has this thought stowed
somewhere or other in his mind. I had it, so had the other onlookers, so
had the officers on their sweating chargers and the white NCOs marching
in the ranks. It was a kind of secret which we all knew and were too
clever to tell; only the Negroes didn't know it. And really it was
almost like watching a flock of cattle to see the long column, a mile or
two miles of armed men, flowing peacefully up the road, while the great
white birds drifted over them in the opposite direction, glittering like
scraps of paper.



BOYS' WEEKLIES AND FRANK RICHARDS'S REPLY (1940)


You never walk far through any poor quarter in any big town without
coming upon a small newsagent's shop. The general appearance of these
shops is always very much the same: a few posters for the DAILY MAIL and
the NEWS OF THE WORLD outside, a poky little window with sweet-bottles
and packets of Players, and a dark interior smelling of liquorice
allsorts and festooned from floor to ceiling with vilely printed twopenny
papers, most of them with lurid cover-illustrations in three colours.

Except for the daily and evening papers, the stock of these shops hardly
overlaps at all with that of the big news-agents. Their main selling line
is the twopenny weekly, and the number and variety of these are almost
unbelievable. Every hobby and pastime--cage-birds, fretwork,
carpentering, bees, carrier-pigeons, home conjuring, philately,
chess--has at least one paper devoted to it, and generally several.
Gardening and livestock-keeping must have at least a score between them.
Then there are the sporting papers, the radio papers, the children's
comics, the various snippet papers such as TIT-BITS, the large range of
papers devoted to the movies and all more or less exploiting women's
legs, the various trade papers, the women's story-papers (the ORACLE,
SECRETS, PEG'S PAPER, etc. etc.), the needlework papers--these so
numerous that a display of them alone will often fill an entire
window--and in addition the long series of 'Yank Mags' (FIGHT STORIES,
ACTION STORIES, WESTERN SHORT STORIES, etc.), which are imported
shop-soiled from America and sold at twopence halfpenny or threepence.
And the periodical proper shades off into the fourpenny novelette, the
ALDINE BOXING NOVELS, the BOYS' FRIEND LIBRARY, the SCHOOLGIRLS' OWN
LIBRARY and many others.

Probably the contents of these shops is the best available indication of
what the mass of the English people really feels and thinks. Certainly
nothing half so revealing exists in documentary form. Best-seller novels,
for instance, tell one a great deal, but the novel is aimed almost
exclusively at people above the £4-a-week level. The movies are probably
a very unsafe guide to popular taste, because the film industry is
virtually a monopoly, which means that it is not obliged to study its
public at all closely. The same applies to some extent to the daily
papers, and most of all to the radio. But it does not apply to the weekly
paper with a smallish circulation and specialized subject-matter. Papers
like the EXCHANGE AND MART, for instance, or CAGE-BIRDS, or the ORACLE,
or the PREDICTION, or the MATRIMONIAL TIMES, only exist because there is
a definite demand for them, and they reflect the minds of their readers
as a great national daily with a circulation of millions cannot possibly
do.

Here I am only dealing with a single series of papers, the boys' twopenny
weeklies, often inaccurately described as 'penny dreadfuls'. Falling
strictly within this class there are at present ten papers, the GEM,
MAGNET, MODERN BOY, TRIUMPH and CHAMPION, all owned by the Amalgamated
Press, and the WIZARD, ROVER, SKIPPER, HOTSPUR and ADVENTURE, all owned
by D. C. Thomson & Co. What the circulations of these papers are, I do
not know. The editors and proprietors refuse to name any figures, and in
any case the circulation of a paper carrying serial stories is bound to
fluctuate widely. But there is no question that the combined public of
the ten papers is a very large one. They are on sale in every town in
England, and nearly every boy who reads at all goes through a phase of
reading one or more of them. The GEM and MAGNET, which are much the
oldest of these papers, are of rather different type from the rest, and
they have evidently lost some of their popularity during the past few
years. A good many boys now regard them as old fashioned and 'slow'.
Nevertheless I want to discuss them first, because they are more
interesting psychologically than the others, and also because the mere
survival of such papers into the nineteen-thirties is a rather startling
phenomenon.

The GEM and MAGNET are sister-papers (characters out of one paper
frequently appear in the other), and were both started more than thirty
years ago. At that time, together with Chums and the old B[oy's] O[wn]
P[aper], they were the leading papers for boys, and they remained dominant
till quite recently. Each of them carries every week a fifteen--or
twenty-thousand-word school story, complete in itself, but usually more
or less connected with the story of the week before. The Gem in addition
to its school story carries one or more adventure serial. Otherwise the
two papers are so much alike that they can be treated as one, though the
MAGNET has always been the better known of the two, probably because it
possesses a really first-rate character in the fat boy. Billy Bunter.

The stories are stories of what purports to be public-school life, and
the schools (Greyfriars in the MAGNET and St Jim's in the GEM) are
represented as ancient and fashionable foundations of the type of Eton or
Winchester. All the leading characters are fourth-form boys aged fourteen
or fifteen, older or younger boys only appearing in very minor parts.
Like Sexton Blake and Nelson Lee, these boys continue week after week and
year after year, never growing any older. Very occasionally a new boy
arrives or a minor character drops out, but in at any rate the last
twenty-five years the personnel has barely altered. All the principal
characters in both papers--Bob Cherry, Tom Merry, Harry Wharton, Johnny
Bull, Billy Bunter and the rest of them--were at Greyfriars or St Jim's
long before the Great War, exactly the same age as at present, having
much the same kind of adventures and talking almost exactly the same
dialect. And not only the characters but the whole atmosphere of both Gem
and Magnet has been preserved unchanged, partly by means of very
elaborate stylization. The stories in the Magnet are signed 'Frank
Richards' and those in the GEM, 'Martin Clifford', but a series lasting
thirty years could hardly be the work of the same person every week.
Consequently they have to be written in a style that is
easily imitated--an extraordinary, artificial, repetitive style, quite
different from anything else now existing in English literature. A couple
of extracts will do as illustrations. Here is one from the MAGNET:

Groan!

'Shut up, Bunter!'

Groan!

Shutting up was not really in Billy Bunter's line. He seldom shut up,
though often requested to do so. On the present awful occasion the fat
Owl of Greyfriars was less inclined than ever to shut up. And he did not
shut up! He groaned, and groaned, and went on groaning.

Even groaning did not fully express Bunter's feelings. His feelings, in
fact, were inexpressible.

There were six of them in the soup! Only one of the six uttered sounds of
woe and lamentation. But that one, William George Bunter, uttered enough
for the whole party and a little over.

Harry Wharton & Go. stood in a wrathy and worried group. They were landed
and stranded, diddled, dished and done! etc., etc., etc.

Here is one from the Gem:

'Oh cwumbs!'

'Oh gum!'

'Oooogh!'

'Urrggh!'

Arthur Augustus sat up dizzily. He grabbed his handkerchief and pressed
it to his damaged nose. Tom Merry sat up, gasping for breath. They looked
at one another.

'Bai Jove! This is a go, deah boy!' gurgled Arthur Augustus. 'I have been
thwown into quite a fluttah! Oogh! The wottahs! The wuffians! The feahful
outsidahs! Wow!' etc., etc., etc.

Both of these extracts are entirely typical: you would find something
like them in almost every chapter of every number, to-day or twenty-five
years ago. The first thing that anyone would notice is the extraordinary
amount of tautology (the first of these two passages contains a hundred
and twenty-five words and could be compressed into about thirty),
seemingly designed to spin out the story, but actually playing its part
in creating the atmosphere. For the same reason various facetious
expressions are repeated over and over again; 'wrathy', for instance, is
a great favourite, and so is 'diddled, dished and done'. 'Oooogh!',
'Grooo!' and 'Yaroo!' (stylized cries of pain) recur constantly, and so
does 'Ha! ha! ha!', always given a line to itself, so that sometimes a
quarter of a column or thereabouts consists of 'Ha! ha! ha!' The slang
('Go and cat coke!', 'What the thump!', 'You frabjous ass!', etc. etc.)
has never been altered, so that the boys are now using slang which is at
least thirty years out of date. In addition, the various nicknames are
rubbed in on every possible occasion. Every few lines we are reminded
that Harry Wharton & Co. are 'the Famous Five', Bunter is always 'the fat
Owl' or 'the Owl of the Remove', Vernon-Smith is always 'the Bounder of
Greyfriars', Gussy (the Honourable Arthur Augustus D'Arcy) is always 'the
swell of St Jim's', and so on and so forth. There is a constant, untiring
effort to keep the atmosphere intact and to make sure that every new
reader learns immediately who is who. The result has been to make
Greyfriars and St Jim's into an extraordinary little world of their own,
a world which cannot be taken seriously by anyone over fifteen, but which
at any rate is not easily forgotten. By a debasement of the Dickens
technique a series of stereotyped 'characters' has been built up, in
several cases very successfully. Billy Bunter, for instance, must be one
of the best-known figures in English fiction; for the mere number of
people who know him he ranks with Sexton Blake, Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes
and a handful of characters in Dickens.

Needless to say, these stories are fantastically unlike life at a real
public school. They run in cycles of rather differing types, but in
general they are the clean-fun, knock-about type of story, with interest
centring round horseplay, practical jokes, ragging roasters, fights,
canings, football, cricket and food. A constantly recurring story is one
in which a boy is accused of some misdeed committed by another and is too
much of a sportsman to reveal the truth. The 'good' boys are 'good' in
the clean-living Englishman tradition--they keep in hard training, wash
behind their ears, never hit below the belt etc., etc.,--and by way of
contrast there is a series of 'bad' boys, Racke, Crooke, Loder and others,
whose badness consists in betting, smoking cigarettes and frequenting
public-houses. All these boys are constantly on the verge of expulsion,
but as it would mean a change of personnel if any boy were actually
expelled, no one is ever caught out in any really serious offence.
Stealing, for instance, barely enters as a motif. Sex is completely
taboo, especially in the form in which it actually arises at public
schools. Occasionally girls enter into the stories, and very rarely there
is something approaching a mild flirtation, but it is entirely in the
spirit of clean fun. A boy and a girl enjoy going for bicycle rides
together--that is all it ever amounts to. Kissing, for instance, would
be regarded as 'soppy'. Even the bad boys are presumed to be completely
sexless. When the GEM and MAGNET were started, it is probable that there
was a deliberate intention to get away from the guilty sex-ridden
atmosphere that pervaded so much of the earlier literature for boys. In
the nineties the BOYS' OWN PAPER, for instance, used to have its
correspondence columns full of terrifying warnings against masturbation,
and books like ST WINIFRED'S and TOM BROWN'S SCHOOL-DAYS were heavy with
homosexual feeling, though no doubt the authors were not fully aware of
it. In the GEM and MAGNET sex simply does not exist as a problem.
Religion is also taboo; in the whole thirty years' issue of the two
papers the word 'God' probably does not occur, except in 'God save the
King'. On the other hand, there has always been a very strong
'temperance' strain. Drinking and, by association, smoking are regarded
as rather disgraceful even in an adult ('shady' is the usual word), but
at the same time as something irresistibly fascinating, a sort of
substitute for sex. In their moral atmosphere the GEM and MAGNET have a
great deal in common with the Boy Scout movement, which started at about
the same time.

All literature of this kind is partly plagiarism. Sexton Blake, for
instance, started off quite frankly as an imitation of Sherlock Holmes,
and still resembles him fairly strongly; he has hawk-like features, lives
in Baker Street, smokes enormously and puts on a dressing-gown when he
wants to think. The GEM and MAGNET probably owe something to the old
school-story writers who were flourishing when they began, Gunby Hadath,
Desmond Coke and the rest, but they owe more to nineteenth-century
models. In so far as Greyfriars and St Jim's are like real schools at
all, they are much more like Tom Brown's Rugby than a modern public
school. Neither school has an O.T.G., for instance, games are not
compulsory, and the boys are even allowed to wear what clothes they like.
But without doubt the main origin of these papers is STALKY & CO. This
book has had an immense influence on boys' literature, and it is one of
those books which have a sort of traditional reputation among people who
have never even seen a copy of it. More than once in boys' weekly papers
I have come across a reference to STALKY & CO. in which the word was
spelt 'Storky'. Even the name of the chief comic among the Greyfriars
masters, Mr Prout, is taken from STALKY & CO., and so is much of the
slang; 'jape', 'merry','giddy', 'bizney' (business), 'frabjous', 'don't'
for 'doesn't'--all of them out of date even when GEM and MAGNET started.
There are also traces of earlier origins. The name 'Greyfriars' is
probably taken from Thackeray, and Gosling, the school porter in the
MAGNET, talks in an imitation of Dickens's dialect.

With all this, the supposed 'glamour' of public-school life is played for
all it is worth. There is all the usual paraphernalia--lock-up,
roll-call, house matches, fagging, prefects, cosy teas round the study
fire, etc. etc.--and constant reference to the 'old school', the 'old
grey stones' (both schools were founded in the early sixteenth century),
the 'team spirit' of the 'Greyfriars men'. As for the snob-appeal, it is
completely shameless. Each school has a titled boy or two whose titles
are constantly thrust in the reader's face; other boys have the names of
well-known aristocratic families, Talbot, Manners, Lowther. We are for
ever being reminded that Gussy is the Honourable Arthur A. D'Arcy, son of
Lord Eastwood, that Jack Blake is heir to 'broad acres', that Hurree
Jamset Ram Singh (nicknamed Inky) is the Nabob of Bhanipur, that
Vernon-Smith's father is a millionaire. Till recently the illustrations
in both papers always depicted the boys in clothes imitated from those of
Eton; in the last few years Greyfriars has changed over to blazers and
flannel trousers, but St Jim's still sticks to the Eton jacket, and Gussy
sticks to his top-hat. In the school magazine which appears every week as
part of the MAGNET, Harry Wharton writes an article discussing the
pocket-money received by the 'fellows in the Remove', and reveals that
some of them get as much as five pounds a week! This kind of thing is a
perfectly deliberate incitement to wealth-fantasy. And here it is worth
noticing a rather curious fact, and that is that the school story is a
thing peculiar to England. So far as I know, there are extremely few
school stories in foreign languages. The reason, obviously, is that in
England education is mainly a matter of status. The most definite
dividing line between the petite-bourgeoisie and the working class is
that the former pay for their education, and within the bourgeoisie there
is another unbridgeable gulf between the 'public' school and the
'private' school. It is quite clear that there are tens and scores of
thousands of people to whom every detail of life at a 'posh' public
school is wildly thrilling and romantic. They happen to be outside that
mystic world of quadrangles and house-colours, but they can yearn after
it, day-dream about it, live mentally in it for hours at a stretch. The
question is, Who arc these people? Who reads the GEM and MAGNET?

Obviously one can never be quite certain about this kind of thing. All I
can say from my own observation is this. Boys who are likely to go to
public schools themselves generally read the GEM and MAGNET, but they
nearly always stop reading them when they are about twelve; they may
continue for another year from force of habit, but by that time they have
ceased to take them seriously. On the other hand, the boys at very cheap
private schools, the schools that are designed for people who can't
afford a public school but consider the Council schools 'common',
continue reading the GEM and MAGNET for several years longer. A few years
ago I was a teacher at two of these schools myself. I found that not only
did virtually all the boys read the GEM and MAGNET, but that they were
still taking them fairly seriously when they were fifteen or even
sixteen. These boys were the sons of shopkeepers, office employees and
small business and professional men, and obviously it is this class that
the GEM and MAGNET are aimed at. But they are certainly read by
working-class boys as well. They are generally on sale in the poorest
quarters of big towns, and I have known them to be read by boys whom one
might expect to be completely immune from public-school 'glamour'. I have
seen a young coal miner, for instance, a lad who had already worked a
year or two underground, eagerly reading the GEM. Recently I offered a
batch of English papers to some British legionaries of the French Foreign
Legion in North Africa; they picked out the GEM and MAGNET first. Both
papers are much read by girls, and the Pen Pals department
of the GEM shows that it is read in every corner of the British Empire, by
Australians, Canadians, Palestine Jews, Malays, Arabs, Straits Chinese,
etc., etc. The editors evidently expect their readers to be aged round
about fourteen, and the advertisements (milk chocolate, postage stamps,
water pistols, blushing cured, home conjuring tricks, itching powder, the
Phine Phun Ring which runs a needle into your friend's hand, etc., etc.)
indicate roughly the same age; there are also the Admiralty
advertisements, however, which call for youths between seventeen and
twenty-two. And there is no question that these papers are also read by
adults. It is quite common for people to write to the editor and say that
they have read every number of the GEM or MAGNET for the past thirty
years. Here, for instance, is a letter from a lady in Salisbury:

I can say of your splendid yams of Harry Wharton & Co. of Greyfriars,
that they never fail to reach a high standard. Without doubt they are the
finest stories of their type on the market to-day, which is saying a good
deal. They seem to bring you face to face with Nature. I have taken the
Magnet from the start, and have followed the adventures of Harry Wharton
& Co. with rapt interest. I have no sons, but two daughters, and there's
always a rush to be the first to read the grand old paper. My husband,
too, was a staunch reader of the Magnet until he was suddenly taken away
from us.

It is well worth getting hold of some copies of the GEM and MAGNET,
especially the GEM, simply to have a look at the correspondence columns.
What is truly startling is the intense interest with which the pettiest
details of life at Greyfriars and St Jim's are followed up. Here, for
instance, are a few of the questions sent in by readers:

What age is Dick Roylance?' 'How old is St Jim's?' 'Can you give me a
list of the Shell and their studies?' 'How much did D'Arcy's monocle
cost?' 'How is it that fellows like Crooke are in the Shell and decent
fellows like yourself are only in the Fourth?' 'What arc the Form
captain's three chief duties?' 'Who is the chemistry master at St Jim's?'
(From a girl) 'Where is St Jim's situated? COULD you tell me how to get
there, as I would love to sec the building? Are you boys just "phoneys",
as I think you are?'

It is clear that many of the boys and girls who write these letters are
living a complete fantasy-life. Sometimes a boy will write, for instance,
giving his age, height, weight, chest and bicep measurements and asking
which member of the Shell or Fourth Form he most exactly resembles. The
demand for a list of the studies on the Shell passage, with an exact
account of who lives in each, is a very common one. The editors, of
course, do everything in their power to keep up the illusion. In the GEM
Jack Blake is supposed to write answers to correspondents, and in the
MAGNET a couple of pages is always given up to the school magazine (the
GREYFRIARS HERALD, edited by Harry Wharton), and there is another page
in which one or other character is written up each week. The stories run
in cycles, two or three characters being kept in the foreground for
several weeks at a time. First there will be a series of rollicking
adventure stories, featuring the Famous Five and Billy Bunter; then a run
of stories turning on mistaken identity, with Wibley (the make-up wizard)
in the star part; then a run of more serious stories in which
Vernon-Smith is trembling on the verge of expulsion. And here one comes
upon the real secret of the GEM and MAGNET and the probable reason why
they continue to be read in spite of their obvious out-of-dateness.

It is that the characters are so carefully graded as to give almost every
type of reader a character he can identify himself with. Most boys'
papers aim at doing this, hence the boy-assistant (Sexton Blake's Tinker,
Nelson Lee's Nipper, etc.) who usually accompanies the explorer,
detective or what-not on his adventures. But in these cases there is only
one boy, and usually it is much the same type of boy. In the GEM and
MAGNET there is a model for very nearly everybody. There is the normal
athletic, high-spirited boy (Tom Merry, Jack Blake, Frank Nugent), a
slightly rowdier version of this type (Bob Cherry), a more aristocratic
version (Talbot, Manners), a quieter, more serious version (Harry
Wharton), and a stolid, 'bulldog' version (Johnny Bull). Then there is
the reckless, dare-devil type of boy (Vernon-Smith), the definitely
'clever', studious boy (Mark Linley, Dick Penfold), and the eccentric boy
who is not good at games but possesses some special talent (Skinner
Wibley). And there is the scholarship-boy (Tom Redwing), an important
figure in this class of story because he makes it possible for boys from
very poor homes to project themselves into the public-school atmosphere.
In addition there are Australian, Irish, Welsh, Manx, Yorkshire and
Lancashire boys to play upon local patriotism. But the subtlety of
characterization goes deeper than this. If one studies the correspondence
columns one sees that there is probably NO character in the GEM and
MAGNET whom some or other reader does not identify with, except the
out-and-out comics, Coker, Billy Bunter, Fisher T. Fish (the
money-grabbing American boy) and, of course, the masters. Bunter, though
in his origin he probably owed something to the fat boy in PICKWICK, is a
real creation. His tight trousers against which boots and canes are
constantly thudding, his astuteness in search of food, his postal order
which never turns up, have made him famous wherever the Union Jack waves.
But he is not a subject for day-dreams. On the other hand, another
seeming figure of fun, Gussy (the Honourable Arthur A. D'Arcy, 'the swell
of St Jim's'), is evidently much admired. Like everything else in the GEM
and MAGNET, Gussy is at least thirty years out of date. He is the 'knut'
of the early twentieth century or even the 'masher' of the nineties ('Bai
Jove, deah boy!' and 'Weally, I shall be obliged to give you a feahful
thwashin'!'), the monocled idiot who made good on the fields of Mons and
Le Gateau. And his evident popularity goes to show how deep the
snob-appeal of this type is. English people are extremely fond of the
titled ass (cf. Lord Peter Whimsey) who always turns up trumps in the
moment of emergency. Here is a letter from one of Gussy's girl admirers;

I think you're too hard on Gussy. I wonder he's still In existence, the
way you treat him. He's my hero. Did you know I write lyrics? How's
this--to the tune of 'Goody Goody'?

Gonna get my gas-mask, join the ARP.
'Cos I'm wise to all those bombs you drop on me.
Gonna dig myself a trench
Inside the garden fence;
Gonna seal my windows up with tin
So the tear gas can't get in;
Gonna park my cannon right outside the kerb
With a note to Adolf Hitler: 'Don't disturb!'
And if I never fall in Nazi hands
That's soon enough for me
Gonna get my gas-mask, join the ARP.

P.S.--Do you get on well with girls?

I quote this in full because (dated April 1939) it is interesting as
being probably the earliest mention of Hitler in the GEM. In the GEM
there is also a heroic fat boy. Fatty Wynn, as a set-off against Bunter.
Vernon-Smith, 'the Bounder of the Remove', a Byronic character, always on
the verge of the sack, is another great favourite. And even some of the
cads probably have their following. Loder, for instance, 'the rotter of
the Sixth', is a cad, but he is also a highbrow and given to saying
sarcastic things about football and the team spirit. The boys of the
Remove only think him all the more of a cad for this, but a certain type
of boy would probably identify with him. Even Racke, Grooke & Co. are
probably admired by small boys who think it diabolically wicked to smoke
cigarettes. (A frequent question in the correspondence column; 'What
brand of cigarettes does Racke smoke?')

Naturally the politics of the GEM and MAGNET are Conservative, but in a
completely pre-1914 style, with no Fascist tinge. In reality their basic
political assumptions are two: nothing ever changes, and foreigners are
funny. In the GEM of 1939 Frenchmen are still Froggies and Italians are
still Dagoes. Mossoo, the French master at Greyfriars, is the usual
comic-paper Frog, with pointed beard, pegtop trousers, etc. Inky, the
Indian boy, though a rajah, and therefore possessing snob-appeal, is also
the comic babu of the PUNCH tradition. ("The rowfulness is not the
proper caper, my esteemed Bob," said Inky. "Let dogs delight in the
barkfulness and bitefulness, but the soft answer is the cracked pitcher
that goes longest to a bird in the bush, as the English proverb remarks.")
Fisher T. Fish is the old-style stage Yankee ("Waal, I guess", etc.)
dating from a peroid of Anglo-American jealousy. Wun Lung, the
Chinese boy (he has rather faded out of late, no doubt because some of
the MAGNET'S readers are Straits Chinese), is the nineteenth-century
pantomime Chinaman, with saucer-shaped hat, pigtail and pidgin-English.
The assumption all along is not only that foreigners are comics who are
put there for us to laugh at, but that they can be classified in much the
same way as insects. That is why in all boys' papers, not only the GEM
and MAGNET, a Chinese is invariably portrayed with a pigtail. It is the
thing you recognize him by, like the Frenchman's beard or the Italian's
barrel-organ. In papers of this kind it occasionally happens that when
the setting of a story is in a foreign country some attempt is made to
describe the natives as individual human beings, but as a rule it is
assumed that foreigners of any one race are all alike and will conform
more or less exactly to the following patterns:

FRENCHMAN: Excitable. Wears beard, gesticulates wildly.
SPANIARD, Mexican, etc.: Sinister, treacherous.
ARAB, Afghan, etc.: Sinister, treacherous.
CHINESE: Sinister, treacherous. Wears pigtail.
ITALIAN: Excitable. Grinds barrel-organ or carries stiletto.
SWEDE, Dane, etc.: Kind-hearted, stupid.
NEGRO: Comic, very faithful.

The working classes only enter into the GEM and MAGNET as comics or
semi-villains (race-course touts, etc.). As for class-friction, trade
unionism, strikes, slumps, unemployment, Fascism and civil war--not a
mention. Somewhere or other in the thirty years' issue of the two papers
you might perhaps find the word 'Socialism', but you would have to look a
long time for it. If the Russian Revolution is anywhere referred to, it
will be indirectly, in the word 'Bolshy' (meaning a person of violent
disagreeable habits). Hitler and the Nazis are just beginning to make
their appearance, in the sort of reference I quoted above. The war-crisis
of September 1938 made just enough impression to produce a story in which
Mr Vernon-Smith, the Bounder's millionaire father, cashed in on the
general panic by buying up country houses in order to sell them to 'crisis
scuttlers'. But that is probably as near to noticing the European situation
as the GEM and MAGNET will come, until the war actually starts.
That does not mean that these papers are unpatriotic--quite the
contrary! Throughout the Great War the GEM and MAGNET were perhaps the
most consistently and cheerfully patriotic papers in England. Almost
every week the boys caught a spy or pushed a conchy into the army, and
during the rationing period 'EAT LESS BREAD' was printed in large type on
every page. But their patriotism has nothing whatever to do with
power-politics or 'ideological' warfare. It is more akin to family
loyalty, and actually it gives one a valuable clue to the attitude of
ordinary people, especially the huge untouched block of the middle class
and the better-off working class. These people are patriotic to the
middle of their bones, but they do not feel that what happens in foreign
countries is any of their business. When England is in danger they rally
to its defence as a matter of course, but in between-times they are not
interested. After all, England is always in the right and England always
wins, so why worry? It is an attitude that has been shaken during the
past twenty years, but not so deeply as is sometimes supposed. Failure to
understand it is one of the reasons why Left Wing political parties are
seldom able to produce an acceptable foreign policy.

The mental world of the GEM and MAGNET, therefore, is something like
this:

The year is 1910--or 1940, but it is all the same. You are at
Greyfriars, a rosy-cheeked boy of fourteen in posh tailor-made clothes,
sitting down to tea in your study on the Remove passage after an exciting
game of football which was won by an odd goal in the last half-minute.
There is a cosy fire in the study, and outside the wind is whistling. The
ivy clusters thickly round the old grey stones. The King is on his throne
and the pound is worth a pound. Over in Europe the comic foreigners are
jabbering and gesticulating, but the grim grey battleships of the British
Fleet are steaming up the Channel and at the outposts of Empire the
monocled Englishmen are holding the niggers at bay. Lord Mauleverer has
just got another fiver and we are all settling down to a tremendous tea
of sausages, sardines, crumpets, potted meat, jam and doughnuts. After
tea we shall sit round the study fire having a good laugh at Billy Bunter
and discussing the team for next week's match against Rook-wood.
Everything is safe, solid and unquestionable. Everything will be the
same for ever and ever. That approximately is the atmosphere.

But now turn from the GEM and MAGNET to the more up-to-date papers which
have appeared since the Great War. The truly significant thing is that
they have more points of resemblance to the GEM and MAGNET than points of
difference. But it is better to consider the differences first.

There are eight of these newer papers, the MODERN BOY, TRIUMPH, CHAMPION,
WIZARD, ROVER, SKIPPER, HOTSPUR and ADVENTURE. All of these have appeared
since the Great War, but except for the MODERN BOY none of them is less
than five years old. Two papers which ought also to be mentioned briefly
here; though they are not strictly in the same class as the rest, are the
DETECTIVE WEEKLY and the THRILLER, both owned by the Amalgamated Press.
The DETECTIVE WEEKLY has taken over Sexton Blake. Both of these papers
admit a certain amount of sex-interest into their stories, and though
certainly read by boys; they are not aimed at them exclusively. All the
others are boys' papers pure and simple, and they are sufficiently alike
to be considered together. There does not seem to be any notable
difference between Thomson's publications and those of the Amalgamated
Press.

As soon as one looks at these papers one sees their technical
superiority to the GEM and MAGNET. To begin with, they have the great
advantage of not being written entirely by one person. Instead of one
long complete story, a number of the WIZARD or HOTSPUR consists of half a
dozen or more serials, none of which goes on for ever. Consequently there
is far more variety and far less padding, and none of the tiresome
stylization and facetiousness of the GEM and MAGNET. Look at these two
extracts, for example:

Billy Bunter groaned.

A quarter of an hour had elapsed out of the two hours that Bunter was
booked for extra French.

In a quarter of an hour there were only fifteen minutes! But every one of
those minutes seemed inordinately long to Bunter. They seemed to crawl by
like tired snails.

Looking at the clock in Classroom No. 10 the fat Owl could hardly believe
that only fifteen minutes had passed. It seemed more like fifteen hours,
if not fifteen days!

Other fellows were in extra French as well as Bunter. They did not
matter. Bunter did! (The Magnet)

* * *

After a terrible climb, hacking out handholds in the smooth ice every
step of the way up. Sergeant Lionheart Logan of the Mounties was now
clinging like a human fly to the face of an icy cliff, as smooth and
treacherous as a giant pane of glass.

An Arctic blizzard, in all its fury, was buffeting his body, driving the
blinding snow into his face, seeking to tear his fingers loose from their
handholds and dash him to death on the jagged boulders which lay at the
foot of the cliff a hundred feet below.

Crouching among those boulders were eleven villainous trappers who had
done their best to shoot down Lionheart and his companion, Constable Jim
Rogers--until the blizzard had blotted the two Mounties out of sight
from below. (The Wizard)

The second extract gets you some distance with the story, the first takes
a hundred words to tell you that Bunter is in the detention class.
Moreover, by not concentrating on school stories (in point of numbers the
school story slightly predominates in all these papers, except the
THRILLER and DETECTIVE WEEKLY), the WIZARD, HOTSPUR, etc., have far
greater opportunities for sensationalism. Merely looking at the cover
illustrations of the papers which I have on the table in front of me,
here are some of the things I see. On one a cowboy is clinging by his
toes to the wing of an aeroplane in mid-air and shooting down another
aeroplane with his revolver. On another a Chinese is swimming for his
life down a sewer with a swarm of ravenous-looking rats swimming after
him. On another an engineer is lighting a stick of dynamite while a steel
robot feels for him with its claws. On another a man in airman's costume
is fighting barehanded against a rat somewhat larger than a donkey. On
another a nearly naked man of terrific muscular development has just
seized a lion by the tail and flung it thirty yards over the wall of an
arena, with the words, 'Take back your blooming lion!' Clearly no school
story can compete with this kind of thing. From time to time the school
buildings may catch fire or the French master may turn out to be the head
of an international anarchist gang, but in a general way the interest
must centre round cricket, school rivalries, practical jokes, etc. There
is not much room for bombs, death-rays, sub-machine guns, aeroplanes,
mustangs, octopuses, grizzly bears or gangsters.

Examination of a large number of these papers shows that, putting aside
school stories, the favourite subjects are Wild West, Frozen North,
Foreign Legion, crime (always from the detective's angle), the Great War
(Air Force or Secret Service, not the infantry), the Tarzan motif in
varying forms, professional football, tropical exploration, historical
romance (Robin Hood, Cavaliers and Round-heads, etc.) and scientific
invention. The Wild West still leads, at any rate as a setting, though
the Red Indian seems to be fading out. The one theme that is really new
is the scientific one. Death-rays, Martians, invisible men, robots,
helicopters and interplanetary rockets figure largely: here and there
there are even far-off rumours of psychotherapy and ductless glands.
Whereas the GEM and MAGNET derive from Dickens and Kipling, the WIZARD,
CHAMPION, MODERN BOY, etc., owe a great deal to H. G. Wells, who, rather
than Jules Verne, is the father of 'Scientifiction'. Naturally it is the
magical Martian aspect of science that is most exploited, but one or two
papers include serious articles on scientific subjects, besides
quantities of informative snippets. (Examples: 'A Kauri tree in
Queensland, Australia, is over 12,000 years old'; 'Nearly 50,000
thunderstorms occur every day'; 'Helium gas costs £1 per 1000 cubic
feet'; 'There are over 500 varieties of spiders in Great Britain';
'London firemen use 14,000,000 gallons of water annually', etc., etc.)
There is a marked advance in intellectual curiosity and, on the whole, in
the demand made on the reader's attention. In practice the GEM and MAGNET
and the post-war papers are read by much the same public, but the mental
age aimed at seems to have risen by a year or two years--an improvement
probably corresponding to the improvement in elementary education since
1909.

The other thing that has emerged in the post-war boys' papers, though not
to anything like the extent one would expect, is bully-worship and the
cult of violence.

If one compares the GEM and MAGNET with a genuinely modern paper, the
thing that immediately strikes one is the absence of the leader-principle.
There is no central dominating character; instead there are fifteen
or twenty characters, all more or less on an equality, with whom
readers of different types can identify. In the more modern papers
this is not usually the case. Instead of identifying with a schoolboy of
more or less his own age, the reader of the SKIPPER, HOTSPUR, etc., is
led to identify with a G-man, with a Foreign Legionary, with some variant
of Tarzan, with an air ace, a master spy, an explorer, a pugilist--at
any rate with some single all-powerful character who dominates everyone
about him and whose usual method of solving any problem is a sock on the
jaw. This character is intended as a superman, and as physical strength
is the form of power that boys can best understand, he is usually a sort
of human gorilla; in the Tarzan type of story he is sometimes actually a
giant, eight or ten feet high. At the same time the scenes of violence in
nearly all these stories are remarkably harmless and unconvincing. There
is a great difference in tone between even the most bloodthirsty English
paper and the threepenny Yank Mags, FIGHT STORIES, ACTION STORIES, etc.
(not strictly boys' papers, but largely read by boys). In the Yank Mags
you get real blood-lust, really gory descriptions of the all-in,
jump-on-his-testicles style fighting, written in a jargon that has been
perfected by people who brood endlessly on violence. A paper like FIGHT
STORIES, for instance, would have very little appeal except to sadists
and masochists. You can see the comparative gentleness of the English
civilization by the amateurish way in which prize-fighting is always
described in the boys' weeklies. There is no specialized vocabulary. Look
at these four extracts, two English, two American;

When the gong sounded, both men were breathing heavily and each had great
red marks on his chest. Bill's chin was bleeding, and Ben had a cut over
his right eye.

Into their corners they sank, but when the gong clanged again they were
up swiftly, and they went like tigers at each other. (ROVER)

* * *

He walked in stolidly and smashed a clublike right to my face. Blood
spattered and I went back on my heels, but surged in and ripped my right
under the heart. Another right smashed full on Ben's already battered
mouth, and, spitting out the fragments of a tooth, he crashed a flailing
left to my body. (FIGHT STORIES)

* * *

It was amazing to watch the Black Panther at work. His muscles rippled
and slid under his dark skin. There was all the power and grace of a
giant cat in his swift and terrible onslaught.

He volleyed blows with a bewildering speed for so huge a fellow. In a
moment Ben was simply blocking with his gloves as well as he could. Ben
was really a past-master of defence. He had many fine victories behind
him. But the Negro's rights and lefts crashed through openings that
hardly any other fighter could have found. (WIZARD)

* * *

Haymakers which packed the bludgeoning weight of forest monarchs crashing
down under the ax hurled into the bodies of the two heavies as they
swapped punches. (FIGHT STORIES)

Notice how much more knowledgeable the American extracts sound. They are
written for devotees of the prize-ring, the others are not. Also, it
ought to be emphasized that on its level the moral code of the English
boys' papers is a decent one. Crime and dishonesty are never held up to
admiration, there is none of the cynicism and corruption of the American
gangster story. The huge sale of the Yank Mags in England shows that
there is a demand for that kind of thing, but very few English writers
seem able to produce it. When hatred of Hitler became a major emotion in
America, it was interesting to see how promptly 'anti-Fascism' was
adapted to pornographic purposes by the editors of the Yank Mags. One
magazine which I have in front of me is given up to a long, complete
story, 'When Hell Game to America', in which the agents of a
'blood-maddened European dictator' are trying to conquer the U.S.A. with
death-rays and invisible aeroplanes. There is the frankest appeal to
sadism, scenes in which the Nazis tie bombs to women's backs and fling
them off heights to watch them blown to pieces in mid-air, others in
which they tie naked girls together by their hair and prod them with
knives to make them dance, etc., etc. The editor comments solemnly on all
this, and uses it as a plea for tightening up restrictions against
immigrants. On another page of the same paper: 'LIVES OF THE HOTCHA
CHORUS GIRLS. Reveals all the intimate secrets and fascinating pastimes
of the famous Broadway Hotcha girls. NOTHING IS OMITTED. Price 10c.' 'HOW
TO LOVE. 10c.' 'FRENCH PHOTO RING. 25c.' 'NAUGHTY NUDIES TRANSFERS. From
the outside of the glass you see a beautiful girl, innocently dressed.
Turn it around and look through the glass and oh! what a difference! Set
of 3 transfers 25c.,' etc., etc., etc. There is nothing at all like this
in any English paper likely to be read by boys. But the process of
Americanization is going on all the same. The American ideal, the
'he-man', the 'tough guy', the gorilla who puts everything right by
socking everybody on the jaw, now figures in probably a majority of boys'
papers. In one serial now running in the SKIPPER he is always portrayed
ominously enough, swinging a rubber truncheon.

The development of the WIZARD, HOTSPUR, etc., as against the earlier
boys' papers, boils down to this: better technique, more scientific
interest, more bloodshed, more leader-worship. But, after all, it is the
LACK of development that is the really striking thing.

To begin with, there is no political development whatever. The world of
the SKIPPER and the CHAMPION is still the pre-1914 world of the MAGNET
and the GEM. The Wild West story, for instance, with its cattle-rustlers,
lynch-law and other paraphernalia belonging to the eighties, is a
curiously archaic thing. It is worth noticing that in papers of this type
it is always taken for granted that adventures only happen at the ends of
the earth, in tropical forests, in Arctic wastes, in African deserts, on
Western prairies, in Chinese opium dens--everywhere in fact, except the
places where things really DO happen. That is a belief dating from thirty
or forty years ago, when the new continents were in process of being
opened up. Nowadays, of course, if you really want adventure, the place
to look for it is in Europe. But apart from the picturesque side of the
Great War, contemporary history is carefully excluded. And except that
Americans are now admired instead of being laughed at, foreigners are
exactly the same figures of fun that they always were. If a Chinese
character appears, he is still the sinister pigtailed opium-smuggler of
Sax Rohmer; no indication that things have been happening in China since
1912--no indication that a war is going on there, for instance. If a
Spaniard appears, he is still a 'dago' or 'greaser' who rolls cigarettes
and stabs people in the back; no indication that things have been
happening in Spain. Hitler and the Nazis have not yet appeared, or are
barely making their appearance. There will be plenty about them in a
little while, but it will be from a strictly patriotic angle (Britain
versus Germany), with the real meaning of the struggle kept out of sight
as much as possible. As for the Russian Revolution, it is extremely
difficult to find any reference to it in any of these papers. When Russia
is mentioned at all it is usually in an information snippet (example:
'There are 29,000 centenarians in the USSR.'), and any reference to
the Revolution is indirect and twenty years out of date. In one story in
the ROVER, for instance, somebody has a tame bear, and as it is a Russian
bear, it is nicknamed Trotsky--obviously an echo of the 1917-23 period
and not of recent controversies. The clock has stopped at 1910. Britannia
rules the waves, and no one has heard of slumps, booms, unemployment,
dictatorships, purges or concentration camps.

And in social outlook there is hardly any advance. The snobbishness is
somewhat less open than in the GEM and MAGNET--that is the most one can
possibly say. To begin with, the school story, always partly dependent on
snob-appeal, is by no means eliminated. Every number of a boys' paper
includes at least one school story, these stories slightly outnumbering
the Wild Westerns. The very elaborate fantasy-life of the GEM and MAGNET
is not imitated and there is more emphasis on extraneous adventure, but
the social atmosphere (old grey stones) is much the same. When a new
school is introduced at the beginning of a story we are often told in
just those words that 'it was a very posh school'. From time to time a
story appears which is ostensibly directed AGAINST snobbery. The
scholarship-boy (cf. Tom Redwing in the MAGNET) makes fairly frequent
appearances, and what is essentially the same theme is sometimes
presented in this form: there is great rivalry between two schools, one
of which considers itself more 'posh' than the other, and there are
fights, practical jokes, football matches, etc., always ending in the
discomfiture of the snobs. If one glances very superficially at some of
these stories it is possible to imagine that a democratic spirit has
crept into the boys' weeklies, but when one looks more closely one sees
that they merely reflect the bitter jealousies that exist within the
white-collar class. Their real function is to allow the boy who goes to a
cheap private school (NOT a Council school) to feel that his school is
just as 'posh' in the sight of God as Winchester or Eton. The sentiment
of school loyalty ('We're better than the fellows down the road'), a
thing almost unknown to the real working class, is still kept up. As
these stories are written by many different hands, they do, of course,
vary a good deal in tone. Some are reasonably free from snobbishness, in
others money and pedigree are exploited even more shamelessly than in the
GEM and MAGNET. In one that I came across an actual MAJORITY of the boys
mentioned were titled.

Where working-class characters appear, it is usually either as comics
(jokes about tramps, convicts, etc.), or as prize-fighters, acrobats,
cowboys, professional footballers and Foreign Legionaries--in other
words, as adventurers. There is no facing of the facts about
working-class life, or, indeed, about WORKING life of any description.
Very occasionally one may come across a realistic description of, say,
work in a coal-mine, but in all probability it will only be there as the
background of some lurid adventure. In any case the central character is
not likely to be a coal-miner. Nearly all the time the boy who reads
these papers--in nine cases out often a boy who is going to spend his
life working in a shop, in a factory or in some subordinate job in an
office--is led to identify with people in positions of command, above
all with people who are never troubled by shortage of money. The Lord
Peter Wimsey figure, the seeming idiot who drawls and wears a monocle but
is always to the fore in moments of danger, turns up over and over again.
(This character is a great favourite in Secret Service stories.) And, as
usual, the heroic characters all have to talk B.B.C.; they may talk
Scottish or Irish or American, but no one in a star part is ever
permitted to drop an aitch. Here it is worth comparing the social
atmosphere of the boys' weeklies with that of the women's weeklies, the
ORACLE, the FAMILY STAR, PEG'S PAPER, etc.

The women's papers are aimed at an older public and are read for the most
part by girls who are working for a living. Consequently they are on the
surface much more realistic. It is taken for granted, for example, that
nearly everyone has to live in a big town and work at a more or less dull
job. Sex, so far from being taboo, is THE subject. The short, complete
stories, the special feature of these papers, are generally of the 'came
the dawn' type: the heroine narrowly escapes losing her 'boy' to a
designing rival, or the 'boy' loses his job and has to postpone marriage,
but presently gets a better job. The changeling-fantasy (a girl brought
up in a poor home is 'really' the child of rich parents) is another
favourite. Where sensationalism comes in, usually in the serials, it
arises out of the more domestic type of crime, such as bigamy, forgery or
sometimes murder; no Martians, death-rays or international anarchist
gangs. These papers are at any rate aiming at credibility, and they have
a link with real life in their correspondence columns, where genuine
problems are being discussed. Ruby M. Ayres's column of advice in the
ORACLE, for instance, is extremely sensible and well written. And yet the
world of the ORACLE and PEG'S PAPER is a pure fantasy-world. It is the
same fantasy all the time; pretending to be richer than you are. The
chief impression that one carries away from almost every story in these
papers is of a frightful, overwhelming 'refinement'. Ostensibly the
characters are working-class people, but their habits, the interiors of
their houses, their clothes, their outlook and, above all, their speech
arc entirely middle class. They are all living at several pounds a week
above their income. And needless to say, that is just the impression that
is intended. The idea is to give the bored factory-girl or worn-out
mother of five a dream-life in which she pictures herself--not actually
as a duchess (that convention has gone out) but as, say, the wife of a
bank-manager. Not only is a five-to-six-pound-a-week standard of life set
up as the ideal, but it is tacitly assumed that that is how working-class
people really DO live. The major facts arc simply not faced. It is
admitted, for instance, that people sometimes lose their jobs; but then
the dark clouds roll away and they get better jobs instead. No mention of
un-employment as something permanent and inevitable, no mention of the
dole, no mention of trade unionism. No suggestion anywhere that there can
be anything wrong with the system AS A SYSTEM; there arc only individual
misfortunes, which are generally due to somebody's wickedness and can in
any case be put right in the last chapter. Always the dark clouds roll
away, the kind employer raises Alfred's wages, and there are jobs for
everybody except the drunks. It is still the world of the WIZARD and the
GEM, except that there are orange-blossoms instead of machine-guns.

The outlook inculcated by all these papers is that of a rather
exceptionally stupid member of the Navy League in the year 1910. Yes, it
may be said, but what does it matter? And in any case, what else do you
expect?

Of course no one in his senses would want to turn the so-called penny
dreadful into a realistic novel or a Socialist tract. An adventure story
must of its nature be more or less remote from real life. But, as I have
tried to make clear, the unreality of the WIZARD and the GEM is not so
artless as it looks. These papers exist because of a specialized demand,
because boys at certain ages find it necessary to read about Martians,
death-rays, grizzly bears and gangsters. They get what they are looking
for, but they get it wrapped up in the illusions which their future
employers think suitable for them. To what extent people draw their ideas
from fiction is disputable. Personally I believe that most people are
influenced far more than they would care to admit by novels, serial
stories, films and so forth, and that from this point of view the worst
books are often the most important, because they are usually the ones
that are read earliest in life. It is probable that many people who would
consider themselves extremely sophisticated and 'advanced' are actually
carrying through life an imaginative background which they acquired in
childhood from (for instance) Sapper and Ian Hay. If that is so, the
boys' twopenny weeklies are of the deepest importance. Here is the stuff
that is read somewhere between the ages of twelve and eighteen by a very
large proportion, perhaps an actual majority, of English boys, including
many who will never read anything else except newspapers; and along with
it they are absorbing a set of beliefs which would be regarded as
hopelessly out of date in the Central Office of the Conservative Party.
All the better because it is done indirectly, there is being pumped into
them the conviction that the major problems of our time do not exist,
that there is nothing wrong with LAISSEZ-FAIRE capitalism, that
foreigners are un-important comics and that the British Empire is a sort
of charity-concern which will last for ever. Considering who owns these
papers, it is difficult to believe that this is un-intentional. Of the
twelve papers I have been discussing (i.e. twelve including the THRILLER
and DETECTIVE WEEKLY) seven are the property of the Amalgamated Press,
which is one of the biggest press-combines in the world and controls more
than a hundred different papers. The GEM and MAGNET, therefore, are
closely linked up with the DAILY TELEGRAPH and the FINANCIAL TIMES. This
in itself would be enough to rouse certain suspicions, even if it were
not obvious that the stories in the boys' weeklies are politically
vetted. So it appears that if you feel the need of a fantasy-life in
which you travel to Mars and fight lions bare-handed (and what boy
doesn't?), you can only have it by delivering yourself over, mentally, to
people like Lord Camrose. For there is no competition. Throughout the
whole of this run of papers the differences are negligible, and on this
level no others exist. This raises the question, why is there no such
thing as a left-wing boys' paper?

At first glance such an idea merely makes one slightly sick. It is so
horribly easy to imagine what a left-wing boys' paper would be like, if
it existed. I remember in 1920 or 1921 some optimistic person handing
round Communist tracts among a crowd of public-school boys. The tract I
received was of the question-and-answer kind:

Q. 'Can a Boy Communist be a Boy Scout, Comrade?'
A. 'No, Comrade.'
Q. 'Why, Comrade?'
A. 'Because, Comrade, a Boy Scout must salute the Union Jack, which is
the symbol of tyranny and oppression,' etc., etc.

Now suppose that at this moment somebody started a left-wing paper
deliberately aimed at boys of twelve or fourteen. I do not suggest that
the whole of its contents would be exactly like the tract I have quoted
above, but does anyone doubt that they would be SOMETHING like it?
Inevitably such a paper would either consist of dreary up-lift or it
would be under Communist influence and given over to adulation of Soviet
Russia; in either case no normal boy would ever look at it. Highbrow
literature apart, the whole of the existing left-wing Press, in so far as
it is at all vigorously 'left', is one long tract. The one Socialist
paper in England which could live a week on its merits AS A PAPER is the
DAILY HERALD: and how much Socialism is there in the DAILY HERALD? At
this moment, therefore, a paper with a 'left' slant and at the same time
likely to have an appeal to ordinary boys in their teens is something
almost beyond hoping for.

But it does not follow that it is impossible. There is no clear reason
why every adventure story should necessarily be mixed up with
snobbishness and gutter patriotism. For, after all, the stories in the
HOTSPUR and the MODERN BOY are not Conservative tracts; they are merely
adventure stories with a Conservative bias. It is fairly easy to imagine
the process being reversed. It is possible, for instance, to imagine a
paper as thrilling and lively as the HOTSPUR, but with subject-matter and
'ideology' a little more up to date. It is even possible (though this
raises other difficulties) to imagine a women's paper at the same
literary level as the ORACLE, dealing in approximately the same kind of
story, but taking rather more account of the realities of working-class
life. Such things have been done before, though not in England. In the
last years of the Spanish monarchy there was a large output in Spain of
left-wing novelettes, some of them evidently of anarchist origin.
Unfortunately at the time when they were appearing I did not see their
social significance, and I lost the collection of them that I had, but no
doubt copies would still be procurable. In get-up and style of story they
were very similar to the English fourpenny novelette, except that their
inspiration was 'left'. If, for instance, a story described police
pursuing anarchists through the mountains, it would be from the point of
view of the anarchist and not of the police. An example nearer to hand is
the Soviet film CHAPAIEV, which has been shown a number of times in
London. Technically, by the standards of the time when it was made,
CHAPAIEV is a first-rate film, but mentally, in spite of the unfamiliar
Russian background, it is not so very remote from Hollywood. The one
thing that lifts it out of the ordinary is the remarkable performance by
the actor who takes the part of the White officer (the fat one)--a
performance which looks very like an inspired piece of gagging. Otherwise
the atmosphere is familiar. All the usual paraphernalia is there--heroic
fight against odds, escape at the last moment, shots of galloping horses,
love interest, comic relief. The film is in fact a fairly ordinary one,
except that its tendency is 'left'. In a Hollywood film of the Russian
Civil War the Whites would probably be angels and the Reds demons. In the
Russian version the Reds are angels and the Whites demons. That is also a
lie, but, taking the long view, it is a less pernicious lie than the
other.

Here several difficult problems present themselves. Their general nature
is obvious enough, and I do not want to discuss them. I am merely
pointing to the fact that, in England, popular imaginative literature is
a field that left-wing thought has never begun to enter. ALL fiction from
the novels in the mushroom libraries downwards is censored in the
interests of the ruling class. And boys' fiction above all, the
blood-and-thunder stuff which nearly every boy devours at some time or
other, is sodden in the worst illusions of 1910. The fact is only
unimportant if one believes that what is read in childhood leaves no
impression behind. Lord Camrose and his colleagues evidently believe
nothing of the kind, and, after all, Lord Camrose ought to know.



CHARLES DICKENS (1940)


I

Dickens is one of those writers who are well worth stealing. Even the
burial of his body in Westminster Abbey was a species of theft, if you
come to think of it.

When Chesterton wrote his introductions to the Everyman Edition of
Dickens's works, it seemed quite natural to him to credit Dickens with
his own highly individual brand of medievalism, and more recently a
Marxist writer, Mr. T. A. Jackson, has made spirited efforts to turn
Dickens into a blood-thirsty revolutionary. The Marxist claims him as
'almost' a Marxist, the Catholic claims him as 'almost' a Catholic, and
both claim him as a champion of the proletariat (or 'the poor', as
Chesterton would have put it). On the other hand, Nadezhda Krupskaya, in
her little book on Lenin, relates that towards the end of his life Lenin
went to see a dramatized version of THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH, and found
Dickens's 'middle-class sentimentality' so intolerable that he walked out
in the middle of a scene.

Taking 'middle-class' to mean what Krupskaya might be expected to mean by
it, this was probably a truer judgement than those of Chesterton and
Jackson. But it is worth noticing that the dislike of Dickens implied in
this remark is something unusual. Plenty of people have found him
unreadable, but very few seem to have felt any hostility towards the
general spirit of his work. Some years later Mr. Bechhofer Roberts
published a full-length attack on Dickens in the form of a novel (THIS
SIDE IDOLATRY), but it was a merely personal attack, concerned for the
most part with Dickens's treatment of his wife. It dealt with incidents
which not one in a thousand of Dickens's readers would ever hear about,
and which no more invalidates his work than the second-best bed
invalidates HAMLET. All that the book really demonstrated was that a
writer's literary personality has little or nothing to do with his
private character. It is quite possible that in private life Dickens was
just the kind of insensitive egoist that Mr. Bechhofer Roberts makes him
appear. But in his published work there is implied a personality quite
different from this, a personality which has won him far more friends
than enemies. It might well have been otherwise, for even if Dickens was
a bourgeois, he was certainly a subversive writer, a radical, one might
truthfully say a rebel. Everyone who has read widely in his work has felt
this. Gissing, for instance, the best of the writers on Dickens, was
anything but a radical himself, and he disapproved of this strain in
Dickens and wished it were not there, but it never occurred to him to
deny it. In OLIVER TWIST, HARD TIMES, BLEAK HOUSE, LITTLE DORRIT, Dickens
attacked English institutions with a ferocity that has never since been
approached. Yet he managed to do it without making himself hated, and,
more than this, the very people he attacked have swallowed him so
completely that he has become a national institution himself. In its
attitude towards Dickens the English public has always been a little like
the elephant which feels a blow with a walking-stick as a delightful
tickling. Before I was ten years old I was having Dickens ladled down my
throat by schoolmasters in whom even at that age I could see a strong
resemblance to Mr. Creakle, and one knows without needing to be told that
lawyers delight in Sergeant Buzfuz and that LITTLE DORRIT is a favourite
in the Home Office. Dickens seems to have succeeded in attacking
everybody and antagonizing nobody. Naturally this makes one wonder
whether after all there was something unreal in his attack upon society.
Where exactly does he stand, socially, morally, and politically? As
usual, one can define his position more easily if one starts by deciding
what he was NOT.

In the first place he was NOT, as Messrs. Chesterton and Jackson seem to
imply, a 'proletarian' writer. To begin with, he does not write about the
proletariat, in which he merely resembles the overwhelming majority of
novelists, past and present. If you look for the working classes in
fiction, and especially English fiction, all you find is a hole. This
statement needs qualifying, perhaps. For reasons that are easy enough to
see, the agricultural labourer (in England a proletarian) gets a fairly
good showing in fiction, and a great deal has been written about
criminals, derelicts and, more recently, the working-class
intelligentsia. But the ordinary town proletariat, the people who make
the wheels go round, have always been ignored by novelists. When they do
find their way between the covers of a book, it is nearly always as
objects of pity or as comic relief. The central action of Dickens's
stories almost invariably takes place in middle-class surroundings. If
one examines his novels in detail one finds that his real subject-matter
is the London commercial bourgeoisie and their hangers-on--lawyers,
clerks, tradesmen, innkeepers, small craftsmen, and servants. He has no
portrait of an agricultural worker, and only one (Stephen Blackpool in
HARD TIMES) of an industrial worker. The Plornishes in LITTLE DORRIT are
probably his best picture of a working-class family--the Peggottys, for
instance, hardly belong to the working class--but on the whole he is not
successful with this type of character. If you ask any ordinary reader
which of Dickens's proletarian characters he can remember, the three he
is almost certain to mention are Bill Sykes, Sam Weller, and Mrs. Gamp. A
burglar, a valet, and a drunken midwife--not exactly a representative
cross-section of the English working class.

Secondly, in the ordinarily accepted sense of the word, Dickens is not a
'revolutionary' writer. But his position here needs some defining.

Whatever else Dickens may have been, he was not a hole-and-corner
soul-saver, the kind of well-meaning idiot who thinks that the world will
be perfect if you amend a few bylaws and abolish a few anomalies. It is
worth comparing him with Charles Reade, for instance. Reade was a much
better-informed man than Dickens, and in some ways more public-spirited.
He really hated the abuses he could understand, he showed them up in a
series of novels which for all their absurdity are extremely readable,
and he probably helped to alter public opinion on a few minor but
important points. But it was quite beyond him to grasp that, given the
existing form of society, certain evils CANNOT be remedied. Fasten upon
this or that minor abuse, expose it, drag it into the open, bring it
before a British jury, and all will be well that is how he sees it.
Dickens at any rate never imagined that you can cure pimples by cutting
them off. In every page of his work one can see a consciousness that
society is wrong somewhere at the root. It is when one asks 'Which root?'
that one begins to grasp his position.

The truth is that Dickens's criticism of society is almost exclusively
moral. Hence the utter lack of any constructive suggestion anywhere in
his work. He attacks the law, parliamentary government, the educational
system and so forth, without ever clearly suggesting what he would put in
their places. Of course it is not necessarily the business of a novelist,
or a satirist, to make constructive suggestions, but the point is that
Dickens's attitude is at bottom not even destructive. There is no clear
sign that he wants the existing order to be overthrown, or that he
believes it would make very much difference if it WERE overthrown. For in
reality his target is not so much society as 'human nature'. It would be
difficult to point anywhere in his books to a passage suggesting that the
economic system is wrong AS A SYSTEM. Nowhere, for instance, does he make
any attack on private enterprise or private property. Even in a book like
OUR MUTUAL FRIEND, which turns on the power of corpses to interfere with
living people by means of idiotic wills, it does not occur to him to
suggest that individuals ought not to have this irresponsible power. Of
course one can draw this inference for oneself, and one can draw it again
from the remarks about Bounderby's will at the end of HARD TIMES, and
indeed from the whole of Dickens's work one can infer the evil of
LAISSEZ-FAIRE capitalism; but Dickens makes no such inference himself. It
is said that Macaulay refused to review HARD TIMES because he disapproved
of its 'sullen Socialism'. Obviously Macaulay is here using the word
'Socialism' in the same sense in which, twenty years ago, a vegetarian
meal or a Cubist picture used to be referred to as 'Bolshevism'. There is
not a line in the book that can properly be called Socialistic; indeed,
its tendency if anything is pro-capitalist, because its whole moral is
that capitalists ought to be kind, not that workers ought to be
rebellious. Bounder by is a bullying windbag and Gradgrind has been
morally blinded, but if they were better men, the system would work well
enough that, all through, is the implication. And so far as social
criticism goes, one can never extract much more from Dickens than this,
unless one deliberately reads meanings into him. His whole 'message' is
one that at first glance looks like an enormous platitude: If men would
behave decently the world would be decent.

Naturally this calls for a few characters who are in positions of
authority and who DO behave decently. Hence that recurrent Dickens
figure, the good rich man. This character belongs especially to Dickens's
early optimistic period. He is usually a 'merchant' (we are not
necessarily told what merchandise he deals in), and he is always a
superhumanly kind-hearted old gentleman who 'trots' to and fro, raising
his employees' wages, patting children on the head, getting debtors out
of jail and in general, acting the fairy godmother. Of course he is a
pure dream figure, much further from real life than, say, Squeers or
Micawber. Even Dickens must have reflected occasionally that anyone who
was so anxious to give his money away would never have acquired it in the
first place. Mr. Pickwick, for instance, had 'been in the city', but it
is difficult to imagine him making a fortune there. Nevertheless this
character runs like a connecting thread through most of the earlier
books. Pickwick, the Cheerybles, old Chuzzlewit, Scrooge--it is the same
figure over and over again, the good rich man, handing out guineas.
Dickens does however show signs of development here. In the books of the
middle period the good rich man fades out to some extent. There is no one
who plays this part in A TALE OF TWO CITIES, nor in GREAT
EXPECTATIONS--GREAT EXPECTATIONS is, in fact, definitely an attack on
patronage--and in HARD TIMES it is only very doubtfully played by
Gradgrind after his reformation. The character reappears in a rather
different form as Meagles in LITTLE DORRIT and John Jarndyce in BLEAK
HOUSE--one might perhaps add Betsy Trotwood in DAVID COPPERFIELD. But in
these books the good rich man has dwindled from a 'merchant' to a
RENTIER. This is significant. A RENTIER is part of the possessing class,
he can and, almost without knowing it, does make other people work for
him, but he has very little direct power. Unlike Scrooge or the
Cheerybles, he cannot put everything right by raising everybody's wages.
The seeming inference from the rather despondent books that Dickens
wrote in the fifties is that by that time he had grasped the
helplessness of well-meaning individuals in a corrupt society.
Nevertheless in the last completed novel, OUR MUTUAL FRIEND (published
1864-5), the good rich man comes back in full glory in the person of
Boffin. Boffin is a proletarian by origin and only rich by inheritance,
but he is the usual DEUS EX MACHINA, solving everybody's problems by
showering money in all directions. He even 'trots', like the Cheerybles.
In several ways OUR MUTUAL FRIEND is a return to the earlier manner, and
not an unsuccessful return either. Dickens's thoughts seem to have come
full circle. Once again, individual kindliness is the remedy for
everything.

One crying evil of his time that Dickens says very little about is child
labour. There are plenty of pictures of suffering children in his books,
but usually they are suffering in schools rather than in factories. The
one detailed account of child labour that he gives is the description in
DAVID COPPERFIELD of little David washing bottles in Murdstone & Grinby's
warehouse. This, of course, is autobiography. Dickens himself, at the age
of ten, had worked in Warren's blacking factory in the Strand, very much
as he describes it here. It was a terribly bitter memory to him, partly
because he felt the whole incident to be discreditable to his parents,
and he even concealed it from his wife till long after they were married.
Looking back on this period, he says in DAVID COPPERFIELD:

It is a matter of some surprise to me, even now, that I can have been so
easily thrown away at such an age. A child of excellent abilities and
with strong powers of observation, quick, eager, delicate, and soon hurt
bodily or mentally, it seems wonderful to me that nobody should have made
any sign in my behalf. But none was made; and I became, at ten years old,
a little labouring hind in the service of Murdstone & Grinby.

And again, having described the rough boys among whom he worked:

No words can express the secret agony of my soul as I sunk into this
companionship...and felt my hopes of growing up to be a learned and
distinguished man crushed in my bosom.

Obviously it is not David Copperfield who is speaking, it is Dickens
himself. He uses almost the same words in the autobiography that he began
and abandoned a few months earlier. Of course Dickens is right in saying
that a gifted child ought not to work ten hours a day pasting labels on
bottles, but what he does not say is that NO child ought to be condemned
to such a fate, and there is no reason for inferring that he thinks it.
David escapes from the warehouse, but Mick Walker and Mealy Potatoes and
the others are still there, and there is no sign that this troubles
Dickens particularly. As usual, he displays no consciousness that the
STRUCTURE of society can be changed. He despises politics, does not
believe that any good can come out of Parliament--he had been a
Parliamentary shorthand writer, which was no doubt a disillusioning
experience--and he is slightly hostile to the most hopeful movement of
his day, trade unionism. In HARD TIMES trade unionism is represented as
something not much better than a racket, something that happens because
employers are not sufficiently paternal. Stephen Blackpool's refusal to
join the union is rather a virtue in Dickens's eyes. Also, as Mr. Jackson
has pointed out, the apprentices' association in BARNABY RUDGE, to which
Sim Tappertit belongs, is probably a hit at the illegal or barely legal
unions of Dickens's own day, with their secret assemblies, passwords and
so forth. Obviously he wants the workers to be decently treated, but
there is no sign that he wants them to take their destiny into their own
hands, least of all by open violence.

As it happens, Dickens deals with revolution in the narrower sense in two
novels, BARNABY RUDGE and A TALE OF TWO CITIES. In BARNABY RUDGE it is a
case of rioting rather than revolution. The Gordon Riots of 1780, though
they had religious bigotry as a pretext, seem to have been little more
than a pointless outburst of looting. Dickens's attitude to this kind of
thing is sufficiently indicated by the fact that his first idea was to
make the ringleaders of the riots three lunatics escaped from an asylum.
He was dissuaded from this, but the principal figure of the book is in
fact a village idiot. In the chapters dealing with the riots Dickens
shows a most profound horror of mob violence. He delights in describing
scenes in which the 'dregs' of the population behave with atrocious
bestiality. These chapters are of great psychological interest, because
they show how deeply he had brooded on this subject. The things he
describes can only have come out of his imagination, for no riots on
anything like the same scale had happened in his lifetime. Here is one of
his descriptions, for instance:

If Bedlam gates had been flung open wide, there would not have issued
forth such maniacs as the frenzy of that night had made. There were men
there who danced and trampled on the beds of flowers as though they trod
down human enemies, and wrenched them from their stalks, like savages who
twisted human necks. There were men who cast their lighted torches in the
air, and suffered them to fall upon their heads and faces, blistering the
skin with deep unseemly burns. There were men who rushed up to the fire,
and paddled in it with their hands as if in water; and others who were
restrained by force from plunging in, to gratify their deadly longing. On
the skull of one drunken lad--not twenty, by his looks--who lay upon
the ground with a bottle to his mouth, the lead from the roof came
streaming down in a shower of liquid fire, white hot, melting his head
like wax...But of all the howling throng not one learnt mercy from, or
sickened at, these sights; nor was the fierce, besotted, senseless rage
of one man glutted.

You might almost think you were reading a description of 'Red' Spain by a
partisan of General Franco. One ought, of course, to remember that when
Dickens was writing, the London 'mob' still existed. (Nowadays there is
no mob, only a flock.) Low wages and the growth and shift of population
had brought into existence a huge, dangerous slum-proletariat, and until
the early middle of the nineteenth century there was hardly such a thing
as a police force. When the brickbats began to fly there was nothing
between shuttering your windows and ordering the troops to open fire. In
A TALE OF TWO CITIES he is dealing with a revolution which was really
about something, and Dickens's attitude is different, but not entirely
different. As a matter of fact, A TALE OF TWO CITIES is a book which
tends to leave a false impression behind, especially after a lapse of
time.

The one thing that everyone who has read A TALE OF TWO CITIES remembers
is the Reign of Terror. The whole book is dominated by the
guillotine--tumbrils thundering to and fro, bloody knives, heads
bouncing into the basket, and sinister old women knitting as they watch.
Actually these scenes only occupy a few chapters, but they are written
with terrible intensity, and the rest of the book is rather slow going.
But A TALE OF TWO CITIES is not a companion volume to THE SCARLET
PIMPERNEL. Dickens sees clearly enough that the French Revolution was
bound to happen and that many of the people who were executed deserved
what they got. If, he says, you behave as the French aristocracy had
behaved, vengeance will follow. He repeats this over and over again. We
are constantly being reminded that while 'my lord' is lolling in bed,
with four liveried footmen serving his chocolate and the peasants
starving outside, somewhere in the forest a tree is growing which will
presently be sawn into planks for the platform of the guillotine, etc.,
etc., etc. The inevitability of the Terror, given its causes, is
insisted upon in the clearest terms:

It was too much the way...to talk of this terrible Revolution as if it
were the only harvest ever known under the skies that had not been
sown--as if nothing had ever been done, or omitted to be done, that had
led to it--as if observers of the wretched millions in France, and of
the misused and perverted resources that should have made them
prosperous, had not seen it inevitably coming, years before, and had not
in plain terms recorded what they saw.

And again:

All the devouring and insatiate monsters imagined since imagination could
record itself, are fused in the one realization, Guillotine. And yet
there is not in France, with its rich variety of soil and climate, a
blade, a leaf, a root, a spring, a peppercorn, which will grow to
maturity under conditions more certain than those that have produced this
horror. Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and
it will twist itself into the same tortured forms.

In other words, the French aristocracy had dug their own graves. But
there is no perception here of what is now called historic necessity.
Dickens sees that the results are inevitable, given the causes, but he
thinks that the causes might have been avoided. The Revolution is
something that happens because centuries of oppression have made the
French peasantry sub-human. If the wicked nobleman could somehow have
turned over a new leaf, like Scrooge, there would have been no
Revolution, no JACQUERIE, no guillotine--and so much the better. This is
the opposite of the 'revolutionary' attitude. From the 'revolutionary'
point of view the class-struggle is the main source of progress, and
therefore the nobleman who robs the peasant and goads him to revolt is
playing a necessary part, just as much as the Jacobin who guillotines the
nobleman. Dickens never writes anywhere a line that can be interpreted as
meaning this. Revolution as he sees it is merely a monster that is
begotten by tyranny and always ends by devouring its own instruments. In
Sydney Carton's vision at the foot of the guillotine, he foresees Defarge
and the other leading spirits of the Terror all perishing under the same
knife--which, in fact, was approximately what happened.

And Dickens is very sure that revolution is a monster. That is why
everyone remembers the revolutionary scenes in A TALE OF TWO CITIES; they
have the quality of nightmare, and it is Dickens's own nightmare. Again
and again he insists upon the meaningless horrors of revolution--the
mass-butcheries, the injustice, the ever-present terror of spies, the
frightful blood-lust of the mob. The descriptions of the Paris mob--the
description, for instance, of the crowd of murderers struggling round the
grindstone to sharpen their weapons before butchering the prisoners in
the September massacres--outdo anything in BARNABY RUDGE. The
revolutionaries appear to him simply as degraded savages--in fact, as
lunatics. He broods over their frenzies with a curious imaginative
intensity. He describes them dancing the 'Carmagnole', for instance:

There could not be fewer than five hundred people, and they were dancing
like five thousand demons...They danced to the popular Revolution song,
keeping a ferocious time that was like a gnashing of teeth in unison...
They advanced, retreated, struck at one another's hands, clutched at one
another's heads, spun round alone, caught one another, and spun around in
pairs, until many of them dropped...Suddenly they stopped again, paused,
struck out the time afresh, forming into lines the width of the public
way, and, with their heads low down and their hands high up, swooped
screaming off. No fight could have been half so terrible as this dance.
It was so emphatically a fallen sport--a something, once innocent,
delivered over to all devilry.

He even credits some of these wretches with a taste for guillotining
children. The passage I have abridged above ought to be read in full. It
and others like it show how deep was Dickens's horror of revolutionary
hysteria. Notice, for instance that touch, 'with their heads low down and
their hands high up', etc., and the evil vision it conveys. Madame
Defarge is a truly dreadful figure, certainly Dickens's most successful
attempt at a MALIGNANT character. Defarge and others are simply 'the new
oppressors who have risen in the destruction of the old', the
revolutionary courts are presided over by 'the lowest, cruellest and
worst populace', and so on and so forth. All the way through Dickens
insists upon the nightmare insecurity of a revolutionary period, and in
this he shows a great deal of prescience. 'A law of the suspected, which
struck away all security for liberty or life, and delivered over any good
and innocent person to any bad and guilty one; prisons gorged with people
who had committed no offence, and could obtain no hearing'--it would
apply pretty accurately to several countries today.

The apologists of any revolution generally try to minimize its horrors;
Dickens's impulse is to exaggerate them--and from a historical point of
view he has certainly exaggerated. Even the Reign of Terror was a much
smaller thing than he makes it appear. Though he quotes no figures, he
gives the impression of a frenzied massacre lasting for years, whereas in
reality the whole of the Terror, so far as the number of deaths goes, was
a joke compared with one of Napoleon's battles. But the bloody knives and
the tumbrils rolling to and fro create in his mind a special sinister
vision which he has succeeded in passing on to generations of readers.
Thanks to Dickens, the very word 'tumbril' has a murderous sound; one
forgets that a tumbril is only a sort of farm-cart. To this day, to the
average Englishman, the French Revolution means no more than a pyramid of
severed heads. It is a strange thing that Dickens, much more in sympathy
with the ideas of the Revolution than most Englishmen of his time, should
have played a part in creating this impression.

If you hate violence and don't believe in politics, the only remedy
remaining is education. Perhaps society is past praying for, but there is
always hope for the individual human being, if you can catch him young
enough. This belief partly accounts for Dickens's preoccupation with
childhood.

No one, at any rate no English writer, has written better about childhood
than Dickens. In spite of all the knowledge that has accumulated since,
in spite of the fact that children are now comparatively sanely treated,
no novelist has shown the same power of entering into the child's point
of view. I must have been about nine years old when I first read DAVID
COPPERFIELD. The mental atmosphere of the opening chapters was so
immediately intelligible to me that I vaguely imagined they had been
written BY A CHILD. And yet when one re-reads the book as an adult and
sees the Murdstones, for instance, dwindle from gigantic figures of doom
into semi-comic monsters, these passages lose nothing. Dickens has been
able to stand both inside and outside the child's mind, in such a way
that the same scene can be wild burlesque or sinister reality, according
to the age at which one reads it. Look, for instance, at the scene in
which David Copperfield is unjustly suspected of eating the mutton chops;
or the scene in which Pip, in GREAT EXPECTATIONS, coming back from Miss
Havisham's house and finding himself completely unable to describe what
he has seen, takes refuge in a series of outrageous lies--which, of
course, are eagerly believed. All the isolation of childhood is there.
And how accurately he has recorded the mechanisms of the child's mind,
its visualizing tendency, its sensitiveness to certain kinds of
impression. Pip relates how in his childhood his ideas about his dead
parents were derived from their tombstones:

The shape of the letters on my father's, gave me an odd idea that he was
a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair. From the character and
turn of the inscription, 'ALSO GEORGIANA, WIFE OF THE ABOVE', I drew a
childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sickly. To five
little stone lozenges, each about a foot and a half long, which were
arranged in a neat row beside their grave, and were sacred to the memory
of five little brothers of mine...I am indebted for a belief I
religiously entertained that they had all been born on their backs with
their hands in their trouser-pockets, and had never taken them out in
this state of existence.

There is a similar passage in DAVID COPPERFIELD. After biting Mr.
Murdstone's hand, David is sent away to school and obliged to wear on his
back a placard saying, 'Take care of him. He bites.' He looks at the door
in the playground where the boys have carved their names, and from the
appearance of each name he seems to know in just what tone of voice the
boy will read out the placard:

There was one boy--a certain J. Steerforth--who cut his name very deep
and very often, who, I conceived, would read it in a rather strong voice,
and afterwards pull my hair. There was another boy, one Tommy Traddles,
who I dreaded would make game of it, and pretend to be dreadfully
frightened of me. There was a third, George Demple, who I fancied would
sing it.

When I read this passage as a child, it seemed to me that those were
exactly the pictures that those particular names would call up. The
reason, of course, is the sound-associations of the words
(Demple--'temple'; Traddles--probably 'skedaddle'). But how many people,
before Dickens, had ever noticed such things? A sympathetic attitude
towards children was a much rarer thing in Dickens's day than it is now.
The early nineteenth century was not a good time to be a child. In
Dickens's youth children were still being 'solemnly tried at a criminal
bar, where they were held up to be seen', and it was not so long since
boys of thirteen had been hanged for petty theft. The doctrine of
'breaking the child's spirit' was in full vigour, and THE FAIRCHILD
FAMILY was a standard book for children till late into the century. This
evil book is now issued in pretty-pretty expurgated editions, but it is
well worth reading in the original version. It gives one some idea of
the lengths to which child-discipline was sometimes carried. Mr.
Fairchild, for instance, when he catches his children quarrelling, first
thrashes them, reciting Dr. Watts's 'Let dogs delight to bark and bite'
between blows of the cane, and then takes them to spend the afternoon
beneath a gibbet where the rotting corpse of a murderer is hanging. In
the earlier part of the century scores of thousands of children, aged
sometimes as young as six, were literally worked to death in the mines
or cotton mills, and even at the fashionable public schools boys were
flogged till they ran with blood for a mistake in their Latin verses.
One thing which Dickens seems to have recognized, and which most of his
contemporaries did not, is the sadistic sexual element in flogging. I
think this can be inferred from DAVID COPPERFIELD and NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.
But mental cruelty to a child infuriates him as much as physical, and
though there is a fair number of exceptions, his schoolmasters are
generally scoundrels.

Except for the universities and the big public schools, every kind of
education then existing in England gets a mauling at Dickens's hands.
There is Doctor Blimber's Academy, where little boys are blown up with
Greek until they burst, and the revolting charity schools of the period,
which produced specimens like Noah Claypole and Uriah Heep, and Salem
House, and Dotheboys Hall, and the disgraceful little dame-school kept by
Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt. Some of what Dickens says remains true even
today. Salem House is the ancestor of the modern 'prep school', which
still has a good deal of resemblance to it; and as for Mr. Wopsle's
great-aunt, some old fraud of much the same stamp is carrying on at this
moment in nearly every small town in England. But, as usual, Dickens's
criticism is neither creative nor destructive. He sees the idiocy of an
educational system founded on the Greek lexicon and the wax-ended cane;
on the other hand, he has no use for the new kind of school that is
coming up in the fifties and sixties, the 'modern' school, with its
gritty insistence on 'facts'. What, then, DOES he want? As always, what
he appears to want is a moralized version of the existing thing--the old
type of school, but with no caning, no bullying or underfeeding, and not
quite so much Greek. Doctor Strong's school, to which David Copperfield
goes after he escapes from Murdstone & Grinby's, is simply Salem House
with the vices left out and a good deal of 'old grey stones' atmosphere
thrown in:

Doctor Strong's was an excellent school, as different from Mr. Creakle's
as good is from evil. It was very gravely and decorously ordered, and on
a sound system; with an appeal, in everything, to the honour and good
faith of the boys...which worked wonders. We all felt that we had a part
in the management of the place, and in sustaining its character and
dignity. Hence, we soon became warmly attached to it--I am sure I did
for one, and I never knew, in all my time, of any boy being
otherwise--and learnt with a good will, desiring to do it credit. We had
noble games out of hours, and plenty of liberty; but even then, as I
remember, we were well spoken of in the town, and rarely did any
disgrace, by our appearance or manner, to the reputation of Doctor
Strong and Doctor Strong's boys.

In the woolly vagueness of this passage one can see Dickens's utter lack
of any educational theory. He can imagine the MORAL atmosphere of a good
school, but nothing further. The boys 'learnt with a good will', but what
did they learn? No doubt it was Doctor Blimber's curriculum, a little
watered down. Considering the attitude to society that is everywhere
implied in Dickens's novels, it comes as rather a shock to learn that he
sent his eldest son to Eton and sent all his children through the
ordinary educational mill. Gissing seems to think that he may have done
this because he was painfully conscious of being under-educated himself.
Here perhaps Gissing is influenced by his own love of classical learning.
Dickens had had little or no formal education, but he lost nothing by
missing it, and on the whole he seems to have been aware of this. If he
was unable to imagine a better school than Doctor Strong's, or, in real
life, than Eton, it was probably due to an intellectual deficiency rather
different from the one Gissing suggests.

It seems that in every attack Dickens makes upon society he is always
pointing to a change of spirit rather than a change of structure. It is
hopeless to try and pin him down to any definite remedy, still more to
any political doctrine. His approach is always along the moral plane, and
his attitude is sufficiently summed up in that remark about Strong's
school being as different from Creakle's 'as good is from evil'. Two
things can be very much alike and yet abysmally different. Heaven and
Hell are in the same place. Useless to change institutions without a
'change of heart'--that, essentially, is what he is always saying.

If that were all, he might be no more than a cheer-up writer, a
reactionary humbug. A 'change of heart' is in fact THE alibi of people
who do not wish to endanger the STATUS QUO. But Dickens is not a humbug,
except in minor matters, and the strongest single impression one carries
away from his books is that of a hatred of tyranny. I said earlier that
Dickens is not IN THE ACCEPTED SENSE a revolutionary writer. But it is
not at all certain that a merely moral criticism of society may not be
just as 'revolutionary'--and revolution, after all, means turning things
upside down--as the politico-economic criticism which is fashionable at
this moment. Blake was not a politician, but there is more understanding
of the nature of capitalist society in a poem like 'I wander through each
charted street' than in three-quarters of Socialist literature. Progress
is not an illusion, it happens, but it is slow and invariably
disappointing. There is always a new tyrant waiting to take over from the
old--generally not quite so bad, but still a tyrant. Consequently two
viewpoints are always tenable. The one, how can you improve human nature
until you have changed the system? The other, what is the use of changing
the system before you have improved human nature? They appeal to
different individuals, and they probably show a tendency to alternate in
point of time. The moralist and the revolutionary are constantly
undermining one another. Marx exploded a hundred tons of dynamite beneath
the moralist position, and we are still living in the echo of that
tremendous crash. But already, somewhere or other, the sappers are at
work and fresh dynamite is being tamped in place to blow Marx at the
moon. Then Marx, or somebody like him, will come back with yet more
dynamite, and so the process continues, to an end we cannot yet foresee.
The central problem--how to prevent power from being abused--remains
unsolved. Dickens, who had not the vision to see that private property is
an obstructive nuisance, had the vision to see that. 'If men would behave
decently the world would be decent' is not such a platitude as it sounds.

II

More completely than most writers, perhaps, Dickens can be explained in
terms of his social origin, though actually his family history was not
quite what one would infer from his novels. His father was a clerk in
government service, and through his mother's family he had connexions
with both the Army and the Navy. But from the age of nine onwards he was
brought up in London in commercial surroundings, and generally in an
atmosphere of struggling poverty. Mentally he belongs to the small urban
bourgeoisie, and he happens to be an exceptionally fine specimen of this
class, with all the 'points', as it were, very highly developed. That is
partly what makes him so interesting. If one wants a modern equivalent,
the nearest would be H. G. Wells, who has had a rather similar history
and who obviously owes something to Dickens as novelist. Arnold Bennett
was essentially of the same type, but, unlike the other two, he was a
midlander, with an industrial and noncomformist rather than commercial
and Anglican background.

The great disadvantage, and advantage, of the small urban bourgeois is
his limited outlook. He sees the world as a middle-class world, and
everything outside these limits is either laughable or slightly wicked.
On the one hand, he has no contact with industry or the soil; on the
other, no contact with the governing classes. Anyone who has studied
Wells's novels in detail will have noticed that though he hates the
aristocrat like poison, he has no particular objection to the plutocrat,
and no enthusiasm for the proletarian. His most hated types, the people
he believes to be responsible for all human ills, are kings, landowners,
priests, nationalists, soldiers, scholars and peasants. At first sight a
list beginning with kings and ending with peasants looks like a mere
omnium gatherum, but in reality all these people have a common factor.
All of them are archaic types, people who are governed by tradition and
whose eyes are turned towards the past--the opposite, therefore, of the
rising bourgeois who has put his money on the future and sees the past
simply as a dead hand.

Actually, although Dickens lived in a period when the bourgeoisie was
really a rising class, he displays this characteristic less strongly than
Wells. He is almost unconscious of the future and has a rather sloppy
love of the picturesque (the 'quaint old church', etc.). Nevertheless his
list of most hated types is like enough to Wells's for the similarity to
be striking. He is vaguely on the side of the working class--has a sort
of generalized sympathy with them because they are oppressed--but he
does not in reality know much about them; they come into his books
chiefly as servants, and comic servants at that. At the other end of the
scale he loathes the aristocrat and--going one better than Wells in this
loathes the big bourgeois as well. His real sympathies are bounded by Mr.
Pickwick on the upper side and Mr. Barkis on the lower. But the term
'aristocrat', for the type Dickens hates, is vague and needs defining.

Actually Dickens's target is not so much the great aristocracy, who
hardly enter into his books, as their petty offshoots, the cadging
dowagers who live up mews in Mayfair, and the bureaucrats and
professional soldiers. All through his books there are countess hostile
sketches of these people, and hardly any that are friendly. There are
practically no friendly pictures of the landowning class, for instance.
One might make a doubtful exception of Sir Leicester Dedlock; otherwise
there is only Mr. Wardle (who is a stock figure the 'good old squire')
and Haredale in BARNABY RUDGE, who has Dickens's sympathy because he is a
persecuted Catholic. There are no friendly pictures of soldiers (i.e.
officers), and none at all of naval men. As for his bureaucrats, judges
and magistrates, most of them would feel quite at home in the
Circumlocution Office. The only officials whom Dickens handles with any
kind of friendliness are, significantly enough, policemen.

Dickens's attitude is easily intelligible to an Englishman, because it is
part of the English puritan tradition, which is not dead even at this
day. The class Dickens belonged to, at least by adoption, was growing
suddenly rich after a couple of centuries of obscurity. It had grown up
mainly in the big towns, out of contact with agriculture, and politically
impotent; government, in its experience, was something which either
interfered or persecuted. Consequently it was a class with no tradition
of public service and not much tradition of usefulness. What now strikes
us as remarkable about the new moneyed class of the nineteenth century is
their complete irresponsibility; they see everything in terms of
individual success, with hardly any consciousness that the community
exists. On the other hand, a Tite Barnacle, even when he was neglecting
his duties, would have some vague notion of what duties he was
neglecting. Dickens's attitude is never irresponsible, still less does he
take the money-grubbing Smilesian line; but at the back of his mind there
is usually a half-belief that the whole apparatus of government is
unnecessary. Parliament is simply Lord Coodle and Sir Thomas Doodle, the
Empire is simply Major Bagstock and his Indian servant, the Army is
simply Colonel Chowser and Doctor Slammer, the public services are simply
Bumble and the Circumlocution Office--and so on and so forth. What he
does not see, or only intermittently sees, is that Coodle and Doodle and
all the other corpses left over from the eighteenth century ARE
performing a function which neither Pickwick nor Boffin would ever bother
about.

And of course this narrowness of vision is in one way a great advantage
to him, because it is fatal for a caricaturist to see too much. From
Dickens's point of view 'good' society is simply a collection of village
idiots. What a crew! Lady Tippins! Mrs. Gowan! Lord Verisopht! The
Honourable Bob Stables! Mrs. Sparsit (whose husband was a Powler)! The
Tite Barnacles! Nupkins! It is practically a case-book in lunacy. But at
the same time his remoteness from the landowning-military-bureaucratic
class incapacitates him for full-length satire. He only succeeds with
this class when he depicts them as mental defectives. The accusation
which used to be made against Dickens in his lifetime, that he 'could not
paint a gentleman', was an absurdity, but it is true in this sense, that
what he says against the 'gentleman' class is seldom very damaging. Sir
Mulberry Hawk, for instance, is a wretched attempt at the wicked-baronet
type. Harthouse in HARD TIMES is better, but he would be only an ordinary
achievement for Trollope or Thackeray. Trollope's thoughts hardly move
outside the 'gentleman' class, but Thackeray has the great advantage of
having a foot in two moral camps. In some ways his outlook is very
similar to Dickens's. Like Dickens, he identifies with the puritanical
moneyed class against the card-playing, debt-bilking aristocracy. The
eighteenth century, as he sees it, is sticking out into the nineteenth in
the person of the wicked Lord Steyne. VANITY FAIR is a full-length
version of what Dickens did for a few chapters in LITTLE DORRIT. But by
origins and upbringing Thackeray happens to be somewhat nearer to the
class he is satirizing. Consequently he can produce such comparatively
subtle types as, for instance, Major Pendennis and Rawdon Crawley. Major
Pendennis is a shallow old snob, and Rawdon Crawley is a thick-headed
ruffian who sees nothing wrong in living for years by swindling
tradesmen; but what Thackery realizes is that according to their tortuous
code they are neither of them bad men. Major Pendennis would not sign a
dud cheque, for instance; Rawdon certainly would, but on the other hand
he would not desert a friend in a tight corner. Both of them would behave
well on the field of battle--a thing that would not particularly appeal
to Dickens. The result is that at the end one is left with a kind of
amused tolerance for Major Pendennis and with something approaching
respect for Rawdon; and yet one sees, better than any diatribe could make
one, the utter rottenness of that kind of cadging, toadying life on the
fringes of smart society. Dickens would be quite incapable of this. In
his hands both Rawdon and the Major would dwindle to traditional
caricatures. And, on the whole, his attacks on 'good' society are rather
perfunctory. The aristocracy and the big bourgeoisie exist in his books
chiefly as a kind of 'noises off', a haw-hawing chorus somewhere in the
wings, like Podsnap's dinner-parties. When he produces a really subtle
and damaging portrait, like John Dorrit or Harold Skimpole, it is
generally of some rather middling, unimportant person.

One very striking thing about Dickens, especially considering the time he
lived in, is his lack of vulgar nationalism. All peoples who have reached
the point of becoming nations tend to despise foreigners, but there is
not much doubt that the English-speaking races are the worst offenders.
One can see this from the fact that as soon as they become fully aware of
any foreign race they invent an insulting nickname for it. Wop, Dago,
Froggy, Squarehead, Kike, Sheeny, Nigger, Wog, Chink, Greaser,
Yellowbelly--these are merely a selection. Any time before 1870 the list
would have been shorter, because the map of the world was different from
what it is now, and there were only three or four foreign races that had
fully entered into the English consciousness. But towards these, and
especially towards France, the nearest and best-hated nation, the English
attitude of patronage was so intolerable that English 'arrogance' and
'xenophobia' are still a legend. And of course they are not a completely
untrue legend even now. Till very recently nearly all English children
were brought up to despise the southern European races, and history as
taught in schools was mainly a list of battles won by England. But one
has got to read, say, the QUARTERLY REVIEW of the thirties to know what
boasting really is. Those were the days when the English built up their
legend of themselves as 'sturdy islanders' and 'stubborn hearts of oak'
and when it was accepted as a kind of scientific fact that one Englishman
was the equal of three foreigners. All through nineteenth-century novels
and comic papers there runs the traditional figure of the 'Froggy'--a
small ridiculous man with a tiny beard and a pointed top-hat, always
jabbering and gesticulating, vain, frivolous and fond of boasting of his
martial exploits, but generally taking to flight when real danger
appears. Over against him was John Bull, the 'sturdy English yeoman', or
(a more public-school version) the 'strong, silent Englishman' of Charles
Kingsley, Tom Hughes and others.

Thackeray, for instance, has this outlook very strongly, though there are
moments when he sees through it and laughs at it. The one historical fact
that is firmly fixed in his mind is that the English won the battle of
Waterloo. One never reads far in his books without coming upon some
reference to it. The English, as he sees it, are invincible because of
their tremendous physical strength, due mainly to living on beef. Like
most Englishmen of his time, he has the curious illusion that the English
are larger than other people (Thackeray, as it happened, was larger than
most people), and therefore he is capable of writing passages like this:

I say to you that you are better than a Frenchman. I would lay even money
that you who are reading this are more than five feet seven in height,
and weigh eleven stone; while a Frenchman is five feet four and does not
weigh nine. The Frenchman has after his soup a dish of vegetables, where
you have one of meat. You are a different and superior animal--a
French-beating animal (the history of hundreds of years has shown you to
be so), etc. etc.

There are similar passages scattered all through Thackeray's works.
Dickens would never be guilty of anything of that kind. It would be an
exaggeration to say that he nowhere pokes fun at foreigners, and of
course like nearly all nineteenth-century Englishmen, he is untouched by
European culture. But never anywhere does he indulge in the typical
English boasting, the 'island race', 'bulldog breed', 'right little,
tight little island' style of talk. In the whole of A TALE OF TWO CITIES
there is not a line that could be taken as meaning, 'Look how these
wicked Frenchmen behave!' The only place where he seems to display a
normal hatred of foreigners is in the American chapters of MARTIN
CHUZZLEWIT. This, however, is simply the reaction of a generous mind
against cant. If Dickens were alive today he would make a trip to Soviet
Russia and come back to the book rather like Gide's RETOUR DE L'URSS. But
he is remarkably free from the idiocy of regarding nations as
individuals. He seldom even makes jokes turning on nationality. He does
not exploit the comic Irishman and the comic Welshman, for instance, and
not because he objects to stock characters and ready-made jokes, which
obviously he does not. It is perhaps more significant that he shows no
prejudice against Jews. It is true that he takes it for granted (OLIVER
TWIST and GREAT EXPECTATIONS) that a receiver of stolen goods will be a
Jew, which at the time was probably justified. But the 'Jew joke',
endemic in English literature until the rise of Hitler, does not appear
in his books, and in OUR MUTUAL FRIEND he makes a pious though not very
convincing attempt to stand up for the Jews.

Dickens's lack of vulgar nationalism is in part the mark of a real
largeness of mind, and in part results from his negative, rather
unhelpful political attitude. He is very much an Englishman but he is
hardly aware of it--certainly the thought of being an Englishman does
not thrill him. He has no imperialist feelings, no discernible views on
foreign politics, and is untouched by the military tradition.
Temperamentally he is much nearer to the small noncomformist tradesman
who looks down on the 'redcoats', and thinks that war is wicked--a
one-eyed view, but after all, war is wicked. It is noticeable that
Dickens hardly writes of war, even to denounce it. With all his
marvellous powers of description, and of describing things he had never
seen, he never describes a battle, unless one counts the attack on the
Bastille in A TALE OF TWO CITIES. Probably the subject would not strike
him as interesting, and in any case he would not regard a battlefield as
a place where anything worth settling could be settled. It is one up to
the lower-middle-class, puritan mentality.

III

Dickens had grown up near enough to poverty to be terrified of it, and in
spite of his generosity of mind, he is not free from the special
prejudices of the shabby-genteel. It is usual to claim him as a 'popular'
writer, a champion of the 'oppressed masses'. So he is, so long as he
thinks of them as oppressed; but there are two things that condition his
attitude. In the first place, he is a south-of-England man, and a Cockney
at that, and therefore out of touch with the bulk of the real oppressed
masses, the industrial and agricultural labourers. It is interesting to
see how Chesterton, another Cockney, always presents Dickens as the
spokesman of 'the poor', without showing much awareness of who 'the poor'
really are. To Chesterton 'the poor' means small shopkeepers and
servants. Sam Weller, he says, 'is the great symbol in English literature
of the populace peculiar to England'; and Sam Weller is a valet! The
other point is that Dickens's early experiences have given him a horror
of proletarian roughness. He shows this unmistakably whenever he writes
of the very poorest of the poor, the slum-dwellers. His descriptions of
the London slums are always full of undisguised repulsion:

The ways were foul and narrow; the shops and houses wretched; and people
half naked, drunken, slipshod and ugly. Alleys and archways, like so many
cesspools, disgorged their offences of smell, and dirt, and life, upon
the straggling streets; and the whole quarter reeked with crime, and
filth, and misery, etc. etc.

There are many similar passages in Dickens. From them one gets the
impression of whole submerged populations whom he regards as being beyond
the pale. In rather the same way the modern doctrinaire Socialist
contemptuously writes off a large block of the population as
'lumpenproletariat'.

Dickens also shows less understanding of criminals than one would expect
of him. Although he is well aware of the social and economic causes of
crime, he often seems to feel that when a man has once broken the law he
has put himself outside human society. There is a chapter at the end of
DAVID COPPERFIELD in which David visits the prison where Latimer and
Uriah Heep are serving their sentences. Dickens actually seems to regard
the horrible 'model' prisons, against which Charles Reade delivered his
memorable attack in IT IS NEVER TOO LATE TO MEND, as too humane. He
complains that the food is too good! As soon as he comes up against crime
or the worst depths of poverty, he shows traces of the 'I've always kept
myself respectable' habit of mind. The attitude of Pip (obviously the
attitude of Dickens himself) towards Magwitch in GREAT EXPECTATIONS is
extremely interesting. Pip is conscious all along of his ingratitude
towards Joe, but far less so of his ingratitude towards Magwitch. When he
discovers that the person who has loaded him with benefits for years is
actually a transported convict, he falls into frenzies of disgust. 'The
abhorrence in which I held the man, the dread I had of him, the
repugnance with which I shrank from him, could not have been exceeded if
he had been some terrible beast', etc. etc. So far as one can discover
from the text, this is not because when Pip was a child he had been
terrorized by Magwitch in the churchyard; it is because Magwitch is a
criminal and a convict. There is an even more 'kept-myself-respectable'
touch in the fact that Pip feels as a matter of course that he cannot
take Magwitch's money. The money is not the product of a crime, it has
been honestly acquired; but it is an ex-convict's money and therefore
'tainted'. There is nothing psychologically false in this, either.
Psychologically the latter part of GREAT EXPECTATIONS is about the best
thing Dickens ever did; throughout this part of the book one feels 'Yes,
that is just how Pip would have behaved.' But the point is that in the
matter of Magwitch, Dickens identifies with Pip, and his attitude is at
bottom snobbish. The result is that Magwitch belongs to the same queer
class of characters as Falstaff and, probably, Don Quixote--characters
who are more pathetic than the author intended.

When it is a question of the non-criminal poor, the ordinary, decent,
labouring poor, there is of course nothing contemptuous in Dickens's
attitude. He has the sincerest admiration for people like the Peggottys
and the Plornishes. But it is questionable whether he really regards them
as equals. It is of the greatest interest to read Chapter XI of DAVID
COPPERFIELD and side by side with it the autobiographical fragments
(parts of this are given in Forster's LIFE), in which Dickens expresses
his feelings about the blacking-factory episode a great deal more
strongly than in the novel. For more than twenty years afterwards the
memory was so painful to him that he would go out of his way to avoid
that part of the Strand. He says that to pass that way 'made me cry,
after my eldest child could speak.' The text makes it quite clear that
what hurt him most of all, then and in retrospect, was the enforced
contact with 'low' associates:

No words can express the secret agony of my soul as I sunk into this
companionship; compared these everyday associates with those of my
happier childhood. But I held some station at the blacking warehouse
too...I soon became at least as expeditious and as skilful with my hands
as either of the other boys. Though perfectly familiar with them, my
conduct and manners were different enough from theirs to place a space
between us. They, and the men, always spoke of me as 'the young
gentleman'. A certain man...used to call me 'Charles' sometimes in
speaking to me; but I think it was mostly when we were very
confidential...Poll Green uprose once, and rebelled against the
'young-gentleman' usage; but Bob Fagin settled him speedily.

It was as well that there should be 'a space between us', you see.
However much Dickens may admire the working classes, he does not wish to
resemble them. Given his origins, and the time he lived in, it could
hardly be otherwise. In the early nineteenth century class animosities
may have been no sharper than they are now, but the surface differences
between class and class were enormously greater. The 'gentleman' and the
'common man' must have seemed like different species of animal. Dickens
is quite genuinely on the side of the poor against the rich, but it would
be next door to impossible for him not to think of a working-class
exterior as a stigma. In one of Tolstoy's fables the peasants of a
certain village judge every stranger who arrives from the state of his
hands. If his palms are hard from work, they let him in; if his palms are
soft, out he goes. This would be hardly intelligible to Dickens; all his
heroes have soft hands. His younger heroes--Nicholas Nickleby, Martin
Chuzzlewit, Edward Chester, David Copperfield, John Harmon--are usually
of the type known as 'walking gentlemen'. He likes a bourgeois exterior
and a bourgeois (not aristocratic) accent. One curious symptom of this is
that he will not allow anyone who is to play a heroic part to speak like
a working man. A comic hero like Sam Weller, or a merely pathetic figure
like Stephen Blackpool, can speak with a broad accent, but the JEUNE
PREMIER always speaks the equivalent of B.B.C. This is so, even when it
involves absurdities. Little Pip, for instance, is brought up by people
speaking broad Essex, but talks upper-class English from his earliest
childhood; actually he would have talked the same dialect as Joe, or at
least as Mrs. Gargery. So also with Biddy Wopsle, Lizzie Hexam, Sissie
Jupe, Oliver Twist--one ought perhaps to add Little Dorrit. Even Rachel
in HARD TIMES has barely a trace of Lancashire accent, an impossibility
in her case.

One thing that often gives the clue to a novelist's real feelings on the
class question is the attitude he takes up when class collides with sex.
This is a thing too painful to be lied about, and consequently it is one
of the points at which the 'I'm-not-a-snob' pose tends to break down.

One sees that at its most obvious where a class-distinction is also a
colour-distinction. And something resembling the colonial attitude
('native' women are fair game, white women are sacrosanct) exists in a
veiled form in all-white communities, causing bitter resentment on both
sides. When this issue arises, novelists often revert to crude
class-feelings which they might disclaim at other times. A good example
of 'class-conscious' reaction is a rather forgotten novel, THE PEOPLE OF
CLOPTON, by Andrew Barton. The author's moral code is quite clearly mixed
up with class-hatred. He feels the seduction of a poor girl by a rich man
to be something atrocious, a kind of defilement, something quite
different from her seduction by a man in her own walk of life. Trollope
deals with this theme twice (THE THREE CLERKS and THE SMALL HOUSE AT
ALLINGTON) and, as one might expect, entirely from the upper-class angle.
As he sees it, an affair with a barmaid or a landlady's daughter is
simply an 'entanglement' to be escaped from. Trollope's moral standards
are strict, and he does not allow the seduction actually to happen, but
the implication is always that a working-class girl's feelings do not
greatly matter. In THE THREE CLERKS he even gives the typical
class-reaction by noting that the girl 'smells'. Meredith (RHODA FLEMING)
takes more the 'class-conscious' viewpoint. Thackeray, as often, seems to
hesitate. In PENDENNIS (Fanny Bolton) his attitude is much the same as
Trollope's; in A SHABBY GENTEEL STORY it is nearer to Meredith's.

One could divine a great deal about Trollope's social origin, or
Meredith's, or Barton's, merely from their handling of the class-sex
theme. So one can with Dickens, but what emerges, as usual, is that he is
more inclined to identify himself with the middle class than with the
proletariat. The one incident that seems to contradict this is the tale
of the young peasant-girl in Doctor Manette's manuscript in A TALE OF TWO
CITIES. This, however, is merely a costume-piece put in to explain the
implacable hatred of Madame Defarge, which Dickens does not pretend to
approve of. In DAVID COPPERFIELD, where he is dealing with a typical
nineteenth-century seduction, the class-issue does not seem to strike him
as paramount. It is a law of Victorian novels that sexual misdeeds must
not go unpunished, and so Steerforth is drowned on Yarmouth sands, but
neither Dickens, nor old Peggotty, nor even Ham, seems to feel that
Steerforth has added to his offence by being the son of rich parents. The
Steerforths are moved by class-motives, but the Peggottys are not--not
even in the scene between Mrs. Steerforth and old Peggotty; if they were,
of course, they would probably turn against David as well as against
Steerforth.

In OUR MUTUAL FRIEND Dickens treats the episode of Eugene Wrayburn and
Lizzie Hexam very realistically and with no appearance of class bias.
According to the 'Unhand me, monster!' tradition, Lizzie ought either to
'spurn' Eugene or to be ruined by him and throw herself off Waterloo
Bridge: Eugene ought to be either a heartless betrayer or a hero resolved
upon defying society. Neither behaves in the least like this. Lizzie is
frightened by Eugene's advances and actually runs away from him, but
hardly pretends to dislike them; Eugene is attracted by her, has too much
decency to attempt seducing her and dare not marry her because of his
family. Finally they are married and no one is any the worse, except Mrs.
Twemlow, who will lose a few dinner engagements. It is all very much as
it might have happened in real life. But a 'class-conscious' novelist
would have given her to Bradley Headstone.

But when it is the other way about--when it is a case of a poor man
aspiring to some woman who is 'above' him Dickens instantly retreats into
the middle-class attitude. He is rather fond of the Victorian notion of a
woman (woman with a capital W) being 'above' a man. Pip feels that
Estella is 'above' him, Esther Summerson is 'above' Guppy, Little Dorrit
is 'above' John Chivery, Lucy Manette is 'above' Sydney Carton. In some
of these the 'above'-ness is merely moral, but in others it is social.
There is a scarcely mistakable class-reaction when David Copperfield
discovers that Uriah Heep is plotting to marry Agnes Wickfield. The
disgusting Uriah suddenly announces that he is in love with her:

'Oh, Master Copperfield, with what a pure affection do I love the ground
my Agnes walks on.'

I believe I had the delirious idea of seizing the red-hot poker out of
the fire, and running him through with it. It went from me with a shock,
like a ball fired from a rifle: but the image of Agnes, outraged by so
much as a thought of this red-headed animal's, remained in my mind (when
I looked at him, sitting all awry as if his mean soul griped his body)
and made me giddy...'I believe Agnes Wickfield to be as far above
you (David says later on), and as far removed from all your aspirations,
as the moon herself.'

Considering how Heep's general lowness--his servile manners, dropped
aitches and so forth--has been rubbed in throughout the book, there is
not much doubt about the nature of Dickens's feelings. Heep, of course,
is playing a villainous part, but even villains have sexual lives; it is
the thought of the 'pure' Agnes in bed with a man who drops his aitches
that really revolts Dickens. But his usual tendency is to treat a man in
love with a woman who is 'above' him as a joke. It is one of the stock
jokes of English literature, from Malvolio onwards. Guppy in BLEAK HOUSE
is an example, John Chivery is another, and there is a rather ill-natured
treatment of this theme in the 'swarry' in PICKWICK PAPERS. Here Dickens
describes the Bath footmen as living a kind of fantasy-life, holding
dinner-parties in imitation of their 'betters' and deluding themselves
that their young mistresses are in love with them. This evidently strikes
him as very comic. So it is in a way, though one might question whether
it is not better for a footman even to have delusions of this kind than
simply to accept his status in the spirit of the catechism.

In his attitude towards servants Dickens is not ahead of his age. In the
nineteenth century the revolt against domestic service was just
beginning, to the great annoyance of everyone with over £500 a year. An
enormous number of the jokes in nineteenth-century comic papers deals
with the uppishness of servants. For years PUNCH ran a series of jokes
called 'Servant Gal-isms', all turning on the then astonishing fact that
a servant is a human being. Dickens is sometimes guilty of this kind of
thing himself. His books abound with the ordinary comic servants; they
are dishonest (GREAT EXPECTATIONS), incompetent (DAVID COPPERFIELD), turn
up their noses at good food (PICKWICK PAPERS), etc. etc.--all rather in
the spirit of the suburban housewife with one downtrodden cook-general.
But what is curious, in a nineteenth-century radical, is that when he
wants to draw a sympathetic picture of a servant, he creates what is
recognizably a feudal type. Sam Weller, Mark Tapley, Clara Peggotty are
all of them feudal figures. They belong to the genre of the 'old family
retainer'; they identify themselves with their master's family and are at
once doggishly faithful and completely familiar. No doubt Mark Tapley and
Sam Weller are derived to some extent from Smollett, and hence from
Cervantes; but it is interesting that Dickens should have been attracted
by such a type. Sam Weller's attitude is definitely medieval. He gets
himself arrested in order to follow Mr. Pickwick into the Fleet, and
afterwards refuses to get married because he feels that Mr. Pickwick
still needs his services. There is a characteristic scene between them:

'Vages or no vages, board or no board, lodgin' or no lodgin', Sam Veller,
as you took from the old inn in the Borough, sticks by you, come what
may...'

'My good fellow', said Mr. Pickwick, when Mr. Weller had sat down again,
rather abashed at his own enthusiasm, 'you are bound to consider the
young woman also.'

'I do consider the young 'ooman, sir', said Sam. 'I have considered the
young 'ooman. I've spoke to her. I've told her how I'm sitivated; she's
ready to vait till I'm ready, and I believe she vill. If she don't, she's
not the young 'ooman I take her for, and I give up with readiness.'

It is easy to imagine what the young woman would have said to this in
real life. But notice the feudal atmosphere. Sam Weller is ready as a
matter of course to sacrifice years of his life to his master, and he can
also sit down in his master's presence. A modern manservant would never
think of doing either. Dickens's views on the servant question do not get
much beyond wishing that master and servant would love one another.
Sloppy in OUR MUTUAL FRIEND, though a wretched failure as a character,
represents the same kind of loyalty as Sam Weller. Such loyalty, of
course, is natural, human, and likeable; but so was feudalism.

What Dickens seems to be doing, as usual, is to reach out for an
idealized version of the existing thing. He was writing at a time when
domestic service must have seemed a completely inevitable evil. There
were no labour-saving devices, and there was huge inequality of wealth.
It was an age of enormous families, pretentious meals and inconvenient
houses, when the slavey drudging fourteen hours a day in the basement
kitchen was something too normal to be noticed. And given the FACT of
servitude, the feudal relationship is the only tolerable one. Sam Weller
and Mark Tapley are dream figures, no less than the Cheerybles. If there
have got to be masters and servants, how much better that the master
should be Mr. Pickwick and the servant should be Sam Weller. Better
still, of course, if servants did not exist at all--but this Dickens is
probably unable to imagine. Without a high level of mechanical
development, human equality is not practically possible; Dickens goes to
show that it is not imaginable either.

IV

It is not merely a coincidence that Dickens never writes about
agriculture and writes endlessly about food. He was a Cockney, and London
is the centre of the earth in rather the same sense that the belly is the
centre of the body. It is a city of consumers, of people who are deeply
civilized but not primarily useful. A thing that strikes one when one
looks below the surface of Dickens's books is that, as nineteenth-century
novelists go, he is rather ignorant. He knows very little about the way
things really happen. At first sight this statement looks flatly untrue
and it needs some qualification.

Dickens had had vivid glimpses of 'low life'--life in a debtor's prison,
for example--and he was also a popular novelist and able to write about
ordinary people. So were all the characteristic English novelists of the
nineteenth century. They felt at home in the world they lived in, whereas
a writer nowadays is so hopelessly isolated that the typical modern novel
is a novel about a novelist. Even when Joyce, for instance, spends a
decade or so in patient efforts to make contact with the 'common man',
his 'common man' finally turns out to be a Jew, and a bit of a highbrow
at that. Dickens at least does not suffer from this kind of thing. He has
no difficulty in introducing the common motives, love, ambition, avarice,
vengeance and so forth. What he does not noticeably write about, however,
is work.

In Dickens's novels anything in the nature of work happens off-stage. The
only one of his heroes who has a plausible profession is David
Copperfield, who is first a shorthand writer and then a novelist, like
Dickens himself. With most of the others, the way they earn their living
is very much in the background. Pip, for instance, 'goes into business'
in Egypt; we are not told what business, and Pip's working life occupies
about half a page of the book. Clennam has been in some unspecified
business in China, and later goes into another barely specified business
with Doyce; Martin Chuzzlewit is an architect, but does not seem to get
much time for practising. In no case do their adventures spring directly
out of their work. Here the contrast between Dickens and, say, Trollope
is startling. And one reason for this is undoubtedly that Dickens knows
very little about the professions his characters are supposed to follow.
What exactly went on in Gradgrind's factories? How did Podsnap make his
money? How did Merdle work his swindles? One knows that Dickens could
never follow up the details of Parliamentary elections and Stock Exchange
rackets as Trollope could. As soon as he has to deal with trade, finance,
industry or politics he takes refuge in vagueness, or in satire. This is
the case even with legal processes, about which actually he must have
known a good deal. Compare any lawsuit in Dickens with the lawsuit in
ORLEY FARM, for instance.

And this partly accounts for the needless ramifications of Dickens's
novels, the awful Victorian 'plot'. It is true that not all his novels
are alike in this. A TALE OF TWO CITIES is a very good and fairly simple
story, and so in its different ways is HARD TIMES; but these are just the
two which are always rejected as 'not like Dickens'--and incidentally
they were not published in monthly numbers. The two first-person
novels are also good stories, apart from their subplots. But
the typical Dickens novel, NICHOLAS NICKLEBY, OLIVER TWIST, MARTIN
CHUZZLEWIT, OUR MUTUAL FRIEND, always exists round a framework of
melodrama. The last thing anyone ever remembers about the books is their
central story. On the other hand, I suppose no one has ever read them
without carrying the memory of individual pages to the day of his death.
Dickens sees human beings with the most intense vividness, but sees them
always in private life, as 'characters', not as functional members of
society; that is to say, he sees them statically. Consequently his
greatest success is The PICKWICK PAPERS, which is not a story at all,
merely a series of sketches; there is little attempt at development--the
characters simply go on and on, behaving like idiots, in a kind of
eternity. As soon as he tries to bring his characters into action, the
melodrama begins. He cannot make the action revolve round their ordinary
occupations; hence the crossword puzzle of coincidences, intrigues,
murders, disguises, buried wills, long-lost brothers, etc. etc. In the
end even people like Squeers and Micawber get sucked into the machinery.

Of course it would be absurd to say that Dickens is a vague or merely
melodramatic writer. Much that he wrote is extremely factual, and in the
power of evoking visual images he has probably never been equalled. When
Dickens has once described something you see it for the rest of your
life. But in a way the concreteness of his vision is a sign of what he is
missing. For, after all, that is what the merely casual onlooker always
sees--the outward appearance, the non-functional, the surfaces of
things. No one who is really involved in the landscape ever sees the
landscape. Wonderfully as he can describe an APPEARANCE, Dickens does not
often describe a process. The vivid pictures that he succeeds in leaving
in one's memory are nearly always the pictures of things seen in leisure
moments, in the coffee-rooms of country inns or through the windows of a
stage-coach; the kind of things he notices are inn-signs, brass
door-knockers, painted jugs, the interiors of shops and private houses,
clothes, faces and, above all, food. Everything is seen from the
consumer-angle. When he writes about Cokestown he manages to evoke, in
just a few paragraphs, the atmosphere of a Lancashire town as a slightly
disgusted southern visitor would see it. 'It had a black canal in it, and
a river that ran purple with evil-smelling dye, and vast piles of
buildings full of windows where there was a rattling and a trembling all
day long, where the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and
down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness.'

That is as near as Dickens ever gets to the machinery of the mills. An
engineer or a cotton-broker would see it differently; but then neither of
them would be capable of that impressionistic touch about the heads of
the elephants.

In a rather different sense his attitude to life is extremely unphysical.
He is a man who lives through his eyes and ears rather than through his
hands and muscles. Actually his habits were not so sedentary as this
seems to imply. In spite of rather poor health and physique, he was
active to the point of restlessness; throughout his life he was a
remarkable walker, and he could at any rate carpenter well enough to put
up stage scenery. But he was not one of those people who feel a need to
use their hands. It is difficult to imagine him digging at a
cabbage-patch, for instance. He gives no evidence of knowing anything
about agriculture, and obviously knows nothing about any kind of game or
sport. He has no interest in pugilism, for instance. Considering the age
in which he was writing, it is astonishing how little physical brutality
there is in Dickens's novels. Martin Chuzzlewit and Mark Tapley, for
instance, behave with the most remarkable mildness towards the Americans
who are constantly menacing them with revolvers and bowie-knives. The
average English or American novelist would have had them handing out
socks on the jaw and exchanging pistol-shots in all directions. Dickens
is too decent for that; he sees the stupidity of violence, and he also
belongs to a cautious urban class which does not deal in socks on the
jaw, even in theory. And his attitude towards sport is mixed up with
social feelings. In England, for mainly geographical reasons, sport,
especially field-sports, and snobbery are inextricably mingled. English
Socialists are often flatly incredulous when told that Lenin, for
instance, was devoted to shooting. In their eyes, shooting, hunting,
etc., are simply snobbish observances of the landed gentry; they forget
that these things might appear differently in a huge virgin country like
Russia. From Dickens's point of view almost any kind of sport is at best
a subject for satire. Consequently one side of nineteenth-century
life--the boxing, racing, cock-fighting, badger-digging, poaching,
rat-catching side of life, so wonderfully embalmed in Leech's
illustrations to Surtees--is outside his scope.

What is more striking, in a seemingly 'progressive' radical, is that he
is not mechanically minded. He shows no interest either in the details of
machinery or in the things machinery can do. As Gissing remarks, Dickens
nowhere describes a railway journey with anything like the enthusiasm he
shows in describing journeys by stage-coach. In nearly all of his books
one has a curious feeling that one is living in the first quarter of the
nineteenth century, and in fact, he does tend to return to this period.
LITTLE DORRIT, written in the middle fifties, deals with the late
twenties; GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1861) is not dated, but evidently deals
with the twenties and thirties. Several of the inventions and discoveries
which have made the modern world possible (the electric telegraph, the
breech-loading gun, India-rubber, coal gas, wood-pulp paper) first
appeared in Dickens's lifetime, but he scarcely notes them in his books.
Nothing is queerer than the vagueness with which he speaks of Doyce's
'invention' in LITTLE DORRIT. It is represented as something extremely
ingenious and revolutionary, 'of great importance to his country and his
fellow-creatures', and it is also an important minor link in the book;
yet we are never told what the 'invention' is! On the other hand, Doyce's
physical appearance is hit off with the typical Dickens touch; he has a
peculiar way of moving his thumb, a way characteristic of engineers.
After that, Doyce is firmly anchored in one's memory; but, as usual,
Dickens has done it by fastening on something external.

There are people (Tennyson is an example) who lack the mechanical faculty
but can see the social possibilities of machinery. Dickens has not this
stamp of mind. He shows very little consciousness of the future. When he
speaks of human progress it is usually in terms of MORAL progress--men
growing better; probably he would never admit that men are only as good
as their technical development allows them to be. At this point the gap
between Dickens and his modern analogue, H.G. Wells, is at its widest.
Wells wears the future round his neck like a mill-stone, but Dickens's
unscientific cast of mind is just as damaging in a different way. What it
does is to make any POSITIVE attitude more difficult for him. He is
hostile to the feudal, agricultural past and not in real touch with the
industrial present. Well, then, all that remains is the future (meaning
Science, 'progress', and so forth), which hardly enters into his
thoughts. Therefore, while attacking everything in sight, he has no
definable standard of comparison. As I have pointed out already, he
attacks the current educational system with perfect justice, and yet,
after all, he has no remedy to offer except kindlier schoolmasters. Why
did he not indicate what a school MIGHT have been? Why did he not have
his own sons educated according to some plan of his own, instead of
sending them to public schools to be stuffed with Greek? Because he
lacked that kind of imagination. He has an infallible moral sense, but
very little intellectual curiosity. And here one comes upon something
which really is an enormous deficiency in Dickens, something, that really
does make the nineteenth century seem remote from us--that he has no
idea of work.

With the doubtful exception of David Copperfield (merely Dickens
himself), one cannot point to a single one of his central characters who
is primarily interested in his job. His heroes work in order to make a
living and to marry the heroine, not because they feel a passionate
interest in one particular subject. Martin Chuzzlewit, for instance, is
not burning with zeal to be an architect; he might just as well be a
doctor or a barrister. In any case, in the typical Dickens novel, the
DEUS EX MACHINA enters with a bag of gold in the last chapter and the
hero is absolved from further struggle. The feeling 'This is what I came
into the world to do. Everything else is uninteresting. I will do this
even if it means starvation', which turns men of differing temperaments
into scientists, inventors, artists, priests, explorers and
revolutionaries--this motif is almost entirely absent from Dickens's
books. He himself, as is well known, worked like a slave and believed in
his work as few novelists have ever done. But there seems to be no
calling except novel-writing (and perhaps acting) towards which he can
imagine this kind of devotion. And, after all, it is natural enough,
considering his rather negative attitude towards society. In the last
resort there is nothing he admires except common decency. Science is
uninteresting and machinery is cruel and ugly (the heads of the
elephants). Business is only for ruffians like Bounderby. As for
politics--leave that to the Tite Barnacles. Really there is no objective
except to marry the heroine, settle down, live solvently and be kind.
And you can do that much better in private life.

Here, perhaps, one gets a glimpse of Dickens's secret imaginative
background. What did he think of as the most desirable way to live? When
Martin Chuzzlewit had made it up with his uncle, when Nicholas Nickleby
had married money, when John Harman had been enriched by Boffin what did
they DO?

The answer evidently is that they did nothing. Nicholas Nickleby invested
his wife's money with the Cheerybles and 'became a rich and prosperous
merchant', but as he immediately retired into Devonshire, we can assume
that he did not work very hard. Mr. and Mrs. Snodgrass 'purchased and
cultivated a small farm, more for occupation than profit.' That is the
spirit in which most of Dickens's books end--a sort of radiant idleness.
Where he appears to disapprove of young men who do not work (Harthouse,
Harry Gowan, Richard Carstone, Wrayburn before his reformation) it is
because they are cynical and immoral or because they are a burden on
somebody else; if you are 'good', and also self-supporting, there is no
reason why you should not spend fifty years in simply drawing your
dividends. Home life is always enough. And, after all, it was the general
assumption of his age. The 'genteel sufficiency', the 'competence', the
'gentleman of independent means' (or 'in easy circumstances')--the very
phrases tell one all about the strange, empty dream of the eighteenth- and
nineteenth-century middle bourgeoisie. It was a dream of COMPLETE
IDLENESS. Charles Reade conveys its spirit perfectly in the ending of
HARD CASH. Alfred Hardie, hero of HARD CASH, is the typical
nineteenth-century novel-hero (public-school style), with gifts which
Reade describes as amounting to 'genius'. He is an old Etonian and a
scholar of Oxford, he knows most of the Greek and Latin classics by
heart, he can box with prizefighters and win the Diamond Sculls at
Henley. He goes through incredible adventures in which, of course, he
behaves with faultless heroism, and then, at the age of twenty-five, he
inherits a fortune, marries his Julia Dodd and settles down in the
suburbs of Liverpool, in the same house as his parents-in-law:

They all lived together at Albion Villa, thanks to Alfred...Oh, you
happy little villa! You were as like Paradise as any mortal dwelling can
be. A day came, however, when your walls could no longer hold all the
happy inmates. Julia presented Alfred with a lovely boy; enter two nurses
and the villa showed symptoms of bursting. Two months more, and Alfred
and his wife overflowed into the next villa. It was but twenty yards off;
and there was a double reason for the migration. As often happens after a
long separation, Heaven bestowed on Captain and Mrs. Dodd another infant
to play about their knees, etc. etc. etc.

This is the type of the Victorian happy ending--a vision of a huge,
loving family of three or four generations, all crammed together in the
same house and constantly multiplying, like a bed of oysters. What is
striking about it is the utterly soft, sheltered, effortless life that it
implies. It is not even a violent idleness, like Squire Western's.

That is the significance of Dickens's urban background and his
non interest in the blackguardly-sporting military side of life. His
heroes, once they had come into money and 'settled down', would not only
do no work; they would not even ride, hunt, shoot, fight duels, elope
with actresses or lose money at the races. They would simply live at home
in feather-bed respectability, and preferably next door to a
blood-relation living exactly the same life:

The first act of Nicholas, when he became a rich and prosperous merchant,
was to buy his father's old house. As time crept on, and there came
gradually about him a group of lovely children, it was altered and
enlarged; but none of the old rooms were ever pulled down, no old tree
was ever rooted up, nothing with which there was any association of
bygone times was ever removed or changed.

Within a stone's-throw was another retreat enlivened by children's
pleasant voices too; and here was Kate...the same true, gentle creature,
the same fond sister, the same in the love of all about her, as in her
girlish days.

It is the same incestuous atmosphere as in the passage quoted from Reade.
And evidently this is Dickens's ideal ending. It is perfectly attained in
NICHOLAS NICKLEBY, MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT and PICKWICK, and it is approximated
to in varying degrees in almost all the others. The exceptions are HARD
TIMES and GREAT EXPECTATIONS--the latter actually has a 'happy ending',
but it contradicts the general tendency of the book, and it was put in at
the request of Bulwer Lytton.

The ideal to be striven after, then, appears to be something like this: a
hundred thousand pounds, a quaint old house with plenty of ivy on it, a
sweetly womanly wife, a horde of children, and no work. Everything is
safe, soft, peaceful and, above all, domestic. In the moss-grown
churchyard down the road are the graves of the loved ones who passed away
before the happy ending happened. The servants are comic and feudal, the
children prattle round your feet, the old friends sit at your fireside,
talking of past days, there is the endless succession of enormous meals,
the cold punch and sherry negus, the feather beds and warming-pans, the
Christmas parties with charades and blind man's buff; but nothing ever
happens, except the yearly childbirth. The curious thing is that it is a
genuinely happy picture, or so Dickens is able to make it appear. The
thought of that kind of existence is satisfying to him. This alone would
be enough to tell one that more than a hundred years have passed since
Dickens's first book was written. No modern man could combine such
purposelessness with so much vitality.

V

By this time anyone who is a lover of Dickens, and who has read as far as
this, will probably be angry with me.

I have been discussing Dickens simply in terms of his 'message', and
almost ignoring his literary qualities. But every writer, especially
every novelist, HAS a 'message', whether he admits it or not, and the
minutest details of his work are influenced by it. All art is propaganda.
Neither Dickens himself nor the majority of Victorian novelists would
have thought of denying this. On the other hand, not all propaganda is
art. As I said earlier, Dickens is one of those writers who are felt to
be worth stealing. He has been stolen by Marxists, by Catholics and,
above all, by Conservatives. The question is, What is there to steal? Why
does anyone care about Dickens? Why do I care about Dickens?

That kind of question is never easy to answer. As a rule, an aesthetic
preference is either something inexplicable or it is so corrupted by
non-aesthetic motives as to make one wonder whether the whole of literary
criticism is not a huge network of humbug. In Dickens's case the
complicating factor is his familiarity. He happens to be one of those
'great authors' who are ladled down everyone's throat in childhood. At
the time this causes rebellion and vomiting, but it may have different
after-effects in later life. For instance, nearly everyone feels a
sneaking affection for the patriotic poems that he learned by heart as a
child, 'Ye Mariners of England', the 'Charge of the Light Brigade' and so
forth. What one enjoys is not so much the poems themselves as the
memories they call up. And with Dickens the same forces of association
are at work. Probably there are copies of one or two of his books lying
about in an actual majority of English homes. Many children begin to know
his characters by sight before they can even read, for on the whole
Dickens was lucky in his illustrators. A thing that is absorbed as early
as that does not come up against any critical judgement. And when one
thinks of this, one thinks of all that is bad and silly in Dickens--the
cast-iron 'plots', the characters who don't come off, the longueurs, the
paragraphs in blank verse, the awful pages of 'pathos'. And then the
thought arises, when I say I like Dickens, do I simply mean that I like
thinking about my childhood? Is Dickens merely an institution?

If so, he is an institution that there is no getting away from. How often
one really thinks about any writer, even a writer one cares for, is a
difficult thing to decide; but I should doubt whether anyone who has
actually read Dickens can go a week without remembering him in one
context or another. Whether you approve of him or not, he is THERE, like
the Nelson Column. At any moment some scene or character, which may come
from some book you cannot even remember the name of, is liable to drop
into your mind. Micawber's letters! Winkle in the witness-box! Mrs. Gamp!
Mrs. Wititterly and Sir Tumley Snuffim! Todgers's! (George Gissing said
that when he passed the Monument it was never of the Fire of London that
he thought, always of Todgers's.) Mrs. Leo Hunter! Squeers! Silas Wegg
and the Decline and Fall-off of the Russian Empire! Miss Mills and the
Desert of Sahara! Wopsle acting Hamlet! Mrs. Jellyby! Mantalini, Jerry
Cruncher, Barkis, Pumblechook, Tracy Tupman, Skimpole, Joe Gargery,
Pecksniff--and so it goes on and on. It is not so much a series of
books, it is more like a world. And not a purely comic world either, for
part of what one remembers in Dickens is his Victorian morbidness and
necrophilia and the blood-and-thunder scenes--the death of Sykes,
Krook's spontaneous combustion, Fagin in the condemned cell, the women
knitting round the guillotine. To a surprising extent all this has
entered even into the minds of people who do not care about it. A
music-hall comedian can (or at any rate could quite recently) go on the
stage and impersonate Micawber or Mrs. Gamp with a fair certainty of
being understood, although not one in twenty of the audience had ever
read a book of Dickens's right through. Even people who affect to despise
him quote him unconsciously.

Dickens is a writer who can be imitated, up to a certain point. In
genuinely popular literature--for instance, the Elephant and Castle
version of SWEENY TODD--he has been plagiarized quite shamelessly. What
has been imitated, however, is simply a tradition that Dickens himself
took from earlier novelists and developed, the cult of 'character', i.e.
eccentricity. The thing that cannot be imitated is his fertility of
invention, which is invention not so much of characters, still less of
'situations', as of turns of phrase and concrete details. The
outstanding, unmistakable mark of Dickens's writing is the UNNECESSARY
DETAIL. Here is an example of what I mean. The story given below is not
particularly funny, but there is one phrase in it that is as individual
as a fingerprint. Mr. Jack Hopkins, at Bob Sawyer's party, is telling the
story of the child who swallowed its sister's necklace:

Next day, child swallowed two beads; the day after that, he treated
himself to three, and so on, till in a week's time he had got through the
necklace--five-and-twenty beads in all. The sister, who was an
industrious girl and seldom treated herself to a bit of finery, cried her
eyes out at the loss of the necklace; looked high and low for it; but I
needn't say, didn't find it. A few days afterwards, the family were at
dinner--baked shoulder of mutton and potatoes under it--the child, who
wasn't hungry, was playing about the room, when suddenly there was the
devil of a noise, like a small hailstorm. 'Don't do that, my boy', says
the father. 'I ain't a-doin' nothing', said the child. 'Well, don't do it
again', said the father. There was a short silence, and then the noise
began again, worse than ever. 'If you don't mind what I say, my boy',
said the father, 'you'll find yourself in bed, in something less than a
pig's whisper.' He gave the child a shake to make him obedient, and such
a rattling ensued as nobody ever heard before. 'Why dam' me, it's IN the
child', said the father; 'he's got the croup in the wrong place!' 'No, I
haven't, father', said the child, beginning to cry, 'it's the necklace; I
swallowed it, father.' The father caught the child up, and ran with him
to the hospital, the beads in the boy's stomach rattling all the way with
the jolting; and the people looking up in the air, and down in the
cellars, to see where the unusual sound came from. 'He's in the hospital
now', said Jack Hopkins, 'and he makes such a devil of a noise when he
walks about, that they're obliged to muffle him in a watchman's coat, for
fear he should wake the patients.'

As a whole, this story might come out of any nineteenth-century comic
paper. But the unmistakable Dickens touch, the thing that nobody else
would have thought of, is the baked shoulder of mutton and potatoes under
it. How does this advance the story? The answer is that it doesn't. It is
something totally unnecessary, a florid little squiggle on the edge of
the page; only, it is by just these squiggles that the special Dickens
atmosphere is created. The other thing one would notice here is that
Dickens's way of telling a story takes a long time. An interesting
example, too long to quote, is Sam Weller's story of the obstinate
patient in Chapter XLIV of THE PICKWICK PAPERS. As it happens, we have a
standard of comparison here, because Dickens is plagiarizing, consciously
or unconsciously. The story is also told by some ancient Greek writer. I
cannot now find the passage, but I read it years ago as a boy at school,
and it runs more or less like this:

A certain Thracian, renowned for his obstinacy, was warned by his
physician that if he drank a flagon of wine it would kill him. The
Thracian thereupon drank the flagon of wine and immediately jumped off
the house-top and perished. 'For', said he, 'in this way I shall prove
that the wine did not kill me.'

As the Greek tells it, that is the whole story--about six lines. As Sam
Weller tells it, it takes round about a thousand words. Long before
getting to the point we have been told all about the patient's clothes,
his meals, his manners, even the newspapers he reads, and about the
peculiar construction of the doctor's carriage, which conceals the fact
that the coachman's trousers do not match his coat. Then there is the
dialogue between the doctor and the patient. ''Crumpets is wholesome,
sir,' said the patient. 'Crumpets is NOT wholesome, sir,' says the
doctor, wery fierce,' etc., etc. In the end the original story had been
buried under the details. And in all of Dickens's most characteristic
passages it is the same. His imagination overwhelms everything, like a
kind of weed. Squeers stands up to address his boys, and immediately we
are hearing about Bolder's father who was two pounds ten short, and
Mobbs's stepmother who took to her bed on hearing that Mobbs wouldn't eat
fat and hoped Mr. Squeers would flog him into a happier state of mind.
Mrs. Leo Hunter writes a poem, 'Expiring Frog'; two full stanzas are
given. Boffin takes a fancy to pose as a miser, and instantly we are down
among the squalid biographies of eighteenth-century misers, with names
like Vulture Hopkins and the Rev. Blewberry Jones, and chapter headings
like 'The Story of the Mutton Pies' and 'The Treasures of a Dunghill'.
Mrs. Harris, who does not even exist, has more detail piled on to her
than any three characters in an ordinary novel. Merely in the middle of a
sentence we learn, for instance, that her infant nephew has been seen in
a bottle at Greenwich Fair, along with the pink-eyed lady, the Prussian
dwarf and the living skeleton. Joe Gargery describes how the robbers
broke into the house of Pumblechook, the corn and seed merchant--'and
they took his till, and they took his cashbox, and they drinked his wine,
and they partook of his wittles, and they slapped his face, and they
pulled his nose, and they tied him up to his bedpost, and they give him a
dozen, and they stuffed his mouth full of flowering annuals to prevent
his crying out.' Once again the unmistakable Dickens touch, the flowering
annuals; but any other novelist would only have mentioned about half of
these outrages. Everything is piled up and up, detail on detail,
embroidery on embroidery. It is futile to object that this kind of thing
is rococo--one might as well make the same objection to a wedding-cake.
Either you like it or you do not like it. Other nineteenth-century
writers, Surtees, Barham, Thackeray, even Marryat, have something of
Dickens's profuse, overflowing quality, but none of them on anything like
the same scale. The appeal of all these writers now depends partly on
period-flavour and though Marryat is still officially a 'boy's writer'
and Surtees has a sort of legendary fame among hunting men, it is
probable that they are read mostly by bookish people.

Significantly, Dickens's most successful books (not his BEST books) are
THE PICKWICK PAPERS, which is not a novel, and HARD TIMES and A TALE OF
TWO CITIES, which are not funny. As a novelist his natural fertility
greatly hampers him, because the burlesque which he is never able to
resist, is constantly breaking into what ought to be serious situations.
There is a good example of this in the opening chapter of GREAT
EXPECTATIONS. The escaped convict, Magwitch, has just captured the
six-year-old Pip in the churchyard. The scene starts terrifyingly enough,
from Pip's point of view. The convict, smothered in mud and with his
chain trailing from his leg, suddenly starts up among the tombs, grabs
the child, turns him upside down and robs his pockets. Then he begins
terrorizing him into bringing foal and a file:

He held me by the arms in an upright position on the top of the stone,
and went on in these fearful terms:

'You bring me, tomorrow morning early, that file and them wittles. You
bring the lot to me, at that old Battery over yonder. You do it and you
never dare to say a word or dare to make a sign concerning your having
seen such a person as me, or any person sumever, and you shall be let to
live. You fail, or you go from my words in any partickler, no matter how
small it is, and your heart and liver shall be tore out, roasted and ate.
Now, I ain't alone, as you may think I am. There's a young man hid with
me, in comparison with which young man I am a Angel. That young man hears
the words I speak. That young man has a secret way pecooliar to himself,
of getting at a boy, and at his heart, and at his liver. It is in wain
for a boy to attempt to hide himself from that young man. A boy may lock
his doors, may be warm in bed, may tuck himself up, may draw the clothes
over his head, may think himself comfortable and safe, but that young man
will softly creep his way to him and tear him open. I am keeping that
young man from harming you at the present moment, but with great
difficulty. I find it wery hard to hold that young man off of your
inside. Now, what do you say?'

Here Dickens has simply yielded to temptation. To begin with, no starving
and hunted man would speak in the least like that. Moreover, although the
speech shows a remarkable knowledge of the way in which a child's mind
works, its actual words are quite out of tune with what is to follow. It
turns Magwitch into a sort of pantomime wicked uncle, or, if one sees him
through the child's eyes, into an appalling monster. Later in the book he
is to be represented as neither, and his exaggerated gratitude, on which
the plot turns, is to be incredible because of just this speech. As
usual, Dickens's imagination has overwhelmed him. The picturesque details
were too good to be left out. Even with characters who are more of a
piece than Magwitch he is liable to be tripped up by some seductive
phrase. Mr. Murdstone, for instance, is in the habit of ending David
Copperfield's lessons every morning with a dreadful sum in arithmetic.
'If I go into a cheesemonger's shop, and buy four thousand
double-Gloucester cheeses at fourpence halfpenny each, present payment',
it always begins. Once again the typical Dickens detail, the
double-Gloucester cheeses. But it is far too human a touch for Murdstone;
he would have made it five thousand cashboxes. Every time this note is
struck, the unity of the novel suffers. Not that it matters very much,
because Dickens is obviously a writer whose parts are greater than his
wholes. He is all fragments, all details--rotten architecture, but
wonderful gargoyles--and never better than when he is building up some
character who will later on be forced to act inconsistently.

Of course it is not usual to urge against Dickens that he makes his
characters behave inconsistently. Generally he is accused of doing just
the opposite. His characters are supposed to be mere 'types', each
crudely representing some single trait and fitted with a kind of label by
which you recognize him. Dickens is 'only a caricaturist'--that is the
usual accusation, and it does him both more and less than justice. To
begin with, he did not think of himself as a caricaturist, and was
constantly setting into action characters who ought to have been purely
static. Squeers, Micawber, Miss Mowcher,[Note, below] Wegg, Skimpole,
Pecksniff and many others are finally involved in 'plots' where they are
out of place and where they behave quite incredibly. They start off as
magic-lantern slides and they end by getting mixed up in a third-rate
movie. Sometimes one can put one's finger on a single sentence in which
the original illusion is destroyed. There is such a sentence in DAVID
COPPERFIELD. After the famous dinner-party (the one where the leg of
mutton was underdone), David is showing his guests out. He stops Traddles
at the top of the stairs:

[Note: Dickens turned Miss Mowcher into a sort of heroine because the
real woman whom he had caricatured had read the earlier chapters and
was bitterly hurt. He had previously meant her to play a villainous part.
But ANY action by such a character would seem incongruous. (Author's
footnote)]

'Traddles', said I, 'Mr. Micawber don't mean any harm, poor fellow: but
if I were you I wouldn't lend him anything.'

'My dear Copperfield', returned Traddles, smiling, 'I haven't got
anything to lend.'

'You have got a name, you know,' I said.

At the place where one reads it this remark jars a little though
something of the kind was inevitable sooner or later. The story is a
fairly realistic one, and David is growing up; ultimately he is bound to
see Mr. Micawber for what he is, a cadging scoundrel. Afterwards, of
course, Dickens's sentimentality overcomes him and Micawber is made to
turn over a new leaf. But from then on, the original Micawber is never
quite recaptured, in spite of desperate efforts. As a rule, the 'plot' in
which Dickens's characters get entangled is not particularly credible,
but at least it makes some pretence at reality, whereas the world to
which they belong is a never-never land, a kind of eternity. But just
here one sees that 'only a caricaturist' is not really a condemnation.
The fact that Dickens is always thought of as a caricaturist, although he
was constantly trying to be something else, is perhaps the surest mark of
his genius. The monstrosities that he created are still remembered as
monstrosities, in spite of getting mixed up in would-be probable
melodramas. Their first impact is so vivid that nothing that comes
afterwards effaces it. As with the people one knew in childhood, one
seems always to remember them in one particular attitude, doing one
particular thing. Mrs. Squeers is always ladling out brimstone and
treacle, Mrs. Gummidge is always weeping, Mrs. Gargery is always banging
her husband's head against the wall, Mrs. Jellyby is always scribbling
tracts while her children fall into the area--and there they all are,
fixed up for ever like little twinkling miniatures painted on snuffbox
lids, completely fantastic and incredible, and yet somehow more solid and
infinitely more memorable than the efforts of serious novelists. Even by
the standards of his time Dickens was an exceptionally artificial writer.
As Ruskin said, he 'chose to work in a circle of stage fire.' His
characters are even more distorted and simplified than Smollett's. But
there are no rules in novel-writing, and for any work of art there is
only one test worth bothering about--survival. By this test Dickens's
characters have succeeded, even if the people who remember them hardly
think of them as human beings. They are monsters, but at any rate they
exist.

But all the same there is a disadvantage in writing about monsters. It
amounts to this, that it is only certain moods that Dickens can speak to.
There are large areas of the human mind that he never touches. There is
no poetic feeling anywhere in his books, and no genuine tragedy, and even
sexual love is almost outside his scope. Actually his books are not so
sexless as they are sometimes declared to be, and considering the time in
which he was writing, he is reasonably frank. But there is not a trace in
him of the feeling that one finds in MANON LESCAUT, SALAMMBÔ, CARMEN,
WUTHERING HEIGHTS. According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said
that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of
Dickens. There are whole worlds which he either knows nothing about or
does not wish to mention. Except in a rather roundabout way, one cannot
learn very much from Dickens. And to say this is to think almost
immediately of the great Russian novelists of the nineteenth century. Why
is it that Tolstoy's grasp seems to be so much larger than
Dickens's--why is it that he seems able to tell you so much more ABOUT
YOURSELF? It is not that he is more gifted, or even, in the last
analysis, more intelligent. It is because he is writing about people who
are growing. His characters are struggling to make their souls, whereas
Dickens's are already finished and perfect. In my own mind Dickens's
people are present far more often and far more vividly than Tolstoy's,
but always in a single unchangeable attitude, like pictures or pieces of
furniture. You cannot hold an imaginary conversation with a Dickens
character as you can with, say, Peter Bezoukhov. And this is not merely
because of Tolstoy's greater seriousness, for there are also comic
characters that you can imagine yourself talking to--Bloom, for
instance, or Pecuchet, or even Wells's Mr. Polly. It is because
Dickens's characters have no mental life. They say perfectly the thing
that they have to say, but they cannot be conceived as talking about
anything else. They never learn, never speculate. Perhaps the most
meditative of his characters is Paul Dombey, and his thoughts are mush.
Does this mean that Tolstoy's novels are 'better' than Dickens's? The
truth is that it is absurd to make such comparisons in terms of 'better'
and 'worse'. If I were forced to compare Tolstoy with Dickens, I should
say that Tolstoy's appeal will probably be wider in the long run,
because Dickens is scarcely intelligible outside the English-speaking
culture; on the other hand, Dickens is able to reach simple people,
which Tolstoy is not. Tolstoy's characters can cross a frontier, Dickens
can be portrayed on a cigarette-card. But one is no more obliged to
choose between them than between a sausage and a rose. Their purposes
barely intersect.

VI

If Dickens had been merely a comic writer, the chances are that no one
would now remember his name. Or at best a few of his books would survive
in rather the same way as books like FRANK FAIRLEIGH, MR. VERDANT GREEN
and MRS. CAUDLE'S CURTAIN LECTURES, as a sort of hangover of the
Victorian atmosphere, a pleasant little whiff of oysters and brown stout.
Who has not felt sometimes that it was 'a pity' that Dickens ever
deserted the vein of PICKWICK for things like LITTLE DORRIT and HARD
TIMES? What people always demand of a popular novelist is that he shall
write the same book over and over again, forgetting that a man who would
write the same book twice could not even write it once. Any writer who is
not utterly lifeless moves upon a kind of parabola, and the downward
curve is implied in the upper one. Joyce has to start with the frigid
competence of DUBLINERS and end with the dream-language of FINNEGAN'S
WAKE, but ULYSSES and PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST are part of the trajectory.
The thing that drove Dickens forward into a form of art for which he was
not really suited, and at the same time caused us to remember him, was
simply the fact that he was a moralist, the consciousness of 'having
something to say'. He is always preaching a sermon, and that is the final
secret of his inventiveness. For you can only create if you can CARE.
Types like Squeers and Micawber could not have been produced by a hack
writer looking for something to be funny about. A joke worth laughing at
always has an idea behind it, and usually a subversive idea. Dickens is
able to go on being funny because he is in revolt against authority, and
authority is always there to be laughed at. There is always room for one
more custard pie.

His radicalism is of the vaguest kind, and yet one always knows that it
is there. That is the difference between being a moralist and a
politician. He has no constructive suggestions, not even a clear grasp of
the nature of the society he is attacking, only an emotional perception
that something is wrong, all he can finally say is, 'Behave decently',
which, as I suggested earlier, is not necessarily so shallow as it
sounds. Most revolutionaries are potential Tories, because they imagine
that everything can be put right by altering the SHAPE of society; once
that change is effected, as it sometimes is, they see no need for any
other. Dickens has not this kind of mental coarseness. The vagueness of
his discontent is the mark of its permanence. What he is out against is
not this or that institution, but, as Chesterton put it, 'an expression
on the human face.' Roughly speaking, his morality is the Christian
morality, but in spite of his Anglican upbringing he was essentially a
Bible-Christian, as he took care to make plain when writing his will. In
any case he cannot properly be described as a religious man. He
'believed', undoubtedly, but religion in the devotional sense does not
seem to have entered much into his thoughts [Note, below]. Where he is
Christian is in his quasi-instinctive siding with the oppressed against
the oppressors. As a matter of course he is on the side of the underdog,
always and everywhere. To carry this to its logical conclusion one has
got to change sides when the underdog becomes an upper-dog, and in fact
Dickens does tend to do so. He loathes the Catholic Church, for instance,
but as soon as the Catholics are persecuted (BARNABY RUDGE) he is on
their side. He loathes the aristocratic class even more, but as soon as
they are really overthrown (the revolutionary chapters in A TALE OF TWO
CITIES) his sympathies swing round. Whenever he departs from this
emotional attitude he goes astray. A well-known example is at the ending
of DAVID COPPERFIELD, in which everyone who reads it feels that something
has gone wrong. What is wrong is that the closing chapters are pervaded,
faintly but not noticeably, by the cult of success. It is the gospel
according to Smiles, instead of the gospel according to Dickens. The
attractive, out-at-elbow characters are got rid of, Micawber makes a
fortune, Heep gets into prison--both of these events are flagrantly
impossible--and even Dora is killed off to make way for Agnes. If you
like, you can read Dora as Dickens's wife and Agnes as his sister-in-law,
but the essential point is that Dickens has 'turned respectable' and done
violence to his own nature. Perhaps that is why Agnes is the most
disagreeable of his heroines, the real legless angel of Victorian
romance, almost as bad as Thackeray's Laura.

[Note: From a letter to his youngest son (in 1868): 'You will remember that
you have never at home been harassed about religious observances, or mere
formalities. I have always been anxious not to weary my children with
such things, before they are old enough to form opinions respecting them.
You will therefore understand the better that I now most solemnly impress
upon you the truth and beauty of the Christian Religion, as it came from
Christ Himself, and the impossibility of your going far wrong if you
humbly but heartily respect it...Never abandon the wholesome practice of
saying your own private prayers, night and morning. I have never
abandoned it myself, and I know the comfort of it.' (Author's footnote)]

No grown-up person can read Dickens without feeling his limitations, and
yet there does remain his native generosity of mind, which acts as a kind
of anchor and nearly always keeps him where he belongs. It is probably
the central secret of his popularity. A good-tempered antinomianism
rather of Dickens's type is one of the marks of Western popular culture.
One sees it in folk-stories and comic songs, in dream-figures like Mickey
Mouse and Pop-eye the Sailor (both of them variants of Jack the
Giant-killer), in the history of working-class Socialism, in the popular
protests (always ineffective but not always a sham) against imperialism,
in the impulse that makes a jury award excessive damages when a rich
man's car runs over a poor man; it is the feeling that one is always on
the wrong side of the underdog, on the side of the weak against the
strong. In one sense it is a feeling that is fifty years out of date. The
common man is still living in the mental world of Dickens, but nearly
every modern intellectual has gone over to some or other form of
totalitarianism. From the Marxist or Fascist point of view, nearly all
that Dickens stands for can be written off as 'bourgeois morality'. But
in moral outlook no one could be more 'bourgeois' than the English
working classes. The ordinary people in the Western countries have never
entered, mentally, into the world of 'realism' and power-politics. They
may do so before long, in which case Dickens will be as out of date as
the cab-horse. But in his own age and ours he has been popular chiefly
because he was able to express in a comic, simplified and therefore
memorable form the native decency of the common man. And it is important
that from this point of view people of very different types can be
described as 'common'. In a country like England, in spite of its
class-structure, there does exist a certain cultural unity. All through
the Christian ages, and especially since the French Revolution, the
Western world has been haunted by the idea of freedom and equality; it is
only an IDEA, but it has penetrated to all ranks of society. The most
atrocious injustices, cruelties, lies, snobberies exist everywhere, but
there are not many people who can regard these things with the same
indifference as, say, a Roman slave-owner. Even the millionaire suffers
from a vague sense of guilt, like a dog eating a stolen leg of mutton.
Nearly everyone, whatever his actual conduct may be, responds emotionally
to the idea of human brotherhood. Dickens voiced a code which was and on
the whole still is believed in, even by people who violate it. It is
difficult otherwise to explain why he could be both read by working
people (a thing that has happened to no other novelist of his stature)
and buried in Westminster Abbey.

When one reads any strongly individual piece of writing, one has the
impression of seeing a face somewhere behind the page. It is not
necessarily the actual face of the writer. I feel this very strongly with
Swift, with Defoe, with Fielding, Stendhal, Thackeray, Flaubert, though
in several cases I do not know what these people looked like and do not
want to know. What one sees is the face that the writer OUGHT to have.
Well, in the case of Dickens I see a face that is not quite the face of
Dickens's photographs, though it resembles it. It is the face of a man of
about forty, with a small beard and a high colour. He is laughing, with a
touch of anger in his laughter, but no triumph, no malignity. It is the
face of a man who is always fighting against something, but who fights in
the open and is not frightened, the face of a man who is GENEROUSLY
ANGRY--in other words, of a nineteenth-century liberal, a free
intelligence, a type hated with equal hatred by all the smelly little
orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls.



CHARLES READE (1940)


Since Charles Reade's books are published in cheap editions one can
assume that he still has his following, but it is unusual to meet anyone
who has voluntarily read him. In most people his name seems to evoke, at
most, a vague memory of 'doing' THE CLOISTER AND THE HEARTH as a school
holiday task. It is his bad luck to be remembered by this particular
book, rather as Mark Twain, thanks to the films, is chiefly remembered by
A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT. Reade wrote several dull
books, and THE CLOISTER AND THE HEARTH is one of them. But he also wrote
three novels which I personally would back to outlive the entire works of
Meredith and George Eliot, besides some brilliant long-short stories such
as A JACK OF ALL TRADES and THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A THIEF.

What is the attraction of Reade? At bottom it is the same charm as one
finds in R. Austin Freeman's detective stories or Lieutenant-Commander
Gould's collections of curiosities--the charm of useless knowledge.
Reade was a man of what one might call penny-encyclopaedic learning. He
possessed vast stocks of disconnected information which a lively
narrative gift allowed him to cram into books which would at any rate
pass as novels. If you have the sort of mind that takes a pleasure in
dates, lists, catalogues, concrete details, descriptions of processes,
junk-shop windows and back numbers of the EXCHANGE AND MART, the sort of
mind that likes knowing exactly how a medieval catapult worked or just
what objects a prison cell of the eighteen-forties contained, then you
can hardly help enjoying Reade. He himself, of course, did not see his
work in quite this light. He prided himself on his accuracy and compiled
his books largely from newspaper cuttings, but the strange facts which he
collected were subsidiary to what he would have regarded as his
'purpose'. For he was a social reformer in a fragmentary way, and made
vigorous attacks on such diverse evils as blood-letting, the treadmill,
private asylums, clerical celibacy and tight-lacing.

My own favourite has always been FOUL PLAY, which as it happens is not an
attack on anything in particular. Like most nineteenth-century novels
FOUL PLAY is too complicated to be summarized, but its central story is
that of a young clergyman, Robert Penfold, who is unjustly convicted of
forgery, is transported to Australia, absconds in disguise, and is
wrecked on a desert island together with the heroine. Here, of course,
Reade is in his element. Of all men who ever lived, he was the best
fitted to write a desert-island story. Some desert-island stories, of
course, are worse than others, but none is altogether bad when it sticks
to the actual concrete details of the struggle to keep alive. A list of
the objects in a shipwrecked man's possession is probably the surest
winner in fiction, surer even than a trial scene. Nearly thirty years
after reading the book I can still remember more or less exactly what
things the three heroes of Ballantyne's CORAL ISLAND possessed between
them. (A telescope, six yards of whipcord, a penknife, a brass ring and a
piece of hoop iron.) Even a dismal book like ROBINSON CRUSOE, so
unreadable as a whole that few people even know that the second part
exists, becomes interesting when it describes Crusoe's efforts to make a
table, glaze earthenware and grow a patch of wheat. Reade, however, was
an expert on desert islands, or at any rate he was very well up in the
geography textbooks of the time. Moreover he was the kind of man who
would have been at home on a desert island himself. He would never, like
Crusoe, have been stumped by such an easy problem as that of leavening
bread and, unlike Ballantyne, he knew that civilized men cannot make fire
by rubbing sticks together.

The hero of FOUL PLAY, like most of Reade's heroes, is a kind of
superman. He is hero, saint, scholar, gentleman, athlete, pugilist,
navigator, physiologist, botanist, blacksmith and carpenter all rolled
into one, the sort of compendium of all the talents that Reade honestly
imagined to be the normal product of an English university. Needless to
say, it is only a month or two before this wonderful clergyman has got
the desert island running like a West End hotel. Even before reaching the
island, when the last survivors of the wrecked ship are dying of thirst
in an open boat, he has shown his ingenuity by constructing a distilling
apparatus with a jar, a hot-water bottle and a piece of tubing. But his
best stroke of all is the way in which he contrives to leave the island.
He himself, with a price on his head, would be glad enough to remain, but
the heroine, Helen Rollestone, who has no idea that he is a convict, is
naturally anxious to escape. She asks Robert to turn his 'great mind' to
this problem. The first difficulty, of course, is to discover exactly
where the island is. Luckily, however, Helen is still wearing her watch,
which is still keeping Sydney time. By fixing a stick in the ground and
watching its shadow Robert notes the exact moment of noon, after which it
is a simple matter to work out the longitude--for naturally a man of his
calibre would know the longitude of Sydney. It is equally natural that he
can determine the latitude within a degree or two by the nature of the
vegetation. But the next difficulty is to send a message to the outside
world. After some thought Robert writes a series of messages on pieces of
parchment made from seals' bladders, with ink obtained from cochineal
insects. He has noticed that migrant birds often use the island as a
stopping-place, and he fixes on ducks as the likeliest messengers,
because every duck is liable to be shot sooner or later. By a stratagem
often used in India he captures a number of ducks, ties a message to each
of their legs and lets them go. Finally, of course, one of the ducks
takes refuge on a ship, and the couple are rescued, but even then the
story is barely half finished. There follow enormous ramifications, plots
and counterplots, intrigues, triumphs and disasters, ending with the
vindication of Robert, and wedding bells.

In any of Reade's three best books, FOUL PLAY, HARD CASH and IT IS NEVER
TOO LATE TO MEND, it is not fair to say that the sole interest is in the
technical detail. His power of descriptive writing, especially of
describing violent action, is also very striking, and on a serial-story
level he is a wonderful contriver of plots. Simply as a novelist it is
impossible to take him seriously, because he has no sense whatever of
character or of probability, but he himself had the advantage of
believing in even the absurdest details of his own stories. He wrote of
life as he saw it, and many Victorians saw it in the same way: that is,
as a series of tremendous melodramas, with virtue triumphant every time.
Of all the nineteenth-century novelists who have remained readable, he is
perhaps the only one who is completely in tune with his own age. For all
his unconventionality, his 'purpose', his eagerness to expose abuses, he
never makes a fundamental criticism. Save for a few surface evils he sees
nothing wrong in an acquisitive society, with its equation of money and
virtue, its pious millionaires and erastian clergymen. Perhaps nothing
gives one his measure better than the fact that in introducing Robert
Penfold, at the beginning of FOUL PLAY, he mentions that he is a scholar
and a cricketer and only thirdly and almost casually adds that he is a
priest.

That is not to say that Reade's social conscience was not sound so far as
it went, and in several minor ways he probably helped to educate public
opinion. His attack on the prison system in IT IS NEVER TOO LATE TO MEND
is relevant to this day, or was so till very recently, and in his medical
theories he is said to have been a long way ahead of his time. What he
lacked was any notion that the early railway age, with the special scheme
of values appropriate to it, was not going to last for ever. This is a
little surprising when one remembers that he was the brother of Winwood
Reade. However hastily and unbalanced Winwood Reade's MARTYRDOM OF MAN
may seem now, it is a book that shows an astonishing width of vision, and
it is probably the unacknowledged grandparent of the 'outlines' so
popular today. Charles Reade might have written an 'outline' of
phrenology, cabinet-making or the habits of whales, but not of human
history. He was simply a middle-class gentleman with a little more
conscience than most, a scholar who happened to prefer popular science to
the classics. Just for that reason he is one of the best 'escape'
novelists we have. FOUL PLAY and HARD CASH would be good books to send to
a soldier enduring the miseries of trench warfare, for instance. There
are no problems in them, no genuine 'messages', merely the fascination of
a gifted mind functioning within very narrow limits, and offering as
complete a detachment from real life as a game of chess or a jigsaw
puzzle.



INSIDE THE WHALE (1940)


I

When Henry Miller's novel, TROPIC OF CANCER, appeared in 1935, it was
greeted with rather cautious praise, obviously conditioned in some cases
by a fear of seeming to enjoy pornography. Among the people who praised
it were T. S. Eliot, Herbert Read, Aldous Huxley, John dos Passes, Ezra
Pound--on the whole, not the writers who are in fashion at this moment.
And in fact the subject matter of the book, and to a certain extent its
mental atmosphere, belong to the twenties rather than to the thirties.

TROPIC OF CANCER is a novel in the first person, or autobiography in the
form of a novel, whichever way you like to look at it. Miller himself
insists that it is straight autobiography, but the tempo and method of
telling the story are those of a novel. It is a story of the American
Paris, but not along quite the usual lines, because the Americans who
figure in it happen to be people without money. During the boom years,
when dollars were plentiful and the exchange-value of the franc was low,
Paris was invaded by such a swarm of artists, writers, students,
dilettanti, sight-seers, debauchees, and plain idlers as the world has
probably never seen. In some quarters of the town the so-called artists
must actually have outnumbered the working population--indeed, it has
been reckoned that in the late twenties there were as many as 30,000
painters in Paris, most of them impostors. The populace had grown so
hardened to artists that gruff-voiced lesbians in corduroy breeches and
young men in Grecian or medieval costume could walk the streets without
attracting a glance, and along the Seine banks Notre Dame it was almost
impossible to pick one's way between the sketching-stools. It was the age
of dark horses and neglected genii; the phrase on everybody's lips was
'QUAND JE SERAI LANCÉ'. As it turned out, nobody was 'LANCÉ', the slump
descended like another Ice Age, the cosmopolitan mob of artists vanished,
and the huge Montparnasse cafés which only ten years ago were filled till
the small hours by hordes of shrieking poseurs have turned into darkened
tombs in which there arc not even any ghosts. It is this
world--described in, among other novels, Wyndham Lewis's TARR--that
Miller is writing about, but he is dealing only with the under side of
it, the lumpen-proletarian fringe which has been able to survive the
slump because it is composed partly of genuine artists and partly of
genuine scoundrels. The neglected genii, the paranoiacs who art always
'going to' write the novel that will knock Proust into a cocked hat, are
there, but they are only genii in the rather rare moments when they are
not scouting about for the next meal. For the most part it is a story of
bug-ridden rooms in working-men's hotels, of fights, drinking bouts,
cheap brothels, Russian refugees, cadging, swindling, and temporary
jobs. And the whole atmosphere of the poor quarters of Paris as a
foreigner sees them--the cobbled alleys, the sour reek of refuse, the
bistros with their greasy zinc counters and worn brick floors, the green
waters of the Seine, the blue cloaks of the Republican Guard, the
crumbling iron urinals, the peculiar sweetish smell of the Metro
stations, the cigarettes that come to pieces, the pigeons in the
Luxembourg Gardens--it is all there, or at any rate the feeling of it is
there.

On the face of it no material could be less promising. When TROPIC OF
CANCER was published the Italians were marching into Abyssinia and
Hitler's concentration camps were already bulging. The intellectual foci
of the world were Rome, Moscow, and Berlin. It did not seem to be a
moment at which a novel of outstanding value was likely to be written
about American dead-beats cadging drinks in the Latin Quarter. Of course
a novelist is not obliged to write directly about contemporary history,
but a novelist who simply disregards the major public events of the
moment is generally either a footler or a plain idiot. From a mere
account of the subject matter of TROPIC OF CANCER most people would
probably assume it to be no more than a bit of naughty-naughty left over
from the twenties. Actually, nearly everyone who read it saw at once that
it was nothing of the kind, but a very remarkable book. How or why
remarkable? That question is never easy to answer. It is better to begin
by describing the impression that TROPIC OF CANCER has left on my own
mind.

When I first opened TROPIC OF CANCER and saw that it was full of
unprintable words, my immediate reaction was a refusal to be impressed.
Most people's would be the same, I believe. Nevertheless, after a lapse
of time the atmosphere of the book, besides innumerable details, seemed
to linger in my memory in a peculiar way. A year later Miller's second
book, BLACK SPRING, was published. By this time? TROPIC OF CANCER was much
more vividly present in my mind than it had been when I first read it. My
first feeling about BLACK SPRING was that it showed a falling-off, and it
is a fact that it has not the same unity as the other book. Yet after
another year there were many passages in BLACK SPRING that had also
rooted themselves in my memory. Evidently these books are of the sort to
leave a flavour behind them--books that 'create a world of their own',
as the saying goes. The books that do this are not necessarily good
books, they may be good bad books like RAFFLES or the SHERLOCK HOLMES
stories, or perverse and morbid books like WUTHERING HEIGHTS or THE HOUSE
WITH THE GREEN SHUTTERS. But now and again there appears a novel which
opens up a new world not by revealing what is strange, but by revealing
what is familiar. The truly remarkable thing about ULYSSES, for instance,
is the commonplaceness of its material. Of course there is much more in
ULYSSES than this, because Joyce is a kind of poet and also an
elephantine pedant, but his real achievement has been to get the familiar
on to paper. He dared--for it is a matter of DARING just as much as of
technique--to expose the imbecilities of the inner mind, and in doing so
he discovered an America which was under everybody's nose. Here is a
whole world of stuff which you supposed to be of its nature
incommunicable, and somebody has managed to communicate it. The effect is
to break down, at any rate momentarily, the solitude in which the human
being lives. When you read certain passages in ULYSSES you feel that
Joyce's mind and your mind are one, that he knows all about you though he
has never heard your name, that there some world outside time and space
in which you and he are together. And though he does not resemble Joyce
in other ways, there is a touch of this quality in Henry Miller. Not
everywhere, because his work is very uneven, and sometimes, especially in
BLACK SPRING, tends to slide away into more verbiage or into the squashy
universe of the surrealists. But read him for five pages, ten pages, and
you feel the peculiar relief that comes not so much from understanding as
from being UNDERSTOOD. 'He knows all about me,' you feel; 'he wrote this
specially for me'. It is as though you could hear a voice speaking to
you, a friendly American voice, with no humbug in it, no moral purpose,
merely an implicit assumption that we are all alike. For the moment you
have got away from the lies and simplifications, the stylized,
marionette-like quality of ordinary fiction, even quite good fiction, and
are dealing with the recognizable experiences of human beings.

But what kind of experience? What kind of human beings? Miller is writing
about the man in the street, and it is incidentally rather a pity that it
should be a street full of brothers. That is the penalty of leaving your
native land. It means transferring your roots into shallower soil. Exile
is probably more damaging to a novelist than to a painter or even a poet,
because its effect is to take him out of contact with working life and
narrow down his range to the street, the cafe, the church, the brothel
and the studio. On the whole, in Miller's books you are reading about
people living the expatriate life, people drinking, talking, meditating,
and fornicating, not about people working, marrying, and bringing up
children; a pity, because he would have described the one set of
activities as well as the other. In BLACK SPRING there is a wonderful
flashback of New York, the swarming Irish-infested New York of the O.
Henry period, but the Paris scenes are the best, and, granted their utter
worthlessness as social types, the drunks and dead-beats of the cafes are
handled with a feeling for character and a mastery of technique that are
unapproached in any at all recent novel. All of them are not only
credible but completely familiar; you have the feeling that all their
adventures have happened to yourself. Not that they are anything very
startling in the way of adventures. Henry gets a job with a melancholy
Indian student, gets another job at a dreadful French school during a
cold snap when the lavatories are frozen solid, goes on drinking bouts in
Le Havre with his friend Collins, the sea captain, goes to the brothels
where there are wonderful Negresses, talks with his friend Van Norden,
the novelist, who has got the great novel of the world in his head but
can never bring himself to begin writing it. His friend Karl, on the
verge of starvation, is picked up by a wealthy widow who wishes to marry
him. There are interminable Hamlet-like conversations in which Karl tries
to decide which is worse, being hungry or sleeping with an old woman. In
great detail he describes his visits to the widow, how he went to the
hotel dressed in his best, how before going in he neglected to urinate,
so that the whole evening was one long crescendo of torment etc., etc.
And after all, none of it is true, the widow doesn't even exist--Karl
has simply invented her in order to make himself seem important. The
whole book is in this vein, more or less. Why is it that these monstrous
trivialities are so engrossing? Simply because the whole atmosphere is
deeply familiar, because you have all the while the feeling that these
things are happening to YOU. And you have this feeling because somebody
has chosen to drop the Geneva language of the ordinary novel and drag the
REAL-POLITIK of the inner mind into the open. In Miller's case it is not
so much a question of exploring the mechanisms of the mind as of owning
up to everyday facts and everyday emotions. For the truth is that many
ordinary people, perhaps an actual majority, do speak and behave in just
the way that is recorded here. The callous coarseness with which the
characters in TROPIC OF CANCER talk is very rare in fiction, but it is
extremely common in real life; again and again I have heard just such
conversations from people who were not even aware that they were talking
coarsely. It is worth noticing that TROPIC OF CANCER is not a young man's
book. Miller was in his forties when it was published, and though since
then he has produced three or four others, it is obvious that this first
book had been lived with for years. It is one of those books that are
slowly matured in poverty and obscurity, by people who know what they
have got to do and therefore are able to wait. The prose is astonishing,
and in parts of BLACK SPRING is even better. Unfortunately I cannot
quote; unprintable words occur almost everywhere. But get hold of TROPIC
OF CANCER, get hold of BLACK SPRING and read especially the first hundred
pages. They give you an idea of what can still be done, even at this late
date, with English prose. In them, English is treated as a spoken
language, but spoken WITHOUT FEAR, i.e. without fear of rhetoric or of
the unusual or poetical word. The adjective has come back, after its ten
years' exile. It is a flowing, swelling prose, a prose with rhythms in
it, something quite different from the flat cautious statements and
snack-bar dialects that are now in fashion.

When a book like TROPIC OF CANCER appears, it is only natural that the
first thing people notice should be its obscenity. Given our current
notions of literary decency, it is not at all easy to approach an
unprintable book with detachment. Either one is shocked and disgusted, or
one is morbidly thrilled, or one is determined above all else not to be
impressed. The last is probably the commonest reaction, with the result
that unprintable books often get less attention than they deserve. It is
rather the fashion to say that nothing is easier than to write an obscene
book, that people only do it in order to get themselves talked about and
make money, etc., etc. What makes it obvious that this is not the case is
that books which are obscene in the police-court sense are distinctly
uncommon. If there were easy money to be made out of dirty words, a lot
more people would be making it. But, because 'obscene' books do not
appear very frequently, there is a tendency to lump them together, as a
rule quite unjustifiably. TROPIC OF CANCER has been vaguely associated
with two other books, ULYSSES and VOYAGE AU BOUT DE LA NUIT, but in
neither case is there much resemblance. What Miller has in common with
Joyce is a willingness to mention the inane, squalid facts of everyday
life. Putting aside differences of technique, the funeral scene in
ULYSSES, for instance, would fit into TROPIC OF CANCER; the whole chapter
is a sort of confession, an exposé of the frightful inner callousness of
the human being. But there the resemblance ends. As a novel, TROPIC OF
CANCER is far inferior to ULYSSES. Joyce is an artist, in a sense in
which Miller is not and probably would not wish to be, and in any case he
is attempting much more. He is exploring different states of
consciousness, dream, reverie (the 'bronze-by-gold' chapter),
drunkenness, etc., and dovetailing them all into a huge complex pattern,
almost like a Victorian 'plot'. Miller is simply a hard-boiled person
talking about life, an ordinary American businessman with intellectual
courage and a gift for words. It is perhaps significant that he looks
exactly like everyone's idea of an American businessman. As for the
comparison with VOYAGE AU BOUT DE LA NUIT, it is even further from the
point. Both books, use unprintable words, both are in some sense
autobiographical, but that is all. VOYAGE AU BEUT DE LA NUIT is a
book-with-a-purpose, and its purpose is to protest against the horror and
meaninglessness of modern life--actually, indeed, of LIFE. It is a cry
of unbearable disgust, a voice from the cesspool. TROPIC OF CANCER is
almost exactly the opposite. The thing has become so unusual as to seem
almost anomalous, but it is the book of a man who is happy. So is BLACK
SPRING, though slightly less so, because tinged in places with nostalgia.
With years of lumpen-proletarian life behind him, hunger, vagabondage,
dirt, failure, nights in the open, battles with immigration officers,
endless struggles for a bit of cash, Miller finds that he is enjoying
himself. Exactly the aspects of life that feel Céline with horror are the
ones that appeal to him. So far from protesting, he is ACCEPTING. And the
very word 'acceptance' calls up his real affinity, another American, Walt
Whitman.

But there is something rather curious in being Whitman in the
nineteen-thirties. It is not certain that if Whitman himself were alive
at the moment he would write anything in the least degree resembling
LEAVES OF GRASS. For what he is saying, after all, is 'I accept', and
there is a radical difference between acceptance now and acceptance then.
Whitman was writing in a time of unexampled prosperity, but more than
that, he was writing in a country where freedom was something more than a
word. The democracy, equality, and comradeship that he is always talking
about arc not remote ideals, but something that existed in front of his
eyes. In mid-nineteenth-century America men felt themselves free and
equal, WERE free and equal, so far as that is possible outside-a society
of pure communism. There was poverty and there were even class
distinctions, but except for the Negroes there was no permanently
submerged class. Everyone had inside him, like a kind of core, the
knowledge that he could earn a decent living, and earn it without
bootlicking. When you read about Mark Twain's Mississippi raftsmen and
pilots, or Bret Harte's Western gold-miners, they seem more remote than
the cannibals of the Stone Age. The reason is simply that they are free
human beings. But it is the same even with the peaceful domesticated
America of the Eastern states, the America of the LITTLE WOMEN, HELEN'S
BABIES, and RIDING DOWN FROM BANGOR. Life has a buoyant, carefree quality
that you can feel as you read, like a physical sensation in your belly.
If is this that Whitman is celebrating, though actually he does it very
badly, because he is one of those writers who tell you what you ought to
feel instead of making you feel it. Luckily for his beliefs, perhaps, he
died too early to see the deterioration in American life that came with
the rise of large-scale industry and the exploiting of cheap immigrant
labour.

Millers outlook is deeply akin to that of Whitman, and nearly everyone
who has read him has remarked on this. TROPIC OF CANCER ends with an
especially Whitmanesque passage, in which, after the lecheries, the
swindles, the fights, the drinking bouts, and the imbecilities, he simply
sits down and watches the Seine flowing past, in a sort of mystical
acceptance of thing-as-it-is. Only, what is he accepting? In the first
place, not America, but the ancient bone-heap of Europe, where every
grain of soil has passed through innumerable human bodies. Secondly, not
an epoch of expansion and liberty, but an epoch of fear, tyranny, and
regimentation. To say 'I accept' in an age like our own is to say that
you accept concentration camps, rubber truncheons. Hitler, Stalin, bombs,
aeroplanes, tinned food, machine guns, putsches, purges, slogans, Bedaux
belts, gas masks, submarines, spies, PROVOCATEURS, press censorship,
secret prisons, aspirins, Hollywood films, and political murders. Not
only those things, of course, but, those things among-others. And on the
whole this is Henry Miller's attitude. Not quite always, because at
moments he shows signs of a fairly ordinary kind of literary nostalgia.
There is a long passage in the earlier part of BLACK SPRING, in praise of
the Middle Ages, which as prose must be one of the most remarkable pieces
of writing in recent years, but which displays an attitude not very
different from that of Chesterton. In MAX AND THE WHITE PHAGOCYTES there
is an attack on modern American civilization (breakfast cereals,
cellophane, etc.) from the usual angle of the literary man who hates
industrialism. But in general the attitude is 'Let's swallow it whole'.
And hence the seeming preoccupation with indecency and with the
dirty-handkerchief side of life. It is only seeming, for the truth is
that ordinary everyday life consists far more largely of horrors than
writers of fiction usually care to admit. Whitman himself 'accepted' a
great deal that his contemporaries found unmentionable. For he is not
only writing of the prairie, he also wanders through the city and notes
the shattered skull of the suicide, the 'grey sick faces of onanists',
etc, etc. But unquestionably our own age, at any rate in Western Europe,
is less healthy and less hopeful than the age in which Whitman was
writing. Unlike Whitman, we live in a SHRINKING world. The 'democratic
vistas' have ended in barbed wire. There is less feeling of creation and
growth, less and less emphasis on the cradle, endlessly rocking, more and
more emphasis on the teapot, endlessly stewing. To accept civilization as
it is practically means accepting decay. It has ceased to be a strenuous
attitude and become a passive attitude--even 'decadent', if that word
means anything.

But precisely because, in one sense, he is passive to experience. Miller
is able to get nearer to the ordinary man than is possible to more
purposive writers. For the ordinary man is also passive. Within a narrow
circle (home life, and perhaps the trade union or local politics) he
feels himself master of his fate, but against major events he is as
helpless as against the elements. So far from endeavouring to influence
the future, he simply lies down and lets things happen to him. During the
past ten years literature has involved itself more and more deeply in
politics, with the result that there is now less room in it for the
ordinary man than at any time during the past two centuries. One can see
the change in the prevailing literary attitude by comparing the books
written about the Spanish civil war with those written about the war of
1914-18. The immediately striking thing about the Spanish war books, at
any rate those written in English, is their shocking dullness and
badness. But what is more significant is that almost all of them,
right-wing or left-wing, are written from a political angle, by cocksure
partisans telling you what to think, whereas the books about the Great
War were written by common soldiers or junior officers who did not even
pretend to understand what the whole thing was about. Books like ALL
QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, LE FEU, A FAREWELL TO ARMS, DEATH OF A HERO,
GOOD-BYE TO ALL THAT, MEMOIRS OF AN INFANTRY OFFICER, and A SUBALTERN ON
THE SOMME were written not by propagandists but by VICTIMS. They are
saying in effect, 'What the hell is all this about? God knows. All we can
do is to endure.' And though he is not writing about war, nor, on the
whole, about unhappiness, this is nearer to Miller's attitude than the
omniscience which is now fashionable. The BOOSTER, a short-lived
periodical of which he was part-editor, used to describe itself in its
advertisements as 'non-political, non-educational, non-progressive,
non-co-operative, non-ethical, non-literary, non-consistent,
non-contemporary', and Miller's own work could be described in nearly the
same terms. It is a voice from the crowd, from the underling, from the
third-class carriage, from the ordinary, non-political, non-moral,
passive man.

I have been using the phrase 'ordinary man' rather loosely, and I have
taken it for granted that the 'ordinary man' exists, a thing now denied
by some people. I do not mean that the people Miller is writing about
constitute a majority, still less that he is writing about proletarians.
No English or American novelist has as yet seriously attempted that. And
again, the people in TROPIC OF CANCER fall short of being ordinary to the
extent that they are idle, disreputable, and more or less 'artistic'. As
I have said already, this a pity, but it is the necessary result of
expatriation. Miller's 'ordinary man' is neither the manual worker nor
the suburban householder, but the derelict, the DÉCLASSÉ, the adventurer,
the American intellectual without roots and without money. Still, the
experiences even of this type overlap fairly widely with those of more
normal people. Milter has been able to get the most out of his rather
limited material because he has had the courage to identify with it. The
ordinary man, the 'average sensual man', has been given the power of
speech, like Balaam's ass.

It will be seen that this is something out of date, or at any rate out of
fashion. The average sensual man is out of fashion. Preoccupation with
sex and truthfulness about the inner life are out of fashion. American
Paris is out of fashion. A book like TROPIC OF CANCER, published at such
a time, must be either a tedious preciosity or something unusual, and I
think a majority of the people who have read it would agree that it is
not the first. It is worth trying to discover just what, this escape from
the current literary fashion means. But to do that one has got to see it
against its background--that is, against the general development of
English literature in the twenty years since the Great War.

II

When one says that a writer is fashionable one practically always means
that he is admired by people under thirty. At the beginning of the period
I am speaking of, the years during and immediately after the war, the
writer who had the deepest hold upon the thinking young was almost
certainly Housman. Among people who were adolescent in the years 1910-25,
Housman had an influence which was enormous and is now not at all easy
to understand. In 1920, when I was about seventeen, I probably knew the
whole of the SHROPSHIRE LAD by heart. I wonder how much impression the
SHROPSHIRE LAD makes at this moment on a boy of the same age and more or
less the same cast of mind? No doubt he has heard of it and even glanced
into it; it might strike him as cheaply clever--probably that would be
about all. Yet these are the poems that I and my contemporaries used to
recite to ourselves, over and over, in a kind of ecstasy, just as earlier
generations had recited Meredith's 'Love in a Valley', Swinburne's
'Garden of Proserpine' etc., etc.

With rue my heart is laden
For golden friends I had,
For many a roselipt maiden
And many a lightfoot lad.

By brooks too broad for leaping
The lightfoot boys are laid;
The roselipt girls arc sleeping
In fields Where roses fade.

It just tinkles. But it did not seem to tinkle in 1920. Why does the
bubble always burst? To answer that question one has to take account of
the EXTERNAL conditions that make certain writers popular at certain
times. Housman's poems had not attracted much notice when they were first
published. What was there in them that appealed so deeply to a single
generation, the generation born round about 1900?

In the first place, Housman is a 'country' poet. His poems are full of
the charm of buried villages, the nostalgia of place-names, Clunton and
Clunbury, Knighton, Ludlow, 'on Wenlock Edge', 'in summer time on
Bredon', thatched roofs and the jingle of smithies, the wild jonquils in
the pastures, the 'blue, remembered hills'. War poems apart, English
verse of the 1910-25 period is mostly 'country'. The reason no doubt was
that the RENTIER-professional class was ceasing once and for all to have
any real relationship with the soil; but at any rate there prevailed
then, far more than now, a kind of snobbism of belonging to the country
and despising the town. England at that time was hardly more an
agricultural country than it is now, but before the light industries
began to spread themselves it was easier to think of it as one. Most
middle-class boys grew up within sight of a farm, and naturally it was
the picturesque side of farm life that appealed to them--the ploughing,
harvesting, stack-thrashing and so forth. Unless he has to do it himself
a boy is not likely to notice the horrible drudgery of hoeing turnip,
milking cows with chapped teats at four o'clock in the morning, etc.,
etc. Just before, just after, and for that matter, during the war was the
great age of the 'Nature poet', the heyday of Richard Jefferies and W. H.
Hudson. Rupert Brooke's 'Grantchester', the star poem of 1913, is nothing
but an enormous gush of 'country' sentiment, a sort of accumulated vomit
from a stomach stuffed with place-names. Considered as a poem
'Grantchester' is something worse than worthless, but as an illustration
of what the thinking middle-class young of that period FELT it is a
valuable document.

Housman, however, did not enthuse over the rambler roses in the
week-ending spirit of Brooke and the others. The 'country' motif is there
all the time, but mainly as a background. Most of the poems have a
quasi-human subject, a kind of idealized rustic, in reality Strephon or
Corydon brought up to date. This in itself had a deep appeal. Experience
shows that overcivilized people enjoy reading about rustics (key-phrase,
'close to the soil') because they imagine them to be more primitive and
passionate than themselves. Hence the 'dark earth' novel of Sheila
Kaye-Smith, etc. And at that time a middle-class boy, with his 'country'
bias, would identify with an agricultural worker as he would never have
done with a town worker. Most boys had in their minds a vision of an
idealized ploughman, gipsy, poacher, or gamekeeper, always pictured as a
wild, free, roving blade, living a life of rabbit-snaring, cockfighting,
horses, beer, and women. Masefield's 'Everlasting Mercy', another
valuable period-piece, immensely popular with boys round about the war
years, gives you this vision in a very crude form. But Housman's Maurices
and Terences could be taken seriously where Masefield's Saul Kane could
not; on this side of him, Housman was Masefield with a dash of
Theocritus. Moreover all his themes are adolescent--murder, suicide,
unhappy love, early death. They deal with the simple, intelligible
disasters that give you the feeling of being up against the 'bedrock
facts' of life:

The sun burns on the half-mown hill,
By now the blood has dried;
And Maurice among the hay lies still
And my knife is in his side.

And again:

They hand us now in Shrewsbury jail
And whistles blow forlorn,
And trains all night groan on the rail
To men who die at morn.

It is all more or less in the same tune. Everything comes unstuck. 'Ned
lies long in the churchyard and Tom lies long in jail'. And notice also
the exquisite self-pity--the 'nobody loves me' feeling:

The diamond drops adorning
The low mound on the lea,
These arc the tears of morning,
That weeps, but not for thee.

Hard cheese, old chap! Such poems might have been written expressly for
adolescents. And the unvarying sexual pessimism (the girl always dies or
marries somebody else) seemed like wisdom to boys who were herded
together in public schools and were half-inclined to think of women as
something unattainable. Whether Housman ever had the same appeal for
girls I doubt. In his poems the woman's point of view is not considered,
she is merely the nymph, the siren, the treacherous half-human creature
who leads you a little distance and then gives you the slip.

But Housman would not have appealed so deeply to the people who were
young in 1920 if it had not been for another strain in him, and that was
his blasphemous, antinomian, 'cynical' strain. The fight that always
occurs between the generations was exceptionally bitter at the end of the
Great War; this was partly due to the war itself, and partly it was an
indirect result of the Russian Revolution, but an intellectual struggle
was in any case due at about that date. Owing probably to the ease and
security of life in England, which even the war hardly disturbed, many
people whose ideas were formed in the eighties or earlier had carried
them quite unmodified into the nineteen-twenties. Meanwhile, so far as
the younger generation was concerned, the official beliefs were
dissolving like sand-castles. The slump in religious belief, for
instance, was spectacular. For several years the old-young antagonism
took on a quality of real hatred. What was left of the war generation had
crept out of the massacre to find their elders still bellowing the
slogans of 1914, and a slightly younger generation of boys were writhing
under dirty-minded celibate schoolmasters. It was to these that Housman
appealed, with his implied sexual revolt and his personal grievance
against God. He was patriotic, it was true, but in a harmless
old-fashioned way, to the tune of red coats and 'God save the Queen'
rather than steel helmets and 'Hang the Kaiser'. And he was satisfyingly
anti-Christian--he stood for a kind of bitter, defiant paganism, the
conviction that life is short and the gods are against you, which exactly
fitted the prevailing mood of the young; and all in charming fragile
verse that was composed almost entirely of words of one syllable.

It will be seen that I have discussed Housman as though he were merely a
propagandist, an utterer of maxims and quotable 'bits'. Obviously he was
more than that. There is no need to under-rate him now because he was
over-rated a few years ago. Although one gets into trouble nowadays for
saying so, there are a number of his poems ('Into my heart an air that
kills', for instance, and 'Is my team ploughing?') that are not likely to
remain long out of favour. But at bottom it is always a writer's
tendency, his 'purpose', his 'message', that makes him liked or disliked.
The proof of this is the extreme difficulty of seeing any literary merit
in a book that seriously damages your deepest beliefs. And no book is
ever truly neutral. Some or other tendency is always discernible, in
verse as much as in prose, even if it does no more than determine the
form and the choice of imagery. But poets who attain wide popularity, Uke
Housman, are as a rule definitely gnomic writers.

After the war, after Housman and the Nature poets, there appears a group
of writers of completely different tendency--Joyce, Eliot, Pound,
Lawrence, Wyndham, Lewis, Aldous Huxley, Lytton Strachey. So far as the
middle and late twenties go, these are 'the movement', as surely as the
Auden-Spender group have been 'the movement' during the past few years.
It is true that not all of the gifted writers of the period can be fitted
into the pattern. E. M. Forster, for instance, though he wrote his best
book in 1923 or thereabouts, was essentially, pre-war, and Yeats does not
seem in either of his phases to belong to the twenties. Others who were
still living, Moore, Conrad, Bennett, Wells, Norman Douglas, had shot
their bolt before the war ever happened. On the other hand, a writer who
should be added to the group, though in the narrowly literary sense he
hardly 'belongs', is Somerset Maugham. Of course the dates do not fit
exactly; most of these writers had already published books before the
war, but they can be classified as post-war in the same sense that the
younger men now writing are post-slump. Equally, of course, you could
read through most of the literary papers of the time without grasping
that these people are 'the movement'. Even more then than at most times
the big shots of literary journalism were busy pretending that the
age-before-last had not come to an end. Squire ruled the LONDON MERCURY
Gibbs and Walpole were the gods of the lending libraries, there was a
cult of cheeriness and manliness, beer and cricket, briar pipes and
monogamy, and it was at all times possible to earn a few guineas by
writing an article denouncing 'high-brows'. But all the same it was the
despised highbrows who had captured the young. The wind was blowing from
Europe, and long before 1930 it had blown the beer-and-cricket school
naked, except for their knighthoods.

But the first thing one would notice about the group of writers I have
named above is that they do not look like a group. Moreover several of
them would strongly object to being coupled with several of the others.
Lawrence and Eliot were in reality antipathetic, Huxley worshipped
Lawrence but was repelled by Joyce, most of the others would have looked
down on Huxley, Strachey, and Maugham, and Lewis attacked everyone in
turn; indeed, his reputation as a writer rests largely on these attacks.
And yet there is a certain temperamental similarity, evident enough now,
though it would not have been so a dozen years ago. What it amounts to is
PESSIMISM OF OUTLOOK. But it is necessary to make clear what is meant by
pessimism.

If the keynote of the Georgian poets was 'beauty of Nature', the keynote
of the post-war writers would be 'tragic sense of life'. The spirit
behind Housman's poems for instance, is not tragic, merely querulous; it
is hedonism disappointed. The same is true of Hardy, though one ought to
make an exception of THE DYNASTS. But the Joyce-Eliot group come later in
time, puritanism is not their main adversary, they are able from the
start to 'see through' most of the things that their predecessors had
fought for. All of them are temperamentally hostile to the notion of
'progress'; it is felt that progress not only doesn't happen, but OUGHT
not to happen. Given this general similarity, there are, of course,
differences of approach between the writers I have named as well as
different degrees of talent. Eliot's pessimism is partly the Christian
pessimism, which implies a certain indifference to human misery, partly a
lament over the decadence of Western civilization ('We are the hollow
men, we are the stuffed men', etc., etc.), a sort of twilight-of-the-gods
feeling, which finally leads him, in Sweeney Agonistes for instance, to
achieve the difficult feat of making modern life out to be worse than it
is. With Strachey it is merely a polite eighteenth-century scepticism
mixed up with a taste for debunking. With Maugham it is a kind of stoical
resignation, the stiff upper lip of the pukka sahib somewhere east of
Suez, carrying on with his job without believing in it, like an Antonine
Emperor. Lawrence at first sight does not seem to be a pessimistic
writer, because, like Dickens, he is a 'change-of-heart' man and
constantly insisting that life here and now would be all right if only
you looked at it a little differently. But what he is demanding is a
movement away from our mechanized civilization, which is not going to
happen. Therefore his exasperation with the present turns once more into
idealization of the past, this time a safely mythical past, the Bronze
Age. When Lawrence prefers the Etruscans (his Etruscans) to ourselves it
is difficult not to agree with him, and yet, after all, it is a species
of defeatism, because that is not the direction in which the world is
moving. The kind of life that he is always pointing to, a life centring
round the simple mysteries--sex, earth, fire, water, blood--is merely a
lost cause. All he has been able to produce, therefore, is a wish that
things would happen in a way in which they are manifestly not going to
happen. 'A wave of generosity or a wave of death', he says, but it is
obvious that there are no waves of generosity this side of the horizon.
So he flees to Mexico, and then dies at forty-five, a few years before
the wave of death gets going. It will be seen that once again I am
speaking of these people as though they were not artists, as though they
were merely propagandists putting a 'message' across. And once again it
is obvious that all of them are more than that. It would be absurd, for
instance, to look on ULYSSES as MERELY a show-up of the horror of modern
life, the 'dirty DAILY MAIL era', as Pound put it. Joyce actually is more
of a 'pure artist' than most writers. But ULYSSES could not have been
written by someone who was merely dabbling with word-patterns; it is the
product of a special vision of life, the vision of a Catholic who has
lost his faith. What Joyce is saying is 'Here is life without God. Just
look at it!' and his technical innovations, important though they are,
are primarily to serve this purpose.

But what is noticeable about all these writers is that what 'purpose'
they have is very much up in the air. There is no attention to the urgent
problems of the moment, above all no politics in the narrower sense. Our
eyes are directed to Rome, to Byzantium, to Montparnasse, to Mexico, to
the Etruscans, to the Subconscious, to the solar plexus--to everywhere
except the places where things are actually happening. When one looks
back at the twenties, nothing is queerer than the way in which every
important event in Europe escaped the notice of the English
intelligentsia. The Russian Revolution, for instance, all but vanishes
from the English consciousness between the death of Lenin and the Ukraine
famine--about ten years. Throughout those years Russia means Tolstoy,
Dostoievsky, and exiled counts driving taxi-cabs. Italy means
picture-galleries, ruins, churches, and museums--but not Black-shirts.
Germany means films, nudism, and psychoanalysis--but not Hitler, of whom
hardly anyone had heard till 1931. In 'cultured' circles
art-for-art's-saking extended practically to a worship of the
meaningless. Literature was supposed to consist solely in the
manipulation of words. To judge a book by its subject matter was the
unforgivable sin, and even to be aware of its subject matter was looked
on as a lapse of a taste. About 1928, in one of the three genuinely funny
jokes that PUNCH has produced since the Great War, an intolerable youth
is pictured informing his aunt that he intends to 'write'. 'And what are
you going to write about, dear?' asks the aunt. 'My dear aunt,' says the
youth crushingly, 'one doesn't write ABOUT anything, one just WRITES.'
The best writers of the twenties did not subscribe to this doctrine,
their 'purpose' is in most cases fairly overt, but it is usually
'purpose' along moral-religious-cultural lines. Also, when translatable
into political terms, it is in no case 'left'. In one way or another the
tendency of all the writers in this group is conservative. Lewis, for
instance, spent years in frenzied witch-smellings after 'Bolshevism',
which he was able to detect in very unlikely places. Recently he has
changed some of his views, perhaps influenced by Hitler's treatment of
artists, but it is safe to bet that he will not go very far leftward.
Pound seems to have plumped definitely for Fascism, at any rate the
Italian variety. Eliot has remained aloof, but if forced at the pistol's
point to choose between Fascism and some more democratic form of
socialism, would probably choose Fascism. Huxley starts off with the
usual despair-of-life, then, under the influence of Lawrence's 'dark
abdomen', tries something called Life-Worship, and finally arrives at
pacifism--a tenable position, and at this moment an honourable one, but
probably in the long run involving rejection of socialism. It is also
noticeable that most of the writers in this group have a certain
tenderness for the Catholic Church, though not usually of a kind that an
orthodox Catholic would accept.

The mental connexion between pessimism and a reactionary outlook is no
doubt obvious enough. What is perhaps less obvious is just WHY the
leading writers of the twenties were predominantly pessimistic. Why
always the sense of decadence, the skulls and cactuses, the yearning
after lost faith and impossible civilizations? Was it not, after all,
BECAUSE these people were writing in an exceptionally comfortable epoch?
It is just in such times that 'cosmic despair' can flourish. People with
empty bellies never despair of the universe, nor even think about the
universe, for that matter. The whole period 1910-30 was a prosperous one,
and even the war years were physically tolerable if one happened to be a
non-combatant in one of the Allied countries. As for the twenties, they
were the golden age of the RENTIER-intellectual, a period of
irresponsibility such as the world had never before seen. The war was
over, the new totalitarian states had not arisen, moral and religious
tabus of all descriptions had vanished, and the cash was rolling in.
'Disillusionment' was all the fashion. Everyone with a safe £500 a year
turned highbrow and began training himself in TAEDIUM VITAE. It was an
age of eagles and of crumpets, facile despairs, backyard Hamlets, cheap
return tickets to the end of the night. In some of the minor
characteristic novels of the period, books like TOLD BY AN IDIOT, the
despair-of-life reaches a Turkish-bath atmosphere of self-pity. And even
the best writers of the time can be convicted of a too Olympian attitude,
a too great readiness to wash their hands of the immediate practical
problem. They see life very comprehensively, much more so than those who
come immediately before or after them, but they see it through the wrong
end of the telescope. Not that that invalidates their books, as books.
The first test of any work of art is survival, and it is a fact that a
great deal that was written in the period 1910-30 has survived and looks
like continuing to survive. One has only to think of ULYSSES, OF HUMAN
BONDAGE, most of Lawrence's early work, especially his short stories, and
virtually the whole of Eliot's poems up to about 1930, to wonder what is
now being written that will wear so well.

But quite Suddenly, in the years 1930-5, something happens. The literary
climate changes. A new group of writers, Auden and Spender and the rest
of them, has made its appearance, and although technically these writers
owe something to their predecessors, their 'tendency' is entirely
different. Suddenly we have got out of the twilight of the gods into a
sort of Boy Scout atmosphere of bare knees and community singing. The
typical literary man ceases to be a cultured expatriate with a leaning
towards the Church, and becomes an eager-minded schoolboy with a leaning
towards Communism. If the keynote of the writers of the twenties is
'tragic sense of life', the keynote of the new writers is 'serious
purpose'.

The differences between the two schools are discussed at some length in
Mr Louis MacNeice's book MODERN POETRY. This book is, of course, written
entirely from the angle of the younger group and takes the superiority of
their standards for granted. According to Mr MacNeice:

The poets of NEW SIGNATURES, [Note: Published in 1932.(Author's footnote)]
unlike Yeats and Eliot, are emotionally partisan. Yeats proposed to turn
his back on desire and hatred; Eliot sat back and watched other people's
emotions with ennui and an ironical self-pity...The whole poetry, on
the other hand, of Auden, Spender, and Day Lewis implies that they have
desires and hatreds of their own and, further, that they think some things
ought to be desired and others hated.

And again:

The poets of NEW SIGNATURES have swung back...to the Greek preference
for information or statement. Then first requirement is to have something
to say, and after that you must say it as well as you can.

In other words, 'purpose' has come back, the younger writers have 'gone
into politics'. As I have pointed out already, Eliot & Co. are not really
so non-partisan as Mr MacNeice seems to suggest. Still, it is broadly
true that in the twenties the literary emphasis was more on technique and
less on subject matter than it is now.

The leading figures in this group are Auden, Spender, Day Lewis,
MacNeice, and there is a long string of writers of more or less the same
tendency, Isherwood, John Lehmann, Arthur Calder-Marshall, Edward Upward,
Alee Brown, Philip Henderson, and many others. As before, I am lumping
them together simply according to tendency. Obviously there are very
great variations in talent. But when one compares these writers with the
Joyce-Eliot generation, the immediately striking thing is how much easier
it is to form them into a group. Technically they are closer together,
politically they are almost indistinguishable, and their criticisms of
one another's work have always been (to put it mildly) good-natured. The
outstanding writers of the twenties were of very varied origins, few of
them had passed through the ordinary English educational mill
(incidentally, the best of them, barring Lawrence, were not Englishmen),
and most of them had had at some time to struggle against poverty,
neglect, and even downright persecution. On the other hand, nearly all
the younger writers fit easily into the public-school-university-Bloomsbury
pattern. The few who are of proletarian origin are of the kind that is
declassed early in life, first by means of scholarships and then by the
bleaching-tub of London 'culture'. It is significant that several of the
writers in this group have been not only boys but, subsequently, masters
at public schools. Some years ago I described Auden as 'a sort of
gutless Kipling'. As criticism this was quite unworthy, indeed it was
merely a spiteful remark, but it is a fact that in Auden's work,
especially his earlier work, an atmosphere of uplift--something rather
like Kipling's If or Newbolt's Play up, Play up, and Play the Game!--never
seems to be very far away. Take, for instance, a poem like 'You're
leaving now, and it's up to you boys'. It is pure scoutmaster, the exact
note of the ten-minutes' straight talk on the dangers of self-abuse.
No doubt there is an element of parody that he intends, but there is also
a deeper resemblance that he does not intend. And of course the rather
priggish note that is common to most of these writers is a symptom,
of release. By throwing 'pure art' overboard they have freed themselves
from the fear of being laughed at and vastly enlarged their scope.
The prophetic side of Marxism, for example, is new material for poetry
and has great possibilities.

We are nothing
We have fallen
Into the dark and shall be destroyed.
Think though, that in this darkness
We hold the secret hub of an idea
Whose living sunlit wheel revolves in future years outside.

(Spender, TRIAL OF A JUDGE)

But at the same time, by being Marxized literature has moved no nearer to
the masses. Even allowing for the time-lag, Auden and Spender are
somewhat farther from being popular writers than Joyce and Eliot, let
alone Lawrence. As before, there are many contemporary writers who are
outside the current, but there is not much doubt about what is the
current. For the middle and late thirties, Auden Spender & Co. ARE 'the
movement', just as Joyce, Eliot & Co. were for the twenties. And the
movement is in the direction of some rather ill-defined thing called
Communism. As early as 1934 or 1935 it was considered eccentric in
literary circles not to be more or less 'left', and in another year or
two there had grown up a left-wing orthodoxy that made a certain set of
opinions absolutely DE RIGUEUR on certain subjects, The idea had begun to
gain ground (VIDE Edward Upward and others) that a writer must either be
actively 'left' or write badly. Between 1935 and 1939 the Communist
Party had an almost irresistible fascination for any writer under
forty. It became as normal to hear that so-and-so had 'joined' as
it had been a few years earlier, when Roman Catholicism was fashionable,
to hear that So-and-so had 'been received'. For about three years, in
fact, the central stream of English literature was more or less directly
under Communist control. How was it possible for such a thing to happen?
And at the same time, what is meant by 'Communism'? It is better to
answer the second question first.

The Communist movement in Western Europe began, as a movement for the
violent overthrow of capitalism, and degenerated within a few years into
an instrument of Russian foreign policy. This was probably inevitable
when this revolutionary ferment that followed the Great War had died
down. So far as I know, the only comprehensive history of this subject in
English is Franz Borkenau's book, THE COMMUNIST INTERNATIONAL. What
Borkenau's facts even more than his deductions make clear is that
Communism could never have developed along its present lines if any
revolutionary feeling had existed in the industrialized countries. In
England, for instance, it is obvious that no such feeling has existed for
years past. The pathetic membership figures of all extremist parties show
this clearly. It is, only natural, therefore, that the English Communist
movement should be controlled by people who are mentally subservient to
Russia and have no real aim except to manipulate British foreign policy
in the Russian interest. Of course such an aim cannot be openly admitted,
and it is this fact that gives the Communist Party its very peculiar
character. The more vocal kind of Communist is in effect a Russian
publicity agent posing as an international socialist. It is a pose that
is easily kept up at normal times, but becomes difficult in moments of
crisis, because of the fact that the U.S.S.R. is no more scrupulous in
its foreign policy than the rest of the Great Powers. Alliances, changes
of front etc., which only make sense as part of the game of power
politics have to be explained and justified in terms of international
socialism. Every time Stalin swaps partners, 'Marxism' has to be hammered
into a new shape. This entails sudden and violent changes of 'line',
purges, denunciations, systematic destruction of party literature, etc.,
etc. Every Communist is in fact liable at any moment to have to alter his
most fundamental convictions, or leave the party. The unquestionable
dogma of Monday may become the damnable heresy of Tuesday, and so on.
This has happened at least three times during the past ten years. It
follows that in any Western country a Communist Party is always unstable
and usually very small. Its long-term membership really consists of an
inner ring of intellectuals who have identified with the Russian
bureaucracy, and a slightly larger body of working-class people who feel
a loyalty towards Soviet Russia without necessarily understanding its
policies. Otherwise there is only a shifting membership, one lot coming
and another going with each change of 'line'.

In 1930 the English Communist Party was a tiny, barely legal organization
whose main activity was libelling the Labour Party. But by 1935 the face
of Europe had changed, and left-wing politics changed with it. Hitler had
risen to power and begun to rearm, the Russian five-year plans had
succeeded, Russia had reappeared as a great military power. As Hitler's
three targets of attack were, to all appearances, Great Britain, France,
and the U.S.S.R., the three countries were forced into a sort of uneasy
RAPPROCHEMENT. This meant that the English or French Communist was
obliged to become a good patriot and imperialist--that is, to defend the
very things he had been attacking for the past fifteen years. The
Comintern slogans suddenly faded from red to pink. 'World revolution' and
'Social-Fascism' gave way to 'Defence of democracy' and 'Stop Hitler'.
The years 1935-9 were the period of anti-Fascism and the Popular Front,
the heyday of the Left Book Club, when red Duchesses and 'broadminded'
deans toured the battlefields of the Spanish war and Winston Churchill
was the blue-eyed boy of the DAILY WORKER. Since then, of course, there
has been yet another change of 'line'. But what is important for my
purpose is that it was during the 'anti-Fascist' phase that the younger
English writers gravitated towards Communism.

The Fascism-democracy dogfight was no doubt an attraction in itself, but
in any case their conversion was due at about that date. It was obvious
that LAISSEZ-FAIRE capitalism was finished and that there had got to be
some kind of reconstruction; in the world of 1935 it was hardly possible
to remain politically indifferent. But why did these young men turn
towards anything so alien as Russian Communism? Why should WRITERS be
attracted by a form of socialism that makes mental honesty impossible?
The explanation really lies in something that had already made itself
felt before the slump and before Hitler: middle-class unemployment.

Unemployment is not merely a matter of not having a job. Most people can
get a job of sorts, even at the worst of times. The trouble was that by
about 1930 there was no activity, except perhaps scientific research, the
arts, and left-wing politics, that a thinking person could believe in.
The debunking of Western civilization had reached its Climax and
'disillusionment' was immensely widespread. Who now could take it for
granted to go through life in the ordinary middle-class way, as a
soldier, a clergyman, a stockbroker, an Indian Civil Servant, or
what-not? And how many of the values by which our grandfathers lived
could not be taken seriously? Patriotism, religion, the Empire, the
family, the sanctity of marriage, the Old School Tie, birth, breeding,
honour, discipline--anyone of ordinary education could turn the whole
lot of them inside out in three minutes. But what do you achieve, after
all, by getting rid of such primal things as patriotism and religion? You
have not necessarily got rid of the need for SOMETHING TO BELIEVE IN.
There had been a sort of false dawn a few years earlier when numbers of
young intellectuals, including several quite gifted writers (Evelyn
Waugh, Christopher Hollis, and others), had fled into the Catholic
Church. It is significant that these people went almost invariably to the
Roman Church and not, for instance, to the C. of E., the Greek Church, or
the Protestants sects. They went, that is, to the Church with a
world-wide organization, the one with a rigid discipline, the one with
power and prestige behind it. Perhaps it is even worth noticing that the
only latter-day convert of really first-rate gifts, Eliot, has embraced
not Romanism but Anglo-Catholicism, the ecclesiastical equivalent of
Trotskyism. But I do not think one need look farther than this for the
reason why the young writers of the thirties flocked into or towards the
Communist Party. If was simply something to believe in. Here was a
Church, an army, an orthodoxy, a discipline. Here was a Fatherland
and--at any rate since 1935 or thereabouts--a Fuehrer. All the loyalties
and superstitions that the intellect had seemingly banished could come
rushing back under the thinnest of disguises. Patriotism, religion,
empire, military glory--all in one word, Russia. Father, king, leader,
hero, saviour--all in one word, Stalin. God--Stalin. The devil--Hitler.
Heaven--Moscow. Hell--Berlin. All the gaps were filled up. So, after
all, the 'Communism' of the English intellectual is something explicable
enough. It is the patriotism of the deracinated.

But there is one other thing that undoubtedly contributed to the cult of
Russia among the English intelligentsia during these years, and that is
the softness and security of life in England itself. With all its
injustices, England is still the land of habeas corpus, and the
over-whelming majority of English people have no experience of violence
or illegality. If you have grown up in that sort of atmosphere it is not
at all easy to imagine what a despotic régime is like. Nearly all the
dominant writers of the thirties belonged to the soft-boiled emancipated
middle class and were too young to have effective memories of the Great
War. To people of that kind such things as purges, secret police, summary
executions, imprisonment without trial etc., etc., are too remote to be
terrifying. They can swallow totalitarianism BECAUSE they have no
experience of anything except liberalism. Look, for instance, at this
extract from Mr Auden's poem 'Spain' (incidentally this poem is one of
the few decent things that have been written about the Spanish war):

To-morrow for the young, the poets exploding like bombs,
The walks by the lake, the weeks of perfect communion;
To-morrow the bicycle races
Through the suburbs on summer evenings. But to-day the struggle.

To-day the deliberate increase in the chances of death,
The conscious acceptance of guilt in the necessary murder;
To-day the expending of powers
On the flat ephemeral pamphlet and the boring meeting.

The second stanza is intended as a sort of thumb-nail sketch of a day in
the life of a 'good party man'. In the-morning a couple of political
murders, a ten-minutes' interlude to stifle 'bourgeois' remorse, and then
a hurried luncheon and a busy afternoon and evening chalking walls and
distributing leaflets. All very edifying. But notice the phrase
'necessary murder'. It could only be written by a person to whom murder
is at most a WORD. Personally I would not speak so lightly of murder. It
so happens that I have seen the bodies of numbers of murdered men--I
don't mean killed in battle, I mean murdered. Therefore I have some
conception of what murder means--the terror, the hatred, the howling
relatives, the post-mortems, the blood, the smells. To me, murder is
something to be avoided. So it is to any ordinary person. The Hitlers and
Stalins find murder necessary, but they don't advertise their
callousness, and they don't speak of it as murder; it is 'liquidation',
'elimination', or some other soothing phrase. Mr Auden's brand of
amoralism is only possible, if you are the kind of person who is always
somewhere else when the trigger is pulled. So much of left-wing thought
is a kind of playing with fire by people who don't even know that fire is
hot. The warmongering to which the English intelligentsia gave themselves
up in the period 1935-9 was largely based on a sense of personal
immunity. The attitude was very different in France, where the military
service is hard to dodge and even literary men know the weight of a pack.

Towards the end of Mr Cyril Connolly's recent book, ENEMIES OF PROMISE,
there occurs an interesting and revealing passage. The first part of the
book, is, more or less, an evaluation of present-day literature. Mr
Connolly belongs exactly to the generation of the writers of 'the
movement', and with not many reservations their values are his values. It
is interesting to notice that among prose-writers her admires chiefly
those specialising in violence--the would-be tough American school,
Hemingway, etc. The latter part of the book, however, is autobiographical
and consists of an account, fascinatingly accurate, of life at a
preparatory school and Eton in the years 1910-20. Mr Connolly ends by
remarking:

Were I to deduce anything from my feelings on leaving Eton, it might be
called THE THEORY OF PERMANENT ADOLESCENCE. It is the theory that the
experiences undergone by boys at the great public schools are so intense
as to dominate their lives and to arrest their development.

When you read the second sentence in this passage, your natural impulse
is to look for the misprint. Presumably there is a 'not' left out, or
something. But no, not a bit of it! He means it! And what is more, he is
merely speaking the truth, in an inverted fashion. 'Cultured'
middle-class life has reached a depth of softness at which a
public-school education--five years in a lukewarm bath of snobbery--can
actually be looked back upon as an eventful period. To nearly all the
writers who have counted during the thirties, what more has ever happened
than Mr Connolly records in ENEMIES OF PROMISE? It is the same pattern
all the time; public school, university, a few trips abroad, then London.
Hunger, hardship, solitude, exile, war, prison, persecution, manual
labour--hardly even words. No wonder that the huge tribe known as 'the
right left people' found it so easy to condone the purge-and-trap side of
the Russian régime and the horrors of the first Five-Year Plan. They were
so gloriously incapable of understanding what it all meant.

By 1937 the whole of the intelligentsia was mentally at war. Left-wing
thought had narrowed down to 'anti-Fascism', i.e. to a negative, and a
torrent of hate-literature directed against Germany and the politicians
supposedly friendly to Germany was pouring from the Press. The thing
that, to me, was truly frightening about the war in Spain was not such
violence as I witnessed, nor even the party feuds behind the lines, but
the immediate reappearance in left-wing circles of the mental atmosphere
of the Great War. The very people who for twenty years had sniggered over
their own superiority to war hysteria were the ones who rushed straight
back into the mental slum of 1915. All the familiar wartime idiocies,
spy-hunting, orthodoxy-sniffing (Sniff, sniff. Are you a good
anti-Fascist?), the retailing of atrocity stories, came back into vogue
as though the intervening years had never happened. Before the end of the
Spanish war, and even before Munich, some of the better of the left-wing
writers were beginning to squirm. Neither Auden nor, on the whole,
Spender wrote about the Spanish war in quite the vein that was expected
of them. Since then there has been a change of feeling and much dismay
and confusion, because the actual course of events has made nonsense of
the left-wing orthodoxy of the last few years. But then it did not need
very great acuteness to see that much of it was nonsense from the start.
There is no certainty, therefore, that the next orthodoxy to emerge will
be any better than the last.

On the whole the literary history of the thirties seems to justify the
opinion that a writer does well to keep out of politics. For any writer
who accepts or partially accepts the discipline of a political party is
sooner or later faced with the alternative: toe the line, or shut up. It
is, of course, possible to toe the line and go on writing--after a
fashion. Any Marxist can demonstrate with the greatest of ease that
'bourgeois' liberty of thought is an illusion. But when he has finished
his demonstration there remains the psychological FACT that without this
'bourgeois' liberty the creative powers wither away. In the future a
totalitarian literature may arise, but it will be quite different from
anything we can now imagine. Literature as we know it is an individual
thing, demanding mental honesty and a minimum of censorship. And this is
even truer of prose than of verse. It is probably not a coincidence that
the best writers of the thirties have been poets. The atmosphere of
orthodoxy is always damaging to prose, and above all it is completely
ruinous to the novel, the most anarchical of all forms of literature. How
many Roman Catholics have been good novelists? Even the handful one could
name have usually been bad Catholics. The novel is practically a
Protestant form of art; it is a product of the free mind, of the
autonomous individual. No decade in the past hundred and fifty years has
been so barren of imaginative prose as the nineteen-thirties. There have
been good poems, good sociological works, brilliant pamphlets, but
practically no fiction of any value at all. From 1933 onwards the mental
climate was increasingly against it. Anyone sensitive enough to be
touched by the ZEITGEIST was also involved in politics. Not everyone, of
course, was definitely in the political racket, but practically everyone
was on its periphery and more or less mixed up in propaganda campaigns
and squalid controversies. Communists and near-Communists had a
disproportionately large influence in the literary reviews. It was a time
of labels, slogans, and evasions. At the worst moments you were expected
to lock yourself up in a constipating little cage of lies; at the best a
sort of voluntary censorship ('Ought I to say this? Is it pro-Fascist?')
was at work in nearly everyone's mind. It is almost inconceivable that
good novels should be written in such an atmosphere. 'Good novels are not
written by by orthodoxy-sniffers, nor by people who are conscience-stricken
about their own unorthodoxy. Good novels are written by people who are NOT
FRIGHTENED. This brings me back to Henry Miller.

III

If this were a likely, moment for the launching of 'schools' literature,
Henry Miller might be the starting-point of a new 'school'. He does at
any rate mark an unexpected swing of the pendulum. In his books one gets
right away from the 'political animal' and back to a viewpoint not only
individualistic but completely passive--the view-point of a man who
believes the world-process to be outside his control and who in any case
hardly wishes to control it.

I first met Miller at the end of 1936, when I was passing through Paris
on my way to Spain. What most intrigued me about him was to find that he
felt no interest in the Spanish war whatever. He merely told me in
forcible terms that to go to Spain at that moment was the act of an
idiot. He could understand anyone going there from purely selfish
motives, out of curiosity, for instance, but to mix oneself up in such
things FROM A SENSE OBLIGATION was sheer stupidity. In any case my Ideas
about combating Fascism, defending democracy, etc., etc., were all
baloney. Our civilization was destined to be swept away and replaced by
something so different that we should scarcely regard it as human--a
prospect that did not bother him, he said. And some such outlook is
implicit throughout his work. Everywhere there is the sense of the
approaching cataclysm, and almost everywhere the implied belief that it
doesn't matter. The only political declaration which, so far as I know,
he has ever made in print is a purely negative one. A year or so ago an
American magazine, the MARXIST QUARTERLY, sent out a questionnaire to
various American writers asking them to define their attitude on the
subject of war. Miller replied in terms of extreme pacifism, an
individual refusal to fight, with no apparent wish to convert others to
the same opinion--practically, in fact, a declaration of
irresponsibility.

However, there is more than one kind of irresponsibility. As a rule,
writers who do not wish to identify themselves with the historical
process at the moment either ignore it or fight against if. If they can
ignore it, they are probably fools. If they can understand it well enough
to want to fight against it, they probably have enough vision to realize
that they cannot win. Look, for instance, at a poem like 'The Scholar
Gipsy', with its railing against the 'strange disease of modern life' and
its magnificent defeatist simile is the final stanza. It expresses one of
the normal literary attitudes, perhaps actually the prevailing attitude
during the last hundred years. And on the other hand there are the
'progressives', the yea-sayers, the Shaw-Wells type, always leaping
forward to embrace the ego-projections which they mistake for the future.
On the whole the writers of the twenties took the first line and the
writers of the thirties the second. And at any given moment, of course,
there is a huge tribe of Barries and Deepings and Dells who simply don't
notice what is happening. Where Miller's work is symptomatically
important is in its avoidance of any of these attitudes. He is neither
pushing the world-process forward nor trying to drag it back, but on the
other hand he is by no means ignoring it. I should say that he believes
in the impending ruin of Western Civilization much more firmly than the
majority of 'revolutionary' writers; only he does not feel called upon to
do anything about it. He is fiddling While Rome is burning, and, unlike
the enormous majority of people who do this, fiddling with his face
towards the flames.

In MAX AND THE WHITE PHAGOCYTES there is one of those revealing passages
in which a writer tells you a great deal about himself while talking
about somebody else. The book includes a long essay on the diaries of
Anais Nin, which I have never read, except for a few fragments, and which
I believe have not been published. Miller claims that they are the only
true feminine writing that has ever appeared, whatever that may mean. But
the interesting passage is one in which he compares Anais Nin--evidently
a completely subjective, introverted writer--to Jonah in the whale's
belly. In passing he refers to an essay that Aldous Huxley wrote some
years ago about El Greco's picture, The Dream of Philip the Second.
Huxley remarks that the people in El Greco's pictures always look as
though they were in the bellies of whales, and professes to find
something peculiarly horrible in the idea of being in a 'visceral
prison'. Miller retorts that, on the contrary, there are many worse
things than being swallowed by whales, and the passage makes it dear that
he himself finds the idea rather attractive. Here he is touching upon
what is probably a very widespread fantasy. It is perhaps worth noticing
that everyone, at least every English-speaking person, invariably speaks
of Jonah and the WHALE. Of course the creature that swallowed Jonah was a
fish, and was so described in the Bible (Jonah i. 17), but children
naturally confuse it with a whale, and this fragment of baby-talk is
habitually carried into later life--a sign, perhaps, of the hold that
the Jonah myth has upon our imaginations. For the fact is that being
inside a whale is a very comfortable, cosy, homelike thought. The
historical Jonah, if he can be so called, was glad enough to escape, but
in imagination, in day-dream, countless people have envied him. It is, of
course, quite obvious why. The whale's belly is simply a womb big enough
for an adult. There you are, in the dark, cushioned space that exactly
fits you, with yards of blubber between yourself and reality, able to
keep up an attitude of the completest indifference, no matter what
HAPPENS. A storm that would sink all the battleships in the world would
hardly reach you as an echo. Even the whale's own movements would
probably be imperceptible to you. He might be wallowing among the surface
waves or shooting down into the blackness of the middle seas (a mile
deep, according to Herman Melville), but you would never notice the
difference. Short of being dead, it is the final, unsurpassable stage of
irresponsibility. And however it may be with Anais Nin, there is no
question that Miller himself is inside the whale. All his best and most
characteristic passages are written from the angle of Jonah, a willing
Jonah. Not that he is especially introverted--quite the contrary. In his
case the whale happens to be transparent. Only he feels no impulse to
alter or control the process that he is undergoing. He has performed the
essential Jonah act of allowing himself to be swallowed, remaining
passive, ACCEPTING.

It will be seen what this amounts to. It is a species of quietism,
implying either complete unbelief or else a degree of belief amounting to
mysticism. The attitude is 'JE M'EN FOUS' or 'Though He slay me, yet will
I trust in Him', whichever way you like to look at it; for practical
purposes both are identical, the moral in either case being 'Sit on your
bum'. But in a time like ours, is this a defensible attitude? Notice that
it is almost impossible to refrain from asking this question. At the
moment of writing, we are still in a period in which it is taken for
granted that books ought always to be positive, serious, and
'constructive'. A dozen years ago this idea would have been greeted with
titters. ('My dear aunt, one doesn't write about anything, one just
WRITES.') Then the pendulum swung away from the frivolous notion that art
is merely technique, but it swung a very long distance, to the point of
asserting that a book can only be 'good' if it is founded on a 'true'
vision of life. Naturally the people who believe this also believe that
they are in possession of the truth themselves. Catholic critics, for
instance, tend to claim that books arc only 'good' when they are of
Catholic tendency. Marxist critics make the same claim more boldly for
Marxist books. For instance, Mr Edward Upward ('A Marxist Interpretation
of Literature,' in the MIND IN CHAINS):

Literary criticism which aims at being Marxist must...proclaim that no
book written at the present time can be 'good' unless it is written from
a Marxist or near-Marxist viewpoint.

Various other writers have made similar or comparable statements. Mr
Upward italicizes 'at the present time' because, he realizes that you
cannot, for instance, dismiss HAMLET on the ground that Shakespeare was
not a Marxist. Nevertheless his interesting essay only glances very
shortly at this difficulty. Much of the literature that comes to us out
of the past is permeated by and in fact founded on beliefs (the belief in
the immortality of the soul, for example) which now seem to us false and
in some cases contemptibly silly. Yet if is 'good' literature, if
survival is any test. Mr Upward would no doubt answer that a belief which
was appropriate several centuries ago might be inappropriate and
therefore stultifying now. But this does not get one much farther,
because it assumes that in any age there will be ONE body of belief which
is the current approximation to truth, and that the best literature of
the time will be more or less in harmony with it. Actually no such
uniformity has ever existed. In seventeenth-century England, for
instance, there was a religious and political cleavage which distinctly
resembled the left-right antagonism of to-day. Looking back, most modern
people would feel that the bourgeois-Puritan viewpoint was a better
approximation to truth than the Catholic-feudal one. But it is certainly
not the case that all or even a majority of the best writers of the time
were puritans. And more than this, there exist 'good' writers whose
world-view would in any age be recognized false and silly. Edgar Allan
Poe is an example. Poe's outlook is at best a wild romanticism and at
worst is not far from being insane in the literal clinical sense. Why is
it, then that stories like The Black Cat, The Tell-tale Heart, The Fall
of the House of Usher and so forth, which might very nearly have been
written by a lunatic, do not convey a feeling of falsity? Because they
are true within a certain framework, they keep the rules of their own
peculiar world, like a Japanese picture. But it appears that to write
successfully about such a world you have got to believe in it. One sees
the difference immediately if one compares Poe's TALES with what is, in
my opinion, an insincere attempt to work up a similar atmosphere, Julian
Green's MINUIT. The thing that immediately strikes one about MINUIT is
that there is no reason why any of the events in it should happen.
Everything is completely arbitrary; there is no emotional sequence. But
this is exactly what one does NOT feel with Poe's stories. Their maniacal
logic, in its own setting, is quite convincing. When, for instance, the
drunkard seizes the black cat and cuts its eye out with his penknife, one
knows exactly WHY he did it, even to the point of feeling that one would
have done the same oneself. It seems therefore that for a creative writer
possession of the 'truth' is less important than emotional sincerity.
Even Mr Upward would not claim that a writer needs nothing beyond a
Marxist training. He also needs a talent. But talent, apparently, is a
matter of being able to care, of really BELIEVING in your beliefs,
whether they are true or false. The difference between, for instance,
Céline and Evelyn Waugh is a difference of emotional intensity. It is the
difference between genuine despair and a despair that is at least partly
a pretence. And with this there goes another consideration which is
perhaps less obvious: that there are occasions when an 'untrue' belief is
more likely to be sincerely held than a 'true' one.

If one looks at the books of personal reminiscence written about the war
of 1914-18, one notices that nearly all that have remained readable after
a lapse of time are written from a passive, negative angle. They are the
records of something completely meaningless, a nightmare happening in a
void. That was not actually the truth about the war, but it was the truth
about the individual reaction. The soldier advancing into a machine-gun
barrage or standing waist-deep in a flooded trench knew only that here
was an appalling experience in which he was all but helpless. He was
likelier to make a good book out of his helplessness and his ignorance
than out of a pretended power to see the whole thing in perspective. As
for the books that were written during the war itself, the best of them
were nearly all the work of people who simply turned their backs and
tried not to notice that the war was happening. Mr E. M. Forster has
described how in 1917 he read Prufrock and other of Eliot's early poems,
and how it heartened him at such a time to get hold of poems that were
'innocent of public-spiritedness':

They sang of private disgust and diffidence, and of people who seemed
genuine because they were unattractive or weak...Here was a protest,
and a feeble one, and the more congenial for being o feeble...He who
could turn aside to complain of ladies and drawing rooms preserved a tiny
drop of our self-respect, he carried on the human heritage.

That is very well said. Mr MacNeice, in the book I have referred to
already, quotes this passage and somewhat smugly adds:

Ten years later less feeble protests were to be made by poets and the
human heritage carried on rather differently...The contemplation of a
world of fragments becomes boring and Eliot's successors are more
interested in tidying it up.

Similar remarks are scattered throughout Mr MacNeice's book. What he
wishes us to believe is that Eliot's 'successors' (meaning Mr MacNeice
and his friends) have in some way 'protested' more effectively than Eliot
did by publishing Prufrock at the moment when the Allied armies were
assaulting the Hindenburg Line. Just where these 'protests' are to be
found I do not know. But in the contrast between Mr Forster's comment and
Mr MacNeice's lies all the difference between a man who knows what the
1914-18 war was like and a man who barely remembers it. The truth is that
in 1917 there was nothing that a thinking and a sensitive person could
do, except to remain human, if possible. And a gesture of helplessness,
even of frivolity, might be the best way of doing that. If I had been a
soldier fighting in the Great War, I would sooner have got hold of
Prufrock than THE FIRST HUNDRED THOUSAND or Horatio Bottomley's LETTERS
TO THE BOYS IN THE TRENCHES. I should have felt, like Mr Forster, that by
simply standing aloof and keeping touch with pre-war emotions, Eliot was
carrying on the human heritage. What a relief it would have been at such
a time, to read about the hesitations of a middle-aged highbrow with a
bald spot! So different from bayonet-drill! After the bombs and the
food-queues and the recruiting-posters, a human voice! What a relief!

But, after all, the war of 1914-18 was only a heightened moment in an
almost continuous crisis. At this date it hardly even needs a war to
bring home to us the disintegration of our society and the increasing
helplessness of all, decent people. It is for this reason that I think
that the passive, non-co-operative attitude implied in Henry Miller's
work is justified. Whether or not it is an expression of what people
OUGHT to feel, it probably comes somewhere near to expressing what they
DO feel. Once again it is the human voice among the bomb-explosions, a
friendly American voice, 'innocent of public-spiritedness'. No sermons,
merely the subjective truth. And along those lines, apparently, it is
still possible for a good novel to be written. Not necessarily an
edifying novel, but a novel worth reading and likely to be remembered
after it is read.

While I have been writing this essay another European war has broken out.
It will either last several years and tear Western civilization to
pieces, or it will end inconclusively and prepare the way for yet another
war which will do the job once and for all. But war is only 'peace
intensified'. What is quite obviously happening, war or no war, is the
break-up of LAISSEZ-FAIRE capitalism and of the liberal-Christian
culture. Until recently the full implications of this were not foreseen,
because it was generally imagined that socialism could preserve and even
enlarge the atmosphere of liberalism. It is now beginning to be realized
how false this idea was. Almost certainly we are moving into an age of
totalitarian dictatorships--an age in which freedom of thought will be
at first a deadly sin and later on a meaningless abstraction. The
autonomous individual is going to be stamped out of existence. But this
means that literature, in the form in which we know it, must suffer at
least a temporary death. The literature of liberalism is coming to an end
and the literature of totalitarianism has not yet appeared and is barely
imaginable. As for the writer, he is sitting on a melting iceberg; he is
merely an anachronism, a hangover from the bourgeois age, as surely
doomed as the hippopotamus. Miller seems to me a man out of the common
because he saw and proclaimed this fact a long while before most of his
contemporaries--at a time, indeed, when many of them were actually
burbling about a renaissance of literature. Wyndham Lewis had said years
earlier that the major history of the English language was finished, but
he was basing this on different and rather trivial reasons. But from now
onwards the all-important fact for the creative writers going to be that
this is not a writer's world. That does not mean that he cannot help to
bring the new society into being, but he can take no part in the process
AS A WRITER. For AS A WRITER he is a liberal, and what is happening is
the destruction of liberalism. It seems likely, therefore, that in the
remaining years of free speech any novel worth reading will follow more
or less along the lines that Miller has followed--I do not mean in
technique or subject matter, but in implied outlook. The passive attitude
will come back, and it will be more consciously passive than before.
Progress and reaction have both turned out to be swindles. Seemingly
there is nothing left but quietism--robbing reality of its terrors by
simply submitting to it. Get inside the whale--or rather, admit you are
inside the whale (for you ARE, of course). Give yourself over to the
world-process, stop fighting against it or pretending that you control
it; simply accept it, endure it, record it. That seems to be the formula,
that any sensitive novelist is now likely to adopt. A novel on more
positive, 'constructive' lines, and not emotionally spurious, is at
present very difficult to imagine.

But do I mean by this that Miller is a 'great author', a new hope for
English prose? Nothing of the kind. Miller himself would be the last to
claim or want any such thing. No doubt he will go on writing--anybody
who has ones started always goes on writing--and associated with him
there are a number of writers of approximately the same tendency,
Lawrence Durrell, Michael Fraenkel and others, almost amounting to a
'school'. But he himself seems to me essentially a man of one book.
Sooner or later I should expect him to descend into unintelligibility, or
into charlatanism: there are signs of both in his later work. His last
book, TROPIC OF CAPRICORN, I have not even read. This was not because I
did not want to read it, but because the police and Customs authorities
have so far managed to prevent me from getting hold of it. But it would
surprise me if it came anywhere near TROPIC OF CANCER or the opening
chapters of BLACK SPRING. Like certain other autobiographical novelists,
he had it in him to do just one thing perfectly, and he did it.
Considering what the fiction of the nineteen-thirties has been like, that
is something.

Miller's books are published by the Obelisk Press in Paris. What will
happen to the Obelisk Press, now that war has broken out and Jack
Kathane, the publisher, is dead, I do not know, but at any rate the books
are still procurable. I earnestly counsel anyone who has not done so to
read at least TROPIC OF CANCER. With a little ingenuity, or by paying a
little over the published price, you can get hold of it, and even if
parts of it disgust you, it will stick in your memory. It is also an
'important' book, in a sense different from the sense in which that word
is generally used. As a rule novels are spoken of as 'important' when
they are either a 'terrible indictment' of something or other or when
they introduce some technical innovation. Neither of these applies to
TROPIC OF CANCER. Its importance is merely symptomatic. Here in my
opinion is the only imaginative prose-writer of the slightest value who
has appeared among the English-speaking races for some years past. Even
if that is objected to as an overstatement, it will probably be admitted
that Miller is a writer out of the ordinary, worth more than a single
glance; and after all, he is a completely negative, unconstructive,
amoral writer, a mere Jonah, a passive acceptor of evil, a sort of
Whitman among the corpses. Symptomatically, that is more significant than
the mere fact that five thousand novels are published in England every
year and four thousand nine hundred of them are tripe. It is a
demonstration of the impossibility of any major literature until the
world has shaken itself into its new shape.



THE ART OF DONALD MCGILL (1941)


Who does not know the 'comics' of the cheap stationers' windows, the
penny or twopenny coloured post cards with their endless succession of
fat women in tight bathing-dresses and their crude drawing and unbearable
colours, chiefly hedge-sparrow's-egg tint and Post Office red?

This question ought to be rhetorical, but it is curious fact that many
people seem to be unaware of the existence of these things, or else to
have a vague notion that they are something to be found only at the
seaside, like nigger minstrels or peppermint rock. Actually they are on
sale everywhere--they can be bought at nearly any Woolworth's, for
example--and they are evidently produced in enormous numbers, new series
constantly appearing. They are not to be confused with the various other
types of comic illustrated post card, such as the sentimental ones
dealing with puppies and kittens or the Wendyish, sub-pornographic ones
which exploit the love affairs of children. They are a genre of their
own, specializing in very 'low' humour, the mother-in-law, baby's-nappy,
policemen's-boot type of joke, and distinguishable from all the other
kinds by having no artistic pretensions. Some half-dozen publishing
houses issue them, though the people who draw them seem not to be
numerous at any one time.

I have associated them especially with the name of Donald McGill because
he is not only the most prolific and by far the best of contemporary post
card artists, but also the most representative, the most perfect in the
tradition. Who Donald McGill is, I do not know. He is apparently a trade
name, for at least one series of post cards is issued simply as 'The
Donald McGill Comics', but he is also unquestionable a real person with a
style of drawing which is recognizable at a glance. Anyone who examines
his post cards in bulk will notice that many of them are not despicable
even as drawings, but it would be mere dilettantism to pretend that they
have any direct aesthetic value. A comic post card is simply an
illustration to a joke, invariably a 'low' joke, and it stands or falls
by its ability to raise a laugh. Beyond that it has only 'ideological'
interest. McGill is a clever draughtsman with a real caricaturist's touch
in the drawing of faces, but the special value of his post cards is that
they are so completely typical. They represent, as it were, the norm of
the comic post card. Without being in the least imitative, they are
exactly what comic post cards have been any time these last forty years,
and from them the meaning and purpose of the whole genre can be inferred.

Get hold of a dozen of these things, preferably McGill's--if you pick
out from a pile the ones that seem to you funniest, you will probably
find that most of them are McGill's--and spread them out on a table.
What do you see?

Your first impression is of overpowering vulgarity. This is quite apart
from the ever-present obscenity, and apart also from the hideousness of
the colours. They have an utter low-ness of mental atmosphere which comes
out not only in the nature of the jokes but, even more, in the grotesque,
staring, blatant quality of the drawings. The designs, like those of a
child, are full of heavy lines and empty spaces, and all the figures in
them, every gesture and attitude, are deliberately ugly, the faces
grinning and vacuous, the women monstrously parodied, with bottoms like
Hottentots. Your second impression, however, is of indefinable
familiarity. What do these things remind you of? What are they so like?
In the first place, of course, they remind you of the barely different
post cards which you probably gazed at in your childhood. But more than
this, what you are really looking at is something as traditional as Greek
tragedy, a sort of sub-world of smacked bottoms and scrawny
mothers-in-law which is a part of Western European consciousness. Not
that the jokes, taken one by one, are necessarily stale. Not being
debarred from smuttiness, comic post cards repeat themselves less often
than the joke columns in reputable magazines, but their basic
subject-matter, the KIND of joke they are aiming at, never varies. A few
are genuinely witty, in a Max Millerish style. Examples:

'I like seeing experienced girls home.'

'But I'm not experienced!'

'You're not home yet!'

'I've been struggling for years to get a fur coat. How did you get yours?'

'I left off struggling.'

JUDGE: 'You are prevaricating, sir. Did you or did you not sleep with
this woman?'

Co--respondent: 'Not a wink, my lord!'

In general, however, they are not witty, but humorous, and it must be
said for McGill's post cards, in particular, that the drawing is often a
good deal funnier than the joke beneath it. Obviously the outstanding
characteristic of comic cards is their obscenity, and I must discuss that
more fully later. But I give here a rough analysis of their habitual
subject-matter, with such explanatory remarks as seem to be needed:

SEX.--More than half, perhaps three-quarters, of the jokes are sex
jokes, ranging from the harmless to the all but unprintable. First
favourite is probably the illegitimate baby. Typical captions: 'Could you
exchange this lucky charm for a baby's feeding-bottle?' 'She didn't ask
me to the christening, so I'm not going to the wedding.' Also newlyweds,
old maids, nude statues and women in bathing-dresses. All of these are
IPSO FACTO funny, mere mention of them being enough to raise a laugh. The
cuckoldry joke is seldom exploited, and there are no references to
homosexuality.

Conventions of the sex joke:

(i) Marriage only benefits women. Every man is plotting seduction and
every woman is plotting marriage. No woman ever remained unmarried
voluntarily.

(ii) Sex-appeal vanishes at about the age of twenty-five. Well-preserved
and good-looking people beyond their first youth are never represented.
The amorous honeymooning couple reappear as the grim-visaged wife and
shapeless, moustachioed, red-nosed husband, no intermediate stage being
allowed for.

HOME LIFE--Next to sex, the henpecked husband is the favourite joke.
Typical caption: 'Did they get an X-ray of your wife's jaw at the
hospital?'--'No, they got a moving picture instead.'

Conventions:

(i) There is no such thing as a happy marriage.

(ii) No man ever gets the better of a woman in argument.
Drunkenness--Both drunkenness and teetotalism are ipso facto funny.

Conventions:

(i) All drunken men have optical illusions.

(ii) Drunkenness is something peculiar to middle-aged men. Drunken youths
or women are never represented.

W.C. JOKES--There is not a large number of these. Chamber pots are ipso
facto funny, and so are public lavatories. A typical post card captioned
'A Friend in Need', shows a man's hat blown off his head and disappearing
down the steps of a ladies' lavatory.

INTER-WORKING-CLASS SNOBBERY--Much in these post cards suggests that
they are aimed at the better-off working class and poorer middle class.
There are many jokes turning on malapropisms, illiteracy, dropped aitches
and the rough manners of slum dwellers. Countless post cards show
draggled hags of the stage-charwoman type exchanging 'unladylike' abuse.
Typical repartee: 'I wish you were a statue and I was a pigeon!' A
certain number produced since the war treat evacuation from the
anti-evacuee angle. There are the usual jokes about tramps, beggars and
criminals, and the comic maidservant appears fairly frequently. Also the
comic navvy, bargee, etc.; but there are no anti-Trade-Union jokes.
Broadly speaking, everyone with much over or much under £5 a week is
regarded as laughable. The 'swell' is almost as automatically a figure of
fun as the slum-dweller.

STOCK FIGURES--Foreigners seldom or never appear. The chief locality
joke is the Scotsman, who is almost inexhaustible. The lawyer is always a
swindler, the clergyman always a nervous idiot who says the wrong thing.
The 'knut' or 'masher' still appears, almost as in Edwardian days, in
out-of-date looking evening-clothes and an opera hat, or even spats and a
knobby cane. Another survival is the Suffragette, one of the big jokes of
the pre-1914 period and too valuable to be relinquished. She has
reappeared, unchanged in physical appearance, as the Feminist lecturer or
Temperance fanatic. A feature of the last few years is the complete
absence of anti-Jew post cards. The 'Jew joke', always somewhat more
ill-natured than the 'Scotch joke', disappeared abruptly soon after the
rise of Hitler.

POLITICS--Any contemporary event, cult or activity which has comic
possibilities (for example, 'free love', feminism, A.R.P., nudism)
rapidly finds its way into the picture post cards, but their general
atmosphere is extremely old-fashioned. The implied political outlook is a
Radicalism appropriate to about the year 1900. At normal times they are
not only not patriotic, but go in for a mild guying of patriotism, with
jokes about 'God save the King', the Union Jack, etc. The European
situation only began to reflect itself in them at some time in 1939, and
first did so through the comic aspects of A.R.P. Even at this date few
post cards mention the war except in A.R.P. jokes (fat woman stuck in the
mouth of Anderson shelter: wardens neglecting their duty while young
woman undresses at window she has forgotten to black out, etc., etc.) A
few express anti-Hitler sentiments of a not very vindictive kind. One,
not McGill's, shows Hitler with the usual hypertrophied backside, bending
down to pick a flower. Caption; 'What would you do, chums?' This is about
as high a flight of patriotism as any post card is likely to attain.
Unlike the twopenny weekly papers, comic post cards are not the product
of any great monopoly company, and evidently they are not regarded as
having any importance in forming public opinion. There is no sign in them
of any attempt to induce an outlook acceptable to the ruling class.


Here one comes back to the outstanding, all-important feature of comic
post cards--their obscenity. It is by this that everyone remembers them,
and it is also central to their purpose, though not in a way that is
immediately obvious.

A recurrent, almost dominant motif in comic post cards is the woman with
the stuck-out behind. In perhaps half of them, or more than half, even
when the point of the joke has nothing to do with sex, the same female
figure appears, a plump 'voluptuous' figure with the dress clinging to it
as tightly as another skin and with breasts or buttocks grossly
over-emphasized according to which way it is turned. There can be no
doubt that these pictures lift the lid off a very widespread repression,
natural enough in a country whose women when young tend to be slim to the
point of skimpiness. But at the same time the McGill post card--and this
applies to all other post cards in this genre--is not intended as
pornography but, a subtler thing, as a skit on pornography. The Hottentot
figures of the women are caricatures of the Englishman's secret ideal,
not portraits of it. When one examines McGill's post cards more closely,
one notices that his brand of humour only has a meaning in relation to a
fairly strict moral code. Whereas in papers like ESQUIRE, for instance,
or LA VIE PARISIENNE, the imaginary background of the jokes is always
promiscuity, the utter breakdown of all standards, the background of the
McGill post card is marriage. The four leading jokes are nakedness,
illegitimate babies, old maids and newly married couples, none of which
would seem funny in a really dissolute or even 'sophisticated' society.
The post cards dealing with honeymoon couples always have the
enthusiastic indecency of those village weddings where it is still
considered screamingly funny to sew bells to the bridal bed. In one, for
example, a young bridegroom is shown getting out of bed the morning after
his wedding night. 'The first morning in our own little home, darling!'
he is saying; 'I'll go and get the milk and paper and bring you up a cup
of tea.' Inset is a picture of the front doorstep; on it are four
newspapers and four bottles of milk. This is obscene, if you like, but it
is not immoral. Its implication--and this is just the implication the
ESQUIRE or the NEW YORKER would avoid at all costs--is that marriage is
something profoundly exciting and important, the biggest event in the
average human being's life.

So also with jokes about nagging wives and tyrannous mothers-in-law. They
do at least imply a stable society in which marriage is indissoluble and
family loyalty taken for granted. And bound up with this is something I
noted earlier, the fact there are no pictures, or hardly any, of
good-looking people beyond their first youth. There is the 'spooning'
couple and the middle-aged, cat-and-dog couple, but nothing in between.
The liaison, the illicit but more or less decorous love-affair which used
to be the stock joke of French comic papers, is not a post card subject.
And this reflects, on a comic level, the working-class outlook which
takes it as a matter of course that youth and adventure--almost, indeed,
individual life--end with marriage. One of the few authentic
class-differences, as opposed to class-distinctions, still existing in
England is that the working classes age very much earlier. They do not
live less long, provided that they survive their childhood, nor do they
lose their physical activity earlier, but they do lose very early their
youthful appearance. This fact is observable everywhere, but can be most
easily verified by watching one of the higher age groups registering for
military service; the middle--and upper-class members look, on average,
ten years younger than the others. It is usual to attribute this to the
harder lives that the working classes have to live, but it is doubtful
whether any such difference now exists as would account for it. More
probably the truth is that the working classes reach middle age earlier
because they accept it earlier. For to look young after, say, thirty is
largely a matter of wanting to do so. This generalization is less true of
the better-paid workers, especially those who live in council houses and
labour-saving flats, but it is true enough even of them to point to a
difference of outlook. And in this, as usual, they are more traditional,
more in accord with the Christian past than the well-to-do women who try
to stay young at forty by means of physical-jerks, cosmetics and
avoidance of child-bearing. The impulse to cling to youth at all costs,
to attempt to preserve your sexual attraction, to see even in middle age
a future for yourself and not merely for your children, is a thing of
recent growth and has only precariously established itself. It will
probably disappear again when our standard of living drops and our
birth-rate rises. 'Youth's a stuff will not endure' expresses the normal,
traditional attitude. It is this ancient wisdom that McGill and his
colleagues are reflecting, no doubt unconsciously, when they allow for no
transition stage between the honeymoon couple and those glamourless
figures, Mum and Dad.

I have said that at least half of McGill's post cards are sex jokes, and
a proportion, perhaps ten per cent, are far more obscene than anything
else that is now printed in England. Newsagents are occasionally
prosecuted for selling them, and there would be many more prosecutions if
the broadest jokes were not invariably protected by double meanings. A
single example will be enough to show how this is done. In one post card,
captioned 'They didn't believe her', a young woman is demonstrating, with
her hands held apart, something about two feet long to a couple of
open-mouthed acquaintances. Behind her on the wall is a stuffed fish in a
glass case, and beside that is a photograph of a nearly naked athlete.
Obviously it is not the fish that she is referring to, but this could
never be proved. Now, it is doubtful whether there is any paper in
England that would print a joke of this kind, and certainly there is no
paper that does so habitually. There is an immense amount of pornography
of a mild sort, countless illustrated papers cashing in on women's legs,
but there is no popular literature specializing in the 'vulgar', farcical
aspect of sex. On the other hand, jokes exactly like McGill's are the
ordinary small change of the revue and music-hall stage, and are also to
be heard on the radio, at moments when the censor happens to be nodding.
In England the gap between what can be said and what can be printed is
rather exceptionally wide. Remarks and gestures which hardly anyone
objects to on the stage would raise a public outcry if any attempt were
made to reproduce them on paper. (Compare Max Miller's stage patter with
his weekly column in the SUNDAY DISPATCH) The comic post cards are the
only existing exception to this rule, the only medium in which really
'low' humour is considered to be printable. Only in post cards and on the
variety stage can the stuck-out behind, dog and lamp-post, baby's nappy
type of joke be freely exploited. Remembering that, one sees what
function these post cards, in their humble way, are performing.

What they are doing is to give expression to the Sancho Panza view of
life, the attitude to life that Miss Rebecca West once summed up as
'extracting as much fun as possible from smacking behinds in basement
kitchens'. The Don Quixote-Sancho Panza combination, which of course is
simply the ancient dualism of body and soul in fiction form, recurs more
frequently in the literature of the last four hundred years than can be
explained by mere imitation. It comes up again and again, in endless
variations, Bouvard and Pécuchet, Jeeves and Wooster, Bloom and Dedalus,
Holmes and Watson (the Holmes-Watson variant is an exceptionally subtle
one, because the usual physical characteristics of two partners have been
transposed). Evidently it corresponds to something enduring in our
civilization, not in the sense that either character is to be found in a
'pure' state in real life, but in the sense that the two principles,
noble folly and base wisdom, exist side by side in nearly every human
being. If you look into your own mind, which are you, Don Quixote or
Sancho Panza? Almost certainly you are both. There is one part of you
that wishes to be a hero or a saint, but another part of you is a little
fat man who sees very clearly the advantages of staying alive with a
whole skin. He is your unofficial self, the voice of the belly protesting
against the soul. His tastes lie towards safety, soft beds, no work, pots
of beer and women with 'voluptuous' figures. He it is who punctures your
fine attitudes and urges you to look after Number One, to be unfaithful
to your wife, to bilk your debts, and so on and so forth. Whether you
allow yourself to be influenced by him is a different question. But it is
simply a lie to say that he is not part of you, just as it is a lie to
say that Don Quixote is not part of you either, though most of what is
said and written consists of one lie or the other, usually the first.

But though in varying forms he is one of the stock figures of literature,
in real life, especially in the way society is ordered, his point of view
never gets a fair hearing. There is a constant world-wide conspiracy to
pretend that he is not there, or at least that he doesn't matter. Codes
of law and morals, or religious systems, never have much room in them for
a humorous view of life. Whatever is funny is subversive, every joke is
ultimately a custard pie, and the reason why so large a proportion of
jokes centre round obscenity is simply that all societies, as the price
of survival, have to insist on a fairly high standard of sexual morality.
A dirty joke is not, of course, a serious attack upon morality, but it is
a sort of mental rebellion, a momentary wish that things were otherwise.
So also with all other jokes, which always centre round cowardice,
laziness, dishonesty or some other quality which society cannot afford to
encourage. Society has always to demand a little more from human beings
than it will get in practice. It has to demand faultless discipline and
self-sacrifice, it must expect its subjects to work hard, pay their
taxes, and be faithful to their wives, it must assume that men think it
glorious to die on the battlefield and women want wear themselves out
with child-bearing. The whole of what one may call official literature is
founded on such assumptions. I never read the proclamations of generals
before battle, the speeches of Führers and prime ministers, the
solidarity songs of public schools and left-wing political parties,
national anthems, Temperance tracts, papal encyclicals and sermons
against gambling and contraception, without seeming to hear in the
background a chorus of raspberries from all the millions of common men to
whom these high sentiments make no appeal. Nevertheless the high
sentiments always win in the end, leaders who offer blood, toil, tears
and sweat always get more out of their followers than those who offer
safety and a good time. When it comes to the pinch, human beings are
heroic. Women face childbed and the scrubbing brush, revolutionaries keep
their mouths shut in the torture chamber, battleships go down with their
guns still firing when their decks are awash. It is only that the other
element in man, the lazy, cowardly, debt-bilking adulterer who is inside
all of us, can never be suppressed altogether and needs a hearing
occasionally.

The comic post cards are one expression of his point of view, a humble
one, less important than the music halls, but still worthy of attention.
In a society which is still basically Christian they naturally
concentrate on sex jokes; in a totalitarian society, if they had any
freedom of expression at all, they would probably concentrate on laziness
or cowardice, but at any rate on the unheroic in one form or another. It
will not do to condemn them on the ground that they are vulgar and ugly.
That is exactly what they are meant to be. Their whole meaning and virtue
is in their unredeemed low-ness, not only in the sense of obscenity, but
lowness of outlook in every direction whatever. The slightest hint of
'higher' influences would ruin them utterly. They stand for the
worm's-eye view of life, for the music-hall world where marriage is a
dirty joke or a comic disaster, where the rent is always behind and the
clothes are always up the spout, where the lawyer is always a crook and
the Scotsman always a miser, where the newly-weds make fools of
themselves on the hideous beds of seaside lodging-houses and the drunken,
red-nosed husbands roll home at four in the morning to meet the
linen-nightgowned wives who wait for them behind the front door, poker in
hand. Their existence, the fact that people want them, is symptomatically
important. Like the music halls, they are a sort of saturnalia, a
harmless rebellion against virtue. They express only one tendency in the
human mind, but a tendency which is always there and will find its own
outlet, like water. On the whole, human beings want to be good, but not
too good, and not quite all the time. For:

there is a just man that perished in his righteousness, and there is a
wicked man that prolongeth his life in his wickedness. Be not righteous
overmuch; neither make thyself over wise; why shouldst thou destroy
thyself? Be not overmuch wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldst
thou die before thy time?

In the past the mood of the comic post card could enter into the central
stream of literature, and jokes barely different from McGill's could
casually be uttered between the murders in Shakespeare's tragedies. That
is no longer possible, and a whole category of humour, integral to our
literature till 1800 or thereabouts, has dwindled down to these ill-drawn
post cards, leading a barely legal existence in cheap stationers'
windows. The corner of the human heart that they speak for might easily
manifest itself in worse forms, and I for one should be sorry to see them
vanish.



THE LION AND THE UNICORN: SOCIALISM AND THE ENGLISH GENIUS (1941)

Part I

England Your England

i.

As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to
kill me.

They do not feel any enmity against me as an individual, nor I against
them. They are 'only doing their duty', as the saying goes. Most of them,
I have no doubt, are kind-hearted law-abiding men who would never dream
of committing murder in private life. On the other hand, if one of them
succeeds in blowing me to pieces with a well-placed bomb, he will never
sleep any the worse for it. He is serving his country, which has the
power to absolve him from evil.

One cannot see the modern world as it is unless one recognizes the
overwhelming strength of patriotism, national loyalty. In certain
circumstances it can break down, at certain levels of civilization it
does not exist, but as a POSITIVE force there is nothing to set beside
it. Christianity and international Socialism are as weak as straw in
comparison with it. Hitler and Mussolini rose to power in their own
countries very largely because they could grasp this fact and their
opponents could not.

Also, one must admit that the divisions between nation and nation are
founded on real differences of outlook. Till recently it was thought
proper to pretend that all human beings are very much alike, but in fact
anyone able to use his eyes knows that the average of human behaviour
differs enormously from country to country. Things that could happen in
one country could not happen in another. Hitler's June purge, for
instance, could not have happened in England. And, as western peoples go,
the English are very highly differentiated. There is a sort of
back-handed admission of this in the dislike which nearly all foreigners
feel for our national way of life. Few Europeans can endure living in
England, and even Americans often feel more at home in Europe.

When you come back to England from any foreign country, you have
immediately the sensation of breathing a different air. Even in the first
few minutes dozens of small things conspire to give you this feeling. The
beer is bitterer, the coins are heavier, the grass is greener, the
advertisements are more blatant. The crowds in the big towns, with their
mild knobby faces, their bad teeth and gentle manners, are different from
a European crowd. Then the vastness of England swallows you up, and you
lose for a while your feeling that the whole nation has a single
identifiable character. Are there really such things as nations? Are we
not forty-six million individuals, all different? And the diversity of
it, the chaos! The clatter of clogs in the Lancashire mill towns, the
to-and-fro of the lorries on the Great North Road, the queues outside the
Labour Exchanges, the rattle of pin-tables in the Soho pubs, the old
maids hiking to Holy Communion through the mists of the autumn
morning--all these are not only fragments, but CHARACTERISTIC fragments,
of the English scene. How can one make a pattern out of this muddle?

But talk to foreigners, read foreign books or newspapers, and you are
brought back to the same thought. Yes, there is something distinctive and
recognizable in English civilization. It is a culture as individual as
that of Spain. It is somehow bound up with solid breakfasts and gloomy
Sundays, smoky towns and winding roads, green fields and red
pillar-boxes. It has a flavour of its own. Moreover it is continuous, it
stretches into the future and the past, there is something in it that
persists, as in a living creature. What can the England of 1940 have in
common with the England of 1840? But then, what have you in common with
the child of five whose photograph your mother keeps on the mantelpiece?
Nothing, except that you happen to be the same person.

And above all, it is YOUR civilization, it is you. However much you hate
it or laugh at it, you will never be happy away from it for any length of
time. The suet puddings and the red pillar-boxes have entered into your
soul. Good or evil, it is yours, you belong to it, and this side the
grave you will never get away from the marks that it has given you.

Meanwhile England, together with the rest of the world, is changing. And
like everything else it can change only in certain directions, which up
to a point can be foreseen. That is not to say that the future is fixed,
merely that certain alternatives are possible and others not. A seed may
grow or not grow, but at any rate a turnip seed never grows into a
parsnip. It is therefore of the deepest importance to try and determine
what England IS, before guessing what part England CAN PLAY in the huge
events that are happening.

ii.

National characteristics are not easy to pin down, and when pinned down
they often turn out to be trivialities or seem to have no connexion with
one another. Spaniards are cruel to animals, Italians can do nothing
without making a deafening noise, the Chinese are addicted to gambling.
Obviously such things don't matter in themselves. Nevertheless, nothing
is causeless, and even the fact that Englishmen have bad teeth can tell
something about the realities of English life.

Here are a couple of generalizations about England that would be accepted
by almost all observers. One is that the English are not gifted
artistically. They are not as musical as the Germans or Italians,
painting and sculpture have never flourished in England as they have in
France. Another is that, as Europeans go, the English are not
intellectual. They have a horror of abstract thought, they feel no need
for any philosophy or systematic 'world-view'. Nor is this because they
are 'practical', as they are so fond of claiming for themselves. One has
only to look at their methods of town planning and water supply, their
obstinate clinging to everything that is out of date and a nuisance, a
spelling system that defies analysis, and a system of weights and
measures that is intelligible only to the compilers of arithmetic books,
to see how little they care about mere efficiency. But they have a
certain power of acting without taking thought. Their world-famed
hypocrisy--their double-faced attitude towards the Empire, for
instance--is bound up with this. Also, in moments of supreme crisis the
whole nation can suddenly draw together and act upon a species of
instinct, really a code of conduct which is understood by almost
everyone, though never formulated. The phrase that Hitler coined for the
Germans, 'a sleep-walking people', would have been better applied to the
English. Not that there is anything to be proud of in being called a
sleep-walker.

But here it is worth noting a minor English trait which is extremely well
marked though not often commented on, and that is a love of flowers. This
is one of the first things that one notices when one reaches England from
abroad, especially if one is coming from southern Europe. Does it not
contradict the English indifference to the arts? Not really, because it
is found in people who have no aesthetic feelings whatever. What it does
link up with, however, is another English characteristic which is so much
a part of us that we barely notice it, and that is the addiction to
hobbies and spare-time occupations, the PRIVATENESS of English life. We
are a nation of flower-lovers, but also a nation of stamp-collectors,
pigeon-fanciers, amateur carpenters, coupon-snippers, darts-players,
crossword-puzzle fans. All the culture that is most truly native centres
round things which even when they are communal are not official--the
pub, the football match, the back garden, the fireside and the 'nice cup
of tea'. The liberty of the individual is still believed in, almost as in
the nineteenth century. But this has nothing to do with economic liberty,
the right to exploit others for profit. It is the liberty to have a home
of your own, to do what you like in your spare time, to choose your own
amusements instead of having them chosen for you from above. The most
hateful of all names in an English ear is Nosey Parker. It is obvious, of
course, that even this purely private liberty is a lost cause. Like all
other modern people, the English are in process of being numbered,
labelled, conscripted, 'co-ordinated'. But the pull of their impulses is
in the other direction, and the kind of regimentation that can be imposed
on them will be modified in consequence. No party rallies, no Youth
Movements, no coloured shirts, no Jew-baiting or 'spontaneous'
demonstrations. No Gestapo either, in all probability.

But in all societies the common people must live to some extent AGAINST
the existing order. The genuinely popular culture of England is something
that goes on beneath the surface, unofficially and more or less frowned
on by the authorities. One thing one notices if one looks directly at the
common people, especially in the big towns, is that they are not
puritanical. They are inveterate gamblers, drink as much beer as their
wages will permit, are devoted to bawdy jokes, and use probably the
foulest language in the world. They have to satisfy these tastes in the
face of astonishing, hypocritical laws (licensing laws, lottery acts,
etc. etc.) which are designed to interfere with everybody but in practice
allow everything to happen. Also, the common people are without definite
religious belief, and have been so for centuries. The Anglican Church
never had a real hold on them, it was simply a preserve of the landed
gentry, and the Nonconformist sects only influenced minorities. And yet
they have retained a deep tinge of Christian feeling, while almost
forgetting the name of Christ. The power-worship which is the new
religion of Europe, and which has infected the English intelligentsia,
has never touched the common people. They have never caught up with power
politics. The 'realism' which is preached in Japanese and Italian
newspapers would horrify them. One can learn a good deal about the spirit
of England from the comic coloured postcards that you see in the windows
of cheap stationers' shops. These things are a sort of diary upon which
the English people have unconsciously recorded themselves. Their
old-fashioned outlook, their graded snobberies, their mixture of
bawdiness and hypocrisy, their extreme gentleness, their deeply moral
attitude to life, are all mirrored there.

The gentleness of the English civilization is perhaps its most marked
characteristic. You notice it the instant you set foot on English soil.
It is a land where the bus conductors are good-tempered and the policemen
carry no revolvers. In no country inhabited by white men is it easier to
shove people off the pavement. And with this goes something that is
always written off by European observers as 'decadence' or hypocrisy, the
English hatred of war and militarism. It is rooted deep in history, and
it is strong in the lower-middle class as well as the working class.
Successive wars have shaken it but not destroyed it. Well within living
memory it was common for 'the redcoats' to be booed at in the streets and
for the landlords of respectable public houses to refuse to allow
soldiers on the premises. In peace time, even when there are two million
unemployed, it is difficult to fill the ranks of the tiny standing army,
which is officered by the country gentry and a specialized stratum of the
middle class, and manned by farm labourers and slum proletarians. The
mass of the people are without military knowledge or tradition, and their
attitude towards war is invariably defensive. No politician could rise to
power by promising them conquests or military 'glory', no Hymn of Hate
has ever made any appeal to them. In the last war the songs which the
soldiers made up and sang of their own accord were not vengeful but
humorous and mock-defeatist [Note, below]. The only enemy they ever named
was the sergeant-major.

[Note: For example:

'I don't want to join the bloody Army,
I don't want to go unto the war;
I want no more to roam,
I'd rather stay at home,
Living on the earnings of a whore.

But it was not in that spirit that they fought. (Author's footnote.)]

In England all the boasting and flag-wagging, the 'Rule Britannia' stuff,
is done by small minorities. The patriotism of the common people is not
vocal or even conscious. They do not retain among their historical
memories the name of a single military victory. English literature, like
other literatures, is full of battle-poems, but it is worth noticing that
the ones that have won for themselves a kind of popularity are always a
tale of disasters and retreats. There is no popular poem about Trafalgar
or Waterloo, for instance. Sir John Moore's army at Corunna, fighting a
desperate rearguard action before escaping overseas (just like Dunkirk!)
has more appeal than a brilliant victory. The most stirring battle-poem
in English is about a brigade of cavalry which charged in the wrong
direction. And of the last war, the four names which have really engraved
themselves on the popular memory are Mons, Ypres, Gallipoli and
Passchendaele, every time a disaster. The names of the great battles that
finally broke the German armies are simply unknown to the general public.

The reason why the English anti-militarism disgusts foreign observers is
that it ignores the existence of the British Empire. It looks like sheer
hypocrisy. After all, the English have absorbed a quarter of the earth
and held on to it by means of a huge navy. How dare they then turn round
and say that war is wicked?

It is quite true that the English are hypocritical about their Empire. In
the working class this hypocrisy takes the form of not knowing that the
Empire exists. But their dislike of standing armies is a perfectly sound
instinct. A navy employs comparatively few people, and it is an external
weapon which cannot affect home politics directly. Military dictatorships
exist everywhere, but there is no such thing as a naval dictatorship.
What English people of nearly all classes loathe from the bottom of their
hearts is the swaggering officer type, the jingle of spurs and the crash
of boots. Decades before Hitler was ever heard of, the word 'Prussian'
had much the same significance in England as 'Nazi' has today. So deep
does this feeling go that for a hundred years past the officers of the
British army, in peace time, have always worn civilian clothes when off
duty.

One rapid but fairly sure guide to the social atmosphere of a country is
the parade-step of its army. A military parade is really a kind of ritual
dance, something like a ballet, expressing a certain philosophy of life.
The goose-step, for instance, is one of the most horrible sights in the
world, far more terrifying than a dive-bomber. It is simply an
affirmation of naked power; contained in it, quite consciously and
intentionally, is the vision of a boot crashing down on a face. Its
ugliness is part of its essence, for what it is saying is 'Yes, I am
UGLY, and you daren't laugh at me', like the bully who makes faces at his
victim. Why is the goose-step not used in England? There are, heaven
knows, plenty of army officers who would be only too glad to introduce
some such thing. It is not used because the people in the street would
laugh. Beyond a certain point, military display is only possible in
countries where the common people dare not laugh at the army. The
Italians adopted the goose-step at about the time when Italy passed
definitely under German control, and, as one would expect, they do it
less well than the Germans. The Vichy government, if it survives, is
bound to introduce a stiffer parade-ground discipline into what is left
of the French army. In the British army the drill is rigid and
complicated, full of memories of the eighteenth century, but without
definite swagger; the march is merely a formalized walk. It belongs to a
society which is ruled by the sword, no doubt, but a sword which must
never be taken out of the scabbard.

And yet the gentleness of English civilization is mixed up with
barbarities and anachronisms. Our criminal law is as out-of-date as the
muskets in the Tower. Over against the Nazi Storm Trooper you have got to
set that typically English figure, the hanging judge, some gouty old
bully with his mind rooted in the nineteenth century, handing out savage
sentences. In England people are still hanged by the neck and flogged
with the cat o' nine tails. Both of these punishments are obscene as well
as cruel, but there has never been any genuinely popular outcry against
them. People accept them (and Dartmoor, and Borstal) almost as they
accept the weather. They are part of 'the law', which is assumed to be
unalterable.

Here one comes upon an all-important English trait: the respect for
constitutionalism and legality, the belief in 'the law' as something
above the State and above the individual, something which is cruel and
stupid, of course, but at any rate INCORRUPTIBLE.

It is not that anyone imagines the law to be just. Everyone knows that
there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. But no one
accepts the implications of this, everyone takes it for granted that the
law, such as it is, will be respected, and feels a sense of outrage when
it is not. Remarks like 'They can't run me in; I haven't done anything
wrong', or 'They can't do that; it's against the law', are part of the
atmosphere of England. The professed enemies of society have this feeling
as strongly as anyone else. One sees it in prison-books like Wilfred
Macartney's WALLS HAVE MOUTHS or Jim Phelan's JAIL JOURNEY, in the solemn
idiocies that take place at the trials of conscientious objectors, in
letters to the papers from eminent Marxist professors, pointing out that
this or that is a 'miscarriage of British justice'. Everyone believes in
his heart that the law can be, ought to be, and, on the whole, will be
impartially administered. The totalitarian idea that there is no such
thing as law, there is only power, has never taken root. Even the
intelligentsia have only accepted it in theory.

An illusion can become a half-truth, a mask can alter the expression of a
face. The familiar arguments to the effect that democracy is 'just the
same as' or 'just as bad as' totalitarianism never take account of this
fact. All such arguments boil down to saying that half a loaf is the same
as no bread. In England such concepts as justice, liberty and objective
truth are still believed in. They may be illusions, but they are very
powerful illusions. The belief in them influences conduct, national life
is different because of them. In proof of which, look about you. Where
are the rubber truncheons, where is the castor oil? The sword is still in
the scabbard, and while it stays there corruption cannot go beyond a
certain point. The English electoral system, for instance, is an all but
open fraud. In a dozen obvious ways it is gerrymandered in the interest
of the moneyed class. But until some deep change has occurred in the
public mind, it cannot become COMPLETELY corrupt. You do not arrive at
the polling booth to find men with revolvers telling you which way to
vote, nor are the votes miscounted, nor is there any direct bribery. Even
hypocrisy is a powerful safeguard. The hanging judge, that evil old man
in scarlet robe and horse-hair wig, whom nothing short of dynamite will
ever teach what century he is living in, but who will at any rate
interpret the law according to the books and will in no circumstances
take a money bribe, is one of the symbolic figures of England. He is a
symbol of the strange mixture of reality and illusion, democracy and
privilege, humbug and decency, the subtle network of compromises, by
which the nation keeps itself in its familiar shape.

iii.

I have spoken all the while of 'the nation', 'England', 'Britain', as
though forty-five million souls could somehow be treated as a unit. But
is not England notoriously two nations, the rich and the poor? Dare one
pretend that there is anything in common between people with £100,000 a
year and people with £1 a week? And even Welsh and Scottish readers are
likely to have been offended because I have used the word 'England'
oftener than 'Britain', as though the whole population dwelt in London
and the Home Counties and neither north nor west possessed a culture of
its own.

One gets a better view of this question if one considers the minor point
first. It is quite true that the so-called races of Britain feel
themselves to be very different from one another. A Scotsman, for
instance, does not thank you if you call him an Englishman. You can see
the hesitation we feel on this point by the fact that we call our islands
by no less than six different names, England, Britain, Great Britain, the
British Isles, the United Kingdom and, in very exalted moments, Albion.
Even the differences between north and south England loom large in our
own eyes. But somehow these differences fade away the moment that any two
Britons are confronted by a European. It is very rare to meet a
foreigner, other than an American, who can distinguish between English
and Scots or even English and Irish. To a Frenchman, the Breton and the
Auvergnat seem very different beings, and the accent of Marseilles is a
stock joke in Paris. Yet we speak of 'France' and 'the French',
recognizing France as an entity, a single civilization, which in fact it
is. So also with ourselves. Looked at from the outsider even the cockney
and the Yorkshireman have a strong family resemblance.

And even the distinction between rich and poor dwindles somewhat when one
regards the nation from the outside. There is no question about the
inequality of wealth in England. It is grosser than in any European
country, and you have only to look down the nearest street to see it.
Economically, England is certainly two nations, if not three or four. But
at the same time the vast majority of the people FEEL themselves to be a
single nation and are conscious of resembling one another more than they
resemble foreigners. Patriotism is usually stronger than class-hatred,
and always stronger than any kind of internationalism. Except for a brief
moment in 1920 (the 'Hands off Russia' movement) the British working
class have never thought or acted internationally. For two and a half
years they watched their comrades in Spain slowly strangled, and never
aided them by even a single strike [Note, below]. But when their own
country (the country of Lord Nuffield and Mr Montagu Norman) was in
danger, their attitude was very different. At the moment when it seemed
likely that England might be invaded, Anthony Eden appealed over the radio
for Local Defence Volunteers. He got a quarter of a million men in the
first twenty-four hours, and another million in the subsequent month. One
has only to compare these figures with, for instance, the number of
conscientious objectors to see how vast is the strength of traditional
loyalties compared with new ones.

[Note: It is true that they aided them to a certain extent with money.
Still, the sums raised for the various aid-Spain funds would not equal
five per cent of the turnover of the football pools during the same
period. (Author's footnote.)]

In England patriotism takes different forms in different classes, but it
runs like a connecting thread through nearly all of them. Only the
Europeanized intelligentsia are really immune to it. As a positive
emotion it is stronger in the middle class than in the upper class--the
cheap public schools, for instance, are more given to patriotic
demonstrations than the expensive ones--but the number of definitely
treacherous rich men, the Laval-Quisling type, is probably very small. In
the working class patriotism is profound, but it is unconscious. The
working man's heart does not leap when he sees a Union Jack. But the
famous 'insularity' and 'xenophobia' of the English is far stronger in
the working class than in the bourgeoisie. In all countries the poor are
more national than the rich, but the English working class are
outstanding in their abhorrence of foreign habits. Even when they are
obliged to live abroad for years they refuse either to accustom
themselves to foreign food or to learn foreign languages. Nearly every
Englishman of working-class origin considers it effeminate to pronounce a
foreign word correctly. During the war of 1914-18 the English working
class were in contact with foreigners to an extent that is rarely
possible. The sole result was that they brought back a hatred of all
Europeans, except the Germans, whose courage they admired. In four years
on French soil they did not even acquire a liking for wine. The
insularity of the English, their refusal to take foreigners seriously, is
a folly that has to be paid for very heavily from time to time. But it
plays its part in the English mystique, and the intellectuals who have
tried to break it down have generally done more harm than good. At bottom
it is the same quality in the English character that repels the tourist
and keeps out the invader.

Here one comes back to two English characteristics that I pointed out,
seemingly at random, at the beginning of the last chapter. One is the
lack of artistic ability. This is perhaps another way of saying that the
English are outside the European culture. For there is one art in which
they have shown plenty of talent, namely literature. But this is also the
only art that cannot cross frontiers. Literature, especially poetry, and
lyric poetry most of all, is a kind of family joke, with little or no
value outside its own language-group. Except for Shakespeare, the best
English poets are barely known in Europe, even as names. The only poets
who are widely read are Byron, who is admired for the wrong reasons, and
Oscar Wilde, who is pitied as a victim of English hypocrisy. And linked
up with this, though not very obviously, is the lack of philosophical
faculty, the absence in nearly all Englishmen of any need for an ordered
system of thought or even for the use of logic.

Up to a point, the sense of national unity is a substitute for a
'world-view'. Just because patriotism is all but universal and not even
the rich are uninfluenced by it, there can be moments when the whole
nation suddenly swings together and does the same thing, like a herd of
cattle facing a wolf. There was such a moment, unmistakably, at the time
of the disaster in France. After eight months of vaguely wondering what
the war was about, the people suddenly knew what they had got to do:
first, to get the army away from Dunkirk, and secondly to prevent
invasion. It was like the awakening of a giant. Quick! Danger! The
Philistines be upon thee, Samson! And then the swift unanimous
action--and, then, alas, the prompt relapse into sleep. In a divided
nation that would have been exactly the moment for a big peace movement
to arise. But does this mean that the instinct of the English will
always tell them to do the right thing? Not at all, merely that it will
tell them to do the same thing. In the 1931 General Election, for
instance, we all did the wrong thing in perfect unison. We were as
single-minded as the Gadarene swine. But I honestly doubt whether we can
say that we were shoved down the slope against our will.

It follows that British democracy is less of a fraud than it sometimes
appears. A foreign observer sees only the huge inequality of wealth, the
unfair electoral system, the governing-class control over the press, the
radio and education, and concludes that democracy is simply a polite name
for dictatorship. But this ignores the considerable agreement that does
unfortunately exist between the leaders and the led. However much one may
hate to admit it, it is almost certain that between 1931 and 1940 the
National Government represented the will of the mass of the people. It
tolerated slums, unemployment and a cowardly foreign policy. Yes, but so
did public opinion. It was a stagnant period, and its natural leaders
were mediocrities.

In spite of the campaigns of a few thousand left-wingers, it is fairly
certain that the bulk of the English people were behind Chamberlain's
foreign policy. More, it is fairly certain that the same struggle was
going on in Chamberlain's mind as in the minds of ordinary people. His
opponents professed to see in him a dark and wily schemer, plotting to
sell England to Hitler, but it is far likelier that he was merely a
stupid old man doing his best according to his very dim lights. It is
difficult otherwise to explain the contradictions of his policy, his
failure to grasp any of the courses that were open to him. Like the mass
of the people, he did not want to pay the price either of peace or of
war. And public opinion was behind him all the while, in policies that
were completely incompatible with one another. It was behind him when he
went to Munich, when he tried to come to an understanding with Russia,
when he gave the guarantee to Poland, when he honoured it, and when he
prosecuted the war half-heartedly. Only when the results of his policy
became apparent did it turn against him; which is to say that it turned
against its own lethargy of the past seven years. Thereupon the people
picked a leader nearer to their mood, Churchill, who was at any rate able
to grasp that wars are not won without fighting. Later, perhaps, they
will pick another leader who can grasp that only Socialist nations can
fight effectively.

Do I mean by all this that England is a genuine democracy? No, not even a
reader of the DAILY TELEGRAPH could quite swallow that.

England is the most class-ridden country under the sun. It is a land of
snobbery and privilege, ruled largely by the old and silly. But in any
calculation about it one has got to take into account its emotional
unity, the tendency of nearly all its inhabitants to feel alike and act
together in moments of supreme crisis. It is the only great country in
Europe that is not obliged to drive hundreds of thousands of its
nationals into exile or the concentration camp. At this moment, after a
year of war, newspapers and pamphlets abusing the Government, praising
the enemy and clamouring for surrender are being sold on the streets,
almost without interference. And this is less from a respect for freedom
of speech than from a simple perception that these things don't matter.
It is safe to let a paper like PEACE NEWS be sold, because it is certain
that ninety-five per cent of the population will never want to read it.
The nation is bound together by an invisible chain. At any normal time
the ruling class will rob, mismanage, sabotage, lead us into the muck;
but let popular opinion really make itself heard, let them get a tug from
below that they cannot avoid feeling, and it is difficult for them not to
respond. The left-wing writers who denounce the whole of the ruling class
as 'pro-Fascist' are grossly over-simplifying. Even among the inner
clique of politicians who brought us to our present pass, it is doubtful
whether there were any CONSCIOUS traitors. The corruption that happens in
England is seldom of that kind. Nearly always it is more in the nature of
self-deception, of the right hand not knowing what the left hand doeth.
And being unconscious, it is limited. One sees this at its most obvious
in the English press. Is the English press honest or dishonest? At normal
times it is deeply dishonest. All the papers that matter live off their
advertisements, and the advertisers exercise an indirect censorship over
news. Yet I do not suppose there is one paper in England that can be
straightforwardly bribed with hard cash. In the France of the Third
Republic all but a very few of the newspapers could notoriously be bought
over the counter like so many pounds of cheese. Public life in England
has never been OPENLY scandalous. It has not reached the pitch of
disintegration at which humbug can be dropped.

England is not the jewelled isle of Shakespeare's much-quoted message,
nor is it the inferno depicted by Dr Goebbels. More than either it
resembles a family, a rather stuffy Victorian family, with not many black
sheep in it but with all its cupboards bursting with skeletons. It has
rich relations who have to be kow-towed to and poor relations who are
horribly sat upon, and there is a deep conspiracy of silence about the
source of the family income. It is a family in which the young are
generally thwarted and most of the power is in the hands of irresponsible
uncles and bedridden aunts. Still, it is a family. It has its private
language and its common memories, and at the approach of an enemy it
closes its ranks. A family with the wrong members in control--that,
perhaps, is as near as one can come to describing England in a phrase.

iv.

Probably the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton,
but the opening battles of all subsequent wars have been lost there. One
of the dominant facts in English life during the past three quarters of a
century has been the decay of ability in the ruling class.

In the years between 1920 and 1940 it was happening with the speed of a
chemical reaction. Yet at the moment of writing it is still possible to
speak of a ruling class. Like the knife which has had two new blades and
three new handles, the upper fringe of English society is still almost
what it was in the mid nineteenth century. After 1832 the old land-owning
aristocracy steadily lost power, but instead of disappearing or becoming
a fossil they simply intermarried with the merchants, manufacturers and
financiers who had replaced them, and soon turned them into accurate
copies of themselves. The wealthy ship owner or cotton-miller set up for
himself an alibi as a country gentleman, while his sons learned the right
mannerisms at public schools which had been designed for just that
purpose. England was ruled by an aristocracy constantly recruited from
parvenus. And considering what energy the self-made men possessed, and
considering that they were buying their way into a class which at any
rate had a tradition of public service, one might have expected that able
rulers could be produced in some such way.

And yet somehow the ruling class decayed, lost its ability, its daring,
finally even its ruthlessness, until a time came when stuffed shirts like
Eden or Halifax could stand out as men of exceptional talent. As for
Baldwin, one could not even dignify him with the name of stuffed shirt.
He was simply a hole in the air. The mishandling of England's domestic
problems during the nineteen-twenties had been bad enough, but British
foreign policy between 1931 and 1939 is one of the wonders of the world.
Why? What had happened? What was it that at every decisive moment made
every British statesman do the wrong thing with so unerring an instinct?

The underlying fact was that the whole position of the moneyed class had
long ceased to be justifiable. There they sat, at the centre of a vast
empire and a world-wide financial network, drawing interest and profits
and spending them--on what? It was fair to say that life within the
British Empire was in many ways better than life outside it. Still, the
Empire was underdeveloped, India slept in the Middle Ages, the Dominions
lay empty, with foreigners jealously barred out, and even England was
full of slums and unemployment. Only half a million people, the people in
the country houses, definitely benefited from the existing system.
Moreover, the tendency of small businesses to merge together into large
ones robbed more and more of the moneyed class of their function and
turned them into mere owners, their work being done for them by salaried
managers and technicians. For long past there had been in England an
entirely functionless class, living on money that was invested they
hardly knew where, the 'idle rich', the people whose photographs you can
look at in the TATLER and the BYSTANDER, always supposing that you want
to. The existence of these people was by any standard unjustifiable. They
were simply parasites, less useful to society than his fleas are to a
dog.

By 1920 there were many people who were aware of all this. By 1930
millions were aware of it. But the British ruling class obviously could
not admit to themselves that their usefulness was at an end. Had they
done that they would have had to abdicate. For it was not possible for
them to turn themselves into mere bandits, like the American
millionaires, consciously clinging to unjust privileges and beating down
opposition by bribery and tear-gas bombs. After all, they belonged to a
class with a certain tradition, they had been to public schools where the
duty of dying for your country, if necessary, is laid down as the first
and greatest of the Commandments. They had to FEEL themselves true
patriots, even while they plundered their countrymen. Clearly there was
only one escape for them--into stupidity. They could keep society in its
existing shape only by being UNABLE to grasp that any improvement was
possible. Difficult though this was, they achieved it, largely by fixing
their eyes on the past and refusing to notice the changes that were going
on round them.

There is much in England that this explains. It explains the decay of
country life, due to the keeping-up of a sham feudalism which drives the
more spirited workers off the land. It explains the immobility of the
public schools, which have barely altered since the eighties of the last
century. It explains the military incompetence which has again and again
startled the world. Since the fifties every war in which England has
engaged has started off with a series of disasters, after which the
situation has been saved by people comparatively low in the social scale.
The higher commanders, drawn from the aristocracy, could never prepare
for modern war, because in order to do so they would have had to admit to
themselves that the world was changing. They have always clung to
obsolete methods and weapons, because they inevitably saw each war as a
repetition of the last. Before the Boer War they prepared for the Zulu
War, before the 1914 for the Boer War, and before the present war for
1914. Even at this moment hundreds of thousands of men in England are
being trained with the bayonet, a weapon entirely useless except for
opening tins. It is worth noticing that the navy and, latterly, the air
force, have always been more efficient than the regular army. But the
navy is only partially, and the air force hardly at all, within the
ruling-class orbit.

It must be admitted that so long as things were peaceful the methods of
the British ruling class served them well enough. Their own people
manifestly tolerated them. However unjustly England might be organized,
it was at any rate not torn by class warfare or haunted by secret police.
The Empire was peaceful as no area of comparable size has ever been.
Throughout its vast extent, nearly a quarter of the earth, there were
fewer armed men than would be found necessary by a minor Balkan state. As
people to live under, and looking at them merely from a liberal, NEGATIVE
standpoint, the British ruling class had their points. They were
preferable to the truly modern men, the Nazis and Fascists. But it had
long been obvious that they would be helpless against any serious attack
from the outside.

They could not struggle against Nazism or Fascism, because they could not
understand them. Neither could they have struggled against Communism, if
Communism had been a serious force in western Europe. To understand
Fascism they would have had to study the theory of Socialism, which would
have forced them to realize that the economic system by which they lived
was unjust, inefficient and out-of-date. But it was exactly this fact
that they had trained themselves never to face. They dealt with Fascism
as the cavalry generals of 1914 dealt with the machine-guns--by ignoring
it. After years of aggression and massacres, they had grasped only one
fact, that Hitler and Mussolini were hostile to Communism. Therefore, it
was argued, they MUST be friendly to the British dividend-drawer. Hence
the truly frightening spectacle of Conservative M.P.s wildly cheering the
news that British ships, bringing food to the Spanish Republican
government, had been bombed by Italian aeroplanes. Even when they had
begun to grasp that Fascism was dangerous, its essentially revolutionary
nature, the huge military effort it was capable of making, the sort of
tactics it would use, were quite beyond their comprehension. At the time
of the Spanish Civil War, anyone with as much political knowledge as can
be acquired from a sixpenny pamphlet on Socialism knew that, if Franco
won, the result would be strategically disastrous for England; and yet
generals and admirals who had given their lives to the study of war were
unable to grasp this fact. This vein of political ignorance runs right
through English official life, through Cabinet ministers, ambassadors,
consuls, judges, magistrates, policemen. The policeman who arrests the
'red' does not understand the theories the 'red' is preaching; if he did
his own position as bodyguard of the moneyed class might seem less
pleasant to him. There is reason to think that even military espionage is
hopelessly hampered by ignorance of the new economic doctrines and the
ramifications of the underground parties.

The British ruling class were not altogether wrong in thinking that
Fascism was on their side. It is a fact that any rich man, unless he is a
Jew, has less to fear from Fascism than from either Communism or
democratic Socialism. One ought never to forget this, for nearly the
whole of German and Italian propaganda is designed to cover it up. The
natural instinct of men like Simon, Hoare, Chamberlain etc. was to come
to an agreement with Hitler. But--and here the peculiar feature of
English life that I have spoken of, the deep sense of national
solidarity, comes in--they could only do so by breaking up the Empire
and selling their own people into semi-slavery. A truly corrupt class
would have done this without hesitation, as in France. But things had not
gone that distance in England. Politicians who would make cringing
speeches about 'the duty of loyalty to our conquerors' are hardly to be
found in English public life. Tossed to and fro between their incomes and
their principles, it was impossible that men like Chamberlain should do
anything but make the worst of both worlds.

One thing that has always shown that the English ruling class are MORALLY
fairly sound, is that in time of war they are ready enough to get
themselves killed. Several dukes, earls and what nots were killed in the
recent campaign in Flanders. That could not happen if these people were
the cynical scoundrels that they are sometimes declared to be. It is
important not to misunderstand their motives, or one cannot predict their
actions. What is to be expected of them is not treachery, or physical
cowardice, but stupidity, unconscious sabotage, an infallible instinct
for doing the wrong thing. They are not wicked, or not altogether wicked;
they are merely unteachable. Only when their money and power are gone
will the younger among them begin to grasp what century they are living
in.

v.

The stagnation of the Empire in the between-war years affected everyone
in England, but it had an especially direct effect upon two important
sub-sections of the middle class. One was the military and imperialist
middle class, generally nicknamed the Blimps, and the other the left-wing
intelligentsia. These two seemingly hostile types, symbolic opposites--the half-pay colonel with his bull neck and diminutive brain, like a
dinosaur, the highbrow with his domed forehead and stalk-like neck--are
mentally linked together and constantly interact upon one another; in any
case they are born to a considerable extent into the same families.

Thirty years ago the Blimp class was already losing its vitality. The
middle-class families celebrated by Kipling, the prolific lowbrow
families whose sons officered the army and navy and swarmed over all the
waste places of the earth from the Yukon to the Irrawaddy, were dwindling
before 1914. The thing that had killed them was the telegraph. In a
narrowing world, more and more governed from Whitehall, there was every
year less room for individual initiative. Men like Clive, Nelson,
Nicholson, Gordon would find no place for themselves in the modern
British Empire. By 1920 nearly every inch of the colonial empire was in
the grip of Whitehall. Well-meaning, over-civilized men, in dark suits
and black felt hats, with neatly rolled umbrellas crooked over the left
forearm, were imposing their constipated view of life on Malaya and
Nigeria, Mombasa and Mandalay. The one-time empire builders were reduced
to the status of clerks, buried deeper and deeper under mounds of paper
and red tape. In the early twenties one could see, all over the Empire,
the older officials, who had known more spacious days, writhing
impotently under the changes that were happening. From that time onwards
it has been next door to impossible to induce young men of spirit to take
any part in imperial administration. And what was true of the official
world was true also of the commercial. The great monopoly companies
swallowed up hosts of petty traders. Instead of going out to trade
adventurously in the Indies one went to an office stool in Bombay or
Singapore. And life in Bombay or Singapore was actually duller and safer
than life in London. Imperialist sentiment remained strong in the middle
class, chiefly owing to family tradition, but the job of administering
the Empire had ceased to appeal. Few able men went east of Suez if there
was any way of avoiding it.

But the general weakening of imperialism, and to some extent of the whole
British morale, that took place during the nineteen-thirties, was partly
the work of the left-wing intelligentsia, itself a kind of growth that
had sprouted from the stagnation of the Empire.

It should be noted that there is now no intelligentsia that is not in
some sense 'left'. Perhaps the last right-wing intellectual was T. E.
Lawrence. Since about 1930 everyone describable as an 'intellectual' has
lived in a state of chronic discontent with the existing order.
Necessarily so, because society as it was constituted had no room for
him. In an Empire that was simply stagnant, neither being developed nor
falling to pieces, and in an England ruled by people whose chief asset
was their stupidity, to be 'clever' was to be suspect. If you had the
kind of brain that could understand the poems of T. S. Eliot or the
theories of Karl Marx, the higher-ups would see to it that you were kept
out of any important job. The intellectuals could find a function for
themselves only in the literary reviews and the left-wing political
parties.

The mentality of the English left-wing intelligentsia can be studied in
half a dozen weekly and monthly papers. The immediately striking thing
about all these papers is their generally negative, querulous attitude,
their complete lack at all times of any constructive suggestion. There is
little in them except the irresponsible carping of people who have never
been and never expect to be in a position of power. Another marked
characteristic is the emotional shallowness of people who live in a world
of ideas and have little contact with physical reality. Many
intellectuals of the Left were flabbily pacifist up to 1935, shrieked for
war against Germany in the years 1935-9, and then promptly cooled off
when the war started. It is broadly though not precisely true that the
people who were most 'anti-Fascist' during the Spanish Civil War are most
defeatist now. And underlying this is the really important fact about so
many of the English intelligentsia--their severance from the common
culture of the country.

In intention, at any rate, the English intelligentsia are Europeanized.
They take their cookery from Paris and their opinions from Moscow. In the
general patriotism of the country they form a sort of island of dissident
thought. England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals
are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always
felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman
and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse
racing to suet puddings. It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably
true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of
standing to attention during 'God save the King' than of stealing from a
poor box. All through the critical years many left-wingers were chipping
away at English morale, trying to spread an outlook that was sometimes
squashily pacifist, sometimes violently pro-Russian, but always
anti-British. It is questionable how much effect this had, but it
certainly had some. If the English people suffered for several years a
real weakening of morale, so that the Fascist nations judged that they
were 'decadent' and that it was safe to plunge into war, the intellectual
sabotage from the Left was partly responsible. Both the NEW STATESMAN and
the NEWS CHRONICLE cried out against the Munich settlement, but even they
had done something to make it possible. Ten years of systematic
Blimp-baiting affected even the Blimps themselves and made it harder than
it had been before to get intelligent young men to enter the armed
forces. Given the stagnation of the Empire, the military middle class
must have decayed in any case, but the spread of a shallow Leftism
hastened the process.

It is clear that the special position of the English intellectuals during
the past ten years, as purely NEGATIVE creatures, mere anti-Blimps, was a
by-product of ruling-class stupidity. Society could not use them, and
they had not got it in them to see that devotion to one's country implies
'for better, for worse'. Both Blimps and highbrows took for granted, as
though it were a law of nature, the divorce between patriotism and
intelligence. If you were a patriot you read BLACKWOOD'S MAGAZINE and
publicly thanked God that you were 'not brainy'. If you were an
intellectual you sniggered at the Union Jack and regarded physical
courage as barbarous. It is obvious that this preposterous convention
cannot continue. The Bloomsbury highbrow, with his mechanical snigger, is
as out-of-date as the cavalry colonel. A modern nation cannot afford
either of them. Patriotism and intelligence will have to come together
again. It is the fact that we are fighting a war, and a very peculiar
kind of war, that may make this possible.

vi.

One of the most important developments in England during the past twenty
years has been the upward and downward extension of the middle class. It
has happened on such a scale as to make the old classification of society
into capitalists, proletarians and petit bourgeois (small
property-owners) almost obsolete.

England is a country in which property and financial power are
concentrated in very few hands. Few people in modern England OWN anything
at all, except clothes, furniture and possibly a house. The peasantry
have long since disappeared, the independent shopkeeper is being
destroyed, the small businessman is diminishing in numbers. But at the
same time modern industry is so complicated that it cannot get along
without great numbers of managers, salesmen, engineers, chemists and
technicians of all kinds, drawing fairly large salaries. And these in
turn call into being a professional class of doctors, lawyers, teachers,
artists, etc. etc. The tendency of advanced capitalism has therefore been
to enlarge the middle class and not to wipe it out as it once seemed
likely to do.

But much more important than this is the spread of middle-class ideas and
habits among the working class. The British working class are now better
off in almost all ways than they were thirty years ago. This is partly
due to the efforts of the trade unions, but partly to the mere advance of
physical science. It is not always realized that within rather narrow
limits the standard of life of a country can rise without a corresponding
rise in real wages. Up to a point, civilization can lift itself up by its
boot-tags. However unjustly society is organized, certain technical
advances are bound to benefit the whole community, because certain kinds
of goods are necessarily held in common. A millionaire cannot, for
example, light the streets for himself while darkening them for other
people. Nearly all citizens of civilized countries now enjoy the use of
good roads, germ-free water, police protection, free libraries and
probably free education of a kind. Public education in England has been
meanly starved of money, but it has nevertheless improved, largely owing
to the devoted efforts of the teachers, and the habit of reading has
become enormously more widespread. To an increasing extent the rich and
the poor read the same books, and they also see the same films and listen
to the same radio programmes. And the differences in their way of life
have been diminished by the mass-production of cheap clothes and
improvements in housing. So far as outward appearance goes, the clothes
of rich and poor, especially in the case of women, differ far less than
they did thirty or even fifteen years ago. As to housing, England still
has slums which are a blot on civilization, but much building has been
done during the past ten years, largely by the local authorities. The
modern council house, with its bathroom and electric light, is smaller
than the stockbroker's villa, but it is recognizably the same kind of
house, which the farm labourer's cottage is not. A person who has grown
up in a council housing estate is likely to be--indeed, visibly is--more
middle class in outlook than a person who has grown up in a slum.

The effect of all this is a general softening of manners. It is enhanced
by the fact that modern industrial methods tend always to demand less
muscular effort and therefore to leave people with more energy when their
day's work is done. Many workers in the light industries are less truly
manual labourers than is a doctor or a grocer. In tastes, habits, manners
and outlook the working class and the middle class are drawing together.
The unjust distinctions remain, but the real differences diminish. The
old-style 'proletarian'--collarless, unshaven and with muscles warped by
heavy labour--still exists, but he is constantly decreasing in numbers;
he only predominates in the heavy-industry areas of the north of England.

After 1918 there began to appear something that had never existed in
England before: people of indeterminate social class. In 1910 every human
being in these islands could be 'placed' in an instant by his clothes,
manners and accent. That is no longer the case. Above all, it is not the
case in the new townships that have developed as a result of cheap motor
cars and the southward shift of industry. The place to look for the germs
of the future England is in light-industry areas and along the arterial
roads. In Slough, Dagenham, Barnet, Letchworth, Hayes--everywhere,
indeed, on the outskirts of great towns--the old pattern is gradually
changing into something new. In those vast new wildernesses of glass and
brick the sharp distinctions of the older kind of town, with its slums
and mansions, or of the country, with its manor-houses and squalid
cottages, no longer exist. There are wide gradations of income, but it is
the same kind of life that is being lived at different levels, in
labour-saving flats or council houses, along the concrete roads and in
the naked democracy of the swimming-pools. It is a rather restless,
cultureless life, centring round tinned food, PICTURE POST, the radio and
the internal combustion engine. It is a civilization in which children
grow up with an intimate knowledge of magnetoes and in complete ignorance
of the Bible. To that civilization belong the people who are most at home
in and most definitely OF the modern world, the technicians and the
higher-paid skilled workers, the airmen and their mechanics, the radio
experts, film producers, popular journalists and industrial chemists.
They are the indeterminate stratum at which the older class distinctions
are beginning to break down.

This war, unless we are defeated, will wipe out most of the existing
class privileges. There are every day fewer people who wish them to
continue. Nor need we fear that as the pattern changes life in England
will lose its peculiar flavour. The new red cities of Greater London are
crude enough, but these things are only the rash that accompanies a
change. In whatever shape England emerges from the war it will be deeply
tinged with the characteristics that I have spoken of earlier. The
intellectuals who hope to see it Russianized or Germanized will be
disappointed. The gentleness, the hypocrisy, the thoughtlessness, the
reverence for law and the hatred of uniforms will remain, along with the
suet puddings and the misty skies. It needs some very great disaster,
such as prolonged subjugation by a foreign enemy, to destroy a national
culture. The Stock Exchange will be pulled down, the horse plough will
give way to the tractor, the country houses will be turned into
children's holiday camps, the Eton and Harrow match will be forgotten,
but England will still be England, an everlasting animal stretching into
the future and the past, and, like all living things, having the power to
change out of recognition and yet remain the same.


Part II

Shopkeepers at War

i.

I began this book to the tune of German bombs, and I begin this second
chapter in the added racket of the barrage. The yellow gun flashes are
lighting the sky, the splinters are rattling on the housetops, and London
Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down. Anyone able to read a
map knows that we are in deadly danger. I do not mean that we are beaten
or need be beaten. Almost certainly the outcome depends on our own will.
But at this moment we are in the soup, full fathom five, and we have been
brought there by follies which we are still committing and which will
drown us altogether if we do not mend our ways quickly.

What this war has demonstrated is that private capitalism that is, an
economic system in which land, factories, mines and transport are owned
privately and operated solely for profit--DOES NOT WORK. It cannot deliver
the goods. This fact had been known to millions of people for years past,
but nothing ever came of it, because there was no real urge from below to
alter the system, and those at the top had trained themselves to be
impenetrably stupid on just this point. Argument and propaganda got one
nowhere. The lords of property simply sat on their bottoms and proclaimed
that all was for the best. Hitler's conquest of Europe, however, was a
PHYSICAL debunking of capitalism. War, for all its evil, is at any rate
an unanswerable test of strength, like a try-your-grip machine. Great
strength returns the penny, and there is no way of faking the result.

When the nautical screw was first invented, there was a controversy that
lasted for years as to whether screw-steamers or paddle-steamers were
better. The paddle-steamers, like all obsolete things, had their
champions, who supported them by ingenious arguments. Finally, however, a
distinguished admiral tied a screw-steamer and a paddle steamer of equal
horse-power stern to stern and set their engines running. That settled
the question once and for all. And it was something similar that happened
on the fields of Norway and of Flanders. Once and for all it was proved
that a planned economy is stronger than a planless one. But it is
necessary here to give some kind of definition to those much-abused
words, Socialism and Fascism.

Socialism is usually defined as "common ownership of the means of
production". Crudely: the State, representing the whole nation, owns
everything, and everyone is a State employee. This does NOT mean that
people are stripped of private possessions such as clothes and furniture,
but it DOES mean that all productive goods, such as land, mines, ships
and machinery, are the property of the State. The State is the sole
large-scale producer. It is not certain that Socialism is in all ways
superior to capitalism, but it is certain that, unlike capitalism, it can
solve the problems of production and consumption. At normal times a
capitalist economy can never consume all that it produces, so that there
is always a wasted surplus (wheat burned in furnaces, herrings dumped
back into the sea etc etc) and always unemployment. In time of war, on
the other hand, it has difficulty in producing all that it needs, because
nothing is produced unless someone sees his way to making a profit out of
it. In a Socialist economy these problems do not exist. The State simply
calculates what goods will be needed and does its best to produce them.
Production is only limited by the amount of labour and raw materials.
Money, for internal purposes, ceases to be a mysterious all-powerful
thing and becomes a sort of coupon or ration-ticket, issued in sufficient
quantities to buy up such consumption goods as may be available at the
moment.

However, it has become clear in the last few years that "common ownership
of the means of production" is not in itself a sufficient definition of
Socialism. One must also add the following: approximate equality of
incomes (it need be no more than approximate), political democracy, and
abolition of all hereditary privilege, especially in education. These are
simply the necessary safeguards against the reappearance of a
class system. Centralised ownership has very little meaning unless the
mass of the people are living roughly upon an equal level, and have some
kind of control over the government. "The State" may come to mean no more
than a self-elected political party, and oligarchy and privilege can
return, based on power rather than on money.

But what then is Fascism?

Fascism, at any rate the German version, is a form of capitalism that
borrows from Socialism just such features as will make it efficient for
war purposes. Internally, Germany has a good deal in common with a
Socialist state. Ownership has never been abolished, there are still
capitalists and workers, and--this is the important point, and the real
reason why rich men all over the world tend to sympathise with
Fascism--generally speaking the same people are capitalists and the same
people workers as before the Nazi revolution. But at the same time the
State, which is simply the Nazi Party, is in control of everything. It
controls investment, raw materials, rates of interest, working hours,
wages. The factory owner still owns his factory, but he is for practical
purposes reduced to the status of a manager. Everyone is in effect a
State employee, though the salaries vary very greatly. The mere
EFFICIENCY of such a system, the elimination of waste and obstruction, is
obvious. In seven years it has built up the most powerful war machine the
world has ever seen.

But the idea underlying Fascism is irreconcilably different from that
which underlies Socialism. Socialism aims, ultimately, at a world-state
of free and equal human beings. It takes the equality of human rights for
granted. Nazism assumes just the opposite. The driving force behind the
Nazi movement is the belief in human INEQUALITY, the superiority of
Germans to all other races, the right of Germany to rule the world.
Outside the German Reich it does not recognise any obligations. Eminent
Nazi professors have "proved" over and over again that only Nordic man is
fully human, have even mooted the idea that non Nordic peoples (such as
ourselves) can interbreed with gorillas! Therefore, while a species of
war-Socialism exists within the German state, its attitude towards
conquered nations is frankly that of an exploiter. The function of the
Czechs, Poles, French, etc is simply to produce such goods as Germany may
need, and get in return just as little as will keep them from open
rebellion. If we are conquered, our job will probably be to manufacture
weapons for Hitler's forthcoming wars with Russia and America. The Nazis
aim, in effect, at setting up a kind of caste system, with four main
castes corresponding rather closely to those of the Hindu religion. At
the top comes the Nazi party, second come the mass of the German people,
third come the conquered European populations. Fourth and last are to
come the coloured peoples, the "semi-apes" as Hitler calls them, who are
to be reduced quite openly to slavery.

However horrible this system may seem to us, IT WORKS. It works because
it is a planned system geared to a definite purpose, world conquest, and
not allowing any private interest, either of capitalist or worker, to
stand in its way. British capitalism does not work, because it is a
competitive system in which private profit is and must be the main
objective. It is a system in which all the forces are pulling in opposite
directions and the interests of the individual are as often as not
totally opposed to those of the State.

All through the critical years British capitalism, with its immense
industrial plant and its unrivalled supply of skilled labour, was unequal
to the strain of preparing for war. To prepare for war on the modern
scale you have got to divert the greater part of your national income to
armaments, which means cutting down on consumption goods. A bombing
plane, for instance, is equivalent in price to fifty small motor cars, or
eighty thousand pairs of silk stockings, or a million loaves of bread.
Clearly you can't have MANY bombing planes without lowering the national
standard of life. It is guns or butter, as Marshal Goering remarked. But
in Chamberlain's England the transition could not be made. The rich would
not face the necessary taxation, and while the rich are still visibly
rich it is not possible to tax the poor very heavily either. Moreover, so
long as PROFIT was the main object the manufacturer had no incentive to
change over from consumption goods to armaments. A businessman's first
duty is to his shareholders. Perhaps England needs tanks, but perhaps it
pays better to manufacture motor cars. To prevent war material from
reaching the enemy is common sense, but to sell in the highest market is
a business duty. Right at the end of August 1939 the British dealers were
tumbling over one another in their eagerness to sell Germany tin, rubber,
copper and shellac-and this in the clear, certain knowledge that war was
going to break out in a week or two. It was about as sensible as selling
somebody a razor to cut your throat with. But it was "good business".

And now look at the results. After 1934 it was known that Germany was
rearming. After 1936 everyone with eyes in his head knew that war was
coming. After Munich it was merely a question of how soon the war would
begin. In September 1939 war broke out. EIGHT MONTHS LATER it was
discovered that, so far as equipment went, the British army was barely
beyond the standard of 1918. We saw our soldiers fighting their way
desperately to the coast, with one aeroplane against three, with rifles
against tanks, with bayonets against tommy-guns. There were not even
enough revolvers to supply all the officers. After a year of war the
regular army was still short of 300,000 tin hats. There had even,
previously, been a shortage of uniforms--this in one of the greatest
woollen-goods producing countries in the world!

What had happened was that the whole moneyed class, unwilling to face a
change in their way of life, had shut their eyes to the nature of Fascism
and modern war. And false optimism was fed to the general public by the
gutter press, which lives on its advertisements and is therefore
interested in keeping trade conditions normal. Year after year the
Beaverbrook press assured us in huge headlines that THERE WILL BE NO WAR,
and as late as the beginning of 1939 Lord Rothermere was describing
Hitler as "a great gentleman". And while England in the moment of
disaster proved to be short of every war material except ships, it is not
recorded that there was any shortage of motor cars, fur coats,
gramophones, lipstick, chocolates or silk stockings. And dare anyone
pretend that the same tug-of-war between private profit and public
necessity is not still continuing? England fights for her life, but
business must fight for profits. You can hardly open a newspaper without
seeing the two contradictory processes happening side by side. On the
very same page you will find the Government urging you to save and the
seller of some useless luxury urging you to spend. Lend to Defend, but
Guinness is Good for You. Buy a Spitfire, but also buy Haig and Haig,
Pond's Face Cream and Black Magic Chocolates.

But one thing gives hope--the visible swing in public opinion. If we can
survive this war, the defeat in Flanders will turn out to have been one
of the great turning-points in English history. In that spectacular
disaster the working class, the middle class and even a section of the
business community could see the utter rottenness of private capitalism.
Before that the case against capitalism had never been PROVED. Russia,
the only definitely Socialist country, was backward and far away. All
criticism broke itself against the rat-trap faces of bankers and the
brassy laughter of stockbrokers. Socialism? Ha! ha! ha! Where's the money
to come from? Ha! ha! ha! The lords of property were firm in their seats,
and they knew it. But after the French collapse there came something that
could not be laughed away, something that neither chequebooks nor
policemen were any use against-the bombing. Zweee--BOOM! What's that? Oh,
only a bomb on the Stock Exchange. Zweee--BOOM! Another acre of
somebody's valuable slum-property gone west. Hitler will at any rate go
down in history as the man who made the City of London laugh on the wrong
side of its face. For the first time in their lives the comfortable were
uncomfortable, the professional optimists had to admit that there was
something wrong. It was a great step forward. From that time onwards the
ghastly job of trying to convince artificially stupefied people that a
planned economy might be better than a free-for-all in which the worst
man wins-that job will never be quite so ghastly again.

ii.

The difference between Socialism and capitalism is not primarily a
difference of technique. One cannot simply change from one system to the
other as one might install a new piece of machinery in a factory, and
then carry on as before, with the same people in positions of control.
Obviously there is also needed a complete shift of power. New blood, new
men, new ideas--in the true sense of the word, a revolution.

I have spoken earlier of the soundness and homogeneity of England, the
patriotism that runs like a connecting thread through almost all classes.
After Dunkirk anyone who had eyes in his head could see this. But it is
absurd to pretend that the promise of that moment has been fulfilled.
Almost certainly the mass of the people are now ready for the vast
changes that are necessary; but those changes have not even begun to
happen.

England is a family with the wrong members in control. Almost entirely we
are governed by the rich, and by people who step into positions of
command by right of birth. Few if any of these people are consciously
treacherous, some of them are not even fools, but as a class they are
quite incapable of leading us to victory. They could not do it, even if
their material interests did not constantly trip them up. As I pointed
out earlier, they have been artificially stupefied. Quite apart from
anything else, the rule of money sees to it that we shall be governed
largely by the old--that is, by people utterly unable to grasp what age
they are living in or what enemy they are fighting. Nothing was more
desolating at the beginning of this war than the way in which the whole
of the older generation conspired to pretend that it was the war of
1914-18 over again. All the old duds were back on the job, twenty years
older, with the skull plainer in their faces. Ian Hay was cheering up the
troops, Belloc was writing articles on strategy, Maurois doing
broadcasts, Bairnsfather drawing cartoons. It was like a tea-party of
ghosts. And that state of affairs has barely altered. The shock of
disaster brought a few able men like Bevin to the front, but in general
we are still commanded by people who managed to live through the years
1931-9 without even discovering that Hitler was dangerous. A generation
of the unteachable is hanging upon us like a necklace of corpses.

As soon as one considers any problem of this war--and it does not matter
whether it is the widest aspect of strategy or the tiniest detail of home
organisation--one sees that the necessary moves cannot be made while the
social structure of England remains what it is. Inevitably, because of
their position and upbringing, the ruling class are fighting for their
own privileges, which cannot possibly be reconciled with the public
interest. It is a mistake to imagine that war aims, strategy, propaganda
and industrial organisation exist in watertight compartments. All are
interconnected. Every strategic plan, every tactical method, even every
weapon will bear the stamp of the social system that produced it. The
British ruling class are fighting against Hitler, whom they have always
regarded and whom some of them still regard as their protector against
Bolshevism. That does not mean that they will deliberately sell out; but
it does mean that at every decisive moment they are likely to falter,
pull their punches, do the wrong thing.

Until the Churchill Government called some sort of halt to the process,
they have done the wrong thing with an unerring instinct ever since 1931.
They helped Franco to overthrow the Spanish Government, although anyone
not an imbecile could have told them that a Fascist Spain would be
hostile to England. They fed Italy with war materials all through the
winter of 1939-40, although it was obvious to the whole world that the
Italians were going to attack us in the spring. For the sake of a few
hundred thousand dividend drawers they are turning India from an ally into
an enemy. Moreover, so long as the moneyed classes remain in control, we
cannot develop any but a DEFENSIVE strategy. Every victory means a change
in the STATUS QUO. How can we drive the Italians out of Abyssinia without
rousing echoes among the coloured peoples of our own Empire? How can we
even smash Hitler without the risk of bringing the German Socialists and
Communists into power? The left-wingers who wail that "this is a
capitalist war" and that "British Imperialism" is fighting for loot have
got their heads screwed on backwards. The last thing the British moneyed
class wish for is to acquire fresh territory. It would simply be an
embarrassment. Their war aim (both unattainable and unmentionable) is
simply to hang on to what they have got.

Internally, England is still the rich man's Paradise. All talk of
"equality of sacrifice" is nonsense. At the same time as factory workers
are asked to put up with longer hours, advertisements for "Butler. One in
family, eight in staff" are appearing in the press. The bombed-out
populations of the East End go hungry and homeless while wealthier
victims simply step into their cars and flee to comfortable country
houses. The Home Guard swells to a million men in a few weeks, and is
deliberately organised from above in such a way that only people with
private incomes can hold positions of command. Even the rationing system
is so arranged that it hits the poor all the time, while people with over
£2,000 a year are practically unaffected by it. Everywhere privilege is
squandering good will. In such circumstances even propaganda becomes
almost impossible. As attempts to stir up patriotic feeling, the red
posters issued by the Chamberlain Government at the beginning of the war
broke all depth-records. Yet they could not have been much other than
they were, for how could Chamberlain and his followers take the risk of
rousing strong popular feeling AGAINST FASCISM? Anyone who was genuinely
hostile to Fascism must also be opposed to Chamberlain himself and to all
the others who had helped Hitler into power. So also with external
propaganda. In all Lord Halifax's speeches there is not one concrete
proposal for which a single inhabitant of Europe would risk the top joint
of his little finger. For what war-aim can Halifax, or anyone like him,
conceivably have, except to put the clock back to 1933?

It is only by revolution that the native genius of the English people can
be set free. Revolution does not mean red flags and street fighting, it
means a fundamental shift of power. Whether it happens with or without
bloodshed is largely an accident of time and place. Nor does it mean the
dictatorship of a single class. The people in England who grasp what
changes are needed and are capable of carrying them through are not
confined to any one class, though it is true that very few people with
over £2,000 a year are among them. What is wanted is a conscious open
revolt by ordinary people against inefficiency, class privilege and the
rule of the old. It is not primarily a question of change of government.
British governments do, broadly speaking, represent the will of the
people, and if we alter our structure from below we shall get the
government we need. Ambassadors, generals, officials and colonial
administrators who are senile or pro-Fascist are more dangerous than
Cabinet ministers whose follies have to be committed in public. Right
through our national life we have got to fight against privilege, against
the notion that a half-witted public-schoolboy is better fitted for
command than an intelligent mechanic. Although there are gifted and
honest INDIVIDUALS among them, we have got to break the grip of the
moneyed class as a whole. England has got to assume its real shape. The
England that is only just beneath the surface, in the factories and the
newspaper offices, in the aeroplanes and the submarines, has got to take
charge of its own destiny.

In the short run, equality of sacrifice, "war-Communism", is even more
important than radical economic changes. It is very necessary that
industry should be nationalised, but it is more urgently necessary that
such monstrosities as butlers and "private incomes" should disappear
forthwith. Almost certainly the main reason why the Spanish Republic
could keep up the fight for two and a half years against impossible odds
was that there were no gross contrasts of wealth. The people suffered
horribly, but they all suffered alike. When the private soldier had not a
cigarette, the general had not one either. Given equality of sacrifice,
the morale of a country like England would probably be unbreakable. But
at present we have nothing to appeal to except traditional patriotism,
which is deeper here than elsewhere, but is not necessarily bottomless.
At some point or another you have got to deal with the man who says "I
should be no worse off under Hitler". But what answer can you give
him--that is, what answer that you can expect him to listen to--while
common soldiers risk their lives for two and sixpence a day, and fat
women ride about in Rolls-Royce cars, nursing pekineses?

It is quite likely that this war will last three years. It will mean
cruel overwork, cold dull winters, uninteresting food, lack of
amusements, prolonged bombing. It cannot but lower the general standard
of living, because the essential act of war is to manufacture armaments
instead of consumable goods. The working class will have to suffer
terrible things. And they WILL suffer them, almost indefinitely, provided
that they know what they are fighting for. They are not cowards, and they
are not even internationally minded. They can stand all that the Spanish
workers stood, and more. But they will want some kind of proof that a
better life is ahead for themselves and their children. The one sure
earnest of that is that when they are taxed and overworked they shall see
that the rich are being hit even harder. And if the rich squeal audibly,
so much the better.

We can bring these things about, if we really want to. It is not true
that public opinion has no power in England. It never makes itself heard
without achieving something; it has been responsible for most of the
changes for the better during the past six months. But we have moved with
glacier-like slowness, and we have learned only from disasters. It took
the fall of Paris to get rid of Chamberlain and the unnecessary suffering
of scores of thousands of people in the East End to get rid or partially
rid of Sir John Anderson. It is not worth losing a battle in order to
bury a corpse. For we are fighting against swift evil intelligences, and
time presses, and:

history to the defeated
May say Alas! but cannot alter or pardon.

iii.

During the last six months there has been much talk of "the Fifth
Column". From time to time obscure lunatics have been jailed for making
speeches in favour of Hitler, and large numbers of German refugees have
been interned, a thing which has almost certainly done us great harm in
Europe. It is of course obvious that the idea of a large, organised army
of Fifth Columnists suddenly appearing on the streets with weapons in
their hands, as in Holland and Belgium, is ridiculous. Nevertheless a
Fifth Column danger does exist. One can only consider it if one also
considers in what way England might be defeated.

It does not seem probable that air bombing can settle a major war.
England might well be invaded and conquered, but the invasion would be a
dangerous gamble, and if it happened and failed it would probably leave
us more united and less Blimp-ridden than before. Moreover, if England
were overrun by foreign troops the English people would know that they
had been beaten and would continue the struggle. It is doubtful whether
they could be held down permanently, or whether Hitler wishes to keep an
army of a million men stationed in these islands. A government
of ----,---- and ---- (you can fill in the names) would suit him better.
The English can probably not be bullied into surrender, but they might
quite easily be bored, cajoled or cheated into it, provided that, as at
Munich, they did not know that they were surrendering. It could happen
most easily when the war seemed to be going well rather than badly. The
threatening tone of so much of the German and Italian propaganda is a
psychological mistake. It only gets home on intellectuals. With the
general public the proper approach would be "Let's call it a draw". It
is when a peace-offer along THOSE lines is made that the pro-Fascists
will raise their voices.

But who are the pro-Fascists? The idea of a Hitler victory appeals to
the very rich, to the Communists, to Mosley's followers, to the
pacifists, and to certain sections among the Catholics. Also, if things
went badly enough on the Home Front, the whole of the poorer section of
the working class might swing round to a position that was defeatist
though not actively pro-Hitler.

In this motley list one can see the daring of German propaganda, its
willingness to offer everything to everybody. But the various pro-Fascist
forces are not consciously acting together, and they operate in different
ways.

The Communists must certainly be regarded as pro-Hitler, and are bound to
remain so unless Russian policy changes, but they have not very much
influence. Mosley's Blackshirts, though now lying very low, are a more
serious danger, because of the footing they probably possess in the armed
forces. Still, even in its palmiest days Mosley's following can hardly
have numbered 50,000. Pacifism is a psychological curiosity rather than a
political movement. Some of the extremer pacifists, starting out with a
complete renunciation of violence, have ended by warmly championing
Hitler and even toying with Antisemitism. This is interesting, but it is
not important. "Pure" pacifism, which is a by-product of naval power, can
only appeal to people in very sheltered positions. Moreover, being
negative and irresponsible, it does not inspire much devotion. Of the
membership of the Peace Pledge Union, less than 15 per cent even pay
their annual subscriptions. None of these bodies of people, pacifists,
Communists or Blackshirts, could bring a large scale stop-the-war movement
into being by their own efforts. But they might help to make things very
much easier for a treacherous government negotiating surrender. Like the
French Communists, they might become the half-conscious agents of
millionaires.

The real danger is from above. One ought not to pay any attention to
Hitler's recent line of talk about being the friend of the poor man, the
enemy of plutocracy, etc etc. Hitler's real self is in MEIN KAMPF, and in
his actions. He has never persecuted the rich, except when they were Jews
or when they tried actively to oppose him. He stands for a centralised
economy which robs the capitalist of most of his power but leaves the
structure of society much as before. The State controls industry, but
there are still rich and poor, masters and men. Therefore, as against
genuine Socialism, the moneyed class have always been on his side. This
was crystal clear at the time of the Spanish civil war, and clear again
at the time when France surrendered. Hitler's puppet government are not
working men, but a gang of bankers, gaga generals and corrupt right wing
politicians.

That kind of spectacular, CONSCIOUS treachery is less likely to succeed
in England, indeed is far less likely even to be tried. Nevertheless, to
many payers of supertax this war is simply an insane family squabble
which ought to be stopped at all costs. One need not doubt that a "peace"
movement is on foot somewhere in high places; probably a shadow Cabinet
has already been formed. These people will get their chance not in the
moment of defeat but in some stagnant period when boredom is reinforced
by discontent. They will not talk about surrender, only about peace; and
doubtless they will persuade themselves, and perhaps other people, that
they are acting for the best. An army of unemployed led by millionaires
quoting the Sermon on the Mount--that is our danger. But it cannot arise
when we have once introduced a reasonable degree of social justice. The
lady in the Rolls-Royce car is more damaging to morale than a fleet of
Goering's bombing planes.


PART III: THE ENGLISH REVOLUTION

i.

The English revolution started several years ago, and it began to gather
momentum when the troops came back from Dunkirk. Like all else in
England, it happens in a sleepy, unwilling way, but it is happening. The
war has speeded it up, but it has also increased, and desperately, the
necessity for speed.

Progress and reaction are ceasing to have anything to do with party
labels. If one wishes to name a particular moment, one can say that the
old distinction between Right and Left broke down when PICTURE POST was
first published. What are the politics of PICTURE POST? Or of CAVALCADE,
or Priestley's broadcasts, or the leading articles in the EVENING
STANDARD? None of the old classifications will fit them. They merely
point to the existence of multitudes of unlabelled people who have
grasped within the last year or two that something is wrong. But since a
classless, ownerless society is generally spoken of as "Socialism", we
can give that name to the society towards which we are now moving. The
war and the revolution are inseparable. We cannot establish anything that
a western nation would regard as Socialism without defeating Hitler; on
the other hand we cannot defeat Hitler while we remain economically and
socially in the nineteenth century. The past is fighting the future and
we have two years, a year, possibly only a few months, to see to it that
the future wins.

We cannot look to this or to any similar government to put through the
necessary changes of its own accord. The initiative will have to come
from below. That means that there will have to arise something that has
never existed in England, a Socialist movement that actually has the mass
of the people behind it. But one must start by recognising why it is that
English Socialism has failed.

In England there is only one Socialist party that has ever seriously
mattered, the Labour Party. It has never been able to achieve any major
change, because except in purely domestic matters it has never possessed
a genuinely independent policy. It was and is primarily a party of the
trade unions, devoted to raising wages and improving working conditions.
This meant that all through the critical years it was directly interested
in the prosperity of British capitalism. In particular it was interested
in the maintenance of the British Empire, for the wealth of England was
drawn largely from Asia and Africa. The standard of living of the trade
union workers, whom the Labour Party represented, depended indirectly on
the sweating of Indian coolies. At the same time the Labour Party was a
Socialist party, using Socialist phraseology, thinking in terms of an
old-fashioned anti-imperialism and more or less pledged to make
restitution to the coloured races. It had to stand for the "independence"
of India, just as it had to stand for disarmament and "progress"
generally. Nevertheless everyone was aware that this was nonsense. In the
age of the tank and the bombing plane, backward agricultural countries
like India and the African colonies can no more be independent than can a
cat or a dog. Had any Labour government come into office with a clear
majority and then proceeded to grant India anything that could truly be
called independence, India would simply have been absorbed by Japan, or
divided between Japan and Russia.

To a Labour government in power, three imperial policies would have been
open. One was to continue administering the Empire exactly as before,
which meant dropping all pretensions to Socialism. Another was to set the
subject peoples "free", which meant in practice handing them over to
Japan, Italy and other predatory powers, and incidentally causing a
catastrophic drop in the British standard of living. The third was to
develop a POSITIVE imperial policy, and aim at transforming the Empire
into a federation of Socialist states, like a looser and freer version of
the Union of Soviet Republics. But the Labour Party's history and
background made this impossible. It was a party of the trade unions,
hopelessly parochial in outlook, with little interest in imperial affairs
and no contacts among the men who actually held the Empire together. It
would have had to hand the administration of India and Africa and the
whole job of imperial defence to men drawn from a different class and
traditionally hostile to Socialism. Overshadowing everything was the
doubt whether a Labour government which meant business could make itself
obeyed. For all the size of its following, the Labour Party had no
footing in the navy, little or none in the army or air force, none
whatever in the Colonial Services, and not even a sure footing in the
Home Civil Service. In England its position was strong but not
unchallengeable, and outside England all the key points were in the hands
of its enemies. Once in power, the same dilemma would always have faced
it: carry out your promises, and risk revolt, or continue with the same
policy as the Conservatives, and stop talking about Socialism. The Labour
leaders never found a solution, and from 1935 onwards it was very
doubtful whether they had any wish to take office. They had degenerated
into a Permanent Opposition.

Outside the Labour Party there existed several extremist parties, of whom
the Communists were the strongest. The Communists had considerable
influence in the Labour Party in the years 1920-6 and 1935-9. Their chief
importance, and that of the whole left wing of the Labour movement, was
the part they played in alienating the middle classes from Socialism.

The history of the past seven years has made it perfectly clear that
Communism has no chance in western Europe. The appeal of Fascism is
enormously greater. In one country after another the Communists have been
rooted out by their more up-to-date enemies, the Nazis. In the
English-speaking countries they never had a serious footing. The creed
they were spreading could appeal only to a rather rare type of person,
found chiefly in the middle-class intelligentsia, the type who has ceased
to love his own country but still feels the need of patriotism, and
therefore develops patriotic sentiments towards Russia. By 1940, after
working for twenty years and spending a great deal of money, the British
Communists had barely 20,000 members, actually a smaller number than they
had started out with in 1920. The other Marxist parties were of even less
importance. They had not the Russian money and prestige behind them, and
even more than the Communists they were tied to the nineteenth-century
doctrine of the class war. They continued year after year to preach this
out-of-date gospel, and never drew any inference from the fact that it
got them no followers.

Nor did any strong native Fascist movement grow up. Material conditions
were not bad enough, and no leader who could be taken seriously was
forthcoming. One would have had to look a long time to find a man more
barren of ideas than Sir Oswald Mosley. He was as hollow as a jug. Even
the elementary fact that Fascism must not offend national sentiment had
escaped him. His entire movement was imitated slavishly from abroad, the
uniform and the party programme from Italy and the salute from Germany,
with the Jew baiting tacked on as an afterthought, Mosley having actually
started his movement with Jews among his most prominent followers. A man
of the stamp of Bottomley or Lloyd George could perhaps have brought a
real British Fascist movement into existence. But such leaders only
appear when the psychological need for them exists.

After twenty years of stagnation and unemployment, the entire English
Socialist movement was unable to produce a version of Socialism which the
mass of the people could even find desirable. The Labour Party stood for
a timid reformism, the Marxists were looking at the modern world through
nineteenth-century spectacles. Both ignored agriculture and imperial
problems, and both antagonised the middle classes. The suffocating
stupidity of left-wing propaganda had frightened away whole classes of
necessary people, factory managers, airmen, naval officers, farmers,
white-collar workers, shopkeepers, policemen. All of these people had
been taught to think of Socialism as something which menaced their
livelihood, or as something seditious, alien, "anti-British" as they
would have called it. Only the intellectuals, the least useful section of
the middle class, gravitated towards the movement.

A Socialist Party which genuinely wished to achieve anything would have
started by facing several facts which to this day are considered
unmentionable in left-wing circles. It would have recognised that England
is more united than most countries, that the British workers have a great
deal to lose besides their chains, and that the differences in outlook
and habits between class and class are rapidly diminishing. In general,
it would have recognised that the old-fashioned "proletarian revolution"
is an impossibility. But all through the between-war years no Socialist
programme that was both revolutionary and workable ever appeared;
basically, no doubt, because no one genuinely wanted any major change to
happen. The Labour leaders wanted to go on and on, drawing their salaries
and periodically swapping jobs with the Conservatives. The Communists
wanted to go on and on, suffering a comfortable martyrdom, meeting with
endless defeats and afterwards putting the blame on other people. The
left-wing intelligentsia wanted to go on and on, sniggering at the
Blimps, sapping away at middle-class morale, but still keeping their
favoured position as hangers-on of the dividend-drawers. Labour Party
politics had become a variant of Conservatism, "revolutionary" politics
had become a game of make-believe.

Now, however, the circumstances have changed, the drowsy years have
ended. Being a Socialist no longer means kicking theoretically against a
system which in practice you are fairly well satisfied with. This time
our predicament is real. It is "the Philistines be upon thee, Samson". We
have got to make our words take physical shape, or perish. We know very
well that with its present social structure England cannot survive, and
we have got to make other people see that fact and act upon it. We cannot
win the war without introducing Socialism, nor establish Socialism
without winning the war. At such a time it is possible, as it was not in
the peaceful years, to be both revolutionary and realistic. A Socialist
movement which can swing the mass of the people behind it, drive the
pro-Fascists out of positions of control, wipe out the grosser injustices
and let the working class see that they have something to fight for, win
over the middle classes instead of antagonising them, produce a workable
imperial policy instead of a mixture of humbug and Utopianism, bring
patriotism and intelligence into partnership--for the first time, a
movement of such a kind becomes possible.

ii.

The fact that we are at war has turned Socialism from a textbook word
into a realisable policy.

The inefficiency of private capitalism has been proved all over Europe.
Its injustice has been proved in the East End of London. Patriotism,
against which the Socialists fought so long, has become a tremendous
lever in their hands. People who at any other time would cling like glue
to their miserable scraps of privilege, will surrender them fast enough
when their country is in danger. War is the greatest of all agents of
change. It speeds up all processes, wipes out minor distinctions, brings
realities to the surface. Above all, war brings it home to the individual
that he is not altogether an individual. It is only because they are
aware of this that men will die on the field of battle. At this moment it
is not so much a question of surrendering life as of surrendering
leisure, comfort, economic liberty, social prestige. There are very few
people in England who really want to see their country conquered by
Germany. If it can be made clear that defeating Hitler means wiping out
class privilege, the great mass of middling people, the £6 a week to
£2,000 a year class, will probably be on our side. These people are quite
indispensable, because they include most of the technical experts.
Obviously the snobbishness and political ignorance of people like airmen
and naval officers will be a very great difficulty. But without those
airmen, destroyer commanders, etc etc we could not survive for a week.
The only approach to them is through their patriotism. An intelligent
Socialist movement will use their patriotism, instead of merely insulting
it, as hitherto.

But do I mean that there will be no opposition? Of course not. It would
be childish to expect anything of the kind.

There will be a bitter political struggle, and there will be unconscious
and half-conscious sabotage everywhere. At some point or other it may be
necessary to use violence. It is easy to imagine a pro-Fascist rebellion
breaking out in, for instance, India. We shall have to fight against
bribery, ignorance and snobbery. The bankers and the larger businessmen,
the landowners and dividend-drawers, the officials with their prehensile
bottoms, will obstruct for all they are worth. Even the middle classes
will writhe when their accustomed way of life is menaced. But just
because the English sense of national unity has never disintegrated,
because patriotism is finally stronger than class-hatred, the chances are
that the will of the majority will prevail. It is no use imagining that
one can make fundamental changes without causing a split in the nation;
but the treacherous minority will be far smaller in time of war than it
would be at any other time.

The swing of opinion is visibly happening, but it cannot be counted on to
happen fast enough of its own accord. This war is a race between the
consolidation of Hitler's empire and the growth of democratic
consciousness. Everywhere in England you can see a ding-dong battle
ranging to and fro--in Parliament and in the Government, in the factories
and the armed forces, in the pubs and the air-raid shelters, in the
newspapers and on the radio. Every day there are tiny defeats, tiny
victories. Morrison for Home Security--a few yards forward. Priestley
shoved off the air--a few yards back. It is a struggle between the
groping and the unteachable, between the young and the old, between the
living and the dead. But it is very necessary that the discontent which
undoubtedly exists should take a purposeful and not merely obstructive
form. It is time for THE PEOPLE to define their war-aims. What is wanted
is a simple, concrete programme of action, which can be given all
possible publicity, and round which public opinion can group itself.

I suggest that the following six-point programme is the kind of thing we
need. The first three points deal with England's internal policy, the
other three with the Empire and the world:

1. Nationalisation of land, mines, railways, banks and major industries.

2. Limitation of incomes, on such a scale that the highest tax free income
in Britain does not exceed the lowest by more than ten to one.

3. Reform of the educational system along democratic lines.

4. Immediate Dominion status for India, with power to secede when the war
is over.

5. Formation of an Imperial General Council, in which the coloured
peoples are to be represented.

6. Declaration of formal alliance with China, Abyssinia and all other
victims of the Fascist powers.

The general tendency of this programme is unmistakable. It aims quite
frankly at turning this war into a revolutionary war and England into a
Socialist democracy. I have deliberately included in it nothing that the
simplest person could not understand and see the reason for. In the form
in which I have put it, it could be printed on the front page of the
DAILY MIRROR. But for the purposes of this book a certain amount of
amplification is needed.

1. NATIONALISATION. One can "nationalise" industry by the stroke of a
pen, but the actual process is slow and complicated. What is needed is
that the ownership of all major industry shall be formally vested in the
State, representing the common people. Once that is done it becomes
possible to eliminate the class of mere OWNERS who live not by virtue of
anything they produce but by the possession of title-deeds and share
certificates. State-ownership implies, therefore, that nobody shall live
without working. How sudden a change in the conduct of industry it
implies is less certain. In a country like England we cannot rip down the
whole structure and build again from the bottom, least of all in time of
war. Inevitably the majority of industrial concerns will continue with
much the same personnel as before, the one-time owners or managing
directors carrying on with their jobs as State employees. There is reason
to think that many of the smaller capitalists would actually welcome some
such arrangement. The resistance will come from the big capitalists, the
bankers, the landlords and the idle rich, roughly speaking the class with
over £2,000 a year--and even if one counts in all their dependants there
are not more than half a million of these people in England.
Nationalisation of agricultural land implies cutting out the landlord and
the tithe drawer, but not necessarily interfering with the farmer. It is
difficult to imagine any reorganisation of English agriculture that would
not retain most of the existing farms as units, at any rate at the
beginning. The farmer, when he is competent, will continue as a salaried
manager. He is virtually that already, with the added disadvantage of
having to make a profit and being permanently in debt to the bank. With
certain kinds of petty trading, and even the small-scale ownership of
land, the State will probably not interfere at all. It would be a great
mistake to start by victimising the smallholder class, for instance.
These people are necessary, on the whole they are competent, and the
amount of work they do depends on the feeling that they are "their own
masters". But the State will certainly impose an upward limit to the
ownership of land (probably fifteen acres at the very most), and will
never permit any ownership of land in town areas.

From the moment that all productive goods have been declared the property
of the State, the common people will feel, as they cannot feel now, that
the State is THEMSELVES. They will be ready then to endure the sacrifices
that are ahead of us, war or no war. And even if the face of England
hardly seems to change, on the day that our main industries are formally
nationalised the dominance of a single class will have been broken. From
then onwards the emphasis will be shifted from ownership to management,
from privilege to competence. It is quite possible that State-ownership
will in itself bring about less social change than will be forced upon us
by the common hardships of war. But it is the necessary first step
without which any REAL reconstruction is impossible.

2. INCOMES. Limitation of incomes implies the fixing of a minimum wage,
which implies a managed internal currency based simply on the amount of
consumption goods available. And this again implies a stricter rationing
scheme than is now in operation. It is no use at this stage of the
world's history to suggest that all human beings should have EXACTLY
equal incomes. It has been shown over and over again that without some
kind of money reward there is no incentive to undertake certain jobs. On
the other hand the money reward need not be very large. In practice it is
impossible that earnings should be limited quite as rigidly as I have
suggested. There will always be anomalies and evasions. But there is no
reason why ten to one should not be the maximum normal variation. And
within those limits some sense of equality is possible. A man with £3 a
week and a man with £1,500 a year can feel themselves fellow creatures,
which the Duke of Westminster and the sleepers on the Embankment benches
cannot.

3. EDUCATION. In wartime, educational reform must necessarily be promise
rather than performance. At the moment we are not in a position to raise
the school-leaving age or increase the teaching staffs of the elementary
schools. But there are certain immediate steps that we could take towards
a democratic educational system. We could start by abolishing the
autonomy of the public schools and the older universities and flooding
them with State-aided pupils chosen simply on grounds of ability. At
present, public-school education is partly a training in class prejudice
and partly a sort of tax that the middle classes pay to the upper class
in return for the right to enter certain professions. It is true that
that state of affairs is altering. The middle classes have begun to rebel
against the expensiveness of education, and the war will bankrupt the
majority of the public schools if it continues for another year or two.
The evacuation is also producing certain minor changes. But there is a
danger that some of the older schools, which will be able to weather the
financial storm longest, will survive in some form or another as
festering centres of snobbery. As for the 10,000 "private" schools that
England possesses, the vast majority of them deserve nothing except
suppression. They are simply commercial undertakings, and in many cases
their educational level is actually lower than that of the elementary
schools. They merely exist because of a widespread idea that there is
something disgraceful in being educated by the public authorities. The
State could quell this idea by declaring itself responsible for all
education, even if at the start this were no more than a gesture. We
need gestures as well as actions. It is all too obvious that our talk of
"defending democracy" is nonsense while it is a mere accident of birth
that decides whether a gifted child shall or shall not get the education
it deserves.

4. INDIA. What we must offer India is not "freedom", which, as I have
said earlier, is impossible, but alliance, partnership-in a word,
equality. But we must also tell the Indians that they are free to secede,
if they want to. Without that there can be no equality of partnership,
and our claim to be defending the coloured peoples against Fascism will
never be believed. But it is a mistake to imagine that if the Indians
were free to cut themselves adrift they would immediately do so. When a
British government OFFERS them unconditional independence, they will
refuse it. For as soon as they have the power to secede the chief reasons
for doing so will have disappeared.

A complete severance of the two countries would be a disaster for India
no less than for England. Intelligent Indians know this. As things are at
present, India not only cannot defend itself, it is hardly even capable
of feeding itself. The whole administration of the country depends on a
framework of experts (engineers, forest officers, railwaymen, soldiers,
doctors) who are predominantly English and could not be replaced within
five or ten years. Moreover, English is the chief lingua franca and
nearly the whole of the Indian intelligentsia is deeply Anglicised. Any
transference to foreign rule--for if the British marched out of India the
Japanese and other powers would immediately march in--would mean an
immense dislocation. Neither the Japanese, the Russians, the Germans nor
the Italians would be capable of administering India even at the low
level of efficiency that is attained by the British. They do not possess
the necessary supplies of technical experts or the knowledge of languages
and local conditions, and they probably could not win the confidence of
indispensable go-betweens such as the Eurasians. If India were simply
"liberated", i.e. deprived of British military protection, the first
result would be a fresh foreign conquest, and the second a series of
enormous famines which would kill millions of people within a few years.

What India needs is the power to work out its own constitution without
British interference, but in some kind of partnership that ensures its
military protection and technical advice. This is unthinkable until there
is a Socialist government in England. For at least eighty years England
has artificially prevented the development of India, partly from fear of
trade competition if Indian industries were too highly developed, partly
because backward peoples are more easily governed than civilised ones. It
is a commonplace that the average Indian suffers far more from his own
countrymen than from the British. The petty Indian capitalist exploits
the town worker with the utmost ruthlessness, the peasant lives from
birth to death in the grip of the money-lender. But all this is an
indirect result of the British rule, which aims half-consciously at
keeping India as backward as possible. The classes most loyal to Britain
are the princes, the landowners and the business community--in general,
the reactionary classes who are doing fairly well out of the STATUS QUO.
The moment that England ceased to stand towards India in the relation of
an exploiter, the balance of forces would be altered. No need then for
the British to flatter the ridiculous Indian princes, with their gilded
elephants and cardboard armies, to prevent the growth of the Indian trade
unions, to play off Moslem against Hindu, to protect the worthless life
of the money-lender, to receive the salaams of toadying minor officials,
to prefer the half-barbarous Gurkha to the educated Bengali. Once check
that stream of dividends that flows from the bodies of Indian coolies to
the banking accounts of old ladies in Cheltenham, and the whole
sahib-native nexus, with its haughty ignorance on one side and envy and
servility on the other, can come to an end. Englishmen and Indians can
work side by side for the development of India, and for the training of
Indians in all the arts which, so far, they have been systematically
prevented from learning. How many of the existing British personnel in
India, commercial or official, would fall in with such an
arrangement--which would mean ceasing once and for all to be "sahibs"--is a
different question. But, broadly speaking, more is to be hoped from the
younger men and from those officials (civil engineers, forestry and
agricultural experts, doctors, educationists) who have been
scientifically educated. The higher officials, the provincial governors,
commissioners, judges, etc are hopeless; but they are also the most
easily replaceable.

That, roughly, is what would be meant by Dominion status if it were
offered to India by a Socialist government. It is an offer of partnership
on equal terms until such time as the world has ceased to be ruled by
bombing planes. But we must add to it the unconditional right to secede.
It is the only way of proving that we mean what we say. And what applies
to India applies, MUTATIS MUTANDIS, to Burma, Malaya and most of our
African possessions.

5 and 6 explain themselves. They are the necessary preliminary to any
claim that we are fighting this war for the protection of peaceful
peoples against Fascist aggression.

Is it impossibly hopeful to think that such a policy as this could get a
following in England? A year ago, even six months ago, it would have
been, but not now. Moreover-and this is the peculiar opportunity of this
moment--it could be given the necessary publicity. There is now a
considerable weekly press, with a circulation of millions, which would be
ready to popularise--if not EXACTLY the programme I have sketched above,
at any rate SOME policy along those lines. There are even three or four
daily papers which would be prepared to give it a sympathetic hearing.
That is the distance we have travelled in the last six months.

But is such a policy realisable? That depends entirely on ourselves.

Some of the points I have suggested are of the kind that could be carried
out immediately, others would take years or decades and even then would
not be perfectly achieved. No political programme is ever carried out in
its entirety. But what matters is that that or something like it should
be our declared policy. It is always the DIRECTION that counts. It is of
course quite hopeless to expect the present Government to pledge itself
to any policy that implies turning this war into a revolutionary war. It
is at best a government of compromise, with Churchill riding two horses
like a circus acrobat. Before such measures as limitation of incomes
become even thinkable, there will have to be a complete shift of power
away from the old ruling class. If during this winter the war settles
into another stagnant period, we ought in my opinion to agitate for a
General Election, a thing which the Tory Party machine will make frantic
efforts to prevent. But even without an election we can get the
government we want, provided that we want it urgently enough. A real
shove from below will accomplish it. As to who will be in that government
when it comes, I make no guess. I only know that the right men will be
there when the people really want them, for it is movements that make
leaders and not leaders movements.

Within a year, perhaps even within six months, if we are still
unconquered, we shall see the rise of something that has never existed
before, a specifically ENGLISH Socialist movement. Hitherto there has
been only the Labour Party, which was the creation of the working class
but did not aim at any fundamental change, and Marxism, which was a
German theory interpreted by Russians and unsuccessfully transplanted to
England. There was nothing that really touched the heart of the English
people. Throughout its entire history the English Socialist movement has
never produced a song with a catchy tune--nothing like LA MARSEILLAISE or
LA CUCURACHA, for instance. When a Socialist movement native to England
appears, the Marxists, like all others with a vested interest in the
past, will be its bitter enemies. Inevitably they will denounce it as
"Fascism". Already it is customary among the more soft-boiled
intellectuals of the Left to declare that if we fight against the Nazis
we shall "go Nazi" ourselves. They might almost equally well say that if
we fight against Negroes we shall turn black. To "go Nazi" we should have
to have the history of Germany behind us. Nations do not escape from
their past merely by making a revolution. An English Socialist government
will transform the nation from top to bottom, but it will still bear all
over it the unmistakable marks of our own civilisation, the peculiar
civilisation which I discussed earlier in this book.

It will not be doctrinaire, nor even logical. It will abolish the House
of Lords, but quite probably will not abolish the Monarchy. It will leave
anachronisms and loose ends everywhere, the judge in his ridiculous
horsehair wig and the lion and the unicorn on the soldier's cap-buttons.
It will not set up any explicit class dictatorship. It will group itself
round the old Labour Party and its mass following will be in the trade
unions, but it will draw into it most of the middle class and many of the
younger sons of the bourgeoisie. Most of its directing brains will come
from the new indeterminate class of skilled workers, technical experts,
airmen, scientists, architects and journalists, the people who feel at
home in the radio and ferro-concrete age. But it will never lose touch
with the tradition of compromise and the belief in a law that is above
the State. It will shoot traitors, but it will give them a solemn trial
beforehand and occasionally it will acquit them. It will crush any open
revolt promptly and cruelly, but it will interfere very little with the
spoken and written word. Political parties with different names will
still exist, revolutionary sects will still be publishing their
newspapers and making as little impression as ever. It will disestablish
the Church, but will not persecute religion. It will retain a vague
reverence for the Christian moral code, and from time to time will refer
to England as "a Christian country". The Catholic Church will war against
it, but the Nonconformist sects and the bulk of the Anglican Church will
be able to come to terms with it. It will show a power of assimilating
the past which will shock foreign observers and sometimes make them doubt
whether any revolution has happened.

But all the same it will have done the essential thing. It will have
nationalised industry, scaled down incomes, set up a classless
educational system. Its real nature will be apparent from the hatred
which the surviving rich men of the world will feel for it. It will aim
not at disintegrating the Empire but at turning it into a federation of
Socialist states, freed not so much from the British flag as from the
money-lender, the dividend-drawer and the woodenheaded British official.
Its war strategy will be totally different from that of any
property-ruled state, because it will not be afraid of the revolutionary
after-effects when any existing régime is brought down. It will not have
the smallest scruple about attacking hostile neutrals or stirring up
native rebellion in enemy colonies. It will fight in such a way that even
if it is beaten its memory will be dangerous to the victor, as the memory
of the French Revolution was dangerous to Metternich's Europe. The
dictators will fear it as they could not fear the existing British
régime, even if its military strength were ten times what it is.

But at this moment, when the drowsy life of England has barely altered,
and the offensive contrast of wealth and poverty still exists everywhere,
even amid the bombs, why do I dare to say that all these things "will"
happen?

Because the time has come when one can predict the future in terms of an
"either--or". Either we turn this war into a revolutionary war (I do not
say that our policy will be EXACTLY what I have indicated above--merely
that it will be along those general lines) or we lose it, and much more
besides. Quite soon it will be possible to say definitely that our feet
are set upon one path or the other. But at any rate it is certain that
with our present social structure we cannot win. Our real forces,
physical, moral or intellectual, cannot be mobilised.

iii.

Patriotism has nothing to do with Conservatism. It is actually the
opposite of Conservatism, since it is a devotion to something that is
always changing and yet is felt to be mystically the same. It is the
bridge between the future and the past. No real revolutionary has ever
been an internationalist.

During the past twenty years the negative, FAINÉANT outlook which has
been fashionable among English left-wingers, the sniggering of the
intellectuals at patriotism and physical courage, the persistent
effort to chip away English morale and spread a hedonistic,
what-do-I-get-out-of-it attitude to life, has done nothing but harm. It
would have been harmful even if we had been living in the squashy League
of Nations universe that these people imagined. In an age of Fuehrers and
bombing planes it was a disaster. However little we may like it,
toughness is the price of survival. A nation trained to think
hedonistically cannot survive amid peoples who work like slaves and breed
like rabbits, and whose chief national industry is war. English
Socialists of nearly all colours have wanted to make a stand against
Fascism, but at the same time they have aimed at making their own
countrymen unwarlike. They have failed, because in England traditional
loyalties are stronger than new ones. But in spite of all the
"anti-Fascist" heroics of the left-wing press, what chance should we have
stood when the real struggle with Fascism came, if the average Englishman
had been the kind of creature that the NEW STATESMAN, the DAILY WORKER or
even the NEWS CHRONICLE wished to make him?

Up to 1935 virtually all English left-wingers were vaguely pacifist.
After 1935 the more vocal of them flung themselves eagerly into the
Popular Front movement, which was simply an evasion of the whole problem
posed by Fascism. It set out to be "anti-Fascist" in a purely negative
way--"against" Fascism without being "for" any discoverable policy-and
underneath it lay the flabby idea that when the time came the Russians
would do our fighting for us. It is astonishing how this illusion fails
to die. Every week sees its spate of letters to the press, pointing out
that if we had a government with no Tories in it the Russians could
hardly avoid coming round to our side. Or we are to publish high-sounding
war-aims (VIDE books like UNSER KAMPF, A HUNDRED MILLION ALLIES--IF WE
CHOOSE, etc), whereupon the European populations will infallibly rise on
our behalf. It is the same idea all the time-look abroad for your
inspiration, get someone else to do your fighting for you. Underneath it
lies the frightful inferiority complex of the English intellectual, the
belief that the English are no longer a martial race, no longer capable
of enduring.

In truth there is no reason to think that anyone will do our fighting for
us yet awhile, except the Chinese, who have been doing it for three years
already. [Note: Written before the outbreak of the war in Greece.
(Author's footnote.)] The Russians may be driven to fight on our side by
the fact of a direct attack, but they have made it clear enough that they
will not stand up to the German army if there is any way of avoiding it.
In any case they are not likely to be attracted by the spectacle of a
left-wing government in England. The present Russian régime must almost
certainly be hostile to any revolution in the West. The subject peoples
of Europe will rebel when Hitler begins to totter, but not earlier. Our
potential allies are not the Europeans but on the one hand the Americans,
who will need a year to mobilise their resources even if Big Business can
be brought to heel, and on the other hand the coloured peoples, who
cannot be even sentimentally on our side till our own revolution has
started. For a long time, a year, two years, possibly three years,
England has got to be the shock-absorber of the world. We have got to
face bombing, hunger, overwork, influenza, boredom and treacherous peace
offers. Manifestly it is a time to stiffen morale, not to weaken it.
Instead of taking the mechanically anti-British attitude which is usual
on the Left, it is better to consider what the world would really be like
if the English-speaking culture perished. For it is childish to suppose
that the other English-speaking countries, even the USA, will be
unaffected if Britain is conquered.

Lord Halifax, and all his tribe, believe that when the war is over things
will be exactly as they were before. Back to the crazy pavement of
Versailles, back to "democracy", i.e. capitalism, back to dole queues and
the Rolls-Royce cars, back to the grey top hats and the sponge-bag
trousers, IN SAECULA SAECULORUM. It is of course obvious that nothing of
the kind is going to happen. A feeble imitation of it might just possibly
happen in the case of a negotiated peace, but only for a short while.
LAISSEZ-FAIRE capitalism is dead. [Note, below] The choice lies between
the kind of collective society that Hitler will set up and the kind that
can arise if he is defeated.

[Note: It is interesting to notice that Mr Kennedy, USA Ambassador in
London, remarked on his return to New York in October 1940 that as a
result of the war "democracy is finished". By "democracy", of course, he
meant private capitalism. (Author's footnote.)]

If Hitler wins this war he will consolidate his rule over Europe, Africa
and the Middle East, and if his armies have not been too greatly
exhausted beforehand, he will wrench vast territories from Soviet Russia.
He will set up a graded caste-society in which the German HERRENVOLK
("master race" or "aristocratic race") will rule over Slavs and other
lesser peoples whose job it will be to produce low-priced agricultural
products. He will reduce the coloured peoples once and for all to
outright slavery. The real quarrel of the Fascist powers with British
imperialism is that they know that it is disintegrating. Another twenty
years along the present line of development, and India will be a peasant
republic linked with England only by voluntary alliance. The "semi-apes"
of whom Hitler speaks with such loathing will be flying aeroplanes and
manufacturing machine-guns. The Fascist dream of a slave empire will be
at an end. On the other hand, if we are defeated we simply hand over our
own victims to new masters who come fresh to the job and have not
developed any scruples.

But more is involved than the fate of the coloured peoples. Two
incompatible visions of life are fighting one another. "Between democracy
and totalitarianism," says Mussolini, "there can be no compromise." The
two creeds cannot even, for any length of time, live side by side. So
long as democracy exists, even in its very imperfect English form,
totalitarianism is in deadly danger. The whole English-speaking world is
haunted by the idea of human equality, and though it would be simply a
lie to say that either we or the Americans have ever acted up to our
professions, still, the IDEA is there, and it is capable of one day
becoming a reality. From the English-speaking culture, if it does not
perish, a society of free and equal human beings will ultimately arise.
But it is precisely the idea of human equality--the "Jewish" or
"Judaeo-Christian" idea of equality--that Hitler came into the world to
destroy. He has, heaven knows, said so often enough. The thought of a
world in which black men would be as good as white men and Jews treated
as human beings brings him the same horror and despair as the thought of
endless slavery brings to us.

It is important to keep in mind how irreconcilable these two viewpoints
are. Some time within the next year a pro-Hitler reaction within the
left-wing intelligentsia is likely enough. There are premonitory signs of
it already. Hitler's positive achievement appeals to the emptiness of
these people, and, in the case of those with pacifist leanings, to their
masochism. One knows in advance more or less what they will say. They
will start by refusing to admit that British capitalism is evolving into
something different, or that the defeat of Hitler can mean any more than
a victory for the British and American millionaires. And from that they
will proceed to argue that, after all, democracy is "just the same as" or
"just as bad as" totalitarianism. There is NOT MUCH freedom of speech in
England; therefore there is NO MORE than exists in Germany. To be on the
dole is a horrible experience; therefore it is NO WORSE to be in the
torture-chambers of the Gestapo. In general, two blacks make a white,
half a loaf is the same as no bread.

But in reality, whatever may be true about democracy and totalitarianism,
it is not true that they are the same. It would not be true, even if
British democracy were incapable of evolving beyond its present stage.
The whole conception of the militarised continental state, with its
secret police, its censored literature and its conscript labour, is
utterly different from that of the loose maritime democracy, with its
slums and unemployment, its strikes and party politics. It is the
difference between land power and sea power, between cruelty and
inefficiency, between lying and self-deception, between the SS man and
the rent-collector. And in choosing between them one chooses not so much
on the strength of what they now are as of what they are capable of
becoming. But in a sense it is irrelevant whether democracy, at its
higher or at its lowest, is "better" than totalitarianism. To decide that
one would have to have access to absolute standards. The only question
that matters is where one's real sympathies will lie when the pinch
comes. The intellectuals who are so fond of balancing democracy against
totalitarianism and "proving" that one is as bad as the other are simply
frivolous people who have never been shoved up against realities. They
show the same shallow misunderstanding of Fascism now, when they are
beginning to flirt with it, as a year or two ago, when they were
squealing against it. The question is not, "Can you make out a
debating-society 'case' in favour of Hitler?" The question is, "Do you
genuinely accept that case? Are you willing to submit to Hitler's rule?
Do you want to see England conquered, or don't you?" It would be better
to be sure on that point before frivolously siding with the enemy. For
there is no such thing as neutrality in war; in practice one must help
one side or the other.

When the pinch comes, no one bred in the western tradition can accept the
Fascist vision of life. It is important to realise that now, and to grasp
what it entails. With all its sloth, hypocrisy and injustice, the
English speaking civilisation is the only large obstacle in Hitler's path.
It is a living contradiction of all the "infallible" dogmas of Fascism.
That is why all Fascist writers for years past have agreed that England's
power must be destroyed. England must be "exterminated", must be
"annihilated", must "cease to exist". Strategically it would be possible
for this war to end with Hitler in secure possession of Europe, and with
the British Empire intact and British sea-power barely affected. But
ideologically it is not possible; were Hitler to make an offer along
those lines, it could only be treacherously, with a view to conquering
England indirectly or renewing the attack at some more favourable moment.
England cannot possibly be allowed to remain as a sort of funnel through
which deadly ideas from beyond the Atlantic flow into the police states
of Europe. And turning it round to our own point of view, we see the
vastness of the issue before us, the all-importance of preserving our
democracy more or less as we have known it. But to PRESERVE is always to
EXTEND. The choice before us is not so much between victory and defeat as
between revolution and apathy. If the thing we are fighting for is
altogether destroyed, it will have been destroyed partly by our own act.

It could happen that England could introduce the beginnings of Socialism,
turn this war into a revolutionary war, and still be defeated. That is at
any rate thinkable. But, terrible as it would be for anyone who is now
adult, it would be far less deadly than the "compromise peace" which a
few rich men and their hired liars are hoping for. The final ruin of
England could only be accomplished by an English government acting under
orders from Berlin. But that cannot happen if England has awakened
beforehand. For in that case the defeat would be unmistakable, the
struggle would continue, the IDEA would survive. The difference between
going down fighting, and surrendering without a fight, is by no means a
question of "honour" and schoolboy heroics. Hitler said once that to
ACCEPT defeat destroys the soul of a nation. This sounds like a piece of
claptrap, but it is strictly true. The defeat of 1870 did not lessen the
world-influence of France. The Third Republic had more influence,
intellectually, than the France of Napoleon III. But the sort of peace
that Petain, Laval and Co have accepted can only be purchased by
deliberately wiping out the national culture. The Vichy Government will
enjoy a spurious independence only on condition that it destroys the
distinctive marks of French culture: republicanism, secularism, respect
for the intellect, absence of colour prejudice. We cannot be UTTERLY
defeated if we have made our revolution beforehand. We may see German
troops marching down Whitehall, but another process, ultimately deadly to
the German power-dream, will have been started. The Spanish people were
defeated, but the things they learned during those two and a half
memorable years will one day come back upon the Spanish Fascists like a
boomerang.

A piece of Shakespearean bombast was much quoted at the beginning of the
war. Even Mr Chamberlain quoted it once, if my memory does not deceive
me:

Come the four corners of the world in arms
And we shall shock them: naught shall make us rue
If England to herself do rest but true.

It is right enough, if you interpret it rightly. But England has got to
be true to herself. She is not being true to herself while the refugees
who have sought our shores are penned up in concentration camps, and
company directors work out subtle schemes to dodge their Excess Profits
Tax. It is goodbye to the TATLER and the BYSTANDER, and farewell to the
lady in the Rolls-Royce car. The heirs of Nelson and of Cromwell are not
in the House of Lords. They are in the fields and the streets, in the
factories and the armed forces, in the four-ale bar and the suburban back
garden; and at present they are still kept under by a generation of
ghosts. Compared with the task of bringing the real England to the
surface, even the winning of the war, necessary though it is, is
secondary. By revolution we become more ourselves, not less. There is no
question of stopping short, striking a compromise, salvaging "democracy",
standing still. Nothing ever stands still. We must add to our heritage or
lose it, we must grow greater or grow less, we must go forward or
backward. I believe in England, and I believe that we shall go forward.



WELLS, HITLER AND THE WORLD STATE (1941)


"In March or April, say the wiseacres, there is to be a stupendous
knockout blow at Britain...What Hitler has to do it with, I cannot
imagine. His ebbing and dispersed military resources are now probably
not so very much greater than the Italians' before they were put to the
test in Greece and Africa."

"The German air power has been largely spent. It is behind the times
and its first-rate men are mostly dead or disheartened or worn out."

"In 1914 the Hohenzollern army was the best in the world. Behind that
screaming little defective in Berlin there is nothing of the sort...
Yet our military 'experts' discuss the waiting phantom. In their
imaginations it is perfect in its equipment and invincible in
discipline. Sometimes it is to strike a decisive 'blow' through Spain
and North Africa and on, or march through the Balkans, march from the
Danube to Ankara, to Persia, to India, or 'crush Russia', or 'pour' over
the Brenner into Italy. The weeks pass and the phantom does none of
these things--for one excellent reason. It does not exist to that
extent. Most of such inadequate guns and munitions as it possessed must
have been taken away from it and fooled away in Hitler's silly feints to
invade Britain. And its raw jerry-built discipline is wilting under the
creeping realisation that the Blitzkrieg is spent, and the war is coming
home to roost."

These quotations are not taken from the CAVALRY QUARTERLY but from a
series of newspaper articles by Mr H.G. Wells, written at the beginning
of this year and now reprinted in a book entitled GUIDE TO THE NEW
WORLD. Since they were written, the German army has overrun the Balkans
and reconquered Cyrenaica, it can march through Turkey or Spain at such
time as may suit it, and it has undertaken the invasion of Russia. How
that campaign will turn out I do not know, but it is worth noticing that
the German general staff, whose opinion is probably worth something,
would not have begun it if they had not felt fairly certain of finishing
it within three months. So much for the idea that the German army is a
bogey, its equipment inadequate, its morale breaking down, etc etc.

What has Wells to set against the "screaming little defective in
Berlin"? The usual rigmarole about a World State, plus the Sankey
Declaration, which is an attempted definition of fundamental human
rights, of anti-totalitarian tendency. Except that he is now especially
concerned with federal world control of air power, it is the same gospel
as he has been preaching almost without interruption for the past forty
years, always with an air of angry surprise at the human beings who can
fail to grasp anything so obvious.

What is the use of saying that we need federal world control of the air?
The whole question is how we are to get it. What is the use of pointing
out that a World State is desirable? What matters is that not one of the
five great military powers would think of submitting to such a thing.
All sensible men for decades past have been substantially in agreement
with what Mr Wells says; but the sensible men have no power and, in too
many cases, no disposition to sacrifice themselves. Hitler is a criminal
lunatic, and Hitler has an army of millions of men, aeroplanes in
thousands, tanks in tens of thousands. For his sake a great nation has
been willing to overwork itself for six years and then to fight for two
years more, whereas for the commonsense, essentially hedonistic
world-view which Mr Wells puts forward, hardly a human creature is
willing to shed a pint of blood. Before you can even talk of world
reconstruction, or even of peace, you have got to eliminate Hitler,
which means bringing into being a dynamic not necessarily the same as
that of the Nazis, but probably quite as unacceptable to "enlightened"
and hedonistic people. What has kept England on its feet during the past
year? In part, no doubt, some vague idea about a better future, but
chiefly the atavistic emotion of patriotism, the ingrained feeling of
the English-speaking peoples that they are superior to foreigners. For
the last twenty years the main object of English left-wing intellectuals
has been to break this feeling down, and if they had succeeded, we might
be watching the SS men patrolling the London streets at this moment.
Similarly, why are the Russians fighting like tigers against the German
invasion? In part, perhaps, for some half-remembered ideal of Utopian
Socialism, but chiefly in defence of Holy Russia (the "sacred soil of
the Fatherland", etc etc), which Stalin has revived in an only slightly
altered form. The energy that actually shapes the world springs from
emotions--racial pride, leader-worship, religious belief, love of
war--which liberal intellectuals mechanically write off as anachronisms,
and which they have usually destroyed so completely in themselves as to
have lost all power of action.

The people who say that Hitler is Antichrist, or alternatively, the Holy
Ghost, are nearer an understanding of the truth than the intellectuals
who for ten dreadful years have kept it up that he is merely a figure
out of comic opera, not worth taking seriously. All that this idea
really reflects is the sheltered conditions of English life. The Left
Book Club was at bottom a product of Scotland Yard, just as the Peace
Pledge Union is a product of the navy. One development of the last ten
years has been the appearance of the "political book", a sort of
enlarged pamphlet combining history with political criticism, as an
important literary form. But the best writers in this line--Trotsky,
Rauschning, Rosenberg, Silone, Borkenau, Koestler and others--have none
of them been Englishmen, and nearly all of them have been renegades from
one or other extremist party, who have seen totalitarianism at close
quarters and known the meaning of exile and persecution. Only in the
English-speaking countries was it fashionable to believe, right up to the
outbreak of war, that Hitler was an unimportant lunatic and the German
tanks made of cardboard. Mr Wells, it will be seen from the quotations I
have given above, believes something of the kind still. I do not suppose
that either the bombs or the German campaign in Greece have altered his
opinion. A lifelong habit of thought stands between him and an
understanding of Hitler's power.

Mr Wells, like Dickens, belongs to the non-military middle class. The
thunder of guns, the jingle of spurs, the catch in the throat when the
old flag goes by, leave him manifestly cold. He has an invincible hatred
of the fighting, hunting, swashbuckling side of life, symbolised in all
his early books by a violent propaganda against horses. The principal
villain of his OUTLINE OF HISTORY is the military adventurer, Napoleon.
If one looks through nearly any book that he has written in the last
forty years one finds the same idea constantly recurring: the supposed
antithesis between the man of science who is working towards a planned
World State and the reactionary who is trying to restore a disorderly
past. In novels, Utopias, essays, films, pamphlets, the antithesis crops
up, always more or less the same. On the one side science, order,
progress, internationalism, aeroplanes, steel, concrete, hygiene: on the
other side war, nationalism, religion, monarchy, peasants, Greek
professors, poets, horses. History as he sees it is a series of
victories won by the scientific man over the romantic man. Now, he is
probably right in assuming that a "reasonable", planned form of society,
with scientists rather than witch-doctors in control, will prevail
sooner or later, but that is a different matter from assuming that it is
just round the corner. There survives somewhere or other an interesting
controversy which took place between Wells and Churchill at the time of
the Russian Revolution. Wells accuses Churchill of not really believing
his own propaganda about the Bolsheviks being monsters dripping with
blood etc, but of merely fearing that they were going to introduce an
era of common sense and scientific control, in which flag-wavers like
Churchill himself would have no place. Churchill's estimate of the
Bolsheviks, however, was nearer the mark than Wells's. The early
Bolsheviks may have been angels or demons, according as one chooses to
regard them, but at any rate they were not sensible men. They were not
introducing a Wellsian Utopia but a Rule of the Saints, which, like the
English Rule of the Saints, was a military despotism enlivened by
witchcraft trials. The same misconception reappears in an inverted form
in Wells's attitude to the Nazis. Hitler is all the war-lords and
witch doctors in history rolled into one. Therefore, argues Wells, he is
an absurdity, a ghost from the past, a creature doomed to disappear
almost immediately. But unfortunately the equation of science with
common sense does not really hold good. The aeroplane, which was looked
forward to as a civilising influence but in practice has hardly been
used except for dropping bombs, is the symbol of that fact. Modern
Germany is far more scientific than England, and far more barbarous.
Much of what Wells has imagined and worked for is physically there in
Nazi Germany. The order, the planning, the State encouragement of
science, the steel, the concrete, the aeroplanes, are all there, but all
in the service of ideas appropriate to the Stone Age. Science is
fighting on the side of superstition. But obviously it is impossible for
Wells to accept this. It would contradict the world-view on which his
own works are based. The war-lords and the witch-doctors MUST fail, the
common-sense World State, as seen by a nineteenth-century liberal whose
heart does not leap at the sound of bugles, MUST triumph. Treachery and
defeatism apart, Hitler CANNOT be a danger. That he should finally win
would be an impossible reversal of history, like a Jacobite restoration.

But is it not a sort of parricide for a person of my age (thirty-eight)
to find fault with H.G. Wells? Thinking people who were born about the
beginning of this century are in some sense Wells's own creation. How
much influence any mere writer has, and especially a "popular" writer
whose work takes effect quickly, is questionable, but I doubt whether
anyone who was writing books between 1900 and 1920, at any rate in the
English language, influenced the young so much. The minds of all of us,
and therefore the physical world, would be perceptibly different if
Wells had never existed. Only, just the singleness of mind, the one-sided
imagination that made him seem like an inspired prophet in the Edwardian
age, make him a shallow, inadequate thinker now. When Wells was young,
the antithesis between science and reaction was not false. Society was
ruled by narrow-minded, profoundly incurious people, predatory
businessmen, dull squires, bishops, politicians who could quote
Horace but had never heard of algebra. Science was faintly disreputable
and religious belief obligatory. Traditionalism, stupidity, snobbishness,
patriotism, superstition and love of war seemed to be all on the
same side; there was need of someone who could state the opposite
point of view. Back in the nineteen-hundreds it was a wonderful
experience for a boy to discover H.G. Wells. There you were, in a world
of pedants, clergymen and golfers, with your future employers exhorting
you to "get on or get out", your parents systematically warping your
sexual life, and your dull-witted schoolmasters sniggering over their
Latin tags; and here was this wonderful man who could tell you about the
inhabitants of the planets and the bottom of the sea, and who knew that
the future was not going to be what respectable people imagined. A
decade or so before aeroplanes were technically feasible Wells knew that
within a little while men would be able to fly. He knew that because he
himself wanted to be able to fly, and therefore felt sure that research
in that direction would continue. On the other hand, even when I was a
little boy, at a time when the Wright brothers had actually lifted their
machine off the ground for fifty-nine seconds, the generally accepted
opinion was that if God had meant us to fly He would have given us
wings. Up to 1914 Wells was in the main a true prophet. In physical
details his vision of the new world has been fulfilled to a surprising
extent.

But because he belonged to the nineteenth century and to a non-military
nation and class, he could not grasp the tremendous strength of the old
world which was symbolised in his mind by fox-hunting Tories. He was, and
still is, quite incapable of understanding that nationalism, religious
bigotry and feudal loyalty are far more powerful forces than what he
himself would describe as sanity. Creatures out of the Dark Ages have
come marching into the present, and if they are ghosts they are at any
rate ghosts which need a strong magic to lay them. The people who have
shown the best understanding of Fascism are either those who have
suffered under it or those who have a Fascist streak in themselves. A
crude book like THE IRON HEEL, written nearly thirty years ago, is a
truer prophecy of the future than either BRAVE NEW WORLD or THE SHAPE OF
THINGS TO COME. If one had to choose among Wells's own contemporaries a
writer who could stand towards him as a corrective, one might choose
Kipling, who was not deaf to the evil voices of power and military
"glory". Kipling would have understood the appeal of Hitler, or for that
matter of Stalin, whatever his attitude towards them might be. Wells is
too sane to understand the modern world. The succession of
lower-middle-class novels which are his greatest achievement stopped
short at the other war and never really began again, and since 1920 he
has squandered his talents in slaying paper dragons. But how much it is,
after all, to have any talents to squander.



LOOKING BACK ON THE SPANISH WAR (1942)


1.

First of all the physical memories, the sounds, the smells and the
surfaces of things.

It is curious that more vividly than anything that came afterwards in the
Spanish war I remember the week of so-called training that we received
before being sent to the front--the huge cavalry barracks in Barcelona
with its draughty stables and cobbled yards, the icy cold of the pump
where one washed, the filthy meals made tolerable by pannikins of wine,
the Trousered militia-women chopping firewood, and the roll-call in the
early mornings where my prosaic English name made a sort of comic
interlude among the resounding Spanish ones, Manuel Gonzalez, Pedro
Aguilar, Ramon Fenellosa, Roque Ballaster, Jaime Domenech, Sebastian
Viltron, Ramon Nuvo Bosch. I name those particular men because I remember
the faces of all of them. Except for two who were mere riff-raff and have
doubtless become good Falangists by this time, it is probable that all of
them are dead. Two of them I know to be dead. The eldest would have been
about twenty-five, the youngest sixteen.

One of the essential experiences of war is never being able to escape
from disgusting smells of human origin. Latrines are an overworked
subject in war literature, and I would not mention them if it were not
that the latrine in our barracks did its necessary bit towards puncturing
my own illusions about the Spanish civil war. The Latin type of latrine,
at which you have to squat, is bad enough at its best, but these were
made of some kind of polished stone so slippery that it was all you could
do to keep on your feet. In addition they were always blocked. Now I have
plenty of other disgusting things in my memory, but I believe it was
these latrines that first brought home to me the thought, so often to
recur: 'Here we are, soldiers of a revolutionary army, defending
Democracy against Fascism, fighting a war which is ABOUT something, and
the detail of our lives is just as sordid and degrading as it could be in
prison, let alone in a bourgeois army.' Many other things reinforced this
impression later; for instance, the boredom and animal hunger of trench
life, the squalid intrigues over scraps of food, the mean, nagging
quarrels which people exhausted by lack of sleep indulge in.

The essential horror of army life (whoever has been a soldier will know
what I mean by the essential horror of army life) is barely affected by
the nature of the war you happen to be fighting in. Discipline, for
instance, is ultimately the same in all armies. Orders have to be obeyed
and enforced by punishment if necessary, the relationship of officer and
man has to be the relationship of superior and inferior. The picture of
war set forth in books like ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT is
substantially true. Bullets hurt, corpses stink, men under fire are often
so frightened that they wet their trousers. It is true that the social
background from which an army springs will colour its training, tactics
and general efficiency, and also that the consciousness of being in the
right can bolster up morale, though this affects the civilian population
more than the troops. (People forget that a soldier anywhere near the
front line is usually too hungry, or frightened, or cold, or, above all,
too tired to bother about the political origins of the war.) But the laws
of nature are not suspended for a 'red' army any more than for a 'white'
one. A louse is a louse and a bomb is a bomb, even though the cause you
are fighting for happens to be just.

Why is it worth while to point out anything so obvious? Because the bulk
of the British and American intelligentsia were manifestly unaware of it
then, and are now. Our memories are short nowadays, but look back a bit,
dig out the files of NEW MASSES or the DAILY WORKER, and just have a look
at the romantic warmongering muck that our left-wingers were spilling at
that time. All the stale old phrases! And the unimaginative callousness
of it! The sang-froid with which London faced the bombing of Madrid! Here
I am not bothering about the counter-propagandists of the Right, the
Lunns, Garvins ET HOC GENUS; they go without saying. But here were the
very people who for twenty years had hooted and jeered at the 'glory' of
war, at atrocity stories, at patriotism, even at physical courage, coming
out with stuff that with the alteration of a few names would have fitted
into the DAILY MAIL of 1918. If there was one thing that the British
intelligentsia were committed to, it was the debunking version of war,
the theory that war is all corpses and latrines and never leads to any
good result. Well, the same people who in 1933 sniggered pityingly if you
said that in certain circumstances you would fight for your country, in
1937 were denouncing you as a Trotsky-Fascist if you suggested that the
stories in NEW MASSES about freshly wounded men clamouring to get back
into the fighting might be exaggerated. And the Left intelligentsia made
their swing-over from 'War is hell' to 'War is glorious' not only with no
sense of incongruity but almost without any intervening stage. Later the
bulk of them were to make other transitions equally violent. There must
be a quite large number of people, a sort of central core of the
intelligentsia, who approved the 'King and Country' declaration in 1935,
shouted for a' firm line against Germany' in 1937, supported the People's
Convention in 1940, and are demanding a Second Front now.

As far as the mass of the people go, the extraordinary swings of opinion
which occur nowadays, the emotions which can be turned on and off like a
tap, are the result of newspaper and radio hypnosis. In the
intelligentsia I should say they result rather from money and mere
physical safety. At a given moment they may be 'pro-war' or 'anti-war',
but in either case they have no realistic picture of war in their minds.
When they enthused over the Spanish war they knew, of course, that people
were being killed and that to be killed is unpleasant, but they did feel
that for a soldier in the Spanish Republican army the experience of war
was somehow not degrading. Somehow the latrines stank less, discipline
was less irksome. You have only to glance at the NEW STATESMAN to see
that they believed that; exactly similar blah is being written about the
Red Army at this moment. We have become too civilized to grasp the
obvious. For the truth is very simple. To survive you often have to
fight, and to fight you have to dirty yourself. War is evil, and it is
often the lesser evil. Those who take the sword perish by the sword, and
those who don't take the sword perish by smelly diseases. The fact that
such a platitude is worth writing down shows what the years of RENTIER
capitalism have done to us.

2

In connexion with what I have just said, a footnote, on atrocities.

I have little direct evidence about the atrocities in the Spanish civil
war. I know that some were committed by the Republicans, and far more
(they are still continuing) by the Fascists. But what impressed me then,
and has impressed me ever since, is that atrocities are believed in or
disbelieved in solely on grounds of political predilection. Everyone
believes in the atrocities of the enemy and disbelieves in those of his
own side, without ever bothering to examine the evidence. Recently I drew
up a table of atrocities during the period between 1918 and the present;
there was never a year when atrocities were not occurring somewhere or
other, and there was hardly a single case when the Left and the Right
believed in the same stories simultaneously. And stranger yet, at any
moment the situation can suddenly reverse itself and yesterday's
proved-to-the-hilt atrocity story can become a ridiculous lie, merely
because the political landscape has changed.

In the present war we are in the curious situation that our 'atrocity
campaign' was done largely before the war started, and done mostly by the
Left, the people who normally pride themselves on their incredulity. In
the same period the Right, the atrocity-mongers of 1914-18, were gazing
at Nazi Germany and flatly refusing to see any evil in it. Then as soon
as war broke out it was the pro-Nazis of yesterday who were repeating
horror stories, while the anti-Nazis suddenly found themselves doubting
whether the Gestapo really existed. Nor was this solely the result of the
Russo-German Pact. It was partly because before the war the Left had
wrongly believed that Britain and Germany would never fight and were
therefore able to be anti-German and anti-British simultaneously; partly
also because official war-propaganda, with its disgusting hypocrisy and
self-righteousness, always tends to make thinking people sympathize with
the enemy. Part of the price we paid for the systematic lying of 1914-17
was the exaggerated pro-German reaction which followed. During the years
1918-33 you were hooted at in left-wing circles if you suggested that
Germany bore even a fraction of responsibility for the war. In all the
denunciations of Versailles I listened to during those years I don't
think I ever once heard the question, 'What would have happened if
Germany had won?' even mentioned, let alone discussed. So also with
atrocities. The truth, it is felt, becomes untruth when your enemy utters
it. Recently I noticed that the very people who swallowed any and every
horror story about the Japanese in Nanking in 1937 refused to believe
exactly the same stories about Hong Kong in 1942. There was even a
tendency to feel that the Nanking atrocities had become, as it were,
retrospectively untrue because the British Government now drew attention
to them.

But unfortunately the truth about atrocities is far worse than that they
are lied about and made into propaganda. The truth is that they happen.
The fact often adduced as a reason for scepticism--that the same horror
stories come up in war after war--merely makes it rather more likely
that these stories are true. Evidently they are widespread fantasies, and
war provides an opportunity of putting them into practice. Also, although
it has ceased to be fashionable to say so, there is little question that
what one may roughly call the 'whites' commit far more and worse
atrocities than the 'reds'. There is not the slightest doubt, for
instance, about the behaviour of the Japanese in China. Nor is there much
doubt about the long tale of Fascist outrages during the last ten years
in Europe. The volume of testimony is enormous, and a respectable
proportion of it comes from the German press and radio. These things
really happened, that is the thing to keep one's eye on. They happened
even though Lord Halifax said they happened. The raping and butchering in
Chinese cities, the tortures in the cellars of the Gestapo, the elderly
Jewish professors flung into cesspools, the machine-gunning of refugees
along the Spanish roads--they all happened, and they did not happen any
the less because the DAILY TELEGRAPH has suddenly found out about them
when it is five years too late.

3

Two memories, the first not proving anything in particular, the second, I
think, giving one a certain insight into the atmosphere of a
revolutionary period:

Early one morning another man and I had gone out to snipe at the Fascists
in the trenches outside Huesca. Their line and ours here lay three
hundred yards apart, at which range our aged rifles would not shoot
accurately, but by sneaking out to a spot about a hundred yards from the
Fascist trench you might, if you were lucky, get a shot at someone
through a gap in the parapet. Unfortunately the ground between was a flat
beet field with no cover except a few ditches, and it was necessary to go
out while it was still-dark and return soon after dawn, before the light
became too good. This time no Fascists appeared, and we stayed too long
and were caught by the dawn. We were in a ditch, but behind us were two
hundred yards of flat ground with hardly enough cover for a rabbit. We
were still trying to nerve ourselves to make a dash for it when there was
an uproar and a blowing of whistles in the Fascist trench. Some of our
aeroplanes were coming over. At this moment, a man presumably carrying a
message to an officer, jumped out of the trench and ran along the top of
the parapet in full view. He was half-dressed and was holding up his
trousers with both hands as he ran. I refrained from shooting at him. It
is true that I am a poor shot and unlikely to hit a running man at a
hundred yards, and also that I was thinking chiefly about getting back to
our trench while the Fascists had their attention fixed on the
aeroplanes. Still, I did not shoot partly because of that detail about
the trousers. I had come here to shoot at 'Fascists'; but a man who is
holding up his trousers isn't a 'Fascist', he is visibly a
fellow-creature, similar to yourself, and you don't feel like shooting at
him.

What does this incident demonstrate? Nothing very much, because it is the
kind of thing that happens all the time in all wars. The other is
different. I don't suppose that in telling it I can make it moving to you
who read it, but I ask you to believe that it is moving to me, as an
incident characteristic of the moral atmosphere of a particular moment in
time.

One of the recruits who joined us while I was at the barracks was a
wild-looking boy from the back streets of Barcelona. He was ragged and
barefooted. He was also extremely dark (Arab blood, I dare say), and made
gestures you do not usually see a European make; one in particular--the
arm outstretched, the palm vertical--was a gesture characteristic of
Indians. One day a bundle of cigars, which you could still buy dirt cheap
at that time, was stolen out of my bunk. Rather foolishly I reported this
to the officer, and one of the scallywags I have already mentioned
promptly came forward and said quite untruly that twenty-five pesetas had
been stolen from his bunk. For some reason the officer instantly decided
that the brown-faced boy must be the thief. They were very hard on
stealing in the militia, and in theory people could be shot for it. The
wretched boy allowed himself to be led off to the guardroom to be
searched. What most struck me was that he barely attempted to protest his
innocence. In the fatalism of his attitude you could see the desperate
poverty in which he had been bred. The officer ordered him to take his
clothes off. With a humility which was horrible to me he stripped himself
naked, and his clothes were searched. Of course neither the cigars nor
the money were there; in fact he had not stolen them. What was most
painful of all was that he seemed no less ashamed after his innocence had
been established. That night I took him to the pictures and gave him
brandy and chocolate. But that too was horrible--I mean the attempt to
wipe out an injury with money. For a few minutes I had half believed him
to be a thief, and that could not be wiped out.

Well, a few weeks later at the front I had trouble with one of the men in
my section. By this time I was a 'cabo', or corporal, in command of
twelve men. It was static warfare, horribly cold, and the chief job was
getting sentries to stay awake at their posts. One day a man suddenly
refused to go to a certain post, which he said quite truly was exposed to
enemy fire. He was a feeble creature, and I seized hold of him and began
to drag him towards his post. This roused the feelings of the others
against me, for Spaniards, I think, resent being touched more than we do.
Instantly I was surrounded by a ring of shouting men:' Fascist! Fascist!
Let that man go! This isn't a bourgeois army. Fascist!' etc., etc. As
best I could in my bad Spanish I shouted back that orders had got to be
obeyed, and the row developed into one of those enormous arguments by
means of which discipline is gradually hammered out in revolutionary
armies. Some said I was right, others said I was wrong. But the point is
that the one who took my side the most warmly of all was the brown-faced
boy. As soon as he saw what was happening he sprang into the ring and
began passionately defending me. With his strange, wild, Indian gesture
he kept exclaiming, 'He's the best corporal we've got!' (NO HAY CABO COMO
EL!) Later on he applied for leave to exchange into my section.

Why is this incident touching to me? Because in any normal circumstances
it would have been impossible for good feelings ever to be re-established
between this boy and myself. The implied accusation of theft would not
have been made any better, probably somewhat worse, by my efforts to make
amends. One of the effects of safe and civilized life is an immense
oversensitiveness which makes all the primary emotions seem somewhat
disgusting. Generosity is as painful as meanness, gratitude as hateful as
ingratitude. But in Spain in 1936 we were not living in a normal time. It
was a time when generous feelings and gestures were easier than they
ordinarily are. I could relate a dozen similar incidents, not really
communicable but bound up in my own mind with the special atmosphere of
the time, the shabby clothes and the gay-coloured revolutionary posters,
the universal use of the word 'comrade', the anti-Fascist ballads printed
on flimsy paper and sold for a penny, the phrases like 'international
proletarian solidarty', pathetically repeated by ignorant men who
believed them to mean something. Could you feel friendly towards
somebody, and stick up for him in a quarrel, after you had been
ignominiously searched in his presence for property you were supposed to
have stolen from him? No, you couldn't; but you might if you had both
been through some emotionally widening experience. That is one of the
by-products of revolution, though in this case it was only the beginnings
of a revolution, and obviously foredoomed to failure.

4

The struggle for power between the Spanish Republican parties is an
unhappy, far-off thing which I have no wish to revive at this date. I
only mention it in order to say: believe nothing, or next to nothing, of
what you read about internal affairs on the Government side. It is all,
from whatever source, party propaganda--that is to say, lies. The broad
truth about the war is simple enough. The Spanish bourgeoisie saw their
chance of crushing the labour movement, and took it, aided by the Nazis
and by the forces of reaction all over the world. It is doubtful whether
more than that will ever be established.

I remember saying once to Arthur Koestler, 'History stopped in 1936', at
which he nodded in immediate understanding. We were both thinking of
totalitarianism in general, but more particularly of the Spanish civil
war. Early in life I have noticed that no event is ever correctly
reported in a newspaper, but in Spain, for the first time, I saw
newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even
the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie. I saw great battles
reported where there had been no fighting, and complete silence where
hundreds of men had been killed. I saw troops who had fought bravely
denounced as cowards and traitors, and others who had never seen a shot
fired hailed as the heroes of imaginary victories; and I saw newspapers
in London retailing these lies and eager intellectuals building emotional
superstructures over events that had never happened. I saw, in fact,
history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to
have happened according to various 'party lines'. Yet in a way, horrible
as all this was, it was unimportant. It concerned secondary
issues--namely, the struggle for power between the Comintern and the
Spanish left-wing parties, and the efforts of the Russian Government to
prevent revolution in Spain. But the broad picture of the war which the
Spanish Government presented to the world was not untruthful. The main
issues were what it said they were. But as for the Fascists and their
backers, how could they come even as near to the truth as that? How
could they possibly mention their real aims? Their version of the war
was pure fantasy, and in the circumstances it could not have been
otherwise.

The only propaganda line open to the Nazis and Fascists was to represent
themselves as Christian patriots saving Spain from a Russian
dictatorship. This involved pretending that life in Government Spain was
just one long massacre (VIDE the CATHOLIC HERALD or the DAILY MAIL--but
these were child's play compared with the Continental Fascist press), and
it involved immensely exaggerating the scale of Russian intervention. Out
of the huge pyramid of lies which the Catholic and reactionary press all
over the world built up, let me take just one point--the presence in
Spain of a Russian army. Devout Franco partisans all believed in this;
estimates of its strength went as high as half a million. Now, there was
no Russian army in Spain. There may have been a handful of airmen and
other technicians, a few hundred at the most, but an army there was not.
Some thousands of foreigners who fought in Spain, not to mention millions
of Spaniards, were witnesses of this. Well, their testimony made no
impression at all upon the Franco propagandists, not one of whom had set
foot in Government Spain. Simultaneously these people refused utterly to
admit the fact of German or Italian intervention at the same time as the
Germany and Italian press were openly boasting about the exploits of
their' legionaries'. I have chosen to mention only one point, but in fact
the whole of Fascist propaganda about the war was on this level.

This kind of thing is frightening to me, because it often gives me the
feeling that the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the
world. After all, the chances are that those lies, or at any rate similar
lies, will pass into history. How will the history of the Spanish war be
written? If Franco remains in power his nominees will write the history
books, and (to stick to my chosen point) that Russian army which never
existed will become historical fact, and schoolchildren will learn about
it generations hence. But suppose Fascism is finally defeated and some
kind of democratic government restored in Spain in the fairly near
future; even then, how is the history of the war to be written? What kind
of records will Franco have left behind him? Suppose even that the
records kept on the Government side are recoverable--even so, how is a
true history of the war to be written? For, as I have pointed out
already, the Government, also dealt extensively in lies. From the
anti-Fascist angle one could write a broadly truthful history of the war,
but it would be a partisan history, unreliable on every minor point. Yet,
after all, some kind of history will be written, and after those who
actually remember the war are dead, it will be universally accepted. So
for all practical purposes the lie will have become truth.

I know it is the fashion to say that most of recorded history is lies
anyway. I am willing to believe that history is for the most part
inaccurate and biased, but what is peculiar to our own age is the
abandonment of the idea that history COULD be truthfully written. In the
past people deliberately lied, or they unconsciously coloured what they
wrote, or they struggled after the truth, well knowing that they must
make many mistakes; but in each case they believed that 'facts' existed
and were more or less discoverable. And in practice there was always a
considerable body of fact which would have been agreed to by almost
everyone. If you look up the history of the last war in, for instance,
the ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA, you will find that a respectable amount of
the material is drawn from German sources. A British and a German
historian would disagree deeply on many things, even on fundamentals, but
there would still be that body of, as it were, neutral fact on which
neither would seriously challenge the other. It is just this common basis
of agreement, with its implication that human beings are all one species
of animal, that totalitarianism destroys. Nazi theory indeed specifically
denies that such a thing as 'the truth' exists. There is, for instance,
no such thing as 'Science'. There is only 'German Science', 'Jewish
Science', etc. The implied objective of this line of thought is a
nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not
only the future but THE PAST. If the Leader says of such and such an
event, 'It never happened'--well, it never happened. If he says that two
and two are five--well, two and two are five. This prospect frightens me
much more than bombs--and after our experiences of the last few years
that is not a frivolous statement.

But is it perhaps childish or morbid to terrify oneself with visions of a
totalitarian future? Before writing off the totalitarian world as a
nightmare that can't come true, just remember that in 1925 the world of
today would have seemed a nightmare that couldn't come true. Against that
shifting phantasmagoric world in which black may be white tomorrow and
yesterday's weather can be changed by decree, there are in reality only
two safeguards. One is that however much you deny the truth, the truth
goes on existing, as it were, behind your back, and you consequently
can't violate it in ways that impair military efficiency. The other is
that so long as some parts of the earth remain unconquered, the liberal
tradition can be kept alive. Let Fascism, or possibly even a combination
of several Fascisms, conquer the whole world, and those two conditions no
longer exist. We in England underrate the danger of this kind of thing,
because our traditions and our past security have given us a sentimental
belief that it all comes right in the end and the thing you most fear
never really happens. Nourished for hundreds of years on a literature in
which Right invariably triumphs in the last chapter, we believe
half-instinctively that evil always defeats itself in the long run.
Pacifism, for instance, is founded largely on this belief. Don't resist
evil, and it will somehow destroy itself. But why should it? What
evidence is there that it does? And what instance is there of a modern
industrialized state collapsing unless conquered from the outside by
military force?

Consider for instance the re-institution of slavery. Who could have
imagined twenty years ago that slavery would return to Europe? Well,
slavery has been restored under our noses. The forced-labour camps all
over Europe and North Africa where Poles, Russians, Jews and political
prisoners of every race toil at road-making or swamp-draining for their
bare rations, are simple chattel slavery. The most one can say is that
the buying and selling of slaves by individuals is not yet permitted. In
other ways--the breaking-up of families, for instance--the conditions
are probably worse than they were on the American cotton plantations.
There is no reason for thinking that this state of affairs will change
while any totalitarian domination endures. We don't grasp its full
implications, because in our mystical way we feel that a régime founded
on slavery MUST collapse. But it is worth comparing the duration of the
slave empires of antiquity with that of any modern state. Civilizations
founded on slavery have lasted for such periods as four thousand years.

When I think of antiquity, the detail that frightens me is that those
hundreds of millions of slaves on whose backs civilization rested
generation after generation have left behind them no record whatever. We
do not even know their names. In the whole of Greek and Roman history,
how many slaves' names are known to you? I can think of two, or possibly
three. One is Spartacus and the other is Epictetus. Also, in the Roman
room at the British Museum there is a glass jar with the maker's name
inscribed on the bottom, 'FELIX FECIT'. I have a mental picture of poor
Felix (a Gaul with red hair and a metal collar round his neck), but in
fact he may not have been a slave; so there are only two slaves whose
names I definitely know, and probably few people can remember more. The
rest have gone down into utter silence.

5

The backbone of the resistance against Franco was the Spanish working
class, especially the urban trade union members. In the long run--it is
important to remember that it is only in the long run--the working class
remains the most reliable enemy of Fascism, simply because the
working-class stands to gain most by a decent reconstruction of society.
Unlike other classes or categories, it can't be permanently bribed.

To say this is not to idealize the working class. In the long struggle
that has followed the Russian Revolution it is the manual workers who
have been defeated, and it is impossible not to feel that it was their
own fault. Time after time, in country after country, the organized
working-class movements have been crushed by open, illegal violence, and
their comrades abroad, linked to them in theoretical solidarity, have
simply looked on and done nothing; and underneath this, secret cause of
many betrayals, has lain the fact that between white and coloured workers
there is not even lip-service to solidarity. Who can believe in the
class-conscious international proletariat after the events of the past
ten years? To the British working class the massacre of their comrades in
Vienna, Berlin, Madrid, or wherever it might be seemed less interesting
and less important than yesterday's football match. Yet this does not
alter the fact that the working class will go on struggling against
Fascism after the others have caved in. One feature of the Nazi conquest
of France was the astonishing defections among the intelligentsia,
including some of the left-wing political intelligentsia. The
intelligentsia are the people who squeal loudest against Fascism, and yet
a respectable proportion of them collapse into defeatism when the pinch
comes. They are far-sighted enough to see the odds against them, and
moreover they can be bribed--for it is evident that the Nazis think it
worth while to bribe intellectuals. With the working class it is the
other way about. Too ignorant to see through the trick that is being
played on them, they easily swallow the promises of Fascism, yet sooner
or later they always take up the struggle again. They must do so, because
in their own bodies they always discover that the promises of Fascism
cannot be fulfilled. To win over the working class permanently, the
Fascists would have to raise the general standard of living, which they
are unable and probably unwilling to do. The struggle of the working
class is like the growth of a plant. The plant is blind and stupid, but
it knows enough to keep pushing upwards towards the light, and it will do
this in the face of endless discouragements. What are the workers
struggling for? Simply for the decent life which they are more and more
aware is now technically possible. Their consciousness of this aim ebbs
and flows. In Spain, for a while, people were acting consciously, moving
towards a goal which they wanted to reach and believed they could reach.
It accounted for the curiously buoyant feeling that life in Government
Spain had during the early months of the war. The common people knew in
their bones that the Republic was their friend and Franco was their
enemy. They knew that they were in the right, because they were fighting
for something which the world owed them and was able to give them.

One has to remember this to see the Spanish war in its true perspective.
When one thinks of the cruelty, squalor, and futility of War--and in
this particular case of the intrigues, the persecutions, the lies and the
misunderstandings--there is always the temptation to say: 'One side is
as bad as the other. I am neutral'. In practice, however, one cannot be
neutral, and there is hardly such a thing as a war in which it makes no
difference who wins. Nearly always one stands more or less for progress,
the other side more or less for reaction. The hatred which the Spanish
Republic excited in millionaires, dukes, cardinals, play-boys, Blimps,
and what-not would in itself be enough to show one how the land lay. In
essence it was a class war. If it had been won, the cause of the common
people everywhere would have been strengthened. It was lost, and the
dividend-drawers all over the world rubbed their hands. That was the real
issue; all else was froth on its surface.

6

The outcome of the Spanish war was settled in London, Paris, Rome,
Berlin--at any rate not in Spain. After the summer of 1937 those with
eyes in their heads realized that the Government could not win the war
unless there were some profound change in the international set-up, and
in deciding to fight on Negrin and the others may have been partly
influenced by the expectation that the world war which actually broke out
in 1939 was coming in 1938. The much-publicized disunity on the
Government side was not a main cause of defeat. The Government militias
were hurriedly raised, ill-armed and unimaginative in their military
outlook, but they would have been the same if complete political
agreement had existed from the start. At the outbreak of war the average
Spanish factory-worker did not even know how to fire a rifle (there had
never been universal conscription in Spain), and the traditional pacifism
of the Left was a great handicap. The thousands of foreigners who served
in Spain made good infantry, but there were very few experts of any kind
among them. The Trotskyist thesis that the war could have been won if the
revolution had not been sabotaged was probably false. To nationalize
factories, demolish churches, and issue revolutionary manifestoes would
not have made the armies more efficient. The Fascists won because they
were the stronger; they had modern arms and the others hadn't. No
political strategy could offset that.

The most baffling thing in the Spanish war was the behaviour of the great
powers. The war was actually won for Franco by the Germans and Italians,
whose motives were obvious enough. The motives of France and Britain are
less easy to understand. In 1936 it was clear to everyone that if Britain
would only help the Spanish Government, even to the extent of a few
million pounds' worth of arms, Franco would collapse and German strategy
would be severely dislocated. By that time one did not need to be a
clairvoyant to foresee that war between Britain and Germany was coming;
one could even foretell within a year or two when it would come. Yet in
the most mean, cowardly, hypocritical way the British ruling class did
all they could to hand Spain over to Franco and the Nazis. Why? Because
they were pro-Fascist, was the obvious answer. Undoubtedly they were, and
yet when it came to the final showdown they chose to Stand up to Germany.
It is still very uncertain what plan they acted on in backing Franco, and
they may have had no clear plan at all. Whether the British ruling class
are wicked or merely stupid is one of the most difficult questions of our
time, and at certain moments a very important question. As to the
Russians, their motives in the Spanish war are completely inscrutable.
Did they, as the pinks believed, intervene in Spain in order to defend
Democracy and thwart the Nazis? Then why did they intervene on such a
niggardly scale and finally leave Spain in the lurch? Or did they, as the
Catholics maintained, intervene in order to foster revolution in Spain?
Then why did they do all in their power to crush the Spanish
revolutionary movements, defend private property and hand power to the
middle class as against the working class? Or did they, as the
Trotskyists suggested, intervene simply in order to PREVENT a Spanish
revolution? Then why not have backed Franco? Indeed, their actions are
most easily explained if one assumes that they were acting on several
contradictory motives. I believe that in the future we shall come to feel
that Stalin's foreign policy, instead of being so diabolically clever as
it is claimed to be, has been merely opportunistic and stupid. But at any
rate, the Spanish civil war demonstrated that the Nazis knew what they
were doing and their opponents did not. The war was fought at a low
technical level and its major strategy was very simple. That side which
had arms would win. The Nazis and the Italians gave arms to the Spanish
Fascist friends, and the western democracies and the Russians didn't give
arms to those who should have been their friends. So the Spanish Republic
perished, having' gained what no republic missed'.

Whether it was right, as all left-wingers in other countries undoubtedly
did, to encourage the Spaniards to go on fighting when they could not win
is a question hard to answer. I myself think it was right, because I
believe that it is better even from the point of view of survival to
fight and be conquered than to surrender without fighting. The effects on
the grand strategy of the struggle against Fascism cannot be assessed
yet. The ragged, weaponless armies of the Republic held out for two and a
half years, which was undoubtedly longer than their enemies expected. But
whether that dislocated the Fascist timetable, or whether, on the other
hand, it merely postponed the major war and gave the Nazis extra time to
get their war machine into trim, is still uncertain.

7

I never think of the Spanish war without two memories coming into my
mind. One is of the hospital ward at Lerida and the rather sad voices of
the wounded militiamen singing some song with a refrain that ended--

UNA RESOLUCION,
LUCHAR HAST' AL FIN!

Well, they fought to the end all right. For the last eighteen months of
the war the Republican armies must have been fighting almost without
cigarettes, and with precious little food. Even when I left Spain in the
middle of 1937, meat and bread were scarce, tobacco a rarity, coffee and
sugar almost unobtainable.

The other memory is of the Italian militiaman who shook my hand in the
guardroom, the day I joined the militia. I wrote about this man at the
beginning of my book on the Spanish war [Homage to Catalonia], and do not
want to repeat what I said there. When I remember--oh, how vividly!--his
shabby uniform and fierce, pathetic, innocent face, the complex side-issues
of the war seem to fade away and I see clearly that there was at any rate
no doubt as to who was in the right. In spite of power politics and
journalistic lying, the central issue of the war was the attempt of
people like this to win the decent life which they knew to be their
birthright. It is difficult to think of this particular man's probable
end without several kinds of bitterness. Since I met him in the Lenin
Barracks he was probably a Trotskyist or an Anarchist, and in the
peculiar conditions of our time, when people of that sort are not killed
by the Gestapo they are usually killed by the G.P.U. But that does not
affect the long-term issues. This man's face, which I saw only for a
minute or two, remains with me as a sort of visual reminder of what the
war was really about. He symbolizes for me the flower of the European
working class, harried by the police of all countries, the people who
fill the mass graves of the Spanish battlefields and are now, to the tune
of several millions, rotting in forced-labour camps.

When one thinks of all the people who support or have supported Fascism,
one stands amazed at their diversity. What a crew! Think of a programme
which at any rate for a while could bring Hitler, Petain, Montagu Norman,
Pavelitch, William Randolph Hearst, Streicher, Buchman, Ezra Pound, Juan
March, Cocteau, Thyssen, Father Coughlin, the Mufti of Jerusalem, Arnold
Lunn, Antonescu, Spengler, Beverley Nichols, Lady Houston, and Marinetti
all into the same boat! But the clue is really very simple. They are all
people with something to lose, or people who long for a hierarchical
society and dread the prospect of a world of free and equal human beings.
Behind all the ballyhoo that is talked about 'godless' Russia and the
'materialism' of the working class lies the simple intention of those
with money or privileges to cling to them. Ditto, though it contains a
partial truth, with all the talk about the worthlessness of social
reconstruction not accompanied by a 'change of heart'. The pious ones,
from the Pope to the yogis of California, are great on the' change of
heart', much more reassuring from their point of view than a change in
the economic system. Petain attributes the fall of France to the common
people's 'love of pleasure'. One sees this in its right perspective if
one stops to wonder how much pleasure the ordinary French peasant's or
working-man's life would contain compared with Pétain's own. The damned
impertinence of these politicians, priests, literary men, and what-not
who lecture the working-class socialist for his 'materialism'! All that
the working man demands is what these others would consider the
indispensable minimum without which human life cannot be lived at all.
Enough to eat, freedom from the haunting terror of unemployment, the
knowledge that your children will get a fair chance, a bath once a day,
clean linen reasonably often, a roof that doesn't leak, and short enough
working hours to leave you with a little energy when the day is done. Not
one of those who preach against 'materialism' would consider life livable
without these things. And how easily that minimum could be attained if we
chose to set our minds to it for only twenty years! To raise the standard
of living of the whole world to that of Britain would not be a greater
undertaking than the war we have just fought. I don't claim, and I don't
know who does, that that wouldn't solve anything in itself. It is merely
that privation and brute labour have to be abolished before the real
problems of humanity can be tackled. The major problem of our time is the
decay of the belief in personal immortality, and it cannot be dealt with
while the average human being is either drudging like an ox or shivering
in fear of the secret police. How right the working classes are in their
'materialism'! How right they are to realize that the belly comes before
the soul, not in the scale of values but in point of time! Understand
that, and the long horror that we are enduring becomes at least
intelligible. All the considerations are likely to make one falter--the
siren voices of a Pétain or of a Gandhi, the inescapable fact that in
order to fight one has to degrade oneself, the equivocal moral position
of Britain, with its democratic phrases and its coolie empire, the
sinister development of Soviet Russia, the squalid farce of left-wing
politics--all this fades away and one sees only the struggle of the
gradually awakening common people against the lords of property and their
hired liars and bumsuckers. The question is very simple. Shall people
like that Italian soldier be allowed to live the decent, fully human life
which is now technically achievable, or shan't they? Shall the common man
be pushed back into the mud, or shall he not? I myself believe, perhaps
on insufficient grounds, that the common man will win his fight sooner or
later, but I want it to be sooner and not later--some time within the
next hundred years, say, and not some time within the next ten thousand
years. That was the real issue of the Spanish war, and of the last war,
and perhaps of other wars yet to come.

I never saw the Italian militiaman again, nor did I ever learn his name.
It can be taken as quite certain that he is dead. Nearly two years later,
when the war was visibly lost, I wrote these verses in his memory:

The Italian soldier shook my hand
Beside the guard-room table;
The strong hand and the subtle hand
Whose palms are only able

To meet within the sound of guns,
But oh! what peace I knew then
In gazing on his battered face
Purer than any woman's!

For the flyblown words that make me spew
Still in his ears were holy,
And he was born knowing what I had learned
Out of books and slowly.

The treacherous guns had told their tale
And we both had bought it,
But my gold brick was made of gold--Oh! who ever would have thought it?

Good luck go with you, Italian soldier!
But luck is not for the brave;
What would the world give back to you?
Always less than you gave.

Between the shadow and the ghost,
Between the white and the red,
Between the bullet and the lie,
Where would you hide your head?

For where is Manuel Gonzalez,
And where is Pedro Aguilar,
And where is Ramon Fenellosa?
The earthworms know where they are.

Your name and your deeds were forgotten
Before your bones were dry,
And the lie that slew you is buried
Under a deeper lie;

But the thing that I saw in your face
No power can disinherit:
No bomb that ever burst
Shatters the crystal spirit.



RUDYARD KIPLING (1942)


It was a pity that Mr. Eliot should be so much on the defensive in the
long essay with which he prefaces this selection of Kipling's poetry,
but it was not to be avoided, because before one can even speak about
Kipling one has to clear away a legend that has been created by two sets
of people who have not read his works. Kipling is in the peculiar
position of having been a byword for fifty years. During five literary
generations every enlightened person has despised him, and at the end of
that time nine-tenths of those enlightened persons are forgotten and
Kipling is in some sense still there. Mr. Eliot never satisfactorily
explains this fact, because in answering the shallow and familiar charge
that Kipling is a 'Fascist', he falls into the opposite error of
defending him where he is not defensible. It is no use pretending that
Kipling's view of life, as a whole, can be accepted or even forgiven by
any civilized person. It is no use claiming, for instance, that when
Kipling describes a British soldier beating a 'nigger' with a cleaning
rod in order to get money out of him, he is acting merely as a reporter
and does not necessarily approve what he describes. There is not the
slightest sign anywhere in Kipling's work that he disapproves of that
kind of conduct--on the contrary, there is a definite strain of sadism
in him, over and above the brutality which a writer of that type has to
have. Kipling is a jingo imperialist, he is morally insensitive and
aesthetically disgusting. It is better to start by admitting that, and
then to try to find out why it is that he survives while the refined
people who have sniggered at him seem to wear so badly.

And yet the 'Fascist' charge has to be answered, because the first clue
to any understanding of Kipling, morally or politically, is the fact that
he was NOT a Fascist. He was further from being one than the most humane
or the most 'progressive' person is able to be nowadays. An interesting
instance of the way in which quotations are parroted to and fro without
any attempt to look up their context or discover their meaning is the
line from 'Recessional', 'Lesser breeds without the Law'. This line is
always good for a snigger in pansy-left circles. It is assumed as a
matter of course that the 'lesser breeds' are 'natives', and a mental
picture is called up of some pukka sahib in a pith helmet kicking a
coolie. In its context the sense of the line is almost the exact opposite
of this. The phrase 'lesser breeds' refers almost certainly to the
Germans, and especially the pan-German writers, who are 'without the Law'
in the sense of being lawless, not in the sense of being powerless. The
whole poem, conventionally thought of as an orgy of boasting, is a
denunciation of power politics, British as well as German. Two stanzas
are worth quoting (I am quoting this as politics, not as poetry):

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law--Lord God of hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget--lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word--Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!

Much of Kipling's phraseology is taken from the Bible, and no doubt in
the second stanza he had in mind the text from Psalm CXXVII: 'Except the
lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it; except the Lord
keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.' It is not a text that
makes much impression on the post-Hitler mind. No one, in our time,
believes in any sanction greater than military power; no one believes
that it is possible to overcome force except by greater force. There is
no 'Law', there is only power. I am not saying that that is a true
belief, merely that it is the belief which all modern men do actually
hold. Those who pretend otherwise are either intellectual cowards, or
power-worshippers under a thin disguise, or have simply not caught up
with the age they are living in. Kipling's outlook is pre-fascist. He
still believes that pride comes before a fall and that the gods punish
HUBRIS. He does not foresee the tank, the bombing plane, the radio and
the secret police, or their psychological results.

But in saying this, does not one unsay what I said above about Kipling's
jingoism and brutality? No, one is merely saying that the
nineteenth-century imperialist outlook and the modern gangster outlook
are two different things. Kipling belongs very definitely to the period
1885-1902. The Great War and its aftermath embittered him, but he shows
little sign of having learned anything from any event later than the Boer
War. He was the prophet of British Imperialism in its expansionist phase
(even more than his poems, his solitary novel, THE LIGHT THAT FAILED,
gives you the atmosphere of that time) and also the unofficial historian
of the British Army, the old mercenary army which began to change its
shape in 1914. All his confidence, his bouncing vulgar vitality, sprang
out of limitations which no Fascist or near-Fascist shares.

Kipling spent the later part of his life in sulking, and no doubt it was
political disappointment rather than literary vanity that account for
this. Somehow history had not gone according to plan. After the greatest
victory she had ever known, Britain was a lesser world power than before,
and Kipling was quite acute enough to see this. The virtue had gone out
of the classes he idealized, the young were hedonistic or disaffected,
the desire to paint the map red had evaporated. He could not understand
what was happening, because he had never had any grasp of the economic
forces underlying imperial expansion. It is notable that Kipling does not
seem to realize, any more than the average soldier or colonial
administrator, that an empire is primarily a money-making concern.
Imperialism as he sees it is a sort of forcible evangelizing. You turn a
Gatling gun on a mob of unarmed 'natives', and then you establish 'the
Law', which includes roads, railways and a court-house. He could not
foresee, therefore, that the same motives which brought the Empire into
existence would end by destroying it. It was the same motive, for
example, that caused the Malayan jungles to be cleared for rubber
estates, and which now causes those estates to be handed over intact to
the Japanese. The modern totalitarians know what they are doing, and the
nineteenth-century English did not know what they were doing. Both
attitudes have their advantages, but Kipling was never able to move
forward from one into the other. His outlook, allowing for the fact that
after all he was an artist, was that of the salaried bureaucrat who
despises the 'box-wallah' and often lives a lifetime without realizing
that the 'box-wallah' calls the tune.

But because he identifies himself with the official class, he does
possess one thing which 'enlightened' people seldom or never possess, and
that is a sense of responsibility. The middle-class Left hate him for
this quite as much as for his cruelty and vulgarity. All left-wing
parties in the highly industrialized countries are at bottom a sham,
because they make it their business to fight against something which they
do not really wish to destroy. They have internationalist aims, and at
the same time they struggle to keep up a standard of life with which
those aims are incompatible. We all live by robbing Asiatic coolies, and
those of us who are 'enlightened' all maintain that those coolies ought
to be set free; but our standard of living, and hence our
'enlightenment', demands that the robbery shall continue. A humanitarian
is always a hypocrite, and Kipling's understanding of this is perhaps the
central secret of his power to create telling phrases. It would be
difficult to hit off the one-eyed pacifism of the English in fewer words
than in the phrase, 'making mock of uniforms that guard you while you
sleep'. It is true that Kipling does not understand the economic aspect
of the relationship between the highbrow and the blimp. He does not see
that the map is painted red chiefly in order that the coolie may be
exploited. Instead of the coolie he sees the Indian Civil Servant; but
even on that plane his grasp of function, of who protects whom, is very
sound. He sees clearly that men can only be highly civilized while other
men, inevitably less civilized, are there to guard and feed them.

How far does Kipling really identify himself with the administrators,
soldiers and engineers whose praises he sings? Not so completely as is
sometimes assumed. He had travelled very widely while he was still a
young man, he had grown up with a brilliant mind in mainly philistine
surroundings, and some streak in him that may have been partly neurotic
led him to prefer the active man to the sensitive man. The
nineteenth-century Anglo-Indians, to name the least sympathetic of his
idols, were at any rate people who did things. It may be that all that
they did was evil, but they changed the face of the earth (it is
instructive to look at a map of Asia and compare the railway system of
India with that of the surrounding countries), whereas they could have
achieved nothing, could not have maintained themselves in power for a
single week, if the normal Anglo-Indian outlook had been that of, say,
E.M. Forster. Tawdry and shallow though it is, Kipling's is the only
literary picture that we possess of nineteenth-century Anglo-India, and
he could only make it because he was just coarse enough to be able to
exist and keep his mouth shut in clubs and regimental messes. But he did
not greatly resemble the people he admired. I know from several private
sources that many of the Anglo-Indians who were Kipling's contemporaries
did not like or approve of him. They said, no doubt truly, that he knew
nothing about India, and on the other hand, he was from their point of
view too much of a highbrow. While in India he tended to mix with 'the
wrong' people, and because of his dark complexion he was wrongly
suspected of having a streak of Asiatic blood. Much in his development is
traceable to his having been born in India and having left school early.
With a slightly different background he might have been a good novelist
or a superlative writer of music-hall songs. But how true is it that he
was a vulgar flag-waver, a sort of publicity agent for Cecil Rhodes? It is
true, but it is not true that he was a yes-man or a time-server. After
his early days, if then, he never courted public opinion. Mr. Eliot says
that what is held against him is that he expressed unpopular views in a
popular style. This narrows the issue by assuming that 'unpopular' means
unpopular with the intelligentsia, but it is a fact that Kipling's
'message' was one that the big public did not want, and, indeed, has
never accepted. The mass of the people, in the nineties as now, were
anti-militarist, bored by the Empire, and only unconsciously patriotic.
Kipling's official admirers are and were the 'service' middle class, the
people who read BLACKWOOD'S. In the stupid early years of this century,
the blimps, having at last discovered someone who could be called a poet
and who was on their side, set Kipling on a pedestal, and some of his
more sententious poems, such as 'If', were given almost biblical status.
But it is doubtful whether the blimps have ever read him with attention,
any more than they have read the Bible. Much of what he says they could
not possibly approve. Few people who have criticized England from the
inside have said bitterer things about her than this gutter patriot. As a
rule it is the British working class that he is attacking, but not
always. That phrase about 'the flannelled fools at the wicket and the
muddied oafs at the goal' sticks like an arrow to this day, and it is
aimed at the Eton and Harrow match as well as the Cup-Tie Final. Some of
the verses he wrote about the Boer War have a curiously modern ring, so
far as their subject-matter goes. 'Stellenbosch', which must have been
written about 1902, sums up what every intelligent infantry officer was
saying in 1918, or is saying now, for that matter.

Kipling's romantic ideas about England and the Empire might not have
mattered if he could have held them without having the class-prejudices
which at that time went with them. If one examines his best and most
representative work, his soldier poems, especially BARRACK-ROOM BALLADS,
one notices that what more than anything else spoils them is an
underlying air of patronage. Kipling idealizes the army officer,
especially the junior officer, and that to an idiotic extent, but the
private soldier, though lovable and romantic, has to be a comic. He is
always made to speak in a sort of stylized Cockney, not very broad but
with all the aitches and final "g's" carefully omitted. Very often the
result is as embarrassing as the humorous recitation at a church social.
And this accounts for the curious fact that one can often improve
Kipling's poems, make them less facetious and less blatant, by simply
going through them and transplanting them from Cockney into standard
speech. This is especially true of his refrains, which often have a truly
lyrical quality. Two examples will do (one is about a funeral and the
other about a wedding):

So it's knock out your pipes and follow me!
And it's finish up your swipes and follow me!
Oh, hark to the big drum calling,
Follow me--follow me home!

and again:

Cheer for the Sergeant's wedding--Give them one cheer more!
Grey gun-horses in the lando,
And a rogue is married to a whore!

Here I have restored the aitches, etc. Kipling ought to have known
better. He ought to have seen that the two closing lines of the first of
these stanzas are very beautiful lines, and that ought to have overriden
his impulse to make fun of a working-man's accent. In the ancient ballads
the lord and the peasant speak the same language. This is impossible to
Kipling, who is looking down a distorting class-perspective, and by a
piece of poetic justice one of his best lines is spoiled--for 'follow me
'ome' is much uglier than 'follow me home'. But even where it makes no
difference musically the facetiousness of his stage Cockney dialect is
irritating. However, he is more often quoted aloud than read on the
printed page, and most people instinctively make the necessary
alterations when they quote him.

Can one imagine any private soldier, in the nineties or now, reading
BARRACK-ROOM BALLADS and feeling that here was a writer who spoke for
him? It is very hard to do so. Any soldier capable of reading a book of
verse would notice at once that Kipling is almost unconscious of the
class war that goes on in an army as much as elsewhere. It is not only
that he thinks the soldier comic, but that he thinks him patriotic,
feudal, a ready admirer of his officers and proud to be a soldier of the
Queen. Of course that is partly true, or battles could not be fought, but
'What have I done for thee, England, my England?' is essentially a
middle-class query. Almost any working man would follow it up immediately
with 'What has England done for me?' In so far as Kipling grasps this, he
simply sets it down to 'the intense selfishness of the lower classes'
(his own phrase). When he is writing not of British but of 'loyal'
Indians he carries the 'Salaam, sahib' motif to sometimes disgusting
lengths. Yet it remains true that he has far more interest in the common
soldier, far more anxiety that he shall get a fair deal, than most of the
'liberals' of his day or our own. He sees that the soldier is neglected,
meanly underpaid and hypocritically despised by the people whose incomes
he safeguards. 'I came to realize', he says in his posthumous memoirs,
'the bare horrors of the private's life, and the unnecessary torments he
endured'. He is accused of glorifying war, and perhaps he does so, but
not in the usual manner, by pretending that war is a sort of football
match. Like most people capable of writing battle poetry, Kipling had
never been in battle, but his vision of war is realistic. He knows that
bullets hurt, that under fire everyone is terrified, that the ordinary
soldier never knows what the war is about or what is happening except in
his own corner of the battlefield, and that British troops, like other
troops, frequently run away:

I 'eard the knives be'ind me, but I dursn't face my man,
Nor I don't know where I went to, 'cause I didn't stop to see,
Till I 'eard a beggar squealin' out for quarter as 'e ran,
An' I thought I knew the voice an'--it was me!

Modernize the style of this, and it might have come out of one of the
debunking war books of the nineteen-twenties. Or again:

An' now the hugly bullets come peckin' through the dust,
An' no one wants to face 'em, but every beggar must;
So, like a man in irons, which isn't glad to go,
They moves 'em off by companies uncommon stiff an' slow.

Compare this with:

Forward the Light Brigade!
Was there a man dismayed?
No! though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.

If anything, Kipling overdoes the horrors, for the wars of his youth were
hardly wars at all by our standards. Perhaps that is due to the neurotic
strain in him, the hunger for cruelty. But at least he knows that men
ordered to attack impossible objectives ARE dismayed, and also that
fourpence a day is not a generous pension.

How complete or truthful a picture has Kipling left us of the
long-service, mercenary army of the late nineteenth century? One must say
of this, as of what Kipling wrote about nineteenth-century Anglo-India,
that it is not only the best but almost the only literary picture we
have. He has put on record an immense amount of stuff that one could
otherwise only gather from verbal tradition or from unreadable regimental
histories. Perhaps his picture of army life seems fuller and more
accurate than it is because any middle-class English person is likely to
know enough to fill up the gaps. At any rate, reading the essay on
Kipling that Mr. Edmund Wilson has just published or is just about to
publish [Note, below], I was struck by the number of things that are
boringly familiar to us and seem to be barely intelligible to an American.
But from the body of Kipling's early work there does seem to emerge a vivid
and not seriously misleading picture of the old pre-machine-gun army--the
sweltering barracks in Gibraltar or Lucknow, the red coats, the
pipeclayed belts and the pillbox hats, the beer, the fights, the
floggings, hangings and crucifixions, the bugle-calls, the smell of oats
and horsepiss, the bellowing sergeants with foot-long moustaches, the
bloody skirmishes, invariably mismanaged, the crowded troopships, the
cholera-stricken camps, the 'native' concubines, the ultimate death in
the workhouse. It is a crude, vulgar picture, in which a patriotic
music-hall turn seems to have got mixed up with one of Zola's gorier
passages, but from it future generations will be able to gather some idea
of what a long-term volunteer army was like. On about the same level they
will be able to learn something of British India in the days when
motor-cars and refrigerators were unheard of. It is an error to imagine
that we might have had better books on these subjects if, for example,
George Moore, or Gissing, or Thomas Hardy, had had Kipling's
opportunities. That is the kind of accident that cannot happen. It was
not possible that nineteenth-century England should produce a book like
WAR AND PEACE, or like Tolstoy's minor stories of army life, such as
Sebastopol or THE COSSACKS, not because the talent was necessarily
lacking but because no one with sufficient sensitiveness to write such
books would ever have made the appropriate contacts. Tolstoy lived in a
great military empire in which it seemed natural for almost any young man
of family to spend a few years in the army, whereas the British Empire
was and still is demilitarized to a degree which continental observers
find almost incredible. Civilized men do not readily move away from the
centres of civilization, and in most languages there is a great dearth of
what one might call colonial literature. It took a very improbable
combination of circumstances to produce Kipling's gaudy tableau, in which
Private Ortheris and Mrs. Hauksbee pose against a background of palm
trees to the sound of temple bells, and one necessary circumstance was
that Kipling himself was only half civilized.

[Note: Published in a volume of Collected Essays, THE WOUND AND THE
BOW. Author's footnote 1945]

Kipling is the only English writer of our time who has added phrases to
the language. The phrases and neologisms which we take over and use
without remembering their origin do not always come from writers we
admire. It is strange, for instance, to hear the Nazi broadcasters
referring to the Russian soldiers as 'robots', thus unconsciously
borrowing a word from a Czech democrat whom they would have killed if
they could have laid hands on him. Here are half a dozen phrases coined
by Kipling which one sees quoted in leaderettes in the gutter press or
overhears in saloon bars from people who have barely heard his name. It
will be seen that they all have a certain characteristic in common:

East is East, and West is West.
The white man's burden.
What do they know of England who only England know?
The female of the species is more deadly than the male.
Somewhere East of Suez.
Paying the Dane-geld.

There are various others, including some that have outlived their context
by many years. The phrase 'killing Kruger with your mouth', for instance,
was current till very recently. It is also possible that it was Kipling
who first let loose the use of the word 'Huns' for Germans; at any rate
he began using it as soon as the guns opened fire in 1914. But what the
phrases I have listed above have in common is that they are all of them
phrases which one utters semi-derisively (as it might be 'For I'm to be
Queen o' the May, mother, I'm to be Queen o' the May'), but which one is
bound to make use of sooner or later. Nothing could exceed the contempt
of the NEW STATESMAN, for instance, for Kipling, but how many times
during the Munich period did the NEW STATESMAN find itself quoting that
phrase about paying the Dane-geld? [Note, below.] The fact is that Kipling,
apart from his snack-bar wisdom and his gift for packing much cheap
picturesqueness into a few words ('palm and pine'--'east of Suez'--'the
road to Mandalay'), is generally talking about things that are of urgent
interest. It does not matter, from this point of view, that thinking and
decent people generally find themselves on the other side of the fence
from him. 'White man's burden' instantly conjures up a real problem, even
if one feels that it ought to be altered to 'black man's burden'. One may
disagree to the middle of one's bones with the political attitude implied
in 'The Islanders', but one cannot say that it is a frivolous attitude.
Kipling deals in thoughts which are both vulgar and permanent. This
raises the question of his special status as a poet, or verse-writer.

[Note: On the first page of his recent book, ADAM AND EVE, Mr. Middleton
Murry quotes the well-known lines:

There are nine and sixty ways
Of constructing tribal lays,
And every single one of them is right.

He attributes these lines to Thackeray. This is probably what is known
as a 'Freudian error.' A civilized person would prefer not to quote
Kipling--i.e. would prefer not to feel that it was Kipling who had
expressed his thought for him.
(Author's footnote 1945.)]

Mr. Eliot describes Kipling's metrical work as 'verse' and not 'poetry',
but adds that it is 'GREAT verse', and further qualifies this by saying
that a writer can only be described as a 'great verse-writer' if there is
some of his work 'of which we cannot say whether it is verse or poetry'.
Apparently Kipling was a versifier who occasionally wrote poems, in which
case it was a pity that Mr. Eliot did not specify these poems by name.
The trouble is that whenever an aesthetic judgement on Kipling's work
seems to be called for, Mr. Eliot is too much on the defensive to be able
to speak plainly. What he does not say, and what I think one ought to
start by saying in any discussion of Kipling, is that most of Kipling's
verse is so horribly vulgar that it gives one the same sensation as one
gets from watching a third-rate music-hall performer recite 'The Pigtail
of Wu Fang Fu' with the purple limelight on his face, AND yet there is
much of it that is capable of giving pleasure to people who know what
poetry means. At his worst, and also his most vital, in poems like 'Gunga
Din' or 'Danny Deever', Kipling is almost a shameful pleasure, like the
taste for cheap sweets that some people secretly carry into middle life.
But even with his best passages one has the same sense of being seduced
by something spurious, and yet unquestionably seduced. Unless one is
merely a snob and a liar it is impossible to say that no one who cares
for poetry could get any pleasure out of such lines as:

For the wind is in the palm trees, and the temple bells they say,
'Come you back, you British soldier, come you back to Mandalay!'

and yet those lines are not poetry in the same sense as 'Felix Randal' or
'When icicles hang by the wall' are poetry. One can, perhaps, place
Kipling more satisfactorily than by juggling with the words 'verse' and
'poetry', if one describes him simply as a good bad poet. He is as a poet
what Harriet Beecher Stowe was as a novelist. And the mere existence of
work of this kind, which is perceived by generation after generation to
be vulgar and yet goes on being read, tells one something about the age
we live in.

There is a great deal of good bad poetry in English, all of it, I should
say, subsequent to 1790. Examples of good bad poems--I am deliberately
choosing diverse ones--are 'The Bridge of Sighs', 'When all the world is
young, lad', 'The Charge of the Light Brigade', Bret Harte's 'Dickens in
Camp', 'The Burial of Sir John Moore', 'Jenny Kissed Me', 'Keith of
Ravelston', 'Casabianca'. All of these reek of sentimentality, and
yet--not these particular poems, perhaps, but poems of this kind, are
capable of giving true pleasure to people who can see clearly what is
wrong with them. One could fill a fair-sized anthology with good bad
poems, if it were not for the significant fact that good bad poetry is
usually too well known to be worth reprinting.

It is no use pretending that in an age like our own, 'good' poetry can
have any genuine popularity. It is, and must be, the cult of a very few
people, the least tolerated of the arts. Perhaps that statement needs a
certain amount of qualification. True poetry can sometimes be acceptable
to the mass of the people when it disguises itself as something else. One
can see an example of this in the folk-poetry that England still
possesses, certain nursery rhymes and mnemonic rhymes, for instance, and
the songs that soldiers make up, including the words that go to some of
the bugle-calls. But in general ours is a civilization in which the very
word 'poetry' evokes a hostile snigger or, at best, the sort of frozen
disgust that most people feel when they hear the word 'God'. If you are
good at playing the concertina you could probably go into the nearest
public bar and get yourself an appreciative audience within five minutes.
But what would be the attitude of that same audience if you suggested
reading them Shakespeare's sonnets, for instance? Good bad poetry,
however, can get across to the most unpromising audiences if the right
atmosphere has been worked up beforehand. Some months back Churchill
produced a great effect by quoting Clough's 'Endeavour' in one of his
broadcast speeches. I listened to this speech among people who could
certainly not be accused of caring for poetry, and I am convinced that
the lapse into verse impressed them and did not embarrass them. But not
even Churchill could have got away with it if he had quoted anything much
better than this.

In so far as a writer of verse can be popular, Kipling has been and
probably still is popular. In his own lifetime some of his poems
travelled far beyond the bounds of the reading public, beyond the world
of school prize-days, Boy Scout sing-songs, limp-leather editions,
poker-work and calendars, and out into the yet vaster world of the music
halls. Nevertheless, Mr. Eliot thinks it worth while to edit him, thus
confessing to a taste which others share but are not always honest enough
to mention. The fact that such a thing as good bad poetry can exist is a
sign of the emotional overlap between the intellectual and the ordinary
man. The intellectual is different from the ordinary man, but only in
certain sections of his personality, and even then not all the time. But
what is the peculiarity of a good bad poem? A good bad poem is a graceful
monument to the obvious. It records in memorable form--for verse is a
mnemonic device, among other things--some emotion which very nearly
every human being can share. The merit of a poem like 'When all the world
is young, lad' is that, however sentimental it may be, its sentiment is
'true' sentiment in the sense that you are bound to find yourself
thinking the thought it expresses sooner or later; and then, if you
happen to know the poem, it will come back into your mind and seem better
than it did before. Such poems are a kind of rhyming proverb, and it is a
fact that definitely popular poetry is usually gnomic or sententious. One
example from Kipling will do:

White hands cling to the bridle rein,
Slipping the spur from the booted heel;
Tenderest voices cry 'Turn again!'
Red lips tarnish the scabbarded steel:
Down to Gehenna or up to the Throne,
He travels the fastest who travels alone.

There is a vulgar thought vigorously expressed. It may not be true, but
at any rate it is a thought that everyone thinks. Sooner or later you
will have occasion to feel that he travels the fastest who travels alone,
and there the thought is, ready made and, as it were, waiting for you. So
the chances are that, having once heard this line, you will remember it.

One reason for Kipling's power as a good bad poet I have already
suggested--his sense of responsibility, which made it possible for him
to have a world-view, even though it happened to be a false one. Although
he had no direct connexion with any political party, Kipling was a
Conservative, a thing that does not exist nowadays. Those who now call
themselves Conservatives are either Liberals, Fascists or the accomplices
of Fascists. He identified himself with the ruling power and not with the
opposition. In a gifted writer this seems to us strange and even
disgusting, but it did have the advantage of giving Kipling a certain
grip on reality. The ruling power is always faced with the question, 'In
such and such circumstances, what would you DO?', whereas the opposition
is not obliged to take responsibility or make any real decisions. Where
it is a permanent and pensioned opposition, as in England, the quality of
its thought deteriorates accordingly. Moreover, anyone who starts out
with a pessimistic, reactionary view of life tends to be justified by
events, for Utopia never arrives and 'the gods of the copybook headings',
as Kipling himself put it, always return. Kipling sold out to the British
governing class, not financially but emotionally. This warped his
political judgement, for the British ruling class were not what he
imagined, and it led him into abysses of folly and snobbery, but he
gained a corresponding advantage from having at least tried to imagine
what action and responsibility are like. It is a great thing in his
favour that he is not witty, not 'daring', has no wish to ÉPATER LES
BOURGEOIS. He dealt largely in platitudes, and since we live in a world
of platitudes, much of what he said sticks. Even his worst follies seem
less shallow and less irritating than the 'enlightened' utterances of the
same period, such as Wilde's epigrams or the collection of
cracker-mottoes at the end of MAN AND SUPERMAN.



MARK TWAIN--THE LICENSED JESTER (1943)


Mark Twain has crashed the lofty gates of the Everyman library, but only
with TOM SAWYER and HUCKLEBERRY FINN, already fairly well known under the
guise of 'children's books' (which they are not). His best and most
characteristic books, ROUGHING IT, THE INNOCENTS AT HOME, and even LIFE
ON THE MISSISSIPPI, are little remembered in this country, though no
doubt in America the patriotism which is everywhere mixed up with
literary judgement keeps them alive.

Although Mark Twain produced a surprising variety of books, ranging from
a namby-pamby 'life' of Joan of Arc to a pamphlet so obscene that it has
never been publicly printed, all that is best in his work centres about
the Mississippi river and the wild mining towns of the West. Born in 1835
(he came of a Southern family, a family just rich enough to own one or
perhaps two slaves), he had had his youth and early manhood in the golden
age of America, the period when the great plains were opened up, when
wealth and opportunity seemed limitless, and human beings felt free,
indeed were free, as they had never been before and may not be again for
centuries. LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI and the two other books that I have
mentioned are a ragbag of anecdotes, scenic descriptions and social
history both serious and burlesque, but they have a central theme which
could perhaps be put into these words: 'This is how human beings behave
when they are not frightened of the sack.' In writing these books Mark
Twain is not consciously writing a hymn to liberty. Primarily he is
interested in 'character', in the fantastic, almost lunatic variations
which human nature is capable of when economic pressure and tradition are
both removed from it. The raftsmen, Mississippi pilots, miners and
bandits whom he describes are probably not much exaggerated, but they are
as different from modern men, and from one another, as the gargoyles of a
medieval cathedral. They could develop their strange and sometimes
sinister individuality because of the lack of any outside pressure. The
State hardly existed, the churches were weak and spoke with many voices,
and land was to be had for the taking. If you disliked your job you
simply hit the boss in the eye and moved further west; and moreover,
money was so plentiful that the smallest coin in circulation was worth a
shilling. The American pioneers were not supermen, and they were not
especially courageous. Whole towns of hardy gold miners let themselves be
terrorized by bandits whom they lacked the public spirit to put down.
They were not even free from class distinctions. The desperado who
stalked through the streets of the mining settlement, with a Derringer
pistol in his waistcoat pocket and twenty corpses to his credit, was
dressed in a frock coat and shiny top-hat, described himself firmly as a
'gentleman' and was meticulous about table manners. But at least it was
NOT the case that a man's destiny was settled from his birth. The 'log
cabin to White House' myth was true while the free land lasted. In a way,
it was for this that the Paris mob had stormed the Bastille, and when one
reads Mark Twain, Bret Harte and Whitman it is hard to feel that their
effort was wasted.

However, Mark Twain aimed at being something more than a chronicler of
the Mississippi and the Gold Rush. In his own day he was famous all over
the world as a humorist and comic lecturer. In New York, London, Berlin,
Vienna, Melbourne and Calcutta vast audiences rocked with laughter over
jokes which have now, almost without exception, ceased to be funny. (It
is worth noticing that Mark Twain's lectures were only a success with
Anglo-Saxon and German audiences. The relatively grown-up Latin
races--whose own humour, he complained, always centred round sex and
politics--never cared for them.) But in addition, Mark Twain had some
pretensions to being a social critic, even a species of philosopher. He
had in him an iconoclastic, even revolutionary vein which he obviously
wanted to follow up and yet somehow never did follow up. He might have
been a destroyer of humbugs and a prophet of democracy more valuable
than Whitman, because healthier and more humorous. Instead he became
that dubious thing a 'public figure', flattered by passport officials
and entertained by royalty, and his career reflects the deterioration in
American life that set in after the Civil War.

Mark Twain has sometimes been compared with his contemporary, Anatole
France. This comparison is not so pointless as it may sound. Both men
were the spiritual children of Voltaire, both had an ironical, sceptical
view of life, and a native pessimism overlaid by gaiety; both knew that
the existing social order is a swindle and its cherished beliefs mostly
delusions. Both were bigoted atheists and convinced (in Mark Twain's case
this was Darwin's doing) of the unbearable cruelty of the universe. But
there the resemblance ends. Not only is the Frenchman enormously more
learned, more civilized, more alive aesthetically, but he is also more
courageous. He does attack the things he disbelieves in; he does not,
like Mark swain, always take refuge behind the amiable mask of the
'public figure' and the licensed jester. He is ready to risk the anger of
the Church and to take the unpopular side in a controversy--in the
Dreyfus case, for example. Mark Twain, except perhaps in one short essay
'What is Man?', never attacks established beliefs in a way that is likely
to get him into trouble. Nor could he ever wean himself from the notion,
which is perhaps especially an American notion, that success and virtue
are the same thing.

In LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI there is a queer little illustration of the
central weakness of Mark Twain's character. In the earlier part of this
mainly autobiographical book the dates have been altered. Mark Twain
describes his adventures as a Mississippi pilot as though he had been a
boy of about seventeen at the time, whereas in fact he was a young man of
nearly thirty. There is a reason for this. The same part of the book
describes his exploits in the Civil War, which were distinctly
inglorious. Moreover, Mark Twain started by fighting, if he can be said
to have fought, on the Southern side, and then changed his allegiance
before the war was over. This kind of behaviour is more excusable in a
boy than in a man, whence the adjustment of the dates. It is also clear
enough, however, that he changed sides because he saw that the North was
going to win; and this tendency to side with the stronger whenever
possible, to believe that might must be right, is apparent throughout his
career. In ROUGHING IT there is an interesting account of a bandit named
Slade, who, among countless other outrages, had committed twenty-eight
murders. It is perfectly clear that Mark Twain admires this disgusting
scoundrel. Slade was successful; therefore he was admirable. This
outlook, no less common today, is summed up in the significant American
expression 'to MAKE GOOD'.

In the money-grubbing period that followed the Civil War it was hard for
anyone of Mark Twain's temperament to refuse to be a success. The old,
simple, stump-whittling, tobacco-chewing democracy which Abraham Lincoln
typified was perishing: it was now the age of cheap immigrant labour and
the growth of Big Business. Mark Twain mildly satirized his
contemporaries in The GILDED AGE, but he also gave himself up to the
prevailing fever, and made and lost vast sums of money. He even for a
period of years deserted writing for business; and he squandered his time
on buffooneries, not merely lecture tours and public banquets, but, for
instance, the writing of a book like A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING
ARTHUR'S COURT, which is a deliberate flattery of all that is worst and
most vulgar in American life. The man who might have been a kind of
rustic Voltaire became the world's leading after-dinner speaker, charming
alike for his anecdotes and his power to make businessmen feel themselves
public benefactors.

It is usual to blame Mark Twain's wife for his failure to write the books
he ought to have written, and it is evident that she did tyrannize over
him pretty thoroughly. Each morning, Mark Twain would show her what he
had written the day before, and Mrs. Clemens (Mark Twain's real name was
Samuel Clemens) would go over it with the blue pencil, cutting out
everything that she thought unsuitable. She seems to have been a drastic
blue-penciller even by nineteenth-century standards. There is an account
in W.D. Howells's book MY MARK TWAIN of the fuss that occurred over a
terrible expletive that had crept into HUCKLEBERRY FINN. Mark Twain
appealed to Howells, who admitted that it was 'just what Huck would have
said', but agreed with Mrs. Clemens that the word could not possibly be
printed. The word was 'hell'. Nevertheless, no writer is really the
intellectual slave of his wife. Mrs. Clemens could not have stopped Mark
Twain writing any book he really wanted to write. She may have made his
surrender to society easier, but the surrender happened because of that
flaw in his own nature, his inability to despise success.

Several of Mark Twain's books are bound to survive, because they contain
invaluable social history. His life covered the great period of American
expansion. When he was a child it was a normal day's outing to go with a
picnic lunch and watch the hanging of an Abolitionist, and when he died
the aeroplane was ceasing to be a novelty. This period in America
produced relatively little literature, and but for Mark Twain our picture
of a Mississippi paddle-steamer, or a stage-coach crossing the plains,
would be much dimmer than it is. But most people who have studied his
work have come away with a feeling that he might have done something
more. He gives all the while a strange impression of being about to say
something and then funking it, so that LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI and the
rest of them seem to be haunted by the ghost of a greater and much more
coherent book. Significantly, he starts his autobiography by remarking
that a man's inner life is indescribable. We do not know what he would
have said--it is just possible that the unprocurable pamphlet, 1601,
would supply a clue but we may guess that it would have wrecked his
reputation and reduced his income to reasonable proportions.



POETRY AND THE MICROPHONE (1943)


About a year ago I and a number of others were engaged in broadcasting
literary programmes to India, and among other things we broadcast a good
deal of verse by contemporary and near-contemporary English writers--for
example, Eliot, Herbert Read, Auden, Spender, Dylan Thomas, Henry
Treece, Alex Comfort, Robert Bridges, Edmund Blunden, D.H. Lawrence.
Whenever it was possible we had poems broadcast by the people who wrote
them. Just why these particular programmes (a small and remote
out-flanking movement in the radio war) were instituted there is no need
to explain here, but I should add that the fact that we were
broadcasting to an Indian audience dictated our technique to some
extent. The essential point was that our literary broadcasts were aimed
at the Indian university students, a small and hostile audience,
unapproachable by anything that could be described as British
propaganda. It was known in advance that we could not hope for more than
a few thousand listeners at the most, and this gave us an excuse to be
more "highbrow" than is generally possible on the air.

If you are broadcasting poetry to people who know your language but
don't share your cultural background, a certain amount of comment and
explanation is unavoidable, and the formula we usually followed was to
broadcast what purported to be a monthly literary magazine. The
editorial staff were supposedly sitting in their office, discussing what
to put into the next number. Somebody suggested one poem, someone else
suggested another, there was a short discussion and then came the poem
itself, read in a different voice, preferably the author's own. This
poem naturally called up another, and so the programme continued,
usually with at least half a minute of discussion between any two items.
For a half-hour programme, six voices seemed to be the best number. A
programme of this sort was necessarily somewhat shapeless, but it could
be given a certain appearance of unity by making it revolve round a
single central theme. For example, one number of our imaginary magazine
was devoted to the subject of war. It included two poems by Edmund
Blunden, Auden's "September 1941 ", extracts from a long poem by G.S.
Fraser ("A Letter to Anne Ridler"), Byron's "Isles of Greece" and an
extract from T.E. Lawrence's REVOLT IN THE DESERT. These half-dozen
items, with the arguments that preceded and followed them, covered
reasonably well the possible attitudes towards war. The poems and the
prose extract took about twenty minutes to broadcast, the arguments
about eight minutes.

This formula may seem slightly ridiculous and also rather patronising,
but its advantage is that the element of mere instruction, the textbook
motif, which is quite unavoidable if one is going to broadcast serious
and sometimes "difficult" verse, becomes a lot less forbidding when it
appears as an informal discussion. The various speakers can ostensibly
say to one another what they are in reality saying to the audience.
Also, by such an approach you at least give a poem a context, which is
just what poetry lacks from the average man's point of view. But of
course there are other methods. One which we frequently used was to set
a poem in music. It is announced that in a few minutes' time such and
such a poem will be broadcast; then the music plays for perhaps a
minute, then fades out into the poem, which follows without any title or
announcement, then the music is faded again and plays up for another
minute or two--the whole thing taking perhaps five minutes. It is
necessary to choose appropriate music, but needless to say, the real
purpose of the music is to insulate the poem from the rest of the
programme. By this method you can have, say, a Shakespeare sonnet within
three minutes of a news bulletin without, at any rate to my ear, any
gross incongruity.

These programmes that I have been speaking of were of no great value in
themselves, but I have mentioned them because of the ideas they aroused
in myself and some others about the possibilities of the radio as a
means of popularising poetry. I was early struck by the fact that the
broadcasting of a poem by the person who wrote it does not merely
produce an effect upon the audience, if any, but also on the poet
himself. One must remember that extremely little in the way of
broadcasting poetry has been done in England, and that many people who
write verse have never even considered the idea of reading it aloud. By
being set down at a microphone, especially if this happens at all
regularly, the poet is brought into a new relationship with his work,
not otherwise attainable in our time and country. It is a commonplace
that in modern times--the last two hundred years, say--poetry has come to
have less and less connection either with music or with the spoken word.
It needs print in order to exist at all, and it is no more expected that
a poet, as such, will know how to sing or even to declaim than it is
expected that an architect will know how to plaster a ceiling. Lyrical
and rhetorical poetry have almost ceased to be written, and a hostility
towards poetry on the part of the common man has come to be taken for
granted in any country where everyone can read. And where such a breach
exists it is always inclined to widen, because the concept of poetry as
primarily something printed, and something intelligible only to a
minority, encourages obscurity and "cleverness". How many people do not
feel quasi-instinctively that there must be something wrong with any poem
whose meaning can be taken in at a single glance? It seems unlikely that
these tendencies will be checked unless it again becomes normal to read
verse aloud, and it is difficult to see how this can be brought about
except by using the radio as a medium. But the special advantage of the
radio, its power to select the right audience, and to do away with
stage-fright and embarrassment, ought here to be noticed.

In broadcasting your audience is conjectural, but it is an audience of
ONE. Millions may be listening, but each is listening alone, or as a
member of a small group, and each has (or ought to have) the feeling
that you are speaking to him individually. More than this, it is
reasonable to assume that your audience is sympathetic, or at least
interested, for anyone who is bored can promptly switch you off by
turning a knob. But though presumably sympathetic, the audience HAS NO
POWER OVER YOU. It is just here that a broadcast differs from a speech
or a lecture. On the platform, as anyone used to public speaking knows,
it is almost impossible not to take your tone from the audience. It is
always obvious within a few minutes what they will respond to and what
they will not, and in practice you are almost compelled to speak for the
benefit of what you estimate as the stupidest person present, and also
to ingratiate yourself by means of the ballyhoo known as "personality".
If you don't do so, the result is always an atmosphere of frigid
embarrassment. That grisly thing, a "poetry reading", is what it is
because there will always be some among the audience who are bored or
all but frankly hostile and who can't remove themselves by the simple
act of turning a knob. And it is at bottom the same difficulty--the fact
that a theatre audience is not a selected one--that makes it impossible
to get a decent performance of Shakespeare in England. On the air these
conditions do not exist. The poet FEELS that he is addressing people to
whom poetry means something, and it is a fact that poets who are used to
broadcasting can read into the microphone with a virtuosity they would
not equal if they had a visible audience in front of them. The element
of make-believe that enters here does not greatly matter. The point is
that in the only way now possible the poet has been brought into a
situation in which reading verse aloud seems a natural unembarrassing
thing, a normal exchange between man and man: also he has been led to
think of his work as SOUND rather than as a pattern on paper. By that
much the reconciliation between poetry and the common man is nearer. It
already exists at the poet's end of the aether-waves, whatever may be
happening at the other end.

However, what is happening at the other end cannot be disregarded. It
will be seen that I have been speaking as though the whole subject of
poetry were embarrassing, almost indecent, as though popularising poetry
were essentially a strategic manoeuvre, like getting a dose of medicine
down a child's throat or establishing tolerance for a persecuted sect.
But unfortunately that or something like it is the case. There can be no
doubt that in our civilisation poetry is by far the most discredited of
the arts, the only art, indeed, in which the average man refuses to
discern any value. Arnold Bennett was hardly exaggerating when he said
that in the English-speaking countries the word "poetry" would disperse
a crowd quicker than a fire-hose. And as I have pointed out, a breach of
this kind tends to widen simply because of its existence, the common man
becoming more and more anti-poetry, the poet more and more arrogant and
unintelligible, until the divorce between poetry and popular culture is
accepted as a sort of law of nature, although in fact it belongs only to
our own time and to a comparatively small area of the earth. We live in
an age in which the average human being in the highly civilised
countries is aesthetically inferior to the lowest savage. This state of
affairs is generally looked upon as being incurable by any CONSCIOUS
act, and on the other hand is expected to right itself of its own accord
as soon as society takes a comelier shape. With slight variations the
Marxist, the Anarchist and the religious believer will all tell you
this, and in broad terms it is undoubtedly true. The ugliness amid which
we live has spiritual and economic causes and is not to be explained by
the mere going-astray of tradition at some point or other. But it does
not follow that no improvement is possible within our present framework,
nor that an aesthetic improvement is not a necessary part of the general
redemption of society. It is worth stopping to wonder, therefore,
whether it would not be possible even now to rescue poetry from its
special position as the most hated of the arts and win for it at least
the same degree of toleration as exists for music. But one has to start
by asking, in what way and to what extent is poetry unpopular?

On the face of it, the unpopularity of poetry is as complete as it could
be. But on second thoughts, this has to be qualified in a rather
peculiar way. To begin with, there is still an appreciable amount of
folk poetry (nursery rhymes etc) which is universally known and quoted
and forms part of the background of everyone's mind. There is also a
handful of ancient songs and ballads which have never gone out of
favour. In addition there is the popularity, or at least the toleration,
of "good bad" poetry, generally of a patriotic or sentimental kind. This
might seem beside the point if it were not that "good bad" poetry has
all the characteristics which, ostensibly, make the average man dislike
true poetry. It is in verse, it rhymes, it deals in lofty sentiments and
unusual language--all this to a very marked degree, for it is almost
axiomatic that bad poetry is more "poetical" than good poetry. Yet if
not actively liked it is at least tolerated. For example, just before
writing this I have been listening to a couple of BBC comedians doing
their usual turn before the 9 o'clock news. In the last three minutes
one of the two comedians suddenly announces that he "wants to be serious
for a moment" and proceeds to recite a piece of patriotic balderdash
entitled "A Fine Old English Gentleman", in praise of His Majesty the
King. Now, what is the reaction of the audience to this sudden lapse
into the worst sort of rhyming heroics? It cannot be very violently
negative, or there would be a sufficient volume of indignant letters to
stop the BBC doing this kind of thing. One must conclude that though the
big public is hostile to POETRY, it is not strongly hostile to VERSE.
After all, if rhyme and metre were disliked for their own sakes, neither
songs nor dirty limericks could be popular. Poetry is disliked because
it is associated with untelligibility, intellectual pretentiousness and
a general feeling of Sunday-on-a-weekday. Its name creates in advance
the same sort of bad impression as the word "God", or a parson's
dog-collar. To a certain extent, popularising poetry is a question of
breaking down an acquired inhibition. It is a question of getting people
to listen instead of uttering a mechanical raspberry. If true poetry
could be introduced to the big public in such a way as to make it seem
NORMAL, as that piece of rubbish I have just listened to presumably
seemed normal, then part of the prejudice against it might be overcome.

It is difficult to believe that poetry can ever be popularised again
without some deliberate effort at the education of public taste,
involving strategy and perhaps even subterfuge. T.S. Eliot once
suggested that poetry, particularly dramatic poetry, might be brought
back into the consciousness of ordinary people through the medium of the
music hall; he might have added the pantomime, whose vast possibilities
do not seem ever to have been completely explored. "Sweeney Agonistes"
was perhaps written with some such idea in mind, and it would in fact be
conceivable as a music-hall turn, or at least as a scene in a revue. I
have suggested the radio as a more hopeful medium, and I have pointed
out its technical advantages, particularly from the point of view of the
poet. The reason why such a suggestion sounds hopeless at first hearing
is that few people are able to imagine the radio being used for the
dissemination of anything except tripe. People listen to the stuff that
does actually dribble from the loud-speakers of the world, and conclude
that it is for that and nothing else that the wireless exists. Indeed
the very word "wireless" calls up a picture either of roaring dictators
or of genteel throaty voices announcing that three of our aircraft have
failed to return. Poetry on the air sounds like the Muses in striped
trousers. Nevertheless one ought not to confuse the capabilities of an
instrument with the use it is actually put to. Broadcasting is what it
is, not because there is something inherently vulgar, silly and
dishonest about the whole apparatus of microphone and transmitter, but
because all the broadcasting that now happens all over the world is
under the control of governments or great monopoly companies which are
actively interested in maintaining the STATUS QUO and therefore in
preventing the common man from becoming too intelligent. Something of
the same kind has happened to the cinema, which, like the radio, made
its appearance during the monopoly stage of capitalism and is
fantastically expensive to operate. In all the arts the tendency is
similar. More and more the channels of production are under the control
of bureaucrats, whose aim is to destroy the artist or at least to
castrate him. This would be a bleak outlook if it were not that the
totalitarianisation which is now going on, and must undoubtedly continue
to go on, in every country of the world, is mitigated by another process
which it was not easy to foresee even as short a time as five years ago.

This is, that the huge bureaucratic machines of which we are all part
are beginning to work creakily because of their mere size and their
constant growth. The tendency of the modern state is to wipe out the
freedom of the intellect, and yet at the same time every state,
especially under the pressure of war, finds itself more and more in need
of an intelligentsia to do its publicity for it. The modern state needs,
for example, pamphlet-writers, poster artists, illustrators,
broadcasters, lecturers, film producers, actors, song composers, even
painters and sculptors, not to mention psychologists, sociologists,
bio-chemists, mathematicians and what not. The British Government
started the present war with the more or less openly declared intention
of keeping the literary intelligentsia out of it; yet after three years
of war almost every writer, however undesirable his political history or
opinions, has been sucked into the various Ministries or the BBC and
even those who enter the armed forces tend to find themselves after a
while in Public Relations or some other essentially literary job. The
Government has absorbed these people, unwillingly enough, because it
found itself unable to get on without them. The ideal, from the official
point of view, would have been to put all publicity into the hands of
"safe" people like A.P. Herbert or Ian Hay: but since not enough of
these were available, the existing intelligentsia had to be utilised,
and the tone and even to some extent the content of official propaganda
have been modified accordingly. No one acquainted with the Government
pamphlets, ABCA (The Army Bureau of Current Affairs.) lectures,
documentary films and broadcasts to occupied countries which have been
issued during the past two years imagines that our rulers would sponsor
this kind of thing if they could help it. Only, the bigger the machine
of government becomes, the more loose ends and forgotten corners there
are in it. This is perhaps a small consolation, but it is not a
despicable one. It means that in countries where there is already
a strong liberal tradition, bureaucratic tyranny can perhaps never
be complete. The striped-trousered ones will rule, but so long as
they are forced to maintain an intelligentsia, the intelligentsia
will have a certain amount of autonomy. If the Government needs,
for example, documentary films, it must employ people specially
interested in the technique of the film, and it must allow them the
necessary minimum of freedom; consequently, films that are all wrong
from the bureaucratic point of view will always have a tendency to
appear. So also with painting, photography, script-writing, reportage,
lecturing and all the other arts and half-arts of which a complex modern
state has need.

The application of this to the radio is obvious. At present the
loudspeaker is the enemy of the creative writer, but this may not
necessarily remain true when the volume and scope of broadcasting
increase. As things are, although the BBC does keep up a feeble show of
interest in contemporary literature, it is harder to capture five
minutes on the air in which to broadcast a poem than twelve hours in
which to disseminate lying propaganda, tinned music, stale jokes, faked
"discussions" or what-have-you. But that state of affairs may alter in
the way I have indicated, and when that time comes serious experiment in
the broadcasting of verse, with complete disregard for the various
hostile influences which prevent any such thing at present, would become
possible. I don't claim it as certain that such an experiment would have
very great results. The radio was bureaucratised so early in its career
that the relationship between broadcasting and literature has never been
thought out. It is not certain that the microphone is the instrument by
which poetry could be brought back to the common people and it is not
even certain that poetry would gain by being more of a spoken and less
of a written thing. But I do urge that these possibilities exist, and
that those who care for literature might turn their minds more often to
this much-despised medium, whose powers for good have perhaps been
obscured by the voices of Professor Joad and Doctor Goebbels.



W B YEATS (1943)


One thing that Marxist criticism has not succeeded in doing is to trace
the connection between "tendency" and literary style. The subject-matter
and imagery of a book can be explained in sociological terms, but its
texture seemingly cannot. Yet some such connection there must be. One
knows, for instance, that a Socialist would not write like Chesterton or
a Tory imperialist like Bernard Shaw, though HOW one knows it is not
easy to say. In the case of Yeats, there must be some kind of connection
between his wayward, even tortured style of writing and his rather
sinister vision of life. Mr Menon is chiefly concerned with the
esoteric philosophy underlying Yeats's work, but the quotations which
are scattered all through his interesting book serve to remind one how
artificial Yeats's manner of writing was. As a rule, this artificiality
is accepted as Irishism, or Yeats is even credited with simplicity
because he uses short words, but in fact one seldom comes on six
consecutive lines of his verse in which there is not an archaism or an
affected turn of speech. To take the nearest example:

Grant me an old man's Frenzy,
My self must I remake
Till I am Timon and Lear
Or that William Blake
Who beat upon the wall
Till Truth obeyed his call.

The unnecessary "that" imports a feeling of affectation, and the same
tendency is present in all but Yeats's best passages. One is seldom long
away from a suspicion of "quaintness", something that links up not only
with the 'nineties, the Ivory Tower and the "calf covers of pissed-on
green", but also with Rackham's drawings, Liberty art-fabrics and the
PETER PAN never-never land, of which, after all, "The Happy Townland" is
merely a more appetising example. This does not matter, because, on the
whole, Yeats gets away with it, and if his straining after effect is
often irritating, it can also produce phrases ("the chill, footless
years", "the mackerel-crowded seas") which suddenly overwhelm one like a
girl's face seen across a room. He is an exception to the rule that poets
do not use poetical language:

How many centuries spent
The sedentary soul
In toils of measurement
Beyond eagle or mole,
Beyond hearing or seeing,
Or Archimedes' guess,
To raise into being
That loveliness?

Here he does not flinch from a squashy vulgar word like "loveliness" and
after all it does not seriously spoil this wonderful passage. But the
same tendencies, together with a sort of raggedness which is no doubt
intentional, weaken his epigrams and polemical poems. For instance (I am
quoting from memory) the epigram against the critics who damned THE
PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD:

Once when midnight smote the air
Eunuchs ran through Hell and met
On every crowded street to stare
Upon great Juan riding by;
Even like these to rail and sweat,
Staring upon his sinewy thigh.

The power which Yeats has within himself gives him the analogy ready
made and produces the tremendous scorn of the last line, but even in
this short poem there are six or seven unnecessary words. It would
probably have been deadlier if it had been neater.

Mr Menon's book is incidentally a short biography of Yeats, but he is
above all interested in Yeats's philosophical "system", which in his
opinion supplies the subject-matter of more of Yeats's poems than is
generally recognised. This system is set forth fragmentarily in various
places, and at full length in A VISION, a privately printed book which I
have never read but which Mr Menon quotes from extensively. Yeats gave
conflicting accounts of its origin, and Mr Menon hints pretty broadly
that the "documents" on which it was ostensibly founded were imaginary.
Yeats's philosophical system, says Mr Menon, "was at the back of his
intellectual life almost from the beginning. His poetry is full of it.
Without it his later poetry becomes almost completely unintelligible."
As soon as we begin to read about the so-called system we are in the
middle of a hocus-pocus of Great Wheels, gyres, cycles of the moon,
reincarnation, disembodied spirits, astrology and what not. Yeats hedges
as to the literalness with which he believed in all this, but he certainly
dabbled in spiritualism and astrology, and in earlier life had made
experiments in alchemy. Although almost buried under explanations, very
difficult to understand, about the phases of the moon, the central idea of
his philosophical system seems to be our old friend, the cyclical
universe, in which everything happens over and over again. One has not,
perhaps, the right to laugh at Yeats for his mystical beliefs--for I
believe it could be shown that SOME degree of belief in magic is almost
universal--but neither ought one to write such things off as mere
unimportant eccentricities. It is Mr Menon's perception of this that
gives his book its deepest interest. "In the first flush of admiration
and enthusiasm," he says, "most people dismissed the fantastical
philosophy as the price we have to pay for a great and curious
intellect. One did not quite realise where he was heading. And those who
did, like Pound and perhaps Eliot, approved the stand that he finally
took. The first reaction to this did not come, as one might have
expected, from the politically-minded young English poets. They were
puzzled because a less rigid or artificial system than that of A VISION
might not have produced the great poetry of Yeats's last days." It might
not, and yet Yeats's philosophy has some very sinister implications, as
Mr Menon points out.

Translated into political terms, Yeats's tendency is Fascist. Throughout
most of his life, and long before Fascism was ever heard of, he had had
the outlook of those who reach Fascism by the aristocratic route. He is
a great hater of democracy, of the modern world, science, machinery, the
concept of progress--above all, of the idea of human equality. Much of
the imagery of his work is feudal, and it is clear that he was not
altogether free from ordinary snobbishness. Later these tendencies took
clearer shape and led him to "the exultant acceptance of authoritarianism
as the only solution. Even violence and tyranny are not necessarily
evil because the people, knowing not evil and good, would become
perfectly acquiescent to tyranny...Everything must come from
the top. Nothing can come from the masses." Not much interested in
politics, and no doubt disgusted by his brief incursions into public
life, Yeats nevertheless makes political pronouncements. He is too big a
man to share the illusions of Liberalism, and as early as 1920 he
foretells in a justly famous passage ("The Second Coming") the kind of
world that we have actually moved into. But he appears to welcome the
coming age, which is to be "hierarchical, masculine, harsh, surgical",
and is influenced both by Ezra Pound and by various Italian Fascist
writers. He describes the new civilisation which he hopes and believes
will arrive: "an aristocratic civilisation in its most completed form,
every detail of life hierarchical, every great man's door crowded at
dawn by petitioners, great wealth everywhere in a few men's hands, all
dependent upon a few, up to the Emperor himself, who is a God dependent
on a greater God, and everywhere, in Court, in the family, an inequality
made law." The innocence of this statement is as interesting as its
snobbishness. To begin with, in a single phrase, "great wealth in a few
men's hands", Yeats lays bare the central reality of Fascism, which the
whole of its propaganda is designed to cover up. The merely political
Fascist claims always to be fighting for justice: Yeats, the poet, sees
at a glance that Fascism means injustice, and acclaims it for that very
reason. But at the same time he fails to see that the new authoritarian
civilisation, if it arrives, will not be aristocratic, or what he means
by aristocratic. It will not be ruled by noblemen with Van Dyck faces,
but by anonymous millionaires, shiny-bottomed bureaucrats and murdering
gangsters. Others who have made the same mistake have afterwards changed
their views and one ought not to assume that Yeats, if he had lived
longer, would necessarily have followed his friend Pound, even in
sympathy. But the tendency of the passage I have quoted above is
obvious, and its complete throwing overboard of whatever good the past
two thousand years have achieved is a disquieting symptom.

How do Yeat's political ideas link up with his leaning towards
occultism? It is not clear at first glance why hatred of democracy and a
tendency to believe in crystal-gazing should go together. Mr Menon only
discusses this rather shortly, but it is possible to make two guesses.
To begin with, the theory that civilisation moves in recurring cycles is
one way out for people who hate the concept of human equality. If it is
true that "all this", or something like it, "has happened before", then
science and the modern world are debunked at one stroke and progress
becomes for ever impossible. It does not much matter if the lower orders
are getting above themselves, for, after all, we shall soon be returning
to an age of tyranny. Yeats is by no means alone in this outlook. If the
universe is moving round on a wheel, the future must be foreseeable,
perhaps even in some detail. It is merely a question of discovering the
laws of its motion, as the early astronomers discovered the solar year.
Believe that, and it becomes difficult not to believe in astrology or
some similar system. A year before the war, examining a copy of
GRINGOIRE, the French Fascist weekly, much read by army officers, I
found in it no less than thirty-eight advertisements of clairvoyants.
Secondly, the very concept of occultism carries with it the idea that
knowledge must be a secret thing, limited to a small circle of
initiates. But the same idea is integral to Fascism. Those who dread the
prospect of universal suffrage, popular education, freedom of thought,
emancipation of women, will start off with a predilection towards secret
cults. There is another link between Fascism and magic in the profound
hostility of both to the Christian ethical code.

No doubt Yeats wavered in his beliefs and held at different times many
different opinions, some enlightened, some not. Mr Menon repeats for him
Eliot's claim that he had the longest period of development of any poet
who has ever lived. But there is one thing that seems constant, at least
in all of his work that I can remember, and that is his hatred of modern
western civilisation and desire to return to the Bronze Age, or perhaps
to the Middle Ages. Like all such thinkers, he tends to write in praise
of ignorance. The Fool in his remarkable play, THE HOUR-GLASS, is a
Chestertonian figure, "God's fool", the "natural born innocent", who is
always wiser than the wise man. The philosopher in the play dies on the
knowledge that all his lifetime of thought has been wasted (I am quoting
from memory again):

The stream of the world has changed its course,
And with the stream my thoughts have run
Into some cloudly, thunderous spring
That is its mountain-source;
Ay, to a frenzy of the mind,
That all that we have done's undone
Our speculation but as the wind.

Beautiful words, but by implication profoundly obscurantist and
reactionary; for if it is really true that a village idiot, as such, is
wiser than a philosopher, then it would be better if the alphabet had
never been invented. Of course, all praise of the past is partly
sentimental, because we do not live in the past. The poor do not praise
poverty. Before you can despise the machine, the machine must set you free
from brute labour. But that is not to say that Yeats's yearning for a more
primitive and more hierarchical age was not sincere. How much of all
this is traceable to mere snobbishness, product of Yeats's own position
as an impoverished offshoot of the aristocracy, is a different question.
And the connection between his obscurantist opinions and his tendency
towards "quaintness" of language remains to be worked out; Mr Menon
hardly touches upon it.

This is a very short book, and I would greatly like to see Mr Menon go
ahead and write another book on Yeats, starting where this one leaves
off. "If the greatest poet of our times is exultantly ringing in an era
of Fascism, it seems a somewhat disturbing symptom," he says on the last
page, and leaves it at that. It is a disturbing symptom, because it is
not an isolated one. By and large the best writers of our time have been
reactionary in tendency, and though Fascism does not offer any real
return to the past, those who yearn for the past will accept Fascism
sooner than its probable alternatives. But there are other lines of
approach, as we have seen during the past two or three years. The
relationship between Fascism and the literary intelligentsia badly needs
investigating, and Yeats might well be the starting-point. He is best
studied by someone like Mr Menon, who can approach a poet primarily as a
poet, but who also knows that a writer's political and religious beliefs
are not excrescences to be laughed away, but something that will leave
their mark even on the smallest detail of his work.



ARTHUR KOESTLER (1944)


One striking fact about English literature during the present century is
the extent to which it has been dominated by foreigners--for example,
Conrad, Henry James, Shaw, Joyce, Yeats, Pound and Eliot. Still, if you
chose to make this a matter of national prestige and examine our
achievement in the various branches of literature, you would find that
England made a fairly good showing until you came to what may be roughly
described as political writing, or pamphleteering. I mean by this the
special class of literature that has arisen out of the European
political struggle since the rise of Fascism. Under this heading novels,
autobiographies, books of "reportage", sociological treatises and plain
pamphlets can all be lumped together, all of them having a common origin
and to a great extent the same emotional atmosphere.

Some out of the outstanding figures in this school of writers are
Silone, Malraux, Salvemini, Borkenau, Victor Serge and Koestler himself.
Some of these are imaginative writers, some not, but they are all alike
in that they are trying to write contemporary history, but UNOFFICIAL
history, the kind that is ignored in the text-books and lied about in
the newspapers. Also they are all alike in being continental Europeans.
It may be an exaggeration, but it cannot be a very great one, to say
that whenever a book dealing with totalitarianism appears in this
country, and still seems worth reading six months after publication, it
is a book translated from some foreign language. English writers, over
the past dozen years, have poured forth an enormous spate of political
literature, but they have produced almost nothing of aesthetic value,
and very little of historical value either. The Left Book Club, for
instance, has been running ever since 1936. How many of its chosen
volumes can you even remember the names of? Nazi Germany, Soviet
Russia, Spain, Abyssinia, Austria, Czechoslovakia--all that these and
kindred subjects have produced, in England, are slick books of
reportage, dishonest pamphlets in which propaganda is swallowed whole
and then spewed up again, half digested, and a very few reliable guide
books and text-books. There has been nothing resembling, for instance,
FONTAMARA or DARKNESS AT NOON, because there is almost no English writer
to whom it has happened to see totalitarianism from the inside. In
Europe, during the past decade and more, things have been happening to
middle-class people which in England do not even happen to the working
class. Most of the European writers I mentioned above, and scores of
others like them, have been obliged to break the law in order to engage
in politics at all; some of them have thrown bombs and fought in street
battles, many have been in prison or the concentration camp, or fled
across frontiers with false names and forged passports. One cannot
imagine, say, Professor Laski indulging in activities of that kind.
England is lacking, therefore, in what one might call concentration-camp
literature. The special world created by secret-police forces,
censorship of opinion, torture and frame-up trials is, of course, known
about and to some extent disapproved of, but it has made very little
emotional impact. One result of this is that there exists in England
almost no literature of disillusionment about the Soviet Union. There is
the attitude of ignorant disapproval, and there is the attitude of
uncritical admiration, but very little in between. Opinion on the Moscow
sabotage trials, for instance, was divided, but divided chiefly on the
question of whether the accused were guilty. Few people were able to see
that, whether justified or not, the trials were an unspeakable horror.
And English disapproval of the Nazi outrages has also been an unreal
thing, turned on and off like a tap according to political expediency.
To understand such things one has to be able to imagine oneself as the
victim, and for an Englishman to write Darkness at Noon would be as
unlikely an accident as for a slave-trader to write UNCLE TOM'S CABIN.

Koestler's published work really centres about the Moscow trials. His
main theme is the decadence of revolutions owing to the corrupting
effects of power, but the special nature of the Stalin dictatorship has
driven him back into a position not far removed from pessimistic
Conservatism. I do not know how many books he has written in all. He is
a Hungarian whose earlier books were written in German, and five books
have been published in England: SPANISH TESTAMENT, THE GLADIATORS,
DARKNESS AT NOON, SCUM. OF THE EARTH, and ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE. The
subject-matter of all of them is similar, and none of them ever escapes
for more than a few pages from the atmosphere of nightmare. Of the five
books, the action of three takes place entirely or almost entirely in
prison.

In the opening months of the Spanish civil war Koestler was the NEWS
CHRONICLE'S correspondent in Spain, and early in 1937 he was taken
prisoner when the Fascists captured Malaga. He was nearly shot out of
hand, then spent some months imprisoned in a fortress, listening every
night to the roar of rifle fire as batch after batch of Republicans was
executed, and being most of the time in acute danger of execution
himself. This was not a chance adventure which "might have happened to
anybody", but was in accordance with Koestler's life-style. A
politically indifferent person would not have been in Spain at that
date, a more cautious observer would have got out of Malaga before the
Fascists arrived, and a British or American newspaper man would have
been treated with more consideration. The book that Koestler wrote about
this, SPANISH TESTAMENT, has remarkable passages, but apart from the
scrappiness that is usual in a book of reportage, it is definitely false
in places. In the prison scenes Koestler successfully establishes the
nightmare atmosphere which is, so to speak, his patent, but the rest of
the book is too much coloured by the Popular Front orthodoxy of the
time. One or two passages even look as though they had been doctored for
the purposes of the Left Book Club. At that time Koestler still was, or
recently had been, a member of the Communist Party, and the complex
politics of the civil war made it impossible for any Communist to write
honestly about the internal struggle on the Government side. The sin of
nearly all left-wingers from 1933 onwards is that they have wanted to be
anti-Fascist without being anti-totalitarian. In 1937 Koestler already
knew this, but did not feel free to say so. He came much nearer to
saying it--indeed, he did say it, though he put on a mask to do so--in
his next book, THE GLADIATORS, which was published about a year before
the war and for some reason attracted very little attention.

THE GLADIATORS is in some ways an unsatisfactory book. It is about
Spartacus, the Thracian gladiator who raised a slaves' rebellion in
Italy round about 65 BC, and any book on such a subject is handicapped
by challenging comparison with SALAMMBÔ. In our own age it would not be
possible to write a book like SALAMMBÔ even if one had the talent. The
great thing about Salammbô, even more important than its physical
detail, is its utter mercilessness. Flaubert could think himself into
the stony cruelty of antiquity, because in the mid-nineteenth century
one still had peace of mind. One had time to travel in the past.
Nowadays the present and the future are too terrifying to be escaped
from, and if one bothers with history it is in order to find modern
meanings there. Koestler makes Spartacus into an allegorical figure, a
primitive version of the proletarian dictator. Whereas Flaubert has been
able, by a prolonged effort of the imagination, to make his mercenaries
truly pre-Christian, Spartacus is a modern man dressed up. But this
might not matter if Koestler were fully aware of what his allegory
means. Revolutions always go wrong--that is the main theme. It is on the
question of WHY they go wrong that he falters, and his uncertainty
enters into the story and makes the central figures enigmatic and unreal.

For several years the rebellious slaves are uniformly successful. Their
numbers swell to a hundred thousand, they overrun great areas of
Southern Italy, they defeat one punitive expedition after another, they
ally themselves with the pirates who at that time were the masters of
the Mediterranean, and finally they set to work to build a city of their
own, to be named the City of the Sun. In this city human beings are to
be free and equal, and above all, they are to be happy: no slavery, no
hunger, no injustice, no floggings, no executions. It is the dream of a
just society which seems to haunt the human imagination ineradicably and
in all ages, whether it is called the Kingdom of Heaven or the classless
society, or whether it is thought of as a Golden Age which once existed
in the past and from which we have degenerated. Needless to say, the
slaves fail to achieve it. No sooner have they formed themselves into a
community than their way of life turns out to be as unjust, laborious
and fear-ridden as any other. Even the cross, symbol of slavery, has to
be revived for the punishment of malefactors. The turning-point comes
when Spartacus finds himself obliged to crucify twenty of his oldest and
most faithful followers. After that the City of the Sun is doomed, the
slaves split up and are defeated in detail, the last fifteen thousand of
them being captured and crucified in one batch.

The serious weakness of this story is that the motives of Spartacus
himself are never made clear. The Roman lawyer Fulvius, who joins the
rebellion and acts as its chronicler, sets forth the familiar dilemma of
ends and means. You can achieve nothing unless you are willing to use
force and cunning, but in using them you pervert your original aims.
Spartacus, however, is not represented as power hungry, nor, on the
other hand, as a visionary. He is driven onwards by some obscure force
which he does not understand, and he is frequently in two minds as to
whether it would not be better to throw up the whole adventure and flee
to Alexandria while the going is good. The slaves' republic is in any
case wrecked rather by hedonism than by the struggle for power. The
slaves are discontented with their liberty because they still have to
work, and the final break-up happens because the more turbulent and less
civilised slaves, chiefly Gauls and Germans, continue to behave like
bandits after the republic has been established. This may be a true
account of events--naturally we know very little about the slave
rebellions of antiquity--but by allowing the Sun City to be destroyed
because Crixus the Gaul cannot be prevented from looting and raping,
Koestler has faltered between allegory and history. If Spartacus is the
prototype of the modern revolutionary--and obviously he is intended as
that--he should have gone astray because of the impossibility of
combining power with righteousness. As it is, he is an almost passive
figure, acted upon rather than acting, and at times not convincing. The
story partly fails because the central problem of revolution has been
avoided or, at least, has not been solved.

It is again avoided in a subtler way in the next book, Koestler's
masterpiece, DARKNESS AT NOON. Here, however, the story is not spoiled,
because it deals with individuals and its interest is psychological. It
is an episode picked out from a background that does not have to be
questioned. DARKNESS AT NOON describes the imprisonment and death of an
Old Bolshevik, Rubashov, who first denies and ultimately confesses to
crimes which he is well aware he has not committed. The grown-upness,
the lack of surprise or denunciation, the pity and irony with which the
story is told, show the advantage, when one is handling a theme of this
kind, of being a European. The book reaches the stature of tragedy,
whereas an English or American writer could at most have made it into a
polemical tract. Koestler has digested his material and can treat it on
the aesthetic level. At the same time his handling of it has a political
implication, not important in this case but likely to be damaging in
later books.

Naturally the whole book centres round one question: Why did Rubashov
confess? He is not guilty--that is, not guilty of anything except the
essential crime of disliking the Stalin régime. The concrete acts of
treason in which he is supposed to have engaged are all imaginary. He
has not even been tortured, or not very severely. He is worn down by
solitude, toothache, lack of tobacco, bright lights glaring in his eyes,
and continuous questioning, but these in themselves would not be enough
to overcome a hardened revolutionary. The Nazis have previously done
worse to him without breaking his spirit. The confessions obtained in
the Russian state trials are capable of three explanations:

1. That the accused were guilty.

2. That they were tortured, and perhaps blackmailed by threats to
relatives and friends.

3. That they were actuated by despair, mental bankruptcy and the habit
of loyalty to the Party.

For Koestler's purpose in DARKNESS AT NOON, 1 is ruled out, and though
this is not the place to discuss the Russian purges, I must add that
what little verifiable evidence there is suggests that the trials of the
Bolsheviks were frame-ups. If one assumes that the accused were not
guilty--at any rate, not guilty of the particular things they confessed
to--then 2 is the common-sense explanation. Koestler, however, plumps
for 3, which is also accepted by the Trotskyist Boris Souvarine, in his
pamphlet CAUCHEMAR EN URSS. Rubashov ultimately confesses because he
cannot find in his own mind any reason for not doing so. Justice and
objective truth have long ceased to have any meaning for him. For
decades he has been simply the creature of the Party, and what the Party
now demands is that he shall confess to non-existent crimes. In the end,
though he had to be bullied and weakened first, he is somewhat proud of
his decision to confess. He feels superior to the poor Czarist officer
who inhabits the next cell and who talks to Rubashov by tapping on the
wall. The Czarist officer is shocked when he learns that Rubashov
intends to capitulate. As he sees it from his "bourgeois" angle,
everyone ought to stick to his guns, even a Bolshevik. Honour, he says,
consists in doing what you think right. "Honour is to be useful without
fuss," Rubashov taps back; and he reflects with a certain satisfaction
that he is tapping with his pince-nez while the other, the relic of the
past, is tapping with a monocle. Like Bukharin, Rubashov is "looking out
upon black darkness". What is there, what code, what loyalty, what
notion of good and evil, for the sake of which he can defy the Party and
endure further torment? He is not only alone, he is also hollow. He has
himself committed worse crimes than the one that is now being
perpetrated against him. For example, as a secret envoy of the Party in
Nazi Germany, he has got rid of disobedient followers by betraying them to
the Gestapo. Curiously enough, if he has any inner strength to draw
upon, it is the memories of his boyhood when he was the son of
a landowner. The last thing he remembers, when he is shot from
behind, is the leaves of poplar trees on his father's estate. Rubashov
belongs to the older generation of Bolsheviks that was largely wiped out
in the purges. He is aware of art and literature, and of the world
outside Russia. He contrasts sharply with Gletkin, the young GPU man who
conducts his interrogation, and who is the typical "good party man",
completely without scruples or curiosity, a thinking gramophone.
Rubashov, unlike Gletkin, does not have the Revolution as his
starting-point. His mind was not a blank sheet when the Party got hold
of it. His superiority to the other is finally traceable to his
bourgeois origin.

One cannot, I think, argue that DARKNESS AT NOON is simply a story
dealing with the adventures of an imaginary individual. Clearly it is a
political book, founded on history and offering an interpretation of
disputed events. Rubashov might be called Trotsky, Bukharin Rakovsky or
some other relatively civilised figure among the Old Bolsheviks. If one
writes about the Moscow trials one must answer the question, "Why did
the accused confess?" and which answer one makes is a political
decision. Koestler answers, in effect, "Because these people had been
rotted by the Revolution which they served", and in doing so he comes
near to claiming that revolutions are of their nature bad. If one
assumes that the accused in the Moscow trials were made to confess by
means of some kind of terrorism, one is only saying that one particular
set of revolutionary leaders has gone astray. Individuals, and not the
situation, are to blame. The implication of Koestler's book, however, is
that Rubashov in power would be no better than Gletkin: or rather, only
better in that his outlook is still partly pre-revolutionary.
Revolution, Koestler seems to say, is a corrupting process. Really enter
into the Revolution and you must end up as either Rubashov or Gletkin.
It is not merely that "power corrupts": so also do the ways of attaining
power. Therefore, all efforts to regenerate society BY VIOLENT MEANS
lead to the cellars of the OGPU, Lenin leads to Stalin, and would have
come to resemble Stalin if he had happened to survive.

Of course, Koestler does not say this quite explicitly, and perhaps is
not altogether conscious of it. He is writing about darkness, but it is
darkness at what ought to be noon. Part of the time he feels that things
might have turned out differently. The notion that so-and-so has
"betrayed", that things have only gone wrong because of individual
wickedness, is ever present in left-wing thought. Later, in ARRIVAL AND
DEPARTURE, Koestler swings over much further towards the
anti-revolutionary position, but in between these two books there is
another, SCUM OF THE EARTH, which is straight autobiography and has only
an indirect bearing upon the problems raised by DARKNESS AT NOON. True
to his life-style, Koestler was caught in France by the outbreak of war
and, as a foreigner and a known anti-Fascist, was promptly arrested and
interned by the Daladier Government. He spent the first nine months of
war mostly in a prison camp, then, during the collapse of France,
escaped and travelled by devious routes to England, where he was once
again thrown into prison as an enemy alien. This time he was soon
released, however. The book is a valuable piece of reportage, and
together with a few other scraps of honest writing that happened to be
produced at the time of the débâcle, it is a reminder of the depths
that bourgeois democracy can descend to. At this moment, with France
newly liberated and the witch-hunt after collaborators in full swing, we
are apt to forget that in 1940 various observers on the spot considered
that about forty per cent of the French population was either actively
pro-German or completely apathetic. Truthful war books are never
acceptable to non-combatants, and Koestler's book did not have a very
good reception. Nobody came well out of it--neither the bourgeois
politicians, whose idea of conducting an anti-Fascist war was to jail
every left-winger they could lay their hands on, nor the French
Communists, who were effectively pro-Nazi and did their best to sabotage
the French war effort, nor the common people, who were just as likely to
follow mountebanks like Doriot as responsible leaders. Koestler records
some fantastic conversations with fellow victims in the concentration
camp, and adds that till then, like most middle-class Socialists and
Communists, he had never made contact with real proletarians, only with
the educated minority. He draws the pessimistic conclusion: "Without
education of the masses, no social progress; without social progress, no
education of the masses". In SCUM OF THE EARTH Koestler ceases to
idealise the common people. He has abandoned Stalinism, but he is not a
Trotskyist either. This is the book's real link with ARRIVAL AND
DEPARTURE, in which what is normally called a revolutionary outlook is
dropped, perhaps for good.

ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE is not a satisfactory book. The pretence that it
is a novel is very thin; in effect it is a tract purporting to show that
revolutionary creeds are rationalisations of neurotic impulses. With all
too neat a symmetry, the book begins and ends with the same action--a
leap into a foreign country. A young ex-Communist who has made his
escape from Hungary jumps ashore in Portugal, where he hopes to enter
the service of Britain, at that time the only power fighting against
Germany. His enthusiasm is somewhat cooled by the fact that the British
Consulate is uninterested in him and almost ignores him for a period of
several months, during which his money runs out and other astuter
refugees escape to America. He is successively tempted by the World in
the form of a Nazi propagandist, the Flesh in the form of a French girl,
and--after a nervous breakdown--the Devil in the form of a psychoanalyst.
The psychoanalyst drags out of him the fact that his revolutionary
enthusiasm is not founded on any real belief in historical necessity,
but on a morbid guilt complex arising from an attempt in early childhood
to blind his baby brother. By the time that he gets an opportunity of
serving the Allies he has lost all reason for wanting to do so, and he
is on the point of leaving for America when his irrational impulses
seize hold of him again. In practice he cannot abandon the struggle.
When the book ends, he is floating down in a parachute over the dark
landscape of his native country, where he will be employed as a secret
agent of Britain.

As a political statement (and the book is not much more), this is
insufficient. Of course it is true in many cases, and it may be true in
all cases, that revolutionary activity is the result of personal
maladjustment. Those who struggle against society are, on the whole,
those who have reason to dislike it, and normal healthy people are no
more attracted by violence and illegality than they are by war. The
young Nazi in ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE makes the penetrating remark that
one can see what is wrong with the left-wing movement by the ugliness of
its women. But after all, this does not invalidate the Socialist case.
Actions have results, irrespective of their motives. Marx's ultimate
motives may well have been envy and spite, but this does not prove that
his conclusions were false. In making the hero of ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE
take his final decision from a mere instinct not to shirk action and
danger, Koestler is making him suffer a sudden loss of intelligence.
With such a history as he has behind him, he would be able to see that
certain things have to be done, whether our reasons for doing them are
"good" or "bad". History has to move in a certain direction, even if it
has to be pushed that way by neurotics. In ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE Peter's
idols are overthrown one after the other. The Russian Revolution has
degenerated, Britain, symbolised by the aged consul with gouty fingers,
is no better, the international class-conscious proletariat is a myth.
But the conclusion (since, after all, Koestler and his hero "support"
the war) ought to be that getting rid of Hitler is still a worth-while
objective, a necessary bit of scavenging in which motives are almost
irrelevant.

To take a rational political decision one must have a picture of the
future. At present Koestler seems to have none, or rather to have two
which cancel out. As an ultimate objective he believes in the Earthly
Paradise, the Sun State which the gladiators set out to establish, and
which has haunted the imagination of Socialists, Anarchists and
religious heretics for hundreds of years. But his intelligence tells him
that the Earthly Paradise is receding into the far distance and that
what is actually ahead of us is bloodshed, tyranny and privation.
Recently he described himself as a "short-term pessimist". Every kind of
horror is blowing up over the horizon, but somehow it will all come
right in the end. This outlook is probably gaining ground among thinking
people: it results from the very great difficulty, once one has
abandoned orthodox religious belief, of accepting life on earth as
inherently miserable, and on the other hand, from the realisation that
to make life liveable is a much bigger problem than it recently seemed.
Since about 1930 the world has given no reason for optimism whatever.
Nothing is in sight except a welter of lies, hatred, cruelty and
ignorance, and beyond our present troubles loom vaster ones which are
only now entering into the European consciousness. It is quite possible
that man's major problems will NEVER be solved. But it is also
unthinkable! Who is there who dares to look at the world of today and
say to himself, "It will always be like this: even in a million years it
cannot get appreciably better?" So you get the quasi-mystical belief
that for the present there is no remedy, all political action is
useless, but that somewhere in space and time human life will cease to
be the miserable brutish thing it now is.

The only easy way out is that of the religious believer, who regards
this life merely as a preparation for the next. But few thinking people
now believe in life after death, and the number of those who do is
probably diminishing. The Christian churches would probably not survive
on their own merits if their economic basis were destroyed.

The real problem is how to restore the religious attitude while
accepting death as final. Men can only be happy when they do not assume
that the object of life is happiness. It is most unlikely, however, that
Koestler would accept this. There is a well-marked hedonistic strain in
his writings, and his failure to find a political position after
breaking with Stalinism is a result of this.

The Russian Revolution, the central event in Koestler's fife, started
out with high hopes. We forget these things now, but a quarter of a
century ago it was confidently expected that the Russian Revolution
would lead to Utopia. Obviously this has not happened. Koestler is too
acute not to see this, and too sensitive not to remember the original
objective. Moreover, from his European angle he can see such things as
purges and mass deportations for what they are; he is not, like Shaw or
Laski, looking at them through the wrong end of the telescope. Therefore
he draws the conclusion: This is what revolutions lead to. There is
nothing for it except to be a "short-term pessimist" i.e. to keep out of
politics, make a sort of oasis within which you and your friends can
remain sane, and hope that somehow things will be better in a hundred
years. At the basis of this lies his hedonism, which leads him to think
of the Earthly Paradise as desirable. Perhaps, however, whether
desirable or not, it isn't possible. Perhaps some degree of suffering is
ineradicable from human life, perhaps the choice before man is always a
choice of evils, perhaps even the aim of Socialism is not to make the
world perfect but to make it better. All revolutions are failures, but
they are not all the same failure. It is his unwillingness to admit this
that has led Koestler's mind temporarily into a blind alley and that
makes ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE seem shallow compared with the earlier books.



BENEFIT OF CLERGY: SOME NOTES ON SALVADOR DALI (1944)


Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something
disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying,
since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.
However, even the most flagrantly dishonest book (Frank Harris's
autobiographical writings are an example) can without intending it give a
true picture of its author. Dali's recently published LIFE comes under
this heading. Some of the incidents in it are flatly incredible, others
have been rearranged and romanticised, and not merely the humiliation but
the persistent ORDINARINESS of everyday life has been cut out. Dali is
even by his own diagnosis narcissistic, and his autobiography is simply a
strip-tease act conducted in pink limelight. But as a record of fantasy,
of the perversion of instinct that has been made possible by the machine
age, it has great value.

Here, then, are some of the episodes in Dali's life, from his earliest
years onward. Which of them are true and which are imaginary hardly
matters: the point is that this is the kind of thing that Dali would have
LIKED to do.

When he is six years old there is some excitement over the appearance of
Halley's comet:

Suddenly one of my father's office clerks appeared in the drawing-room
doorway and announced that the comet could be seen from the terrace...
While crossing the hall I caught sight of my little three-year-old sister
crawling unobtrusively through a doorway. I stopped, hesitated a second,
then gave her a terrible kick in the head as though it had been a ball,
and continued running, carried away with a 'delirious joy' induced by
this savage act. But my father, who was behind me, caught me and led me
down in to his office, where I remained as a punishment till dinner-time.

A year earlier than this Dali had 'suddenly, as most of my ideas occur,'
flung another little boy off a suspension bridge. Several other incidents
of the same kind are recorded, including (THIS WAS WHEN HE WAS
TWENTY-NINE YEARS OLD) knocking down and trampling on a girl 'until they
had to tear her, bleeding, out of my reach.'

When he is about five he gets hold of a wounded bat which he puts into a
tin pail. Next morning he finds that the bat is almost dead and is
covered with ants which are devouring it. He puts it in his mouth, ants
and all, and bites it almost in half.

When he is an adolescent a girl falls desperately in love with him. He
kisses and caresses her so as to excite her as much as possible, but
refuses to go further. He resolves to keep this up for five years (he
calls it his 'five-year plan'), enjoying her humiliation and the sense of
power it gives him. He frequently tells her that at the end of the five
years he will desert her, and when the time comes he does so.

Till well into adult life he keeps up the practice of masturbation, and
likes to do this, apparently, in front of a looking-glass. For ordinary
purposes he is impotent, it appears, till the age of thirty or so. When
he first meets his future wife, Gala, he is greatly tempted to push her
off a precipice. He is aware that there is something that she wants him
to do to her, and after their first kiss the confession is made:

I threw back Gala's head, pulling it by the hair, and trembling with
complete hysteria, I commanded:

'Now tell me what you want me to do with you! But tell me slowly, looking
me in the eye, with the crudest, the most ferociously erotic words that
can make both of us feel the greatest shame!'

Then Gala, transforming the last glimmer of her expression of pleasure
into the hard light of her own tyranny, answered:

'I want you to kill me!'

He is somewhat disappointed by this demand, since it is merely what he
wanted to do already. He contemplates throwing her off the bell-tower of
the Cathedral of Toledo, but refrains from doing so.

During the Spanish Civil War he astutely avoids taking sides, and makes a
trip to Italy. He feels himself more and more drawn towards the
aristocracy, frequents smart SALONS, finds himself wealthy patrons, and
is photographed with the plump Vicomte de Noailles, whom he describes as
his 'Maecenas.' When the European War approaches he has one preoccupation
only: how to find a place which has good cookery and from which he can
make a quick bolt if danger comes too near. He fixes on Bordeaux, and
duly flees to Spain during the Battle of France. He stays in Spain long
enough to pick up a few anti-red atrocity stories, then makes for
America. The story ends in a blaze of respectability. Dali, at
thirty-seven, has become a devoted husband, is cured of his aberrations,
or some of them, and is completely reconciled to the Catholic Church. He
is also, one gathers, making a good deal of money.

However, he has by no means ceased to take pride in the pictures of his
Surrealist period, with titles like 'The Great Masturbator', 'Sodomy of a
Skull with a Grand Piano', etc. There are reproductions of these all the
way through the book. Many of Dali's drawings are simply representational
and have a characteristic to be noted later. But from his Surrealist
paintings and photographs the two things that stand our are sexual
perversity and necrophilia. Sexual objects and symbols--some of them
well known, like our old friend the high-heeled slipper, others, like the
crutch and the cup of warm milk, patented by Dali himself--recur over
and over again, and there is a fairly well-marked excretory motif as
well. In his painting, Le Jeu Lugubre, he says, 'the drawers bespattered
with excrement were painted with such minute and realistic complacency
that the whole little Surrealist group was anguished by the question: Is
he coprophagic or not?' Dali adds firmly that he is NOT, and that he
regards this aberration as 'repulsive', but it seems to be only at that
point that his interest in excrement stops. Even when he recounts the
experience of watching a woman urinate standing up, he has to add the
detail that she misses her aim and dirties her shoes. It is not given to
any one person to have all the vices, and Dali also boasts that he is not
homosexual, but otherwise he seems to have as good an outfit of
perversions as anyone could wish for.

However, his most notable characteristic is his necrophilia. He himself
freely admits to this, and claims to have been cured of it. Dead faces,
skulls, corpses of animals occur fairly frequently in his pictures, and
the ants which devoured the dying bat make countless reappearances. One
photograph shows an exhumed corpse, far gone in decomposition. Another
shows the dead donkeys putrefying on top of grand pianos which formed
part of the Surrealist film, Le Chien Andalou. Dali still looks back on
these donkeys with great enthusiasm.

I 'made up' the putrefaction of the donkeys with great pots of sticky
glue which I poured over them. Also I emptied their eye-sockets and made
them larger by hacking them out with scissors. In the same way I
furiously cut their mouths open to make the rows of their teeth show to
better advantage, and I added several jaws to each mouth, so that it
would appear that although the donkeys were already rotting they were
vomiting up a little more their own death, above those other rows of
teeth formed by the keys of the black pianos.

And finally there is the picture--apparently some kind of faked
photograph--of 'Mannequin rotting in a taxicab.' Over the already
somewhat bloated face and breast of the apparently dead girl, huge snails
were crawling. In the caption below the picture Dali notes that these are
Burgundy snails--that is, the edible kind.

Of course, in this long book of 400 quarto pages there is more than I
have indicated, but I do not think that I have given an unfair account of
his moral atmosphere and mental scenery. It is a book that stinks. If it
were possible for a book to give a physical stink off its pages, this one
would--a thought that might please Dali, who before wooing his future
wife for the first time rubbed himself all over with an ointment made of
goat's dung boiled up in fish glue. But against this has to be set the
fact that Dali is a draughtsman of very exceptional gifts. He is also, to
judge by the minuteness and the sureness of his drawings, a very hard
worker. He is an exhibitionist and a careerist, but he is not a fraud. He
has fifty times more talent than most of the people who would denounce
his morals and jeer at his paintings. And these two sets of facts, taken
together, raise a question which for lack of any basis of agreement
seldom gets a real discussion.

The point is that you have here a direct, unmistakable assault on sanity
and decency; and even--since some of Dali's pictures would tend to
poison the imagination like a pornographic postcard--on life itself.
What Dali has done and what he has imagined is debatable, but in his
outlook, his character, the bedrock decency of a human being does not
exist. He is as anti-social as a flea. Clearly, such people are
undesirable, and a society in which they can flourish has something wrong
with it.

Now, if you showed this book, with its illustrations, to Lord Elton, to
Mr. Alfred Noyes, to THE TIMES leader writers who exult over the
'eclipse of the highbrow'--in fact, to any 'sensible' art-hating English
person--it is easy to imagine what kind of response you would get. They
would flatly refuse to see any merit in Dali whatever. Such people are
not only unable to admit that what is morally degraded can be
asthetically right, but their real demand of every artist is that he
shall pat them on the back and tell them that thought is unnecessary.
And they can be especially dangerous at a time like the present, when
the Ministry of Information and the British Council put power into their
hands. For their impulse is not only to crush every new talent as it
appears, but to castrate the past as well. Witness the renewed
highbrow-baiting that is now going on in this country and America, with
its outcry not only against Joyce, Proust and Lawrence, but even against
T. S. Eliot.

But if you talk to the kind of person who CAN see Dali's merits, the
response that you get is not as a rule very much better. If you say that
Dali, though a brilliant draughtsman, is a dirty little scoundrel, you
are looked upon as a savage. If you say that you don't like rotting
corpses, and that people who do like rotting corpses are mentally
diseased, it is assumed that you lack the aesthetic sense. Since
'Mannequin rotting in a taxicab' is a good composition. And between these
two fallacies there is no middle position, but we seldom hear much about
it. On the one side KULTURBOLSCHEVISMUS: on the other (though the phrase
itself is out of fashion) 'Art for Art's sake.' Obscenity is a very
difficult question to discuss honestly. People are too frightened either
of seeming to be shocked or of seeming not to be shocked, to be able to
define the relationship between art and morals.

It will be seen that what the defenders of Dali are claiming is a kind of
BENEFIT OF CLERGY. The artist is to be exempt from the moral laws that
are binding on ordinary people. Just pronounce the magic word 'Art', and
everything is O.K.: kicking little girls in the head is O.K.; even a film
like L'Age d'Or is O.K. [Note, below] It is also O.K. that Dali should
batten on France for years and then scuttle off like rat as soon as France
is in danger. So long as you can paint well enough to pass the test, all
shall be forgiven you.

[Note: Dali mentions L'Age d'Or and adds that its first public showing was
broken up by hooligans, but he does not say in detail what it was about.
According to Henry Miller's account of it, it showed among other things
some fairly detailed shots of a woman defecating. (Author's Footnote)]

One can see how false this is if one extends it to cover ordinary crime.
In an age like our own, when the artist is an altogether exceptional
person, he must be allowed a certain amount of irresponsibility, just as
a pregnant woman is. Still, no one would say that a pregnant woman should
be allowed to commit murder, nor would anyone make such a claim for the
artist, however gifted. If Shakespeare returned to the earth to-morrow,
and if it were found that his favourite recreation was raping little
girls in railway carriages, we should not tell him to go ahead with it on
the ground that he might write another KING LEAR. And, after all, the
worst crimes are not always the punishable ones. By encouraging
necrophilic reveries one probably does quite as much harm as by, say,
picking pockets at the races. One ought to be able to hold in one's head
simultaneously the two facts that Dali is a good draughtsman and a
disgusting human being. The one does not invalidate or, in a sense,
affect the other. The first thing that we demand of a wall is that it
shall stand up. If it stands up, it is a good wall, and the question of
what purpose it serves is separable from that. And yet even the best wall
in the world deserves to be pulled down if it surrounds a concentration
camp. In the same way it should be possible to say, 'This is a good book
or a good picture, and it ought to be burned by the public hangman.'
Unless one can say that, at least in imagination, one is shirking the
implications of the fact that an artist is also a citizen and a human
being.

Not, of course, that Dali's autobiography, or his pictures, ought to be
suppressed. Short of the dirty postcards that used to be sold in
Mediterranean seaport towns, it is doubtful policy to suppress anything,
and Dali's fantasies probably cast useful light on the decay of
capitalist civilisation. But what he clearly needs is diagnosis. The
question is not so much WHAT he is as WHY he is like that. It ought not
to be in doubt that his is a diseased intelligence, probably not much
altered by his alleged conversion, since genuine penitents, or people who
have returned to sanity, do not flaunt their past vices in that
complacent way. He is a symptom of the world's illness. The important
thing is not to denounce him as a cad who ought to be horsewhipped, or to
defend him as a genius who ought not to be questioned, but to find out
WHY he exhibits that particular set of aberrations.

The answer is probably discoverable in his pictures, and those I myself
am not competent to examine. But I can point to one clue which perhaps
takes one part of the distance. This is the old-fashioned, over-ornate
Edwardian style of drawing to which Dali tends to revert when he is not
being Surrealist. Some of Dali's drawings are reminiscent of Dürer, one
(p. 113) seems to show the influence of Beardsley, another (p. 269) seems
to borrow something from Blake. But the most persistent strain is the
Edwardian one. When I opened the book for the first time and looked at
its innumerable marginal illustrations, I was haunted by a resemblance
which I could not immediately pin down. I fetched up at the ornamental
candlestick at the beginning of Part I (p. 7). What did this remind me
of? Finally I tracked it down. It reminded me of a large vulgar,
expensively got-up edition of Anatole France (in translation) which must
have been published about 1914. That had ornamental chapter headings and
tailpieces after this style. Dali's candlestick displays at one end a
curly fish-like creature that looks curiously familiar (it seems to be
based on the conventional dolphin), and at the other is the burning
candle. This candle, which recurs in one picture after another, is a very
old friend. You will find it, with the same picturesque gouts of wax
arranged on its sides, in those phoney electric lights done up as
candlesticks which are popular in sham-Tudor country hotels. This candle,
and the design beneath it, convey at once an intense feeling of
sentimentality. As though to counteract this, Dali has spattered a
quillful of ink all over the page, but without avail. The same
impression keeps popping up on page after page. The sign at the bottom of
page 62, for instance, would nearly go into PETER PAN. The figure on page
224, in spite of having her cranium elongated in to an immense
sausage-like shape, is the witch of the fairy-tale books. The horse on
page 234 and the unicorn on page 218 might be illustrations to James
Branch Cabell. The rather pansified drawings of youths on pages 97, 100
and elsewhere convey the same impression. Picturesqueness keeps breaking
in. Take away the skulls, ants, lobsters, telephones and other
paraphernalia, and every now and again you are back in the world of
Barrie, Rackham, Dunsany and WHERE THE RAINBOW ENDS.

Curiously, enough, some of the naughty-naughty touches in Dali's
autobiography tie up with the same period. When I read the passage I
quoted at the beginning, about the kicking of the little sister's head, I
was aware of another phantom resemblance. What was it? Of course!
RUTHLESS RHYMES FOR HEARTLESS HOMES, by Harry Graham. Such rhymes were
very popular round about 1912, and one that ran:

Poor little Willy is crying so sore,
A sad little boy is he,
For he's broken his little sister's neck
And he'll have no jam for tea,

might almost have been founded on Dali's anecdote. Dali, of course, is
aware of his Edwardian leanings, and makes capital out of them, more or
less in a spirit of pastiche. He professes an especial affection for the
year 1900, and claims that every ornamental object of 1900 is full of
mystery, poetry, eroticism, madness, perversity, et. Pastiche, however,
usually implies a real affection for the thing parodied. It seems to be,
if not the rule, at any rate distinctly common for an intellectual bent
to be accompanied by a non-rational, even childish urge in the same
direction. A sculptor, for instance, is interested in planes and curves,
but he is also a person who enjoys the physical act of mucking about with
clay or stone. An engineer is a person who enjoys the feel of tools, the
noise of dynamos and smell of oil. A psychiatrist usually has a leaning
toward some sexual aberration himself. Darwin became a biologist partly
because he was a country gentleman and fond of animals. It may be
therefore, that Dali's seemingly perverse cult of Edwardian things (for
example, his 'discovery' of the 1900 subway entrances) is merely the
symptom of a much deeper, less conscious affection. The innumerable,
beautifully executed copies of textbook illustrations, solemnly labelled
LE ROSSIGNOL, UNE MONTRE and so on, which he scatters all over his
margins, may be meant partly as a joke. The little boy in knickerbockers
playing with a diabolo on page 103 is a perfect period piece. But perhaps
these things are also there because Dali can't help drawing that kind of
thing because it is to that period and that style of drawing that he
really belongs.

If so, his aberrations are partly explicable. Perhaps they are a way of
assuring himself that he is not commonplace. The two qualities that Dali
unquestionably possesses are a gift for drawing and an atrocious egoism.
'At seven', he says in the first paragraph of his book, 'I wanted to be
Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since.' This is
worded in a deliberately startling way, but no doubt it is substantially
true. Such feelings are common enough. 'I knew I was a genius', somebody
once said to me, 'long before I knew what I was going to be a genius
about.' And suppose that you have nothing in you except your egoism and a
dexterity that goes no higher than the elbow; suppose that your real gift
is for a detailed, academic, representational style of drawing, your real
MÉTIER to be an illustrator of scientific textbooks. How then do you
become Napoleon?

There is always one escape: INTO WICKEDNESS. Always do the thing that
will shock and wound people. At five, throw a little boy off a bridge,
strike an old doctor across the face with a whip and break his
spectacles--or, at any rate, dream about doing such things. Twenty years
later, gouge the eyes out of dead donkeys with a pair of scissors. Along
those lines you can always feel yourself original. And after all, it
pays! It is much less dangerous than crime. Making all allowance for the
probable suppressions in Dali's autobiography, it is clear that he had
not had to suffer for his eccentricities as he would have done in an
earlier age. He grew up into the corrupt world of the nineteen-twenties,
when sophistication was immensely widespread and every European capital
swarmed with aristocrats and RENTIERS who had given up sport and
politics and taken to patronising the arts. If you threw dead donkeys at
people, they threw money back. A phobia for grasshoppers--which a few
decades back would merely have provoked a snigger--was now an
interesting 'complex' which could be profitably exploited. And when that
particular world collapsed before the German Army, America was waiting.
You could even top it all up with religious conversion, moving at one
hop and without a shadow of repentance from the fashionable SALONS of
Paris to Abraham's bosom.

That, perhaps is the essential outline of Dali's history. But why his
aberrations should be the particular ones they were, and why it should be
so easy to 'sell' such horrors as rotting corpses to a sophisticated
public--those are questions for the psychologist and the sociological
critic. Marxist criticism has a short way with such phenomena as
Surrealism. They are 'bourgeois decadence' (much play is made with the
phrases 'corpse poisons' and 'decaying RENTIER class'), and that is
that. But though this probably states a fact, it does not establish a
connection. One would still like to know WHY Dali's leaning was towards
necrophilia (and not, say, homosexuality), and WHY the RENTIERS and the
aristocrats would buy his pictures instead of hunting and making love
like their grandfathers. Mere moral disapproval does not get one any
further. But neither ought one to pretend, in the name of 'detachment',
that such pictures as 'Mannequin rotting in a taxicab' are morally
neutral. They are diseased and disgusting, and any investigation ought to
start out from that fact.



RAFFLES AND MISS BLANDISH (1944)


Nearly half a century after his first appearance, Raffles, 'the amateur
cracksman', is still one of the best-known characters in English
fiction. Very few people would need telling that he played cricket for
England, had bachelor chambers in the Albany and burgled the Mayfair
houses which he also entered as a guest. Just for that reason he and his
exploits make a suitable background against which to examine a more
modern crime story such as NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH. Any such choice
is necessarily arbitrary--I might equally well have chosen ARSÈNE LUPIN
for instance--but at any rate NO ORCHIDS and the Raffles books [Note,
below] have the common quality of being crime stories which play the
limelight on the criminal rather than the policeman. For sociological
purposes they can be compared. NO ORCHIDS is the 1939 version of
glamorized crime, RAFFLES the 1900 version. What I am concerned with
here is the immense difference in moral atmosphere between the two
books, and the change in the popular attitude that this probably
implies.

[Note: RAFFLES, A THIEF IN THE NIGHT and MR. JUSTICE RAFFLES, by E. W.
Hornung. The third of these is definitely a failure, and only the first
has the true Raffles atmosphere. Hornung wrote a number of crime stories,
usually with a tendency to take the side of the criminal. A successful
book in rather the same vein as RAFFLES is STIUGAREE. (Author's footnote.)]

At this date, the charm of RAFFLES is partly in the period atmosphere and
partly in the technical excellence of the stories. Hornung was a very
conscientious and on his level a very able writer. Anyone who cares for
sheer efficiency must admire his work. However, the truly dramatic thing,
about Raffles, the thing that makes him a sort of byword even to this day
(only a few weeks ago, in a burglary case, a magistrate referred to the
prisoner as 'a Raffles in real life'), is the fact that he is a
GENTLEMAN. Raffles is presented to us and this is rubbed home in
countless scraps of dialogue and casual remarks--not as an honest man
who has gone astray, but as a public-school man who has gone astray. His
remorse, when he feels any, is almost purely social; he has disgraced
'the old school', he has lost his right to enter 'decent society', he has
forfeited his amateur status and become a cad. Neither Raffles nor Bunny
appears to feel at all strongly that stealing is wrong in itself, though
Raffles does once justify himself by the casual remark that 'the
distribution of property is all wrong anyway'. They think of themselves
not as sinners but as renegades, or simply as outcasts. And the moral
code of most of us is still so close to Raffles' own that we do feel his
situation to be an especially ironical one. A West End club man who is
really a burglar! That is almost a story in itself, is it not? But how if
it were a plumber or a greengrocer who was really a burglar? Would there
be anything inherently dramatic in that? No although the theme of the
'double life', of respectability covering crime, is still there. Even
Charles Peace in his clergyman's dog-collar, seems somewhat less of a
hypocrite than Raffles in his Zingari blazer.

Raffles, of course, is good at all games, but it is peculiarly fitting
that his chosen game should be cricket. This allows not only of endless
analogies between his cunning as a slow bowler and his cunning as a
burglar, but also helps to define the exact nature of his crime. Cricket
is not in reality a very popular game in England--it is nowhere so
popular as football, for instance--but it gives expression to a
well-marked trait in the English character, the tendency to value 'form'
or 'style' more highly than success. In the eyes of any true
cricket-lover it is possible for an innings of ten runs to be 'better'
(i.e. more elegant) than an innings of a hundred runs: cricket is also
one of the very few games in which the amateur can excel the
professional. It is a game full of forlorn hopes and sudden dramatic
changes of fortune, and its rules are so defined that their
interpretation is partly an ethical business. When Larwood, for instance,
practised bodyline bowling in Australia he was not actually breaking any
rule: he was merely doing something that was 'not cricket'. Since
cricket takes up a lot of time and is rather an expensive game to play,
it is predominantly an upper-class game, but for the whole nation it is
bound up with such concepts as 'good form', 'playing the game', etc., and
it has declined in popularity just as the tradition of 'don't hit a man
when he's down' has declined. It is not a twentieth-century game, and
nearly all modern-minded people dislike it. The Nazis, for instance, were
at pains to discourage cricket, which had gained a certain footing in
Germany before and after the last war. In making Raffles a cricketer as
well as a burglar, Hornung was not merely providing him with a plausible
disguise; he was also drawing the sharpest moral contrast that he was
able to imagine.

RAFFLES, no less than GREAT EXPECTATIONS or LE ROUGE ET LE NOIR, is a
story of snobbery, and it gains a great deal from the precariousness of
Raffles's social position. A cruder writer would have made the 'gentleman
burglar' a member of the peerage, or at least a baronet. Raffles,
however, is of upper-middle-class origin and is only accepted by the
aristocracy because of his personal charm. 'We were in Society but not of
it', he says to Bunny towards the end of the book; and 'I was asked about
for my cricket'. Both he and Bunny accept the values of 'Society'
unquestioningly, and would settle down in it for good if only they could
get away with a big enough haul. The ruin that constantly threatens them
is all the blacker because they only doubtfully 'belong'. A duke who has
served a prison sentence is still a duke, whereas a mere man about town,
if once disgraced, ceases to be 'about town' for evermore. The closing
chapters of the book, when Raffles has been exposed and is living under
an assumed name, have a twilight of the gods feeling, a mental atmosphere
rather similar to that of Kipling's poem, 'Gentleman Rankers':

Yes, a trooper of the forces--Who has run his own six horses! etc.

Raffles now belongs irrevocably to the 'cohorts of the damned'. He can
still commit successful burglaries, but there is no way back into
Paradise, which means Piccadilly and the M.C.C. According to the
public-school code there is only one means of rehabilitation: death in
battle. Raffles dies fighting against the Boers (a practised reader would
foresee this from the start), and in the eyes of both Bunny and his
creator this cancels his crimes.

Both Raffles and Bunny, of course, are devoid of religious belief, and
they have no real ethical code, merely certain rules of behaviour which
they observe semi-instinctively. But it is just here that the deep moral
difference between RAFFLES and NO ORCHIDS becomes apparent. Raffles and
Bunny, after all, are gentlemen, and such standards as they do have are
not to be violated. Certain things are 'not done', and the idea of doing
them hardly arises. Raffles will not, for example, abuse hospitality. He
will commit a burglary in a house where he is staying as a guest, but the
victim must be a fellow-guest and not the host. He will not commit
murder [Note, below], and he avoids violence wherever possible and prefers
to carry out his robberies unarmed. He regards friendship as sacred, and
is chivalrous though not moral in his relations with women. He will take
extra risks in the name of 'sportsmanship', and sometimes even for
aesthetic reasons. And above all, he is intensively patriotic. He
celebrates the Diamond Jubilee ('For sixty years, Bunny, we've been ruled
over by absolutely the finest sovereign the world has ever seen') by
dispatching to the Queen, through the post, an antique gold cup which he
has stolen from the British Museum. He steals, from partly political
motives, a pearl which the German Emperor is sending to one of the
enemies of Britain, and when the Boer War begins to go badly his one
thought is to find his way into the fighting line. At the front he
unmasks a spy at the cost of revealing his own identity, and then dies
gloriously by a Boer bullet. In this combination of crime and patriotism
he resembles his near-contemporary Arsène Lupin, who also scores off the
German Emperor and wipes out his very dirty past by enlisting in the
Foreign Legion.

[Note: Actually Raffles does kill one man and is more or less
consciously responsible for the death of two others. But all three of
them are foreigners and have behaved in a very reprehensible manner. He
also, on one occasion, contemplates murdering a blackmailer. It is
however, a fairly well-established convention in crime stories that
murdering a blackmailer 'doesn't count'. (Author's footnote, 1945.)]

It is important to note that by modern standards Raffles's crimes are
very petty ones. Four hundred pounds worth of jewellery seems to him an
excellent haul. And though the stories are convincing in their physical
detail, they contain very little sensationalism--very few corpses,
hardly any blood, no sex crimes, no sadism, no perversions of any kind.
It seems to be the case that the crime story, at any rate on its higher
levels, has greatly increased in blood-thirstiness during the past twenty
years. Some of the early detective stories do not even contain a murder.
The Sherlock Holmes stories, for instance, are not all murders, and some
of them do not even deal with an indictable crime. So also with the John
Thorndyke stories, while of the Max Carrados stories only a minority are
murders. Since 1918, however, a detective story not containing a murder
has been a great rarity, and the most disgusting details of dismemberment
and exhumation are commonly exploited. Some of the Peter Wimsey stories,
for instance, display an extremely morbid interest in corpses. The
Raffles stories, written from the angle of the criminal, are much less
anti-social than many modern stories written from the angle of the
detective. The main impression that they leave behind is of boyishness.
They belong to a time when people had standards, though they happened to
be foolish standards. Their key-phrase is 'not done'. The line that they
draw between good and evil is as senseless as a Polynesian taboo, but at
least, like the taboo, it has the advantage that everyone accepts it.

So much for RAFFLES. Now for a header into the cesspool. NO ORCHIDS FOR
MISS BLANDISH, by James Hadley Chase, was published in 1939, but seems to
have enjoyed its greatest popularity in 1940, during the Battle of
Britain and the blitz. In its main outlines its story is this:

Miss Blandish, the daughter of a millionaire, is kidnapped by some
gangsters who are almost immediately surprised and killed off by a larger
and better organized gang. They hold her to ransom and extract half a
million dollars from her father. Their original plan had been to kill her
as soon as the ransom-money was received, but a chance keeps her alive.
One of the gang is a young man named Slim, whose sole pleasure in life
consists in driving knives into other people's bellies. In childhood he
has graduated by cutting up living animals with a pair of rusty scissors.
Slim is sexually impotent, but takes a kind of fancy to Miss Blandish.
Slim's mother, who is the real brains of the gang, sees in this the
chance of curing Slim's impotence, and decides to keep Miss Blandish in
custody till Slim shall have succeeded in raping her. After many efforts
and much persuasion, including the flogging of Miss Blandish with a
length of rubber hosepipe, the rape is achieved. Meanwhile Miss
Blandish's father has hired a private detective, and by means of bribery
and torture the detective and the police manage to round up and
exterminate the whole gang. Slim escapes with Miss Blandish and is killed
after a final rape, and the detective prepares to restore Miss Blandish
to her family. By this time, however, she has developed such a taste for
Slim's caresses [Note, below] that she feels unable to live without him,
and she jumps, out of the window of a sky-scraper.

Several other points need noticing before one can grasp the full
implications of this book. To begin with, its central story bears a very
marked resemblance to William Faulkner's novel, Sanctuary. Secondly, it
is not, as one might expect, the product of an illiterate hack, but a
brilliant piece of writing, with hardly a wasted word or a jarring note
anywhere. Thirdly, the whole book, récit as well as dialogue, is written
in the American language; the author, an Englishman who has (I believe)
never been in the United States, seems to have made a complete mental
transference to the American underworld. Fourthly, the book sold,
according to its publishers, no less than half a million copies.

I have already outlined the plot, but the subject-matter is much more
sordid and brutal than this suggests. The book contains eight full-dress
murders, an unassessable number of casual killings and woundings, an
exhumation (with a careful reminder of the stench), the flogging of Miss
Blandish, the torture of another woman with red-hot cigarette-ends, a
strip-tease act, a third-degree scene of unheard-of cruelty and much else
of the same kind. It assumes great sexual sophistication in its readers
(there is a scene, for instance, in which a gangster, presumably of
masochistic tendency, has an orgasm in the moment of being knifed), and
it takes for granted the most complete corruption and self-seeking as the
norm of human behaviour. The detective, for instance, is almost as great
a rogue as the gangsters, and actuated by nearly the same motives. Like
them, he is in pursuit of 'five hundred grand'. It is necessary to the
machinery of the story that Mr. Blandish should be anxious to get his
daughter back, but apart from this, such things as affection, friendship,
good nature or even ordinary politeness simply do not enter. Nor, to any
great extent does normal sexuality. Ultimately only one motive is at work
throughout the whole story: the pursuit of power.

[Note: Another reading of the final episode is possible. It may mean
merely that Miss Blandish is pregnant. But the interpretation I have
given above seems more in keeping with the general brutality of the book.
(Author's footnote, 1945)]

It should be noticed that the book is not in the ordinary sense
pornography. Unlike most books that deal in sexual sadism, it lays the
emphasis on the cruelty and not on the pleasure. Slim, the ravisher of
Miss Blandish, has 'wet slobbering lips': this is disgusting, and it is
meant to be disgusting. But the scenes describing cruelty to women are
comparatively perfunctory. The real high-spots of the book are cruelties
committed by men upon other men; above all, the third-degreeing of the
gangster, Eddie Schultz, who is lashed into a chair and flogged on the
windpipe with truncheons, his arms broken by fresh blows as he breaks
loose. In another of Mr. Chase's books, HE WON'T NEED IT NOW, the hero,
who is intended to be a sympathetic and perhaps even noble character, is
described as stamping on somebody's face, and then, having crushed the
man's mouth in, grinding his heel round and round in it. Even when
physical incidents of this kind are not occurring, the mental atmosphere
of these books is always the same. Their whole theme is the struggle for
power and the triumph of the strong over the weak. The big gangsters wipe
out the little ones as mercilessly as a pike gobbling up the little fish
in a pond; the police kill off the criminals as cruelly as the angler
kills the pike. If ultimately one sides with the police against the
gangsters, it is merely because they are better organized and more
powerful, because, in fact, the law is a bigger racket than crime. Might
is right: vae victis.

As I have mentioned already, NO ORCHIDS enjoyed its greatest vogue in
1940, though it was successfully running as a play till some time later.
It was, in fact, one of the things that helped to console people for the
boredom of being bombed. Early in the war the NEW YORKER had a picture of
a little man approaching a news-stall littered with paper with such
headlines as 'Great Tank Battles in Northern France', 'Big Naval Battle
in the North Sea', 'Huge Air Battles over the Channel', etc., etc. The
little man is saying 'ACTION STORIES, please'. That little man stood for
all the drugged millions to whom the world of the gangster and the
prize-ring is more 'real', more 'tough', than such things as wars,
revolutions, earthquakes, famines and pestilences. From the point of view
of a reader of ACTION STORIES, a description of the London blitz, or of
the struggles of the European underground parties, would be 'sissy
stuff'. On the other hand, some puny gun-battle in Chicago, resulting in
perhaps half a dozen deaths, would seem genuinely 'tough'. This habit of
mind is now extremely widespread. A soldier sprawls in a muddy trench,
with the machine-gun bullets crackling a foot or two overhead, and whiles
away his intolerable boredom by reading an American gangster story. And
what is it that makes that story so exciting? Precisely the fact that
people are shooting at each other with machine-guns! Neither the soldier
nor anyone else sees anything curious in this. It is taken for granted
that an imaginary bullet is more thrilling than a real one.

The obvious explanation is that in real life one is usually a passive
victim, whereas in the adventure story one can think of oneself as being
at the centre of events. But there is more to it than that. Here it is
necessary to refer again to the curious fact of NO ORCHIDS being
written--with technical errors, perhaps, but certainly with considerable
skill--in the American language.

There exists in America an enormous literature of more or less the same
stamp as NO ORCHIDS. Quite apart from books, there is the huge array of
'pulp magazines', graded so as to cater for different kinds of fantasy,
but nearly all having much the same mental atmosphere. A few of them go
in for straight pornography, but the great majority are quite plainly
aimed at sadists and masochists. Sold at threepence a copy under the
title of Yank Mags, [Note, below] these things used to enjoy considerable
popularity in England, but when the supply dried up owing to the war, no
satisfactory substitute was forthcoming. English imitations of the 'pulp
magazine' do now exist, but they are poor things compared with the
original. English crook films, again, never approach the American crook
film in brutality. And yet the career of Mr. Chase shows how deep the
American influence has already gone. Not only is he himself living a
continuous fantasy-life in the Chicago underworld, but he can count on
hundreds of thousands of readers who know what is meant by a 'clipshop'
or the 'hotsquat', do not have to do mental arithmetic when confronted by
'fifty grand', and understand at sight a sentence like 'Johnny was a
rummy and only two jumps ahead of the nut-factory'. Evidently there are
great numbers of English people who are partly Americanized in language
and, one ought to add, in moral outlook. For there was no popular protest
against NO ORCHIDS. In the end it was withdrawn, but only
retrospectively, when a later work, MISS CALLAGHAN COMES TO GRIEF,
brought Mr. Chase's books to the attention of the authorities. Judging by
casual conversations at the time, ordinary readers got a mild thrill out
of the obscenities of NO ORCHIDS, but saw nothing undesirable in the book
as a whole. Many people, incidentally, were under the impression that it
was an American book reissued in England.


[Note: They are said to have been imported into this country as ballast
which accounted for their low price and crumped appearance. Since the war
the ships have been ballasted with something more useful, probably
gravel. (Author's footnote)]

The thing that the ordinary reader OUGHT to have objected to--almost
certainly would have objected to, a few decades earlier--was the
equivocal attitude towards crime. It is implied throughout NO ORCHIDS
that being a criminal is only reprehensible in the sense that it does not
pay. Being a policeman pays better, but there is no moral difference,
since the police use essentially criminal methods. In a book like HE
WON'T NEED IT NOW the distinction between crime and crime-prevention
practically disappears. This is a new departure for English sensational
fiction, in which till recently there has always been a sharp distinction
between right and wrong and a general agreement that virtue must triumph
in the last chapter. English books glorifying crime (modern crime, that
is--pirates and highwaymen are different) are very rare. Even a book
like RAFFLES, as I have pointed out, is governed by powerful taboos, and
it is clearly understood that Raffles's crimes must be expiated sooner or
later. In America, both in life and fiction, the tendency to tolerate
crime, even to admire the criminal so long as he is success, is very much
more marked. It is, indeed, ultimately this attitude that has made it
possible for crime to flourish upon so huge a scale. Books have been
written about Al Capone that are hardly different in tone from the books
written about Henry Ford, Stalin, Lord Northcliffe and all the rest of
the 'log cabin to White House' brigade. And switching back eighty years,
one finds Mark Twain adopting much the same attitude towards the
disgusting bandit Slade, hero of twenty-eight murders, and towards the
Western desperadoes generally. They were successful, they 'made good',
therefore he admired them.

In a book like NO ORCHIDS one is not, as in the old-style crime story,
simply escaping from dull reality into an imaginary world of action.
One's escape is essentially into cruelty and sexual perversion. No
Orchids is aimed at the power-instinct, which RAFFLES or the Sherlock
Holmes stories are not. At the same time the English attitude towards
crime is not so superior to the American as I may have seemed to imply.
It too is mixed up with power-worship, and has become more noticeably so
in the last twenty years. A writer who is worth examining is Edgar
Wallace, especially in such typical books as THE ORATOR and the Mr. J. G.
Reeder stories. Wallace was one of the first crime-story writers to break
away from the old tradition of the private detective and make his central
figure a Scotland Yard official. Sherlock Holmes is an amateur, solving
his problems without the help and even, in the earlier stories, against
the opposition of the police. Moreover, like Lupin, he is essentially an
intellectual, even a scientist. He reasons logically from observed fact,
and his intellectuality is constantly contrasted with the routine methods
of the police. Wallace objected strongly to this slur, as he considered
it, on Scotland Yard, and in several newspaper articles he went out of
his way to denounce Holmes byname. His own ideal was the
detective-inspector who catches criminals not because he is
intellectually brilliant but because he is part of an all-powerful
organization. Hence the curious fact that in Wallace's most
characteristic stories the 'clue' and the 'deduction' play no part. The
criminal is always defeated by an incredible coincidence, or because in
some unexplained manner the police know all about the crime beforehand.
The tone of the stories makes it quite clear that Wallace's admiration
for the police is pure bully-worship. A Scotland Yard detective is the
most powerful kind of being that he can imagine, while the criminal
figures in his mind as an outlaw against whom anything is permissible,
like the condemned slaves in the Roman arena. His policemen behave much
more brutally than British policemen do in real life--they hit people
with out provocation, fire revolvers past their ears to terrify them and
so on--and some of the stories exhibit a fearful intellectual sadism.
(For instance, Wallace likes to arrange things so that the villain is
hanged on the same day as the heroine is married.) But it is sadism after
the English fashion: that is to say, it is unconscious, there is not
overtly any sex in it, and it keeps within the bounds of the law. The
British public tolerates a harsh criminal law and gets a kick out of
monstrously unfair murder trials: but still that is better, on any
account, than tolerating or admiring crime. If one must worship a bully,
it is better that he should be a policeman than a gangster. Wallace is
still governed to some extent by the concept of 'not done.' In NO ORCHIDS
anything is 'done' so long as it leads on to power. All the barriers are
down, all the motives are out in the open. Chase is a worse symptom than
Wallace, to the extent that all-in wrestling is worse than boxing, or
Fascism is worse than capitalist democracy.

In borrowing from William Faulkner's SANCTUARY, Chase only took the plot;
the mental atmosphere of the two books is not similar. Chase really
derives from other sources, and this particular bit of borrowing is only
symbolic. What it symbolizes is the vulgarization of ideas which is
constantly happening, and which probably happens faster in an age of
print. Chase has been described as 'Faulkner for the masses', but it
would be more accurate to describe him as Carlyle for the masses. He is a
popular writer--there are many such in America, but they are still
rarities in England--who has caught up with what is now fashionable to
call 'realism', meaning the doctrine that might is right. The growth of
'realism' has been the great feature of the intellectual history of our
own age. Why this should be so is a complicated question. The
interconnexion between sadism, masochism, success-worship, power-worship,
nationalism, and totalitarianism is a huge subject whose edges have
barely been scratched, and even to mention it is considered somewhat
indelicate. To take merely the first example that comes to mind, I
believe no one has ever pointed out the sadistic and masochistic element
in Bernard Shaw's work, still less suggested that this probably has some
connexion with Shaw's admiration for dictators. Fascism is often loosely
equated with sadism, but nearly always by people who see nothing wrong in
the most slavish worship of Stalin. The truth is, of course, that the
countless English intellectuals who kiss the arse of Stalin are not
different from the minority who give their allegiance to Hitler or
Mussolini, nor from the efficiency experts who preached 'punch', 'drive',
'personality' and 'learn to be a Tiger man' in the nineteen-twenties, nor
from that older generation of intellectuals, Carlyle, Creasey and the
rest of them, who bowed down before German militarism. All of them are
worshipping power and successful cruelty. It is important to notice that
the cult of power tends to be mixed up with a love of cruelty and
wickedness FOR THEIR OWN SAKES. A tyrant is all the more admired if he
happens to be a bloodstained crook as well, and 'the end justifies the
means' often becomes, in effect, 'the means justify themselves provided
they are dirty enough'. This idea colours the outlook of all sympathizers
with totalitarianism, and accounts, for instance, for the positive
delight with which many English intellectuals greeted the Nazi-Soviet
pact. It was a step only doubtfully useful to the U.S.S.R., but it was
entirely unmoral, and for that reason to be admired; the explanations of
it, which were numerous and self-contradictory, could come afterwards.

Until recently the characteristic adventure stories of the
English-speaking peoples have been stories in which the hero fights
AGAINST ODDS. This is true all the way from Robin Hood to Pop-eye the
Sailor. Perhaps the basic myth of the Western world is Jack the
Giant-killer, but to be brought up to date this should be renamed Jack
the Dwarf-killer, and there already exists a considerable literature
which teaches, either overtly or implicitly, that one should side with
the big man against the little man. Most of what is now written about
foreign policy is simply an embroidery on this theme, and for several
decades such phrases as 'Play the game', 'Don't hit a man when he's down'
and 'It's not cricket' have never failed to draw a snigger from anyone of
intellectual pretensions. What is comparatively new is to find the
accepted pattern, according to which (a) right is right and wrong is
wrong, whoever wins, and (b) weakness must be respected, disappearing
from popular literature as well. When I first read D. H. Lawrence's
novels, at the age of about twenty, I was puzzled by the fact that there
did not seem to be any classification of the characters into 'good' and
'bad'. Lawrence seemed to sympathize with all of them about equally, and
this was so unusual as to give me the feeling of having lost my bearings.
Today no one would think of looking for heroes and villains in a serious
novel, but in lowbrow fiction one still expects to find a sharp
distinction between right and wrong and between legality and illegality.
The common people, on the whole, are still living in the world of
absolute good and evil from which the intellectuals have long since
escaped. But the popularity of NO ORCHIDS and the American books and
magazines to which it is akin shows how rapidly the doctrine of 'realism'
is gaining ground.

Several people, after reading NO ORCHIDS, have remarked to me, 'It's pure
Fascism'. This is a correct description, although the book has not the
smallest connexion with politics and very little with social or economic
problems. It has merely the same relation to Fascism as, say Trollope's
novels have to nineteenth-century capitalism. It is a daydream
appropriate to a totalitarian age. In his imagined world of gangsters
Chase is presenting, as it were, a distilled version of the modern
political scene, in which such things as mass bombing of civilians, the
use of hostages, torture to obtain confessions, secret prisons, execution
without trial, floggings with rubber truncheons, drownings in cesspools,
systematic falsification of records and statistics, treachery, bribery,
and quislingism are normal and morally neutral, even admirable when they
are done in a large and bold way. The average man is not directly
interested in politics, and when he reads, he wants the current struggles
of the world to be translated into a simple story about individuals. He
can take an interest in Slim and Fenner as he could not in the G.P.U. and
the Gestapo. People worship power in the form in which they are able to
understand it. A twelve-year-old boy worships Jack Dempsey. An adolescent
in a Glasgow slum worships Al Capone. An aspiring pupil at a business
college worships Lord Nuffield. A NEW STATESMAN reader worships Stalin.
There is a difference in intellectual maturity, but none in moral
outlook. Thirty years ago the heroes of popular fiction had nothing in
common with Mr. Chase's gangsters and detectives, and the idols of the
English liberal intelligentsia were also comparatively sympathetic
figures. Between Holmes and Fenner on the one hand, and between Abraham
Lincoln and Stalin on the other, there is a similar gulf.

One ought not to infer too much from the success of Mr. Chase's books. It
is possible that it is an isolated phenomenon, brought about by the
mingled boredom and brutality of war. But if such books should definitely
acclimatize themselves in England, instead of being merely a
half-understood import from America, there would be good grounds for
dismay. In choosing RAFFLES as a background for NO ORCHIDS I deliberately
chose a book which by the standards of its time was morally equivocal.
Raffles, as I have pointed out, has no real moral code, no religion,
certainly no social consciousness. All he has is a set of reflexes the
nervous system, as it were, of a gentleman. Give him a sharp tap on this
reflex or that (they are called 'sport', 'pal', 'woman', 'king and
country' and so forth), and you get a predictable reaction. In Mr.
Chase's books there are no gentlemen and no taboos. Emancipation is
complete. Freud and Machiavelli have reached the outer suburbs. Comparing
the schoolboy atmosphere of the one book with the cruelty and corruption
of the other, one is driven to feel that snobbishness, like hypocrisy, is
a check upon behaviour whose value from a social point of view has been
underrated.



ANTISEMITISM IN BRITAIN (1945)


There are about 400,000 known Jews in Britain, and in addition some
thousands or, at most, scores of thousands of Jewish refugees who have
entered the country from 1934 onwards. The Jewish population is almost
entirely concentrated in half a dozen big towns and is mostly employed
in the food, clothing and furniture trades. A few of the big monopolies,
such as the ICI, one or two leading newspapers and at least one big
chain of department stores are Jewish-owned or partly Jewish-owned, but
it would be very far from the truth to say that British business life is
dominated by Jews. The Jews seem, on the contrary, to have failed to
keep up with the modern tendency towards big amalgamations and to have
remained fixed in those trades which are necessarily carried out on a
small scale and by old-fashioned methods.

I start off with these background facts, which are already known to any
well-informed person, in order to emphasise that there is no real Jewish
"problem" in England. The Jews are not numerous or powerful enough, and
it is only in what are loosely called "intellectual circles" that they
have any noticeable influence. Yet it is generally admitted that
antisemitism is on the increase, that it has been greatly exacerbated by
the war, and that humane and enlightened people are not immune to it. It
does not take violent forms (English people are almost invariably gentle
and law-abiding), but it is ill-natured enough, and in favourable
circumstances it could have political results. Here are some samples of
antisemitic remarks that have been made to me during the past year or
two:

Middle-aged office employee: "I generally come to work by bus. It takes
longer, but I don't care about using the Underground from Golders Green
nowadays. There's too many of the Chosen Race travelling on that line."

Tobacconist (woman): "No, I've got no matches for you. I should try the
lady down the street. SHE'S always got matches. One of the Chosen Race,
you see."

Young intellectual, Communist or near-Communist: "No, I do NOT like
Jews. I've never made any secret of that. I can't stick them. Mind you,
I'm not antisemitic, of course."

Middle-class woman: "Well, no one could call me antisemitic, but I do
think the way these Jews behave is too absolutely stinking. The way they
push their way to the head of queues, and so on. They're so abominably
selfish. I think they're responsible for a lot of what happens to them."

Milk roundsman: "A Jew don't do no work, not the same as what an
Englishman does. 'E's too clever. We work with this 'ere" (flexes his
biceps). "They work with that there" (taps his forehead).

Chartered accountant, intelligent, left-wing in an undirected way:
"These bloody Yids are all pro-German. They'd change sides tomorrow if
the Nazis got here. I see a lot of them in my business. They admire
Hitler at the bottom of their hearts. They'll always suck up to anyone
who kicks them."

Intelligent woman, on being offered a book dealing with antisemitism and
German atrocities: "Don't show it me, PLEASE don't show it to me. It'll
only make me hate the Jews more than ever."

I could fill pages with similar remarks, but these will do to go on
with. Two facts emerge from them. One--which is very important and which
I must return to in a moment--is that above a certain intellectual level
people are ashamed of being antisemitic and are careful to draw a
distinction between "antisemitism" and "disliking Jews". The other is
that antisemitism is an irrational thing. The Jews are accused of
specific offences (for instance, bad behaviour in food queues) which the
person speaking feels strongly about, but it is obvious that these
accusations merely rationalise some deep-rooted prejudice. To attempt to
counter them with facts and statistics is useless, and may sometimes be
worse than useless. As the last of the above-quoted remarks shows,
people can remain antisemitic, or at least anti-Jewish, while being
fully aware that their outlook is indefensible. If you dislike somebody,
you dislike him and there is an end of it: your feelings are not made
any better by a recital of his virtues.

It so happens that the war has encouraged the growth of antisemitism and
even, in the eyes of many ordinary people, given some justification for
it. To begin with, the Jews are one people of whom it can be said with
complete certainty that they will benefit by an Allied victory.
Consequently the theory that "this is a Jewish war" has a certain
plausibility, all the more so because the Jewish war effort seldom gets
its fair share of recognition. The British Empire is a huge
heterogeneous organisation held together largely by mutual consent, and
it is often necessary to flatter the less reliable elements at the
expense of the more loyal ones. To publicise the exploits of Jewish
soldiers, or even to admit the existence of a considerable Jewish army
in the Middle East, rouses hostility in South Africa, the Arab countries
and elsewhere: it is easier to ignore the whole subject and allow
the man in the street to go on thinking that Jews are exceptionally
clever at dodging military service. Then again, Jews are to be found in
exactly those trades which are bound to incur unpopularity with the
civilian public in war-time. Jews are mostly concerned with selling
food, clothes, furniture and tobacco--exactly the commodities of which
there is a chronic shortage, with consequent overcharging,
black-marketing and favouritism. And again, the common charge that Jews
behave in an exceptionally cowardly way during air raids was given a
certain amount of colour by the big raids of 1940. As it happened, the
Jewish quarter of Whitechapel was one of the first areas to be heavily
blitzed, with the natural result that swarms of Jewish refugees
distributed themselves all over London. If one judged merely from these
war-time phenomena, it would be easy to imagine that antisemitism is a
quasi-rational thing, founded on mistaken premises. And naturally the
antisemite thinks of himself as a reasonable being. Whenever I have
touched on this subject in a newspaper article, I have always had a
considerable "come-back", and invariably some of the letters are from
well-balanced, middling people--doctors, for example--with no apparent
economic grievance. These people always say (as Hitler says in MEIN KAMPF)
that they started out with no anti-Jewish prejudice but were driven into
their present position by mere observation of the facts. Yet one of the
marks of antisemitism is an ability to believe stories that could not
possibly be true. One could see a good example of this in the strange
accident that occurred in London in 1942, when a crowd, frightened by a
bomb-burst nearby, fled into the mouth of an Underground station, with the
result that something over a hundred people were crushed to death. The
very same day it was repeated all over London that "the Jews were
responsible". Clearly, if people will believe this kind of thing, one will
not get much further by arguing with them. The only useful approach is to
discover WHY they can swallow absurdities on one particular subject while
remaining sane on others.

But now let me come back to that point I mentioned earlier--that there
is widespread awareness of the prevalence of antisemitic feeling, and
unwillingness to admit sharing it. Among educated people, antisemitism
is held to be an unforgivable sin and in a quite different category from
other kinds of racial prejudice. People will go to remarkable lengths to
demonstrate that they are NOT antisemitic. Thus, in 1943 an intercession
service on behalf of the Polish Jews was held in a synagogue in St
John's Wood. The local authorities declared themselves anxious to
participate in it, and the service was attended by the mayor of the
borough in his robes and chain, by representatives of all the churches,
and by detachments of RAF, Home Guards, nurses, Boy Scouts and what not.
On the surface it was a touching demonstration of solidarity with the
suffering Jews. But it was essentially a CONSCIOUS effort to behave
decently by people whose subjective feelings must in many cases have
been very different. That quarter of London is partly Jewish,
antisemitism is rife there, and, as I well knew, some of the men sitting
round me in the synagogue were tinged by it. Indeed, the commander of my
own platoon of Home Guards, who had been especially keen beforehand that
we should "make a good show" at the intercession service, was an
ex-member of Mosley's Blackshirts. While this division of feeling
exists, tolerance of mass violence against Jews, or, what is more
important, antisemitic legislation, are not possible in England. It is
not at present possible, indeed, that antisemitism should BECOME
RESPECTABLE. But this is less of an advantage than it might appear.

One effect of the persecutions in Germany has been to prevent
antisemitism from being seriously studied. In England a brief inadequate
survey was made by Mass Observation a year or two ago, but if there has
been any other investigation of the subject, then its findings have been
kept strictly secret. At the same time there has been conscious
suppression, by all thoughtful people, of anything likely to wound
Jewish susceptibilities. After 1934 the Jew joke disappeared as though
by magic from postcards, periodicals and the music-hall stage, and to
put an unsympathetic Jewish character into a novel or short story came
to be regarded as antisemitism. On the Palestine issue, too, it was DE
RIGUEUR among enlightened people to accept the Jewish case as proved and
avoid examining the claims of the Arabs--a decision which might be
correct on its own merits, but which was adopted primarily because the
Jews were in trouble and it was felt that one must not criticise them.
Thanks to Hitler, therefore, you had a situation in which the press was
in effect censored in favour of the Jews while in private antisemitism
was on the up-grade, even, to some extent, among sensitive and
intelligent people. This was particularly noticeable in 1940 at the time
of the internment of the refugees. Naturally, every thinking person felt
that it was his duty to protest against the wholesale locking-up of
unfortunate foreigners who for the most part were only in England
because they were opponents of Hitler. Privately, however, one heard
very different sentiments expressed. A minority of the refugees behaved
in an exceedingly tactless way, and the feeling against them necessarily
had an antisemitic undercurrent, since they were largely Jews. A very
eminent figure in the Labour Party--I won't name him, but he is one of
the most respected people in England--said to me quite violently: "We
never asked these people to come to this country. If they choose to come
here, let them take the consequences." Yet this man would as a matter of
course have associated himself with any kind of petition or manifesto
against the internment of aliens. This feeling that antisemitism is
something sinful and disgraceful, something that a civilised person does
not suffer from, is unfavourable to a scientific approach, and indeed
many people will admit that they are frightened of probing too deeply
into the subject. They are frightened, that is to say, of discovering
not only that antisemitism is spreading, but that they themselves are
infected by it.

To see this in perspective one must look back a few decades, to the days
when Hitler was an out-of-work house-painter whom nobody had heard of.
One would then find that though antisemitism is sufficiently in evidence
now, it is probably LESS prevalent in England than it was thirty years
ago. It is true that antisemitism as a fully thought-out racial or
religious doctrine has never flourished in England. There has never been
much feeling against inter-marriage, or against Jews taking a prominent
part in public life. Nevertheless, thirty years ago it was accepted more
or less as a law of nature that a Jew was a figure of fun and--though
superior in intelligence--slightly deficient in "character". In theory a
Jew suffered from no legal disabilities, but in effect he was debarred
from certain professions. He would probably not have been accepted as an
officer in the navy, for instance, nor in what is called a "smart"
regiment in the army. A Jewish boy at a public school almost invariably
had a bad time. He could, of course, live down his Jewishness if he was
exceptionally charming or athletic, but it was an initial disability
comparable to a stammer or a birthmark. Wealthy Jews tended to disguise
themselves under aristocratic English or Scottish names, and to the
average person it seemed quite natural that they should do this, just as
it seems natural for a criminal to change his identity if possible.
About twenty years ago, in Rangoon, I was getting into a taxi with a
friend when a small ragged boy of fair complexion rushed up to us and
began a complicated story about having arrived from Colombo on a ship
and wanting money to get back. His manner and appearance were difficult
to "place", and I said to him:

"You speak very good English. What nationality are you?"

He answered eagerly in his chi-chi accent: "I am a JOO, sir!"

And I remember turning to my companion and saying, only partly in joke,
"He admits it openly." All the Jews I had known till then were people
who were ashamed of being Jews, or at any rate preferred not to talk
about their ancestry, and if forced to do so tended to use the word
"Hebrew".

The working-class attitude was no better. The Jew who grew up in
Whitechapel took it for granted that he would be assaulted, or at least
hooted at, if he ventured into one of the Christian slums nearby, and
the "Jew joke" of the music halls and the comic papers was almost
consistently ill-natured. [Note at end of paragraph] There was also
literary Jew-baiting, which in the hands of Belloc, Chesterton and their
followers reached an almost continental level of scurrility. Non-Catholic
writers were sometimes guilty of the same thing in a milder form. There
has been a perceptible antisemitic strain in English literature from
Chaucer onwards, and without even getting up from this table to consult a
book I can think of passages which IF WRITTEN NOW would be stigmatised as
antisemitism, in the works of Shakespeare, Smollett, Thackeray, Bernard
Shaw, H. G. Wells, T. S. Eliot, Aldous Huxley and various others. Offhand,
the only English writers I can think of who, before the days of Hitler,
made a definite effort to stick up for Jews are Dickens and Charles Reade.
And however little the average intellectual may have agreed with the
opinions of Belloc and Chesterton, he did not acutely disapprove of
them. Chesterton's endless tirades against Jews, which he thrust into
stories and essays upon the flimsiest pretexts, never got him into
trouble--indeed Chesterton was one of the most generally respected
figures in English literary life. Anyone who wrote in that strain NOW
would bring down a storm of abuse upon himself, or more probably would
find it impossible to get his writings published.

[Note: It is interesting to compare the "Jew joke" with that other
stand-by of the music halls, the "Scotch joke", which superficially it
resembles. Occasionally a story is told (e.g. the Jew and the Scotsman who
went into a pub together and both died of thirst) which puts both races on
an equality, but in general the Jew is credited MERELY with cunning and
avarice while the Scotsman is credited with physical hardihood as well.
This is seen, for example, in the story of the Jew and the Scotsman who
go together to a meeting which has been advertised as free. Unexpectedly
there is a collection, and to avoid this the Jew faints and the Scotsman
carries him out. Here the Scotsman performs the athletic feat of
carrying the other. It would seem vaguely wrong if it were the other way
about. (Author's footnote.)]

If, as I suggest, prejudice against Jews has always been pretty
widespread in England, there is no reason to think that Hitler has
genuinely diminished it. He has merely caused a sharp division between
the politically conscious person who realises that this is not a time to
throw stones at the Jews, and the unconscious person whose native
antisemitism is increased by the nervous strain of the war. One can
assume, therefore, that many people who would perish rather than admit
to antisemitic feelings are secretly prone to them. I have already
indicated that I believe antisemitism to be essentially a neurosis,
but of course it has its rationalisations, which are sincerely
believed in and are partly true. The rationalisation put forward by the
common man is that the Jew is an exploiter. The partial justification
for this is that the Jew, in England, is generally a small
businessman--that is to say a person whose depredations are more obvious
and intelligible than those of, say, a bank or an insurance company.
Higher up the intellectual scale, antisemitism is rationalised by saying
that the Jew is a person who spreads disaffection and weakens national
morale. Again there is some superficial justification for this. During
the past twenty-five years the activities of what are called
"intellectuals" have been largely mischievous. I do not think it an
exaggeration to say that if the "intellectuals" had done their work a
little more thoroughly, Britain would have surrendered in 1940. But the
disaffected intelligentsia inevitably included a large number of Jews.
With some plausibility it can be said that the Jews are the enemies of
our native culture and our national morale. Carefully examined, the
claim is seen to be nonsense, but there are always a few prominent
individuals who can be cited in support of it. During the past few years
there has been what amounts to a counter-attack against the rather
shallow Leftism which was fashionable in the previous decade and which
was exemplified by such organisations as the Left Book Club. This
counter-attack (see for instance such books as Arnold Lutin's THE GOOD
GORILLA or Evelyn Waugh's PUT OUT MORE FLAGS) has an antisemitic strain,
and it would probably be more marked if the subject were not so
obviously dangerous. It so happens that for some decades past Britain
has had no nationalist intelligentsia worth bothering about. But British
nationalism, i.e. nationalism of an intellectual kind, may revive, and
probably will revive if Britain comes out of the present war greatly
weakened. The young intellectuals of 1950 may be as naively patriotic as
those of 1914. In that case the kind of antisemitism which flourished
among the anti-Dreyfusards in France, and which Chesterton and Belloc
tried to import into this country, might get a foothold.

I have no hard-and-fast theory about the origins of antisemitism. The
two current explanations, that it is due to economic causes, or on the
other hand, that it is a legacy from the Middle Ages, seem to me
unsatisfactory, though I admit that if one combines them they can be
made to cover the facts. All I would say with confidence is that
antisemitism is part of the larger problem of nationalism, which has not
yet been seriously examined, and that the Jew is evidently a scapegoat,
though for what he is a scapegoat we do not yet know. In this essay I
have relied almost entirely on my own limited experience, and perhaps
every one of my conclusions would be negatived by other observers. The
fact is that there are almost no data on this subject. But for what they
are worth I will summarise my opinions. Boiled down, they amount to
this:

There is more antisemitism in England than we care to admit, and the war
has accentuated it, but it is not certain that it is on the increase if
one thinks in terms of decades rather than years.

It does not at present lead to open persecution, but it has the effect
of making people callous to the sufferings of Jews in other countries.

It is at bottom quite irrational and will not yield to argument.

The persecutions in Germany have caused much concealment of antisemitic
feeling and thus obscured the whole picture.

The subject needs serious investigation.

Only the last point is worth expanding. To study any subject
scientifically one needs a detached attitude, which is obviously harder
when one's own interests or emotions are involved. Plenty of people who
are quite capable of being objective about sea urchins, say, or the
square root of 2, become schizophrenic if they have to think about the
sources of their own income. What vitiates nearly all that is written
about antisemitism is the assumption in the writer's mind that HE
HIMSELF is immune to it. "Since I know that antisemitism is irrational,"
he argues, "it follows that I do not share it." He thus fails to start
his investigation in the one place where he could get hold of some
reliable evidence--that is, in his own mind.

It seems to me a safe assumption that the disease loosely called
nationalism is now almost universal. Antisemitism is only one
manifestation of nationalism, and not everyone will have the disease in
that particular form. A Jew, for example, would not be antisemitic: but
then many Zionist Jews seem to me to be merely antisemites turned
upside-down, just as many Indians and Negroes display the normal colour
prejudices in an inverted form. The point is that something, some
psychological vitamin, is lacking in modern civilisation, and as a
result we are all more or less subject to this lunacy of believing that
whole races or nations are mysteriously good or mysteriously evil. I
defy any modern intellectual to look closely and honestly into his own
mind without coming upon nationalistic loyalties and hatreds of one kind
or another. It is the fact that he can feel the emotional tug of such
things, and yet see them dispassionately for what they are, that gives
him his status as an intellectual. It will be seen, therefore, that the
starting point for any investigation of antisemitism should not be "Why
does this obviously irrational belief appeal to other people?" but "Why
does antisemitism appeal TO ME? What is there about it that I feel to be
true?" If one asks this question one at least discovers one's own
rationalisations, and it may be possible to find out what lies beneath
them. Antisemitism should be investigated--and I will not say by
antisemites, but at any rate by people who know that they are not immune
to that kind of emotion. When Hitler has disappeared a real enquiry into
this subject will be possible, and it would probably be best to start
not by debunking antisemitism, but by marshalling all the justifications
for it that can be found, in one's own mind or anybody else's. In that
way one might get some clues that would lead to its psychological roots.
But that antisemitism will be definitively CURED, without curing the
larger disease of nationalism, I do not believe.



FREEDOM OF THE PARK (1945)


A few weeks ago, five people who were selling papers outside Hyde Park
were arrested by the police for obstruction. When taken before the
magistrates, they were all found guilty, four of them being bound over
for six months and the other sentenced to forty shillings fine or a
month's imprisonments. He preferred to serve his term.

The papers these people were selling were PEACE NEWS, FORWARD and
FREEDOM, besides other kindred literature. PEACE NEWS is the organ of the
Peace Pledge Union, FREEDOM (till recently called WAR COMMENTARY) is that
of the Anarchists; as for FORWARD, its politics defy definition, but at
any rate it is violently Left. The magistrate, in passing sentence,
stated that he was not influenced by the nature of the literature that
was being sold; he was concerned merely with the fact of obstruction, and
that this offence had technically been committed.

This raises several important points. To begin with, how does the law
stand on the subject? As far as I can discover, selling newspapers in the
street is technically an obstruction, at any rate if you fail to move
when the police tell you to. So it would be legally possible for any
policeman who felt like it to arrest any newsboy for selling the EVENING
NEWS. Obviously this doesn't happen, so that the enforcement of the law
depends on the discretion of the police.

And what makes the police decide to arrest one man rather than another?
However it may be with the magistrate, I find it hard to believe that in
this case the police were not influenced by political considerations. It
is a bit too much of a coincidence that they should have picked on people
selling just those papers.

If they had also arrested someone selling TRUTH, or the TABLET, or the
SPECTATOR, or even the CHURCH TIMES, their impartiality would be easier
to believe in.

The British police are not like the continental GENDARMERIE or Gestapo,
but I do not think [sic] one maligns them in saying that, in the past,
they have been unfriendly to Left-wing activities. They have generally
shown a tendency to side with those whom they regarded as the defenders
of private property. Till quite recently "red" and "illegal" were almost
synonymous, and it was always the seller of, say the DAILY WORKER, never
the seller of say, the DAILY TELEGRAPH, who was moved on and generally
harassed. Apparently it can be the same, at any rate at moments, under a
Labour Government.

A thing I would like to know--it is a thing we hear very little
about--is what changes are made in the administrative personnel when
there has been a change of government.. Does a police officer who has a
vague notion that "Socialism" means something against the law carry on
just the same when the government itself is Socialist?

When a Labour government takes over, I wonder what happens to Scotland
Yard Special Branch? To Military Intelligence? We are not told, but such
symptoms as there are do not suggest that any very extensive shuffling is
going on.

However, the main point of this episode is that the sellers of newspapers
and pamphlets should be interfered with at all. Which particular minority
is singled out--whether Pacifists, Communists, Anarchists, Jehovah's
Witness of the Legion of Christian Reformers who recently declared Hitler
to be Jesus Christ--is a secondary matter. It is of symptomatic
importance that these people should have been arrested at that particular
spot. You are not allowed to sell literature inside Hyde Park, but for
many years past it has been usual for the paper-sellers to station
themselves outside the gates and distribute literature connected with the
open air meetings a hundred yards away. Every kind of publication has
been sold there without interference.

The degree of freedom of the press existing in this country is often
over-rated. Technically there is great freedom, but the fact that most of
the press is owned by a few people operates in much the same way as State
censorship. On the other hand, freedom of speech is real. On a platform,
or in certain recognised open air spaces like Hyde Park, you can say
almost anything, and, what is perhaps more significant, no one is
frightened to utter his true opinions in pubs, on the tops of busses, and
so forth.

The point is that the relative freedom which we enjoy depends of public
opinion. The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether
they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general
temper in the country. If large numbers of people are interested in
freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law
forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will
be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them. The decline in the
desire for individual liberty has not been so sharp as I would have
predicted six years ago, when the war was starting, but still there has
been a decline. The notion that certain opinions cannot safely be allowed
a hearing is growing. It is given currency by intellectuals who confuse
the issue by not distinguishing between democratic opposition and open
rebellion, and it is reflected in our growing indifference to tyranny and
injustice abroad. And even those who declare themselves to be in favour
of freedom of opinion generally drop their claim when it is their own
adversaries who are being prosecutued.

I am not suggesting that the arrest of five people for selling harmless
newspapers is a major calamity. When you see what is happening in the
world today, it hardly seems worth squealing about such a tiny incident.
All the same, it is not a good symptom that such things should happen when
the war is well over, and I should feel happier if this and the long
series of similar episodes that have preceded it, were capable of raising
a genuine popular clamour, and not merely a mild flutter in sections of
the minority press.



FUTURE OF A RUINED GERMANY (1945)


As the advance into Germany continues and more and more of the
devastation wrought by the Allied bombing planes is laid bare, there are
three comments that almost every observer finds himself making. The first
is: 'The people at home have no conception of this.' The second is, 'It's
a miracle that they've gone on fighting.' And the third is, 'Just think
of the work of building this all up again!'

It is quite true that the scale of the Allied blitzing of Germany is even
now not realised in this country, and its share in the breaking-down of
German resistance is probably much underrated. It is difficult to give
actuality to reports of air warfare and the man in the street can be
forgiven if he imagines that what we have done to Germany over the past
four years is merely the same kind of thing they did to us in 1940.

But this error, which must be even commoner in the United States, has in
it a potential danger, and the many protests against indiscriminate
bombing which have been uttered by pacifists and humanitarians have
merely confused the issue.

Bombing is not especially inhumane. War itself is inhumane and the
bombing plane, which is used to paralyse industry and transport, is a
relatively civilised weapon. 'Normal' or 'legitimate' warfare is just as
destructive of inanimate objects and enormously so of human lives.

Moreover, a bomb kills a casual cross-section of the population, whereas
the men killed in battle are exactly the ones that the community can
least afford to lose. The people of Britain have never felt easy about
the bombing of civilians and no doubt they will be ready enough to pity
the Germans as soon as they have definitely defeated them; but what they
still have not grasped---thanks to their own comparative immunity---is
the frightful destructiveness of modern war and the long period of
impoverishment that now lies ahead of the world as a whole.

To walk through the ruined cities of Germany is to feel an actual doubt
about the continuity of civilisation. For one has to remember that it is
not only Germany that has been blitzed. The same desolation extends, at
any rate in considerable patches, all the way from Brussels to
Stalingrad. And where there has been ground fighting, the destruction is
even more thorough. In the 300 miles or so between the Marne and the
Rhine there is not such a thing as a bridge or a viaduct that has not
been blown up.

Even in England we are aware that we need three million houses, and that
the chances of getting them within measurable time seem rather slender.
But how many houses will Germany need, or Poland or the USSR, or Italy?
When one thinks of the stupendous task of rebuilding hundreds of European
cities, one realises that a long period must elapse before even the
standards of living of 1939 can be re-established.

We do not yet know the full extent of the damage that has been done to
Germany but judging from the areas that have been overrun hitherto, it is
difficult to believe in the power of the Germans to pay any kind of
reparations, either in goods or in labour. Simply to re-house the German
people, to set the shattered factories working, and to keep German
agriculture from collapsing after the foreign workers have been
liberated, will use up all the labour that the Germans are likely to
dispose of.

If, as is planned, millions of them are to be deported for reconstruction
work, the recovery of Germany itself will be all the slower. After the
last war, the impossibility of obtaining substantial money reparations
was finally grasped, but it was less generally realised that the
impoverishment of any one country reacts unfavourably on the world as a
whole. It would be no advantage to turn Germany into a kind of rural
slum.



GOOD BAD BOOKS


Not long ago a publisher commissioned me to write an introduction for a
reprint of a novel by Leonard Merrick. This publishing house, it appears,
is going to reissue a long series of minor and partly-forgotten novels of
the twentieth century. It is a valuable service in these bookless days,
and I rather envy the person whose job it will be to scout round the
threepenny boxes, hunting down copies of his boyhood favourites.

A type of book which we hardly seem to produce in these days, but which
flowered with great richness in the late nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries, is what Chesterton called the "good bad book": that is, the
kind of book that has no literary pretensions but which remains readable
when more serious productions have perished. Obviously outstanding books
in this line are RAFFLES and the Sherlock Holmes stories, which have kept
their place when innumerable "problem novels", "human documents" and
"terrible indictments" of this or that have fallen into deserved
oblivion. (Who has worn better, Conan Doyle or Meredith?) Almost in the
same class as these I, put R. Austin Freeman's earlier stories--"The
Singing Bone" "The Eye of Osiris" and others--Ernest Bramah's MAX
CARRADOS, and, dropping the standard a bit, Guy Boothby's Tibetan
thriller, DR NIKOLA, a sort of schoolboy version of Hue's TRAVELS IN
TARTARY, which would probably make a real visit to Central Asia seem a
dismal anticlimax.

But apart from thrillers, there were the minor humorous writers of the
period. For example, Pett Ridge-but I admit his full-length books no
longer seem readable--E. Nesbit (THE TREASURE SEEKERS), George
Birmingham, who was good so long as he kept off politics, the
pornographic Binstead ("Pitcher" of the PINK 'UN), and, if American books
can be included, Booth Tarkington's Penrod stories. A cut above most of
these was Barry Pain. Some of Pain's humorous writings are, I suppose,
still in print, but to anyone who comes across it I recommend what must
now be a very rare book--THE OCTAVE OF CLAUDIUS, a brilliant exercise in
the macabre. Somewhat later in time there was Peter Blundell, who wrote
in the W.W. Jacobs vein about Far Eastern seaport towns, and who seems to
be rather unaccountably forgotten, in spite of having been praised in
print by H.G. Wells.

However, all the books I have been speaking of are frankly "escape"
literature. They form pleasant patches in one's memory, quiet corners
where the mind can browse at odd moments, but they hardly pretend to have
anything to do with real life. There is another kind of good bad book
which is more seriously intended, and which tells us, I think, something
about the nature of the novel and the reasons for its present decadence.
During the last fifty years there has been a whole series of writers--some
of them are still writing--whom it is quite impossible to call "good" by
any strictly literary standard, but who are natural novelists and who
seem to attain sincerity partly because they are not inhibited by good
taste. In this class I put Leonard Merrick himself, W.L. George, J.D.
Beresford, Ernest Raymond, May Sinclair, and--at a lower level than the
others but still essentially similar--A.S.M. Hutchinson.

Most of these have been prolific writers, and their output has naturally
varied in quality. I am thinking in each case of one or two outstanding
books: for example, Merrick's CYNTHIA, J.D. Beresford's A CANDIDATE FOR
TRUTH, W.L. George's CALIBAN, May Sinclair's THE COMBINED MAZE and Ernest
Raymond's WE, THE ACCUSED. In each of these books the author has been
able to identify himself with his imagined characters, to feel with them
and invite sympathy on their behalf, with a kind of abandonment that
cleverer people would find it difficult to achieve. They bring out the
fact that intellectual refinement can be a disadvantage to a
story-teller, as it would be to a music-hall comedian.

Take, for example, Ernest Raymond's WE, THE ACCUSED--a peculiarly sordid
and convincing murder story, probably based on the Crippen case. I think
it gains a great deal from the fact that the author only partly grasps
the pathetic vulgarity of the people he is writing about, and therefore
does not despise them. Perhaps it even--like Theodore Dreiser's An
AMERICAN TRAGEDY--gains something from the clumsy long-winded manner in
which it is written; detail is piled on detail, with almost no attempt at
selection, and in the process an effect of terrible, grinding cruelty is
slowly built up. So also with A CANDIDATE FOR TRUTH. Here there is not
the same clumsiness, but there is the same ability to take seriously the
problems of commonplace people. So also with CYNTHIA and at any rate the
earlier part of Caliban. The greater part of what W.L. George wrote was
shoddy rubbish, but in this particular book, based on the career of
Northcliffe, he achieved some memorable and truthful pictures of
lower-middle-class London life. Parts of this book are probably
autobiographical, and one of the advantages of good bad writers is their
lack of shame in writing autobiography. Exhibitionism and self-pity are
the bane of the novelist, and yet if he is too frightened of them his
creative gift may suffer.

The existence of good bad literature--the fact that one can be amused or
excited or even moved by a book that one's intellect simply refuses to
take seriously--is a reminder that art is not the same thing as
cerebration. I imagine that by any test that could be devised, Carlyle
would be found to be a more intelligent man than Trollope. Yet Trollope
has remained readable and Carlyle has not: with all his cleverness he had
not even the wit to write in plain straightforward English. In novelists,
almost as much as in poets, the connection between intelligence and
creative power is hard to establish. A good novelist may be a prodigy of
self-discipline like Flaubert, or he may be an intellectual sprawl like
Dickens. Enough talent to set up dozens of ordinary writers has been
poured into Wyndham Lewis's so-called novels, such as TARR or SNOOTY
BARONET. Yet it would be a very heavy labour to read one of these books
right through. Some indefinable quality, a sort of literary vitamin,
which exists even in a book like IF WINTER COMES, is absent from them.

Perhaps the supreme example of the "good bad" book is UNCLE TOM'S CABIN.
It is an unintentionally ludicrous book, full of preposterous
melodramatic incidents; it is also deeply moving and essentially
true; it is hard to say which quality outweighs the other. But
UNCLE TOM'S CABIN, after all, is trying to be serious and to deal
with the real world. How about the frankly escapist writers, the
purveyors of thrills and "light" humour? How about SHERLOCK HOLMES, VICE
VERSA, DRACULA, HELEN'S BABIES or KING SOLOMON'S MINES? All of these are
definitely absurd books, books which one is more inclined to laugh AT
than WITH, and which were hardly taken seriously even by their authors;
yet they have survived, and will probably continue to do so. All one can
say is that, while civilisation remains such that one needs distraction
from time to time, "light" literature has its appointed place; also that
there is such a thing as sheer skill, or native grace, which may have
more survival value than erudition or intellectual power. There are
music-hall songs which are better poems than three-quarters of the stuff
that gets into the anthologies:

Come where the booze is cheaper,
Come where the pots hold more,
Come where the boss is a bit of a sport,
Come to the pub next door!

Or again:

Two lovely black eyes
Oh, what a surprise!
Only for calling another man wrong,
Two lovely black eyes!

I would far rather have written either of those than, say, "The Blessed
Damozel" or "Love in the Valley". And by the same token I would back
UNCLE TOM'S CABIN to outlive the complete works of Virginia Woolf or
George Moore, though I know of no strictly literary test which would show
where the superiority lies.



IN DEFENCE OF P. G. WODEHOUSE (1945)

When the Germans made their rapid advance through Belgium in the early
summer of 1940, they captured, among other things, Mr. P. G. Wodehouse,
who had been living throughout the early part of the war in his villa at
Le Touquet, and seems not to have realised until the last moment that he
was in any danger. As he was led away into captivity, he is said to have
remarked, "Perhaps after this I shall write a serious book." He was
placed for the time being under house arrest, and from his subsequent
statements it appears that he was treated in a fairly friendly way,
German officers in the neighbourhood frequently "dropping in for a bath
or a party".

Over a year later, on 25th June 1941, the news came that Wodehouse had
been released from internment and was living at the Adlon Hotel in
Berlin. On the following day the public was astonished to learn that he
had agreed to do some broadcasts of a "non-political" nature over the
German radio. The full texts of these broadcasts are not easy to obtain
at this date, but Wodehouse seems to have done five of them between 26th
June and 2nd July, when the Germans took him off the air again. The first
broadcast, on 26th June, was not made on the Nazi radio but took the form
of an interview with Harry Flannery, the representative of the Columbia
Broadcasting System, which still had its correspondents in Berlin.
Wodehouse also published in the SATURDAY EVENING POST an article which he
had written while still in the internment camp.

The article and the broadcasts dealt mainly with Wodehouse's experiences
in internment, but they did include a very few comments on the war. The
following are fair samples:

"I never was interested in politics. I'm quite unable to work up any kind
of belligerent feeling. Just as I'm about to feel belligerent about some
country I meet a decent sort of chap. We go out together and lose any
fighting thoughts or feelings."

"A short time ago they had a look at me on parade and got the right idea;
at least they sent us to the local lunatic asylum. And I have been there
forty-two weeks. There is a good deal to be said for internment. It keeps
you out of the saloon and helps you to keep up with your reading. The
chief trouble is that it means you are away from home for a long time.
When I join my wife I had better take along a letter of introduction to
be on the safe side."

"In the days before the war I had always been modestly proud of being an
Englishman, but now that I have been some months resident in this bin or
repository of Englishmen I am not so sure... The only concession I want
from Germany is that she gives me a loaf of bread, tells the gentlemen
with muskets at the main gate to look the other way, and leaves the rest
to me. In return I am prepared to hand over India, an autographed set of
my books, and to reveal the secret process of cooking sliced potatoes on
a radiator. This offer holds good till Wednesday week."

The first extract quoted above caused great offence. Wodehouse was also
censured for using (in the interview with Flannery) the phrase "whether
Britain wins the war or not," and he did not make things better by
describing in another broadcast the filthy habits of some Belgian
prisoners among whom he was interned. The Germans recorded this broadcast
and repeated it a number of times. They seem to have supervised his talks
very lightly, and they allowed him not only to be funny about the
discomforts of internment but to remark that "the internees at Trost camp
all fervently believe that Britain will eventually win." The general
upshot of the talks, however, was that he had not been ill treated and
bore no malice.

These broadcasts caused an immediate uproar in England. There were
questions in Parliament, angry editorial comments in the press, and a
stream of letters from fellow-authors, nearly all of them disapproving,
though one or two suggested that it would be better to suspend judgment,
and several pleaded that Wodehouse probably did not realise what he was
doing. On 15th July, the Home Service of the B.B.C. carried an extremely
violent Postscript by "Cassandra" of the DAILY MIRROR, accusing Wodehouse
of "selling his country." This postscript made free use of such
expressions as "Quisling" and "worshipping the Fìhrer". The main charge
was that Wodehouse had agreed to do German propaganda as a way of buying
himself out of the internment camp.

"Cassandra's" Postscript caused a certain amount of protest, but on the
whole it seems to have intensified popular feeling against Wodehouse. One
result of it was that numerous lending libraries withdrew Wodehouse's
books from circulation. Here is a typical news item:

"Within twenty-four hours of listening to the broadcast of Cassandra, the
DAILY MIRROR columnist, Portadown (North Ireland) Urban District Council
banned P. G. Wodehouse's books from their public library. Mr. Edward
McCann said that Cassandra's broadcast had clinched the matter. Wodehouse
was funny no longer." (DAILY MIRROR.)

In addition the B.B.C. banned Wodehouse's lyrics from the air and was
still doing so a couple of years later. As late as December 1944 there
were demands in Parliament that Wodehouse should be put on trial as a
traitor.

There is an old saying that if you throw enough mud some of it will
stick, and the mud has stuck to Wodehouse in a rather peculiar way. An
impression has been left behind that Wodehouse's talks (not that anyone
remembers what he said in them) showed him up not merely as a traitor but
as an ideological sympathiser with Fascism. Even at the time several
letters to the press claimed that "Fascist tendencies" could be detected
in his books, and the charge has been repeated since. I shall try to
analyse the mental atmosphere of those books in a moment, but it is
important to realise that the events of 1941 do not convict Wodehouse of
anything worse than stupidity. The really interesting question is how and
why he could be so stupid. When Flannery met Wodehouse (released, but
still under guard) at the Adlon Hotel in June 1941, he saw at once that
he was dealing with a political innocent, and when preparing him for
their broadcast interview he had to warn him against making some
exceedingly unfortunate remarks, one of which was by implication slightly
anti-Russian. As it was, the phrase "whether England wins or not" did get
through. Soon after the interview Wodehouse told him that he was also
going to broadcast on the Nazi radio, apparently not realising that this
action had any special significance. Flannery comments [ASSIGNMENT TO
BERLIN by Harry W. Flannery.]:

"By this time the Wodehouse plot was evident. It was one of the best Nazi
publicity stunts of the war, the first with a human angle...Plack
(Goebbels's assistant) had gone to the camp near Gleiwitz to see
Wodehouse, found that the author was completely without political sense,
and had an idea. He suggested to Wodehouse that in return for being
released from the prison camp he write a series of broadcasts about his
experiences; there would be no censorship and he would put them on the
air himself. In making that proposal Plack showed that he knew his man.
He knew that Wodehouse made fun of the English in all his stories and
that he seldom wrote in any other way, that he was still living in the
period about which he wrote and had no conception of Nazism and all it
meant. Wodehouse was his own Bertie Wooster."

The striking of an actual bargain between Wodehouse and Plack seems to be
merely Flannery's own interpretation. The arrangement may have been of a
much less definite kind, and to judge from the broadcasts themselves,
Wodehouse's main idea in making them was to keep in touch with his public
and--the comedian's ruling passion--to get a laugh. Obviously they are
not the utterances of a Quisling of the type of Ezra Pound or John Amery,
nor, probably, of a person capable of understanding the nature of
Quislingism. Flannery seems to have warned Wodehouse that it would be
unwise to broadcast, but not very forcibly. He adds that Wodehouse
(though in one broadcast he refers to himself as an Englishman) seemed to
regard himself as an American citizen. He had contemplated
naturalisation, but had never filled in the necessary papers. He even
used, to Flannery, the phrase, "We're not at war with Germany."

I have before me a bibliography of P. G. Wodehouse's works. It names
round about fifty books, but is certainly incomplete. It is as well to be
honest, and I ought to start by admitting that there are many books by
Wodehouse perhaps a quarter or a third of the total--which I have not
read. It is not, indeed, easy to read the whole output of a popular
writer who is normally published in cheap editions. But I have followed
his work fairly closely since 1911, when I was eight years old, and am
well acquainted with its peculiar mental atmosphere--an atmosphere which
has not, of course, remained completely unchanged, but shows little
alteration since about 1925. In the passage from Flannery's book which I
quoted above there are two remarks which would immediately strike any
attentive reader of Wodehouse. One is to the effect that Wodehouse "was
still living in the period about which he wrote," and the other that the
Nazi Propaganda Ministry made use of him because he "made fun of the
English." The second statement is based on a misconception to which I
will return presently. But Flannery's other comment is quite true and
contains in it part of the clue to Wodehouse's behaviour.

A thing that people often forget about P. G. Wodehouse's novels is how
long ago the better-known of them were written. We think of him as in
some sense typifying the silliness of the nineteen-twenties and
nineteen-thirties, but in fact the scenes and characters by which he is
best remembered had all made their appearance before 1925. Psmith first
appeared in 1909, having been foreshadowed by other characters in early
school stories. Blandings Castle, with Baxter and the Earl of Emsworth both
in residence, was introduced in 1915. The Jeeves-Wooster cycle began
in 1919, both Jeeves and Wooster having made brief appearances earlier.
Ukridge appeared in 1924. When one looks through the list of Wodehouse's
books from 1902 onwards, one can observe three fairly well-marked periods.
The first is the school-story period. It includes such books as THE GOLD
BAT, THE POTHUNTERS, etc and has its high-spot in MIKE (1909). PSMITH IN
THE CITY, published in the following year, belongs in this category,
though it is not directly concerned with school life. The next is the
American period. Wodehouse seems to have lived in the United States
from about 1913 to 1920, and for a while showed signs of BECOMING
AMERICANISED IN IDIOM AND OUTLOOK. SOME OF THE STORIES IN THE MAN WITH
TWO LEFT FEET (1917) appear to have been influenced by 0. Henry, and
other books written about this time contain Americanisms (e.g. "highball"
for "whisky and soda") which an Englishman would not normally use IN
PROPRIA PERSONA. Nevertheless, almost all the books of this period--PSMITH,
JOURNALIST; THE LITTLE NUGGET; THE INDISCRETIONS OF ARCHIE; PICCADILLY
JIM and various others-depend for their effect on the CONTRAST between
English and American manners. English characters appear in an American
setting, or vice versa: there is a certain number of purely English
stories, but hardly any purely American ones. The third period might
fitly be called the country-house period. By the early nineteen-twenties
Wodehouse must have been making a very large income, and the social
status of his characters moved upwards accordingly, though the Ukridge
stories form a partial exception. The typical setting is now a country
mansion, a luxurious bachelor flat or an expensive golf club. The
schoolboy athleticism of the earlier books fades out, cricket and
football giving way to golf, and the element of farce and burlesque
becomes more marked. No doubt many of the later books, such as SUMMER
LIGHTNING, are light comedy rather than pure farce, but the occasional
attempts at moral earnestness which can be found in PSMITH, JOURNALIST;
THE LITTLE NUGGET; THE COMING OF BILL, THE MAN WITH TWO LEFT FEET and
some of the school stories, no longer appear. Mike Jackson has turned
into Bertie Wooster. That, however, is not a very startling
metamorphosis, and one of the most noticeable things about Wodehouse is
his LACK of development. Books like THE GOLD BAT and TALES OF ST
AUSTIN'S, written in the opening years of this century, already have the
familiar atmosphere. How much of a formula the writing of his later
books had become one can see from the fact that he continued to write
stories of English life although throughout the sixteen years before his
internment he was living at Hollywood and Le Touquet.

MIKE, which is now a difficult book to obtain in an unabridged form, must
be one of the best "light" school stories in English. But though its
incidents are largely farcical, it is by no means a satire on the
public school system, and THE GOLD BAT, THE POTHUNTERS, etc are even less
so. Wodehouse was educated at Dulwich, and then worked in a bank and
graduated into novel writing by way of very cheap journalism. It is clear
that for many years he remained "fixated" on his old school and loathed
the unromantic job and the lower-middle-class surroundings in which he
found himself. In the early stories the "glamour" of public school life
(house matches, fagging, teas round the study fire, etc) is laid on
fairly thick, and the "play the game" code of morals is accepted with not
many reservations. Wrykyn, Wodehouse's imaginary public school, is a
school of a more fashionable type than Dulwich, and one gets the
impression that between THE GOLD BAT (1904) and MIKE (1908) Wrykyn itself
has become more expensive and moved farther from London. Psychologically
the most revealing book of Wodehouse's early period is PSMITH IN THE
CITY. Mike Jackson's father has suddenly lost his money, and Mike, like
Wodehouse himself, is thrust at the age of about eighteen into an
ill-paid subordinate job in a bank. Psmith is similarly employed, though
not from financial necessity. Both this book and PSMITH, JOURNALIST
(1915) are unusual in that they display a certain amount of political
consciousness. Psmith at this stage chooses to call himself a
Socialist-in his mind, and no doubt in Wodehouse's, this means no more
than ignoring class distinctions-and on one occasion the two boys attend
an open-air meeting on Clapham Common and go home to tea with an elderly
Socialist orator, whose shabby-genteel home is described with some
accuracy. But the most striking feature of the book is Mike's inability
to wean himself from the atmosphere of school. He enters upon his job
without any pretence of enthusiasm, and his main desire is not, as one
might expect, to find a more interesting and useful job, but simply to be
playing cricket. When he has to find himself lodgings he chooses to
settle at Dulwich, because there he will be near a school and will be
able to hear the agreeable sound of the ball striking against the bat.
The climax of the book comes when Mike gets the chance to play in a
county match and simply walks out of his job in order to do so. The point
is that Wodehouse here sympathises with Mike: indeed he identified
himself with him, for it is clear enough that Mike bears the same
relation to Wodehouse as Julien Sorel to Stendhal. But he created many
other heroes essentially similar. Through the books of this and the next
period there passes a whole series of young men to whom playing games and
"keeping fit" are a sufficient life-work. Wodehouse is almost incapable of
imagining a desirable job. The great thing is to have money of your own,
or, failing that, to find a sinecure. The hero of SOMETHING FRESH (1915)
escapes from low-class journalism by becoming physical-training instructor
to a dyspeptic millionaire: this is regarded as a step up, morally as well
as financially.

In the books of the third period there is no narcissism and no serious
interludes, but the implied moral and social background has changed much
less than might appear at first sight. If one compares Bertie Wooster
with Mike, or even with the rugger-playing prefects of the earliest
school stories, one sees that the only real difference between them is
that Bertie is richer and lazier. His ideals would be almost the same as
theirs, but he fails to live up to them. Archie Moffam, in THE
INDISCRETIONS OF ARCHIE (1921), is a type intermediate between Bertie and
the earlier heroes: he is an ass, but he is also honest, kind-hearted,
athletic and courageous. From first to last Wodehouse takes the
public-school code of behaviour for granted, with the difference that in
his later, more sophisticated period he prefers to show his characters
violating it or living up to it against their will:

"Bertie! You wouldn't let down a pal?"
"Yes, I would."
"But we were at school together, Bertie."
"I don't care."
"The old school, Bertie, the old school!"
"Oh, well--dash it!"

Bertie, a sluggish Don Quixote, has no wish to tilt at windmills, but he
would hardly think of refusing to do so when honour calls. Most of the
people whom Wodehouse intends as sympathetic characters are parasites,
and some of them are plain imbeciles, but very few of them could be
described as immoral. Even Ukridge is a visionary rather than a plain
crook. The most immoral, or rather un-moral, of Wodehouse's characters is
Jeeves, who acts as a foil to Bertie Wooster's comparative
high-mindedness and perhaps symbolises the widespread English belief that
intelligence and unscrupulousness are much the same thing. How closely
Wodehouse sticks to conventional morality can be seen from the fact that
nowhere in his books is there anything in the nature of a sex joke. This is
an enormous sacrifice for a farcical writer to make. Not only are there no
dirty jokes, but there are hardly any compromising situations: the
horns-on-the-forehead motif is almost completely avoided. Most of the
full-length books, of course, contain a "love interest", but it is always
at the light-comedy level: the love affair, with its complications and
its idyllic scenes, goes on and on, but, as the saying goes "nothing
happens". It is significant that Wodehouse, by nature a writer of farces,
was able to collaborate more than once with Ian Hay, a serio-comic writer
and an exponent (VIDE PIP, etc) of the "clean-living Englishman"
tradition at its silliest.

In SOMETHING FRESH Wodehouse had discovered the comic possibilities of
the English aristocracy, and a succession of ridiculous but, save in a
very few instances, not actually contemptible barons, earls and what-not
followed accordingly. This had the rather curious effect of causing
Wodehouse to be regarded, outside England, as a penetrating satirist of
English society. Hence Flannery's statement that Wodehouse "made fun of
the English," which is the impression he would probably make on a German
or even an American reader. Some time after the broadcasts from Berlin I
was discussing them with a young Indian Nationalist who defended
Wodehouse warmly. He took it for granted that Wodehouse HAD gone over to
the enemy, which from his own point of view was the right thing to do.
But what interested me was to find that he regarded Wodehouse as an
anti-British writer who had done useful work by showing up the British
aristocracy in their true colours. This is a mistake that it would be
very difficult for an English person to make, and is a good instance of
the way in which books, especially humorous books, lose their finer
nuances when they reach a foreign audience. For it is clear enough that
Wodehouse is not anti-British, and not anti-upper class either. On the
contrary, a harmless old-fashioned snobbishness is perceptible all
through his work. Just as an intelligent Catholic is able to see that the
blasphemies of Baudelaire or James Joyce are not seriously damaging to
the Catholic faith, so an English reader can see that in creating such
characters as Hildebrand Spencer Poyns de Burgh John Hanneyside
Coombe-Crombie, 12th Earl of Dreever, Wodehouse is not really attacking
the social hierarchy. Indeed, no one who genuinely despised titles would
write of them so much. Wodehouse's attitude towards the English social
system is the same as his attitude towards the public-school moral code--a
mild facetiousness covering an unthinking acceptance. The Earl of
Emsworth is funny because an earl ought to have more dignity, and Bertie
Wooster's helpless dependence on Jeeves is funny partly because the
servant ought not to be superior to the master. An American reader can
mistake these two, and others like them, for hostile caricatures, because
he is inclined to be Anglophobe already and they correspond to his
preconceived ideas about a decadent aristocracy. Bertie Wooster, with his
spats and his cane, is the traditional stage Englishman. But, as any
English reader would see, Wodehouse intends him as a sympathetic figure,
and Wodehouse's real sin has been to present the English upper classes as
much nicer people than they are. All through his books certain problems
are constantly avoided. Almost without exception his moneyed young men
are unassuming, good mixers, not avaricious: their tone is set for them
by Psmith, who retains his own upper-class exterior but bridges the
social gap by addressing everyone as "Comrade".

But there is another important point about Bertie Wooster: his
out-of-dateness. Conceived in 1917 or thereabouts, Bertie really belongs
to an epoch earlier than that. He is the "knut" of the pre-1914 period,
celebrated in such songs as "Gilbert the Filbert" or "Reckless Reggie of
the Regent's Palace". The kind of life that Wodehouse writes about by
preference, the life of the "clubman" or "man about town", the elegant
young man who lounges all the morning in Piccadilly with a cane under his
arm and a carnation in his buttonhole, barely survived into the
nineteen-twenties. It is significant that Wodehouse could publish in 1936
a book entitled YOUNG MEN IN SPATS. For who was wearing spats at that
date? They had gone out of fashion quite ten years earlier. But the
traditional "knut", the "Piccadilly Johnny", OUGHT to wear spats, just as
the pantomime Chinese ought to wear a pigtail. A humorous writer is not
obliged to keep up to date, and having struck one or two good veins,
Wodehouse continued to exploit them with a regularity that was no doubt
all the easier because he did not set foot in England during the sixteen
years that preceded his internment. His picture of English society had
been formed before 1914, and it was a naive, traditional and, at bottom,
admiring picture. Nor did he ever become genuinely Americanised. As I
have pointed out, spontaneous Americanisms do occur in the books of the
middle period, but Wodehouse remained English enough to find American
slang an amusing and slightly shocking novelty. He loves to thrust a slang
phrase or a crude fact in among Wardour Street English ("With a hollow
groan Ukridge borrowed five shillings from me and went out into the
night"), and expressions like "a piece of cheese" or "bust him on the
noggin" lend themselves to this purpose. But the trick had been developed
before he made any American contacts, and his use of garbled quotations
is a common device of English writers running back to Fielding. As
Mr John Hayward has pointed out, [Note, below] Wodehouse owes a good deal
to his knowledge of English literature and especially of Shakespeare.
His books are aimed, not, obviously, at a highbrow audience, but at an
audience educated along traditional lines. When, for instance, he
describes somebody as heaving "the kind of sigh that Prometheus might
have heaved when the vulture dropped in for its lunch", he is assuming
that his readers will know something of Greek mythology. In his early
days the writers he admired were probably Barry Pain, Jerome K. Jerome,
W. W. Jacobs, Kipling and F. Anstey, and he has remained closer to them
than to the quick moving American comic writers such as Ring Lardner
or Damon Runyon. In his radio interview with Flannery, Wodehouse wondered
whether "the kind of people and the kind of England I write about will
live after the war", not realising that they were ghosts already.
"He was still living in the period about which he wrote," says Flannery,
meaning, probably, the nineteen-twenties. But the period was really the
Edwardian age, and Bertie Wooster, if he ever existed, was killed round
about 1915.

[Note: "P. G. Wodehouse" by John Hayward. (The Saturday Book, 1942.)
I believe this is the only full-length critical essay on Wodehouse.
(Author's footnote.)]

If my analysis of Wodehouse's mentality is accepted, the idea that in
1941 he consciously aided the Nazi propaganda machine becomes untenable
and even ridiculous. He MAY have been induced to broadcast by the promise
of an earlier release (he was due for release a few months later, on
reaching his sixtieth birthday), but he cannot have realised that what he
did would be damaging to British interests. As I have tried to show, his
moral outlook has remained that of a public-school boy, and according to
the public-school code, treachery in time of war is the most unforgivable
of all the sins. But how could he fail to grasp that what he did would be
a big propaganda score for the Germans and would bring down a torrent of
disapproval on his own head? To answer this one must take two things into
consideration. First, Wodehouse's complete lack--so far as one can judge
from his printed works--of political awareness. It is nonsense to talk
of "Fascist tendencies" in his books. There are no post-1918 tendencies
at all. Throughout his work there is a certain uneasy awareness of the
problem of class distinctions, and scattered through it at various dates
there are ignorant though not unfriendly references to Socialism. In THE
HEART OF A GOOF (1926) there is a rather silly story about a Russian
novelist, which seems to have been inspired by the factional struggle
then raging in the U.S.S.R. But the references in it to the Soviet system
are entirely frivolous and, considering the date, not markedly hostile.
That is about the extent of Wodehouse's political consciousness, so far
as it is discoverable from his writings. Nowhere, so far as I know, does
he so much as use the word "Fascism" or "Nazism." In left-wing circles,
indeed in "enlightened" circles of any kind, to broadcast on the Nazi
radio, to have any truck with the Nazis whatever, would have seemed just
as shocking an action before the war as during it. But that is a habit of
mind that had been developed during nearly a decade of ideological
struggle against Fascism. The bulk of the British people, one ought to
remember, remained anaesthetic to that struggle until late into 1940.
Abyssinia, Spain, China, Austria, Czechoslovakia--the long series of
crimes and aggressions had simply slid past their consciousness or were
dimly noted as quarrels occurring among foreigners and "not our
business." One can gauge the general ignorance from the fact that the
ordinary Englishman thought of "Fascism" as an exclusively Italian thing
and was bewildered when the same word was applied to Germany. And there
is nothing in Wodehouse's writings to suggest that he was better
informed, or more interested in politics, than the general run of his
readers.

The other thing one must remember is that Wodehouse happened to be taken
prisoner at just the moment when the war reached its desperate phase. We
forget these things now, but until that time feelings about the war had
been noticeably tepid. There was hardly any fighting, the Chamberlain
Government was unpopular, eminent publicists were hinting that we should
make a compromise peace as quickly as possible, trade union and Labour
Party branches all over the country were passing anti-war resolutions.
Afterwards, of course, things changed. The Army was with difficulty
extricated from Dunkirk, France collapsed, Britain was alone, the bombs
rained on London, Goebbels announced that Britain was to be "reduced to
degradation and poverty". By the middle of 1941 the British people knew
what they were up against and feelings against the enemy were far fiercer
than before. But Wodehouse had spent the intervening year in internment,
and his captors seem to have treated him reasonably well. He had missed
the turning-point of the war, and in 1941 he was still reacting in terms
of 1939. He was not alone in this. On several occasions about this time
the Germans brought captured British soldiers to the microphone, and some
of them made remarks at least as tactless as Wodehouse's. They attracted
no attention, however. And even an outright Quisling like John Amery was
afterwards to arouse much less indignation than Wodehouse had done.

But why? Why should a few rather silly but harmless remarks by an elderly
novelist have provoked such an outcry? One has to look for the probable
answer amid the dirty requirements of propaganda warfare.

There is one point about the Wodehouse broadcasts that is almost
certainly significant--the date. Wodehouse was released two or three
days before the invasion of the U.S.S.R., and at a time when the higher
ranks of the Nazi party must have known that the invasion was imminent.
It was vitally necessary to keep America out of the war as long as
possible, and in fact, about this time, the German attitude towards the
U.S.A. did become more conciliatory than it had been before. The Germans
could hardly hope to defeat Russia, Britain and the U.S.A. in
combination, but if they could polish off Russia quickly--and presumably
they expected to do so--the Americans might never intervene. The release
of Wodehouse was only a minor move, but it was not a bad sop to throw to
the American isolationists. He was well known in the United States, and
he was--or so the Germans calculated--popular with the Anglophobe
public as a caricaturist who made fun of the silly-ass Englishman with
his spats and his monocle. At the microphone he could be trusted to
damage British prestige in one way or another, while his release would
demonstrate that the Germans were good fellows and knew how to treat
their enemies chivalrously. That presumably was the calculation, though
the fact that Wodehouse was only broadcasting for about a week suggests
that he did not come up to expectations.

But on the British side similar though opposite calculations were at
work. For the two years following Dunkirk, British morale depended
largely upon the feeling that this was not only a war for democracy but a
war which the common people had to win by their own efforts. The upper
classes were discredited by their appeasement policy and by the disasters
of 1940, and a social levelling process appeared to be taking place.
Patriotism and left-wing sentiments were associated in the popular mind,
and numerous able journalists were at work to tie the association
tighter. Priestley's 1940 broadcasts, and "Cassandra's" articles in the
DAILY MIRROR, were good examples of the demagogic propaganda flourishing
at that time. In this atmosphere, Wodehouse made an ideal whipping-boy.
For it was generally felt that the rich were treacherous, and Wodehouse--as
"Cassandra" vigorously pointed out in his broadcast--was a rich man.
But he was the kind of rich man who could be attacked with impunity and
without risking any damage to the structure of society. To denounce
Wodehouse was not like denouncing, say, Beaverbrook. A mere novelist,
however large his earnings may happen to be, is not OF the possessing
class. Even if his income touches £50,000 a year he has only the outward
semblance of a millionaire. He is a lucky outsider who has fluked into a
fortune--usually a very temporary fortune--like the winner of the
Calcutta Derby Sweep. Consequently, Wodehouse's indiscretion gave a good
propaganda opening. It was a chance to "expose" a wealthy parasite
without drawing attention to any of the parasites who really mattered.

In the desperate circumstances of the time, it was excusable to be angry
at what Wodehouse did, but to go on denouncing him three or four years
later--and more, to let an impression remain that he acted with
conscious treachery--is not excusable. Few things in this war have been
more morally disgusting than the present hunt after traitors and
Quislings. At best it is largely the punishment of the guilty by the
guilty. In France, all kinds of petty rats--police officials,
penny-a-lining journalists, women who have slept with German soldiers--are
hunted down while almost without exception the big rats escape. In
England the fiercest tirades against Quislings are uttered by
Conservatives who were practising appeasement in 1938 and Communists who
were advocating it in 1940. I have striven to show how the wretched
Wodehouse--just because success and expatriation had allowed him to
remain mentally in the Edwardian age--became the CORPUS VILE in a
propaganda experiment, and I suggest that it is now time to regard the
incident as closed. If Ezra Pound is caught and shot by the American
authorities, it will have the effect of establishing his reputation as a
poet for hundreds of years; and even in the case of Wodehouse, if we
drive him to retire to the United States and renounce his British
citizenship, we shall end by being horribly ashamed of ourselves.
Meanwhile, if we really want to punish the people who weakened national
morale at critical moments, there are other culprits who are nearer home
and better worth chasing.



NONSENSE POETRY


In many languages, it is said, there is no nonsense poetry, and there is
not a great deal of it even in English. The bulk of it is in nursery
rhymes and scraps of folk poetry, some of which may not have been
strictly nonsensical at the start, but have become so because their
original application has been forgotten. For example, the rhyme about
Margery Daw:

See-saw, Margery Daw,
Dobbin shall have a new master.
He shall have but a penny a day
Because he can't go any faster.

Or the other version that I learned in Oxfordshire as a little boy:

See-saw, Margery Daw,
Sold her bed and lay upon straw.
Wasn't she a silly slut
To sell her bed and lie upon dirt?

It may be that there was once a real person called Margery Daw, and
perhaps there was even a Dobbin who somehow came into the story. When
Shakespeare makes Edgar in KING LEAR quote "Pillicock sat on Pillicock
hill", and similar fragments, he is uttering nonsense, but no doubt these
fragments come from forgotten ballads in which they once had a meaning.
The typical scrap of folk poetry which one quotes almost unconsciously is
not exactly nonsense but a sort of musical comment on some recurring
event, such as "One a penny, two a penny, Hot-Cross buns", or "Polly, put
the kettle on, we'll all have tea". Some of these seemingly frivolous
rhymes actually express a deeply pessimistic view of life, the churchyard
wisdom of the peasant. For instance:

Solomon Grundy,
Born on Monday,
Christened on Tuesday,
Married on Wednesday,
Took ill on Thursday,
Worse on Friday,
Died on Saturday,
Buried on Sunday,
And that was the end of Solomon Grundy.

which is a gloomy story, but remarkably similar to yours or mine.

Until Surrealism made a deliberate raid on the unconscious, poetry that
aimed at being nonsense, apart from the meaningless refrains of songs,
does not seem to have been common. This gives a special position to
Edward Lear, whose nonsense rhymes have just been edited by Mr R.L.
Megroz, who was also responsible for the Penguin edition a year
or two before the war. Lear was one of the first writers to deal
in pure fantasy, with imaginary countries and made-up words, without
any satirical purpose. His poems are not all of them equally
nonsensical; some of them get their effect by a perversion
of logic, but they are all alike in that their underlying feeling is sad
and not bitter. They express a kind of amiable lunacy, a natural sympathy
with whatever is weak and absurd. Lear could fairly be called the
originator of the limerick, though verses in almost the same metrical
form are to be found in earlier writers, and what is sometimes considered
a weakness in his limericks--that is, the fact that the rhyme is the same
in the first and last lines--is part of their charm. The very slight
change increases the impression of ineffectuality, which might be spoiled
if there were some striking surprise. For example:

There was a young lady of Portugal
Whose ideas were excessively nautical;
She climbed up a tree
To examine the sea,
But declared she would never leave Portugal.

It is significant that almost no limericks since Lear's have been both
printable and funny enough to seem worth quoting. But he is really seen
at his best in certain longer poems, such as "The Owl and the Pussy-Cat"
or "The Courtship of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò":

On the Coast of Coromandel,
Where the early pumpkins blow,
In the middle of the woods
Lived the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò.
Two old chairs, and half a candle
One old jug without a handle
These were all his worldly goods:
In the middle of the woods,
These were all the worldly goods
Of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò,
Of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò.

Later there appears a lady with some white Dorking hens, and an
inconclusive love affair follows. Mr Megroz thinks, plausibly enough,
that this may refer to some incident in Lear's own life. He never
married, and it is easy to guess that there was something seriously wrong
in his sex life. A psychiatrist could no doubt find all kinds of
significance in his drawings and in the recurrence of certain made-up
words such as "runcible". His health was bad, and as he was the youngest
of twenty-one children in a poor family, he must have known anxiety and
hardship in very early life. It is clear that he was unhappy and by
nature solitary, in spite of having good friends.

Aldous Huxley, in praising Lear's fantasies as a sort of assertion of
freedom, has pointed out that the "They" of the limericks represent
common sense, legality and the duller virtues generally. "They" are the
realists, the practical men, the sober citizens in bowler hats who are
always anxious to stop you doing anything worth doing. For instance:

There was an Old Man of Whitehaven,
Who danced a quadrille with a raven;
But they said, "It's absurd
To encourage this bird!"
So they smashed that Old Man of Whitehaven.

To smash somebody just for dancing a quadrille with a raven is exactly
the kind of thing that "They" would do. Herbert Read has also praised
Lear, and is inclined to prefer his verse to that of Lewis Carroll, as
being purer fantasy. For myself, I must say that I find Lear funniest
when he is least arbitrary and when a touch of burlesque or perverted
logic makes its appearance. When he gives his fancy free play, as in his
imaginary names, or in things like "Three Receipts for Domestic Cookery",
he can be silly and tiresome. "The Pobble Who Has No Toes" is haunted by
the ghost of logic, and I think it is the element of sense in it that
makes it funny. The Pobble, it may be remembered, went fishing in the
Bristol Channel:

And all the Sailors and Admirals cried,
When they saw him nearing the further side--
"He has gone to fish, for his Aunt Jobiska's
Runcible Cat with crimson whiskers!"

The thing that is funny here is the burlesque touch, the Admirals. What
is arbitrary--the word "runcible", and the cat's crimson whiskers--is
merely rather embarrassing. While the Pobble was in the water some
unidentified creatures came and ate his toes off, and when he got home
his aunt remarked:

"It's a fact the whole world knows,
That Pobbles are happier without their toes,"

which once again is funny because it has a meaning, and one might even
say a political significance. For the whole theory of authoritarian
governments is summed up in the statement that Pobbles were happier
without their toes. So also with the well-known limerick:

There was an Old Person of Basing,
Whose presence of mind was amazing;
He purchased a steed,
Which he rode at full speed,
And escaped from the people of Basing.

It is not quite arbitrary. The funniness is in the gentle implied
criticism of the people of Basing, who once again are "They", the
respectable ones, the right-thinking, art-hating majority.

The writer closest to Lear among his contemporaries was Lewis Carroll,
who, however, was less essentially fantastic--and, in my opinion, funnier.
Since then, as Mr Megroz points out in his Introduction, Lear's influence
has been considerable, but it is hard to believe that it has been
altogether good. The silly whimsiness of present-day children's books
could perhaps be partly traced back to him. At any rate, the idea of
deliberately setting out to write nonsense, though it came off in Lear's
case, is a doubtful one. Probably the best nonsense poetry is produced
gradually and accidentally, by communities rather than by individuals. As
a comic draughtsman, on the other hand, Lear's influence must have been
beneficial. James Thurber, for instance, must surely owe something to
Lear, directly or indirectly.



NOTES ON NATIONALISM (1945)


Somewhere or other Byron makes use of the French word LONGEUR, and
remarks in passing that though in England we happen not to have the WORD,
we have the THING in considerable profusion. In the same way, there is a
habit of mind which is now so widespread that it affects our thinking on
nearly every subject, but which has not yet been given a name. As the
nearest existing equivalent I have chosen the word 'nationalism', but it
will be seen in a moment that I am not using it in quite the ordinary
sense, if only because the emotion I am speaking about does not always
attach itself to what is called a nation--that is, a single race or a
geographical area. It can attach itself to a church or a class, or it may
work in a merely negative sense, AGAINST something or other and without
the need for any positive object of loyalty.

By 'nationalism' I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human
beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions
or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled 'good' or
'bad'.[See note, below] But secondly--and this is much more important--I
mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other
unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than
that of advancing its interests. Nationalism is not to be confused with
patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any
definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction
between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved.
By 'patriotism' I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular
way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no
wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive,
both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is
inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every
nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, NOT for himself
but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own
individuality.

[Note: Nations, and even vaguer entities such as Catholic Church or the
proleteriat, are commonly thought of as individuals and often referred to
as 'she'. Patently absurd remarks such as 'Germany is naturally
treacherous' are to be found in any newspaper one opens and reckless
generalization about national character ('The Spaniard is a natural
aristocrat' or 'Every Englishman is a hypocrite') are uttered by almost
everyone. Intermittently these generalizations are seen to be unfounded,
but the habit of making them persists, and people of professedly
international outlook, e.g., Tolstoy or Bernard Shaw, are often guilty of
them. (Author's footnote)]

So long as it is applied merely to the more notorious and identifiable
nationalist movements in Germany, Japan, and other countries, all this is
obvious enough. Confronted with a phenomenon like Nazism, which we can
observe from the outside, nearly all of us would say much the same things
about it. But here I must repeat what I said above, that I am only using
the word 'nationalism' for lack of a better. Nationalism, in the extended
sense in which I am using the word, includes such movements and
tendencies as Communism, political Catholicism, Zionism, Antisemitism,
Trotskyism and Pacifism. It does not necessarily mean loyalty to a
government or a country, still less to ONE'S OWN country, and it is not
even strictly necessary that the units in which it deals should actually
exist. To name a few obvious examples, Jewry, Islam, Christendom, the
Proletariat and the White Race are all of them objects of passionate
nationalistic feeling: but their existence can be seriously questioned,
and there is no definition of any one of them that would be universally
accepted.

It is also worth emphasising once again that nationalist feeling can be
purely negative. There are, for example, Trotskyists who have become
simply enemies of the U.S.S.R. without developing a corresponding loyalty
to any other unit. When one grasps the implications of this, the nature
of what I mean by nationalism becomes a good deal clearer. A nationalist
is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige. He
may be a positive or a negative nationalist--that is, he may use his
mental energy either in boosting or in denigrating--but at any rate his
thoughts always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations. He
sees history, especially contemporary history, as the endless rise and
decline of great power units, and every event that happens seems to him a
demonstration that his own side is on the upgrade and some hated rival is
on the downgrade. But finally, it is important not to confuse nationalism
with mere worship of success. The nationalist does not go on the
principle of simply ganging up with the strongest side. On the contrary,
having picked his side, he persuades himself that it IS the strongest,
and is able to stick to his belief even when the facts are
overwhelmingly against him. Nationalism is power-hunger tempered by
self-deception. Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant
dishonesty, but he is also--since he is conscious of serving something
bigger than himself--unshakeably certain of being in the right.

Now that I have given this lengthy definition, I think it will be
admitted that the habit of mind I am talking about is widespread among
the English intelligentsia, and more widespread there than among the mass
of the people. For those who feel deeply about contemporary politics,
certain topics have become so infected by considerations of prestige that
a genuinely rational approach to them is almost impossible. Out of the
hundreds of examples that one might choose, take this question: Which of
the three great allies, the U.S.S.R., Britain and the USA, has
contributed most to the defeat of Germany? In theory, it should be
possible to give a reasoned and perhaps even a conclusive answer to this
question. In practice, however, the necessary calculations cannot be
made, because anyone likely to bother his head about such a question
would inevitably see it in terms of competitive prestige. He would
therefore START by deciding in favour of Russia, Britain or America as
the case might be, and only AFTER this would begin searching for
arguments that seemed to support his case. And there are whole strings of
kindred questions to which you can only get an honest answer from someone
who is indifferent to the whole subject involved, and whose opinion on it
is probably worthless in any case. Hence, partly, the remarkable failure
in our time of political and military prediction. It is curious to
reflect that out of al the 'experts' of all the schools, there was not a
single one who was able to foresee so likely an event as the
Russo-German Pact of 1939.[Note 1, below] And when news of the Pact
broke, the most wildly divergent explanations were of it were given, and
predictions were made which were falsified almost immediately, being
based in nearly every case not on a study of probabilities but on a
desire to make the U.S.S.R. seem good or bad, strong or weak. Political
or military commentators, like astrologers, can survive almost any
mistake, because their more devoted followers do not look to them for an
appraisal of the facts but for the stimulation of nationalistic
loyalties.[Note 2, below] And aesthetic judgements, especially literary
judgements, are often corrupted in the same way as political ones. It
would be difficult for an Indian Nationalist to enjoy reading Kipling or
for a Conservative to see merit in Mayakovsky, and there is always a
temptation to claim that any book whose tendency one disagrees with must
be a bad book from a LITERARY point of view. People of strongly
nationalistic outlook often perform this sleight of hand without being
conscious of dishonesty.

[Note 1: A few writers of conservative tendency, such as Peter Drucker,
foretold an agreement between Germany and Russia, but they expected an
actual alliance or amalgamation which would be permanent. No Marxist or
other left-wing writer, of whatever colour, came anywhere near
foretelling the Pact.(Author's footnote)]

[Note 2: The military commentators of the popular press can mostly be
classified as pro-Russian or anti-Russian pro-blimp or anti-blimp. Such
errors as believing the Maginot Line impregnable, or predicting that
Russia would conquer Germany in three months, have failed to shake their
reputation, because they were always saying what their own particular
audience wanted to hear. The two military critics most favoured by the
intelligentsia are Captain Liddell Hart and Major-General Fuller, the
first of whom teaches that the defence is stronger that the attack, and
the second that the attack is stronger that the defence. This
contradiction has not prevented both of them from being accepted as
authorities by the same public. The secret reason for their vogue in
left-wing circles is that both of them are at odds with the War Office.
(Author's footnote)]

In England, if one simply considers the number of people involved, it is
probable that the dominant form of nationalism is old-fashioned British
jingoism. It is certain that this is still widespread, and much more so
than most observers would have believed a dozen years ago. However, in
this essay I am concerned chiefly with the reactions of the
intelligentsia, among whom jingoism and even patriotism of the old kind
are almost dead, though they now seem to be reviving among a minority.
Among the intelligentsia, it hardly needs saying that the dominant form
of nationalism is Communism--using this word in a very loose sense, to
include not merely Communist Party members, but 'fellow travellers' and
russophiles generally. A Communist, for my purpose here, is one who looks
upon the U.S.S.R. as his Fatherland and feels it his duty t justify
Russian policy and advance Russian interests at all costs. Obviously such
people abound in England today, and their direct and indirect influence
is very great. But many other forms of nationalism also flourish, and it
is by noticing the points of resemblance between different and even
seemingly opposed currents of thought that one can best get the matter
into perspective.

Ten or twenty years ago, the form of nationalism most closely
corresponding to Communism today was political Catholicism. Its most
outstanding exponent--though he was perhaps an extreme case rather than
a typical one--was G. K. Chesterton. Chesterton was a writer of
considerable talent who whose to suppress both his sensibilities and his
intellectual honesty in the cause of Roman Catholic propaganda. During
the last twenty years or so of his life, his entire output was in reality
an endless repetition of the same thing, under its laboured cleverness as
simple and boring as 'Great is Diana of the Ephesians.' Every book that
he wrote, every scrap of dialogue, had to demonstrate beyond the
possibility of mistake the superiority of the Catholic over the
Protestant or the pagan. But Chesterton was not content to think of this
superiority as merely intellectual or spiritual: it had to be translated
into terms of national prestige and military power, which entailed an
ignorant idealisation of the Latin countries, especially France.
Chesterton had not lived long in France, and his picture of it--as a
land of Catholic peasants incessantly singing the MARSEILLAISE over
glasses of red wine--had about as much relation to reality as CHU CHIN
CHOW has to everyday life in Baghdad. And with this went not only an
enormous overestimation of French military power (both before and after
1914-18 he maintained that France, by itself, was stronger than Germany),
but a silly and vulgar glorification of the actual process of war.
Chesterton's battle poems, such as Lepanto or The Ballad of Saint
Barbara, make The Charge of the Light Brigade read like a pacifist tract:
they are perhaps the most tawdry bits of bombast to be found in our
language. The interesting thing is that had the romantic rubbish which he
habitually wrote about France and the French army been written by
somebody else about Britain and the British army, he would have been the
first to jeer. In home politics he was a Little Englander, a true hater
of jingoism and imperialism, and according to his lights a true friend of
democracy. Yet when he looked outwards into the international field, he
could forsake his principles without even noticing he was doing so. Thus,
his almost mystical belief in the virtues of democracy did not prevent
him from admiring Mussolini. Mussolini had destroyed the representative
government and the freedom of the press for which Chesterton had
struggled so hard at home, but Mussolini was an Italian and had made
Italy strong, and that settled the matter. Nor did Chesterton ever find a
word to say about imperialism and the conquest of coloured races when
they were practised by Italians or Frenchmen. His hold on reality, his
literary taste, and even to some extent his moral sense, were dislocated
as soon as his nationalistic loyalties were involved.

Obviously there are considerable resemblances between political
Catholicism, as exemplified by Chesterton, and Communism. So there are
between either of these and for instance Scottish nationalism, Zionism,
Antisemitism or Trotskyism. It would be an oversimplification to say that
all forms of nationalism are the same, even in their mental atmosphere,
but there are certain rules that hold good in all cases. The following
are the principal characteristics of nationalist thought:

OBSESSION. As nearly as possible, no nationalist ever thinks, talks, or
writes about anything except the superiority of his own power unit. It
is difficult if not impossible for any nationalist to conceal his
allegiance. The smallest slur upon his own unit, or any implied praise
of a rival organization, fills him with uneasiness which he can relieve
only by making some sharp retort. If the chosen unit is an actual
country, such as Ireland or India, he will generally claim superiority
for it not only in military power and political virtue, but in art,
literature, sport, structure of the language, the physical beauty of the
inhabitants, and perhaps even in climate, scenery and cooking. He will
show great sensitiveness about such things as the correct display of
flags, relative size of headlines and the order in which different
countries are named.[Note, below] Nomenclature plays a very important
part in nationalist thought. Countries which have won their independence
or gone through a nationalist revolution usually change their names, and
any country or other unit round which strong feelings revolve is likely
to have several names, each of them carrying a different implication.
The two sides of the Spanish Civil War had between them nine or ten
names expressing different degrees of love and hatred. Some of these
names (e.g. 'Patriots' for Franco-supporters, or 'Loyalists' for
Government-supporters) were frankly question-begging, and there was no
single one of the which the two rival factions could have agreed to use.
All nationalists consider it a duty to spread their own language to the
detriment of rival languages, and among English-speakers this struggle
reappears in subtler forms as a struggle between dialects.
Anglophobe-Americans will refuse to use a slang phrase if they know it
to be of British origin, and the conflict between Latinizers and
Germanizers often has nationalists motives behind it. Scottish
nationalists insist on the superiority of Lowland Scots, and socialists
whose nationalism takes the form of class hatred tirade against the
B.B.C. accent and even the often gives the impression of being tinged by
belief in sympathetic magic--a belief which probably comes out in the
widespread custom of burning political enemies in effigy, or using
pictures of them as targets in shooting galleries.

[Note: Certain Americans have expressed dissatisfaction because
'Anglo-American' is the form of combination for these two words. It has
been proposed to submit 'Americo-British'.(Author's footnote)]

INSTABILITY. The intensity with which they are held does not prevent
nationalist loyalties from being transferable. To begin with, as I have
pointed out already, they can be and often are fastened up on some
foreign country. One quite commonly finds that great national leaders, or
the founders of nationalist movements, do not even belong to the country
they have glorified. Sometimes they are outright foreigners, or more
often they come from peripheral areas where nationality is doubtful.
Examples are Stalin, Hitler, Napoleon, de Valera, Disraeli, Poincare,
Beaverbrook. The Pan-German movement was in part the creation of an
Englishman, Houston Chamberlain. For the past fifty or a hundred years,
transferred nationalism has been a common phenomenon among literary
intellectuals. With Lafcadio Hearne the transference was to Japan, with
Carlyle and many others of his time to Germany, and in our own age it is
usually to Russia. But the peculiarly interesting fact is that
re-transference is also possible. A country or other unit which has been
worshipped for years may suddenly become detestable, and some other
object of affection may take its place with almost no interval. In the
first version of H. G. Wells's OUTLINE OF HISTORY, and others of his
writings about that time, one finds the United States praised almost as
extravagantly as Russia is praised by Communists today: yet within a few
years this uncritical admiration had turned into hostility. The bigoted
Communist who changes in a space of weeks, or even days, into an equally
bigoted Trotskyist is a common spectacle. In continental Europe Fascist
movements were largely recruited from among Communists, and the opposite
process may well happen within the next few years. What remains constant
in the nationalist is his state of mind: the object of his feelings is
changeable, and may be imaginary.

But for an intellectual, transference has an important function which I
have already mentioned shortly in connection with Chesterton. It makes it
possible for him to be much MORE nationalistic--more vulgar, more silly,
more malignant, more dishonest--that he could ever be on behalf of his
native country, or any unit of which he had real knowledge. When one sees
the slavish or boastful rubbish that is written about Stalin, the Red
Army, etc. by fairly intelligent and sensitive people, one realises that
this is only possible because some kind of dislocation has taken place.
In societies such as ours, it is unusual for anyone describable as an
intellectual to feel a very deep attachment to his own country. Public
opinion--that is, the section of public opinion of which he as an
intellectual is aware--will not allow him to do so. Most of the people
surrounding him are sceptical and disaffected, and he may adopt the same
attitude from imitativeness or sheer cowardice: in that case he will have
abandoned the form of nationalism that lies nearest to hand without
getting any closer to a genuinely internationalist outlook. He still
feels the need for a Fatherland, and it is natural to look for one
somewhere abroad. Having found it, he can wallow unrestrainedly in
exactly those emotions from which he believes that he has emancipated
himself. God, the King, the Empire, the Union Jack--all the overthrown
idols can reappear under different names, and because they are not
recognised for what they are they can be worshipped with a good
conscience. Transferred nationalism, like the use of scapegoats, is a way
of attaining salvation without altering one's conduct.

INDIFFERENCE TO REALITY. All nationalists have the power of not seeing
resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend
self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of
inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own
merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of
outrage--torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations,
imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of
civilians--which does not change its moral colour when it is committed
by 'our' side. The Liberal NEWS CHRONICLE published, as an example of
shocking barbarity, photographs of Russians hanged by the Germans, and
then a year or two later published with warm approval almost exactly
similar photographs of Germans hanged by the Russians.[Note, below] It
is the same with historical events. History is thought of largely in
nationalist terms, and such things as the Inquisition, the tortures of
the Star Chamber, the exploits of the English buccaneers (Sir Francis
Drake, for instance, who was given to sinking Spanish prisoners alive),
the Reign of Terror, the heroes of the Mutiny blowing hundreds of
Indians from the guns, or Cromwell's soldiers slashing Irishwomen's
faces with razors, become morally neutral or even meritorious when it is
felt that they were done in the 'right' cause. If one looks back over
the past quarter of a century, one finds that there was hardly a single
year when atrocity stories were not being reported from some part of the
world; and yet in not one single case were these atrocities--in Spain,
Russia, China, Hungary, Mexico, Amritsar, Smyrna--believed in and
disapproved of by the English intelligentsia as a whole. Whether such
deeds were reprehensible, or even whether they happened, was always
decided according to political predilection.

[Note: The NEWS CHRONICLE advised its readers to visit the news film at
which the entire execution could be witnessed, with close-ups. The STAR
published with seeming approval photographs of nearly naked female
collaborationists being baited by the Paris mob. These photographs had a
marked resemblance to the Nazi photographs of Jews being baited by the
Berlin mob.(Author's footnote)]

The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by
his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about
them. For quite six years the English admirers of Hitler contrived not to
learn of the existence of Dachau and Buchenwald. And those who are
loudest in denouncing the German concentration camps are often quite
unaware, or only very dimly aware, that there are also concentration
camps in Russia. Huge events like the Ukraine famine of 1933, involving
the deaths of millions of people, have actually escaped the attention of
the majority of English russophiles. Many English people have heard
almost nothing about the extermination of German and Polish Jews during
the present war. Their own antisemitism has caused this vast crime to
bounce off their consciousness. In nationalist thought there are facts
which are both true and untrue, known and unknown. A known fact may be so
unbearable that it is habitually pushed aside and not allowed to enter
into logical processes, or on the other hand it may enter into every
calculation and yet never be admitted as a fact, even in one's own mind.

Every nationalist is haunted by the belief that the past can be altered.
He spends part of his time in a fantasy world in which things happen as
they should--in which, for example, the Spanish Armada was a success or
the Russian Revolution was crushed in 1918--and he will transfer
fragments of this world to the history books whenever possible. Much of
the propagandist writing of our time amounts to plain forgery. Material
facts are suppressed, dates altered, quotations removed from their
context and doctored so as to change their meaning. Events which it is
felt ought not to have happened are left unmentioned and ultimately
denied [Note, below]. In 1927 Chiang Kai Shek boiled hundreds of
Communists alive, and yet within ten years he had become one of the
heroes of the Left. The re-alignment of world politics had brought him
into the anti-Fascist camp, and so it was felt that the boiling of the
Communists 'didn't count', or perhaps had not happened. The primary aim
of propaganda is, of course, to influence contemporary opinion, but
those who rewrite history do probably believe with part of their minds
that they are actually thrusting facts into the past. When one considers
the elaborate forgeries that have been committed in order to show that
Trotsky did not play a valuable part in the Russian civil war, it is
difficult to feel that the people responsible are merely lying. More
probably they feel that their own version was what happened in the sight
of God, and that one is justified in rearranging the records
accordingly.

[Note: En example is the Russo-German Pact, which is being effaced as
quickly as possible from public memory. A Russian correspondent informs
me that mention of the Pact is already being omitted from Russian
year-books which table recent political events.(Author's note)]

Indifference to objective truth is encouraged by the sealing-off of one
part of the world from another, which makes it harder and harder to
discover what is actually happening. There can often be a genuine doubt
about the most enormous events. For example, it is impossible to
calculate within millions, perhaps even tens of millions, the number of
deaths caused by the present war. The calamities that are constantly
being reported--battles, massacres, famines, revolutions--tend to
inspire in the average person a feeling of unreality. One has no way of
verifying the facts, one is not even fully certain that they have
happened, and one is always presented with totally different
interpretations from different sources. What were the rights and wrongs
of the Warsaw rising of August 1944? Is it true about the German gas
ovens in Poland? Who was really to blame for the Bengal famine? Probably
the truth is discoverable, but the facts will be so dishonestly set forth
in almost any newspaper that the ordinary reader can be forgiven either
for swallowing lies or failing to form an opinion. The general
uncertainty as to what is really happening makes it easier to cling to
lunatic beliefs. Since nothing is ever quite proved or disproved, the
most unmistakable fact can be impudently denied. Moreover, although
endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge, the nationalist is
often somewhat uninterested in what happens in the real world. What he
wants is to FEEL that his own unit is getting the better of some other
unit, and he can more easily do this by scoring off an adversary than by
examining the facts to see whether they support him. All nationalist
controversy is at the debating-society level. It is always entirely
inconclusive, since each contestant invariably believes himself to have
won the victory. Some nationalists are not far from schizophrenia, living
quite happily amid dreams of power and conquest which have no connection
with the physical world.

I have examined as best as I can the mental habits which are common to
all forms of nationalism. The next thing is to classify those forms, but
obviously this cannot be done comprehensively. Nationalism is an enormous
subject. The world is tormented by innumerable delusions and hatreds
which cut across one another in an extremely complex way, and some of the
most sinister of them have not yet impinged on the European
consciousness. In this essay I am concerned with nationalism as it occurs
among the English intelligentsia. In them, much more than in ordinary
English people, it is unmixed with patriotism and therefore can be
studied pure. Below are listed the varieties of nationalism now
flourishing among English intellectuals, with such comments as seem to be
needed. It is convenient to use three headings, Positive, Transferred,
and Negative, though some varieties will fit into more than one category:

POSITIVE NATIONALISM

(i) NEO-TORYISM. Exemplified by such people as Lord Elton, A.P. Herbert,
G.M. Young, Professor Pickthorn, by the literature of the Tory Reform
Committee, and by such magazines as the NEW ENGLISH REVIEW and THE
NINETEENTH CENTURY AND AFTER. The real motive force of neo-Toryism,
giving it its nationalistic character and differentiating it from
ordinary Conservatism, is the desire not to recognise that British power
and influence have declined. Even those who are realistic enough to see
that Britain's military position is not what it was, tend to claim that
'English ideas' (usually left undefined) must dominate the world. All
neo-Tories are anti-Russian, but sometimes the main emphasis is
anti-American. The significant thing is that this school of thought seems
to be gaining ground among youngish intellectuals, sometimes
ex-Communists, who have passed through the usual process of
disillusionment and become disillusioned with that. The anglophobe who
suddenly becomes violently pro-British is a fairly common figure. Writers
who illustrate this tendency are F. A. Voigt, Malcolm Muggeridge, Evelyn
Waugh, Hugh Kingsmill, and a psychologically similar development can be
observed in T. S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, and various of their followers.

(ii) CELTIC NATIONALISM. Welsh, Irish and Scottish nationalism have
points of difference but are alike in their anti-English orientation.
Members of all three movements have opposed the war while continuing to
describe themselves as pro-Russian, and the lunatic fringe has even
contrived to be simultaneously pro-Russian and pro-Nazi. But Celtic
nationalism is not the same thing as anglophobia. Its motive force is a
belief in the past and future greatness of the Celtic peoples, and it has
a strong tinge of racialism. The Celt is supposed to be spiritually
superior to the Saxon--simpler, more creative, less vulgar, less
snobbish, etc.--but the usual power hunger is there under the surface.
One symptom of it is the delusion that Eire, Scotland or even Wales could
preserve its independence unaided and owes nothing to British protection.
Among writers, good examples of this school of thought are Hugh McDiarmid
and Sean O'Casey. No modern Irish writer, even of the stature of Yeats or
Joyce, is completely free from traces of nationalism.

(iii) ZIONISM. This the unusual characteristics of a nationalist
movement, but the American variant of it seems to be more violent and
malignant than the British. I classify it under Direct and not
Transferred nationalism because it flourishes almost exclusively among
the Jews themselves. In England, for several rather incongruous reasons,
the intelligentsia are mostly pro-Jew on the Palestine issue, but they do
not feel strongly about it. All English people of goodwill are also
pro-Jew in the sense of disapproving of Nazi persecution. But any actual
nationalistic loyalty, or belief in the innate superiority of Jews, is
hardly to be found among Gentiles.

TRANSFERRED NATIONALISM

(i) COMMUNISM.

(ii) POLITICAL CATHOLICISM.

(iii) COLOUR FEELING. The old-style contemptuous attitude towards
'natives' has been much weakened in England, and various
pseudo-scientific theories emphasising the superiority of the white race
have been abandoned.[Note, below] Among the intelligentsia, colour feeling
only occurs in the transposed form, that is, as a belief in the innate
superiority of the coloured races. This is now increasingly common among
English intellectuals, probably resulting more often from masochism and
sexual frustration than from contact with the Oriental and Negro
nationalist movements. Even among those who do not feel strongly on the
colour question, snobbery and imitation have a powerful influence. Almost
any English intellectual would be scandalised by the claim that the white
races are superior to the coloured, whereas the opposite claim would seem
to him unexceptionable even if he disagreed with it. Nationalistic
attachment to the coloured races is usually mixed up with the belief that
their sex lives are superior, and there is a large underground mythology
about the sexual prowess of Negroes.

[Note: A good example is the sunstroke superstition. Until recently it was
believed that the white races were much more liable to sunstroke that the
coloured, and that a white man could not safely walk about in tropical
sunshine without a pith helmet. There was no evidence whatever for this
theory, but it served the purpose of accentuating the difference between
'natives' and Europeans. During the war the theory was quietly dropped
and whole armies manoeuvred in the tropics without pith helmets. So long
as the sunstroke superstition survived, English doctors in India appear
to have believed in it as firmly as laymen.(Author's footnote)]

(iv) CLASS FEELING. Among upper-class and middle-class intellectuals,
only in the transposed form--i.e. as a belief in the superiority of the
proletariat. Here again, inside the intelligentsia, the pressure of
public opinion is overwhelming. Nationalistic loyalty towards the
proletariat, and most vicious theoretical hatred of the bourgeoisie, can
and often do co-exist with ordinary snobbishness in everyday life.

(v) PACIFISM. The majority of pacifists either belong to obscure
religious sects or are simply humanitarians who object to the taking of
life and prefer not to follow their thoughts beyond that point. But there
is a minority of intellectual pacifists whose real though unadmitted
motive appears to be hatred of western democracy and admiration of
totalitarianism. Pacifist propaganda usually boils down to saying that
one side is as bad as the other, but if one looks closely at the writings
of younger intellectual pacifists, one finds that they do not by any
means express impartial disapproval but are directed almost entirely
against Britain and the United States. Moreover they do not as a rule
condemn violence as such, but only violence used in defence of western
countries. The Russians, unlike the British, are not blamed for defending
themselves by warlike means, and indeed all pacifist propaganda of this
type avoids mention of Russia or China. It is not claimed, again, that
the Indians should abjure violence in their struggle against the British.
Pacifist literature abounds with equivocal remarks which, if they mean
anything, appear to mean that statesmen of the type of Hitler are
preferable to those of the type of Churchill, and that violence is
perhaps excusable if it is violent enough. After the fall of France, the
French pacifists, faced by a real choice which their English colleagues
have not had to make, mostly went over to the Nazis, and in England there
appears to have been some small overlap of membership between the Peace
Pledge Union and the Blackshirts. Pacifist writers have written in praise
of Carlyle, one of the intellectual fathers of Fascism. All in all it is
difficult not to feel that pacifism, as it appears among a section of the
intelligentsia, is secretly inspired by an admiration for power and
successful cruelty. The mistake was made of pinning this emotion to
Hitler, but it could easily be retransferred.

NEGATIVE NATIONALISM

(i) ANGLOPHOBIA. Within the intelligentsia, a derisive and mildly hostile
attitude towards Britain is more or less compulsory, but it is an unfaked
emotion in many cases. During the war it was manifested in the defeatism
of the intelligentsia, which persisted long after it had become clear
that the Axis powers could not win. Many people were undisguisedly
pleased when Singapore fell ore when the British were driven out of
Greece, and there was a remarkable unwillingness to believe in good news,
e.g. el Alamein, or the number of German planes shot down in the Battle
of Britain. English left-wing intellectuals did not, of course, actually
want the Germans or Japanese to win the war, but many of them could not
help getting a certain kick out of seeing their own country humiliated,
and wanted to feel that the final victory would be due to Russia, or
perhaps America, and not to Britain. In foreign politics many
intellectuals follow the principle that any faction backed by Britain
must be in the wrong. As a result, 'enlightened' opinion is quite largely
a mirror-image of Conservative policy. Anglophobia is always liable to
reversal, hence that fairly common spectacle, the pacifist of one war who
is a bellicist in the next.

(ii) ANTI-SEMITISM. There is little evidence about this at present,
because the Nazi persecutions have made it necessary for any thinking
person to side with the Jews against their oppressors. Anyone educated
enough to have heard the word 'antisemitism' claims as a matter of course
to be free of it, and anti-Jewish remarks are carefully eliminated from
all classes of literature. Actually antisemitism appears to be
widespread, even among intellectuals, and the general conspiracy of
silence probably helps exacerbate it. People of Left opinions are not
immune to it, and their attitude is sometimes affected by the fact that
Trotskyists and Anarchists tend to be Jews. But antisemitism comes more
naturally to people of Conservative tendency, who suspect Jews of
weakening national morale and diluting the national culture. Neo-Tories
and political Catholics are always liable to succumb to antisemitism, at
least intermittently.

(iii) TROTSKYISM. This word is used so loosely as to include Anarchists,
democratic Socialists and even Liberals. I use it here to mean a
doctrinaire Marxist whose main motive is hostility to the Stalin régime.
Trotskyism can be better studied in obscure pamphlets or in papers like
the SOCIALIST APPEAL than in the works of Trotsky himself, who was by no
means a man of one idea. Although in some places, for instance in the
United States, Trotskyism is able to attract a fairly large number of
adherents and develop into an organised movement with a petty fuerher of
its own, its inspiration is essentially negative. The Trotskyist is
AGAINST Stalin just as the Communist is FOR him, and, like the majority
of Communists, he wants not so much to alter the external world as to
feel that the battle for prestige is going in his own favour. In each
case there is the same obsessive fixation on a single subject, the same
inability to form a genuinely rational opinion based on probabilities.
The fact that Trotskyists are everywhere a persecuted minority, and that
the accusation usually made against them, i.e. of collaborating with the
Fascists, is obviously false, creates an impression that Trotskyism is
intellectually and morally superior to Communism; but it is doubtful
whether there is much difference. The most typical Trotskyists, in any
case, are ex-Communists, and no one arrives at Trotskyism except via one
of the left-wing movements. No Communist, unless tethered to his party by
years of habit, is secure against a sudden lapse into Trotskyism. The
opposite process does not seem to happen equally often, though there is
no clear reason why it should not.

In the classification I have attempted above, it will seem that I have
often exaggerated, oversimplified, made unwarranted assumptions and have
left out of account the existence of ordinarily decent motives. This was
inevitable, because in this essay I am trying to isolate and identify
tendencies which exist in all our minds and pervert our thinking, without
necessarily occurring in a pure state or operating continuously. It is
important at this point to correct the over-simplified picture which I
have been obliged to make. To begin with, one has no right to assume that
EVERYONE, or even every intellectual, is infected by nationalism.
Secondly, nationalism can be intermittent and limited. An intelligent man
may half-succumb to a belief which he knows to be absurd, and he may keep
it out of his mind for long periods, only reverting to it in moments of
anger or sentimentality, or when he is certain that no important issues
are involved. Thirdly, a nationalistic creed may be adopted in good faith
from non-nationalistic motives. Fourthly, several kinds of nationalism,
even kinds that cancel out, can co-exist in the same person.

All the way through I have said, 'the nationalist does this' or 'the
nationalist does that', using for purposes of illustration the extreme,
barely sane type of nationalist who has no neutral areas in his mind and
no interest in anything except the struggle for power. Actually such
people are fairly common, but they are not worth the powder and shot. In
real life Lord Elton, D. N. Pritt, Lady Houston, Ezra Pound, Lord
Vanisttart, Father Coughlin and all the rest of their dreary tribe have
to be fought against, but their intellectual deficiencies hardly need
pointing out. Monomania is not interesting, and the fact that no
nationalist of the more bigoted kind can write a book which still seems
worth reading after a lapse of years has a certain deodorising effect.
But when one has admitted that nationalism has not triumphed everywhere,
that there are still peoples whose judgements are not at the mercy of
their desires, the fact does remain that the pressing problems--India,
Poland, Palestine, the Spanish civil war, the Moscow trials, the American
Negroes, the Russo-German Pact or what have you--cannot be, or at least
never are, discussed upon a reasonable level. The Eltons and Pritts and
Coughlins, each of them simply an enormous mouth bellowing the same lie
over and over again, are obviously extreme cases, but we deceive
ourselves if we do not realise that we can all resemble them in unguarded
moments. Let a certain note be struck, let this or that corn be trodden
on--and it may be corn whose very existence has been unsuspected
hitherto--and the most fair-minded and sweet-tempered person may
suddenly be transformed into a vicious partisan, anxious only to 'score'
over his adversary and indifferent as to how many lies he tells or how
many logical errors he commits in doing so. When Lloyd George, who was an
opponent of the Boer War, announced in the House of Commons that the
British communiques, if one added them together, claimed the killing of
more Boers than the whole Boer nation contained, it is recorded that
Arthur Balfour rose to his feet and shouted 'Cad!' Very few people are
proof against lapses of this type. The Negro snubbed by a white woman,
the Englishman who hears England ignorantly criticised by an American,
the Catholic apologist reminded of the Spanish Armada, will all react in
much the same way. One prod to the nerve of nationalism, and the
intellectual decencies can vanish, the past can be altered, and the
plainest facts can be denied.

If one harbours anywhere in one's mind a nationalistic loyalty or hatred,
certain facts, although in a sense known to be true, are inadmissible.
Here are just a few examples. I list below five types of nationalist, and
against each I append a fact which it is impossible for that type of
nationalist to accept, even in his secret thoughts:

BRITISH TORY: Britain will come out of this war with reduced power and
prestige.

COMMUNIST: If she had not been aided by Britain and America, Russia would
have been defeated by Germany.

IRISH NATIONALIST: Eire can only remain independent because of British
protection.

TROTSKYIST: The Stalin régime is accepted by the Russian masses.

PACIFIST: Those who 'abjure' violence can only do so because others are
committing violence on their behalf.

All of these facts are grossly obvious if one's emotions do not happen to
be involved: but to the kind of person named in each case they are also
INTOLERABLE, and so they have to be denied, and false theories
constructed upon their denial. I come back to the astonishing failure of
military prediction in the present war. It is, I think, true to say that
the intelligentsia have been more wrong about the progress of the war
than the common people, and that they were more swayed by partisan
feelings. The average intellectual of the Left believed, for instance,
that the war was lost in 1940, that the Germans were bound to overrun
Egypt in 1942, that the Japanese would never be driven out of the lands
they had conquered, and that the Anglo-American bombing offensive was
making no impression on Germany. He could believe these things because
his hatred for the British ruling class forbade him to admit that British
plans could succeed. There is no limit to the follies that can be
swallowed if one is under the influence of feelings of this kind. I have
heard it confidently stated, for instance, that the American troops had
been brought to Europe not to fight the Germans but to crush an English
revolution. One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things
like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool. When Hitler invaded
Russia, the officials of the MOI issued 'as background' a warning that
Russia might be expected to collapse in six weeks. On the other hand the
Communists regarded every phase of the war as a Russian victory, even
when the Russians were driven back almost to the Caspian Sea and had lost
several million prisoners. There is no need to multiply instances. The
point is that as soon as fear, hatred, jealousy and power worship are
involved, the sense of reality becomes unhinged. And, as I have pointed
out already, the sense of right and wrong becomes unhinged also. There is
no crime, absolutely none, that cannot be condoned when 'our' side
commits it. Even if one does not deny that the crime has happened, even
if one knows that it is exactly the same crime as one has condemned in
some other case, even if one admits in an intellectual sense that it is
unjustified--still one cannot FEEL that it is wrong. Loyalty is
involved, and so pity ceases to function.

The reason for the rise and spread of nationalism is far too big a
question to be raised here. It is enough to say that, in the forms in
which it appears among English intellectuals, it is a distorted
reflection of the frightful battles actually happening in the external
world, and that its worst follies have been made possible by the
breakdown of patriotism and religious belief. If one follows up this
train of thought, one is in danger of being led into a species of
Conservatism, or into political quietism. It can be plausibly argued, for
instance--it is even possibly true--that patriotism is an inoculation
against nationalism, that monarchy is a guard against dictatorship, and
that organised religion is a guard against superstition. Or again, it can
be argued that NO unbiased outlook is possible, that ALL creeds and
causes involve the same lies, follies, and barbarities; and this is often
advanced as a reason for keeping out of politics altogether. I do not
accept this argument, if only because in the modern world no one
describable as an intellectual CAN keep out of politics in the sense of
not caring about them. I think one must engage in politics--using the
word in a wide sense--and that one must have preferences: that is, one
must recognise that some causes are objectively better than others, even
if they are advanced by equally bad means. As for the nationalistic loves
and hatreds that I have spoken of, they are part of the make-up of most
of us, whether we like it or not. Whether it is possible to get rid of
them I do not know, but I do believe that it is possible to struggle
against them, and that this is essentially a MORAL effort. It is a
question first of all of discovering what one really is, what one's own
feelings really are, and then of making allowance for the inevitable
bias. If you hate and fear Russia, if you are jealous of the wealth and
power of America, if you despise Jews, if you have a sentiment of
inferiority towards the British ruling class, you cannot get rid of those
feelings simply by taking thought. But you can at least recognise that
you have them, and prevent them from contaminating your mental processes.
The emotional urges which are inescapable, and are perhaps even necessary
to political action, should be able to exist side by side with an
acceptance of reality. But this, I repeat, needs a MORAL effort, and
contemporary English literature, so far as it is alive at all to the
major issues of our time, shows how few of us are prepared to make it.



REVENGE IS SOUR (1945)


Whenever I read phrases like 'war guilt trials', 'punishment of war
criminals' and so forth, there comes back into my mind the memory of
something I saw in a prisoner-of-war camp in South Germany, earlier this
year.

Another correspondent and myself were being show round the camp by a
little Viennese Jew who had been enlisted in the branch of the American
army which deals with the interrogation of prisoners. He was an alert,
fair-haired, rather good-looking youth of about twenty-five, and
politically so much more knowledgeable than the average American officer
that it was a pleasure to be with him. The camp was on an airfield, and,
after we had been round the cages, our guide led us to a hangar where
various prisoners who were in a different category from the others were
being 'screened'.

Up at one end of the hangar about a dozen men were lying in a row on the
concrete floor. These, it was explained, were S.S. officers who had been
segregated from the other prisoners. Among them was a man in dingy
civilian clothes who was lying with his arm across his face and
apparently asleep. He had strange and horribly deformed feet. The two of
them were quite symmetrical, but they were clubbed out into an
extraordinary globular shape which made them more like a horse's hoof
than anything human. As we approached the group, the little Jew seemed to
be working himself up into a state of excitement.

'That's the real swine!' he said, and suddenly he lashed out with his
heavy army boot and caught the prostrate man a fearful kick right on the
bulge of one of his deformed feet.

'Get up, you swine!' he shouted as the man started out of sleep, and then
repeated something of the kind in German. The prisoner scrambled to his
feet and stood clumsily to attention. With the same air of working
himself up into a fury--indeed he was almost dancing up and down as he
spoke--the Jew told us the prisoner's history. He was a 'real' Nazi: his
party number indicated that he had been a member since the very early
days, and he had held a post corresponding to a General in the political
branch of the S.S. It could be taken as quite certain that he had had
charge of concentration camps and had presided over tortures and
hangings. In short, he represented everything that we had been fighting
against during the past five years.

Meanwhile, I was studying his appearance. Quite apart from the scrubby,
unfed, unshaven look that a newly captured man generally has, he was a
disgusting specimen. But he did not look brutal or in any way
frightening: merely neurotic and, in a low way, intellectual. His pale,
shifty eyes were deformed by powerful spectacles. He could have been an
unfrocked clergyman, an actor ruined by drink, or a spiritualist medium.
I have seen very similar people in London common lodging houses, and also
in the Reading Room of the British Museum. Quite obviously he was
mentally unbalanced--indeed, only doubtfully sane, though at this moment
sufficiently in his right mind to be frightened of getting another kick.
And yet everything that the Jew was telling me of his history could have
been true, and probably was true! So the Nazi torturer of one's
imagination, the monstrous figure against whom one had struggled for so
many years, dwindled to this pitiful wretch, whose obvious need was not
for punishment, but for some kind of psychological treatment.

Later, there were further humiliations. Another S.S. officer, a large
brawny man, was ordered to strip to the waist and show the blood group
number tattooed on his under-arm; another was forced to explain to us how
he had lied about being a member of the S.S. and attempted to pass
himself off as an ordinary soldier of the Wehrmacht. I wondered whether
the Jew was getting any real kick out of this new-found power that he was
exercising. I concluded that he wasn't really enjoying it, and that he
was merely--like a man in a brothel, or a boy smoking his first cigar,
or a tourist traipsing round a picture gallery--TELLING himself that he
was enjoying it, and behaving as he had planned to behave in the days he
was helpless.

It is absurd to blame any German or Austrian Jew for getting his own back
on the Nazis. Heaven knows what scores this particular man may have had
to wipe out; very likely his whole family had been murdered; and after
all, even a wanton kick to a prisoner is a very tiny thing compared with
the outrages committed by the Hitler régime. But what this scene, and
much else that I saw in Germany, brought home to me was that the whole
idea of revenge and punishment is a childish daydream. Properly speaking,
there is no such thing as revenge. Revenge is an act which you want to
commit when you are powerless and because you are powerless: as soon as
the sense of impotence is removed, the desire evaporates also.

Who would not have jumped for joy, in 1940, at the thought of seeing S.S.
officers kicked and humiliated? But when the thing becomes possible, it
is merely pathetic and disgusting. It is said that when Mussolini's
corpse was exhibited in public, an old woman drew a revolver and fired
five shots into it, exclaiming, 'Those are for my five sons!' It is the
kind of story that the newspapers make up, but it might be true. I wonder
how much satisfaction she got out of those five shots, which, doubtless,
she had dreamed years earlier of firing. The condition of her being able
to get close enough to Mussolini to shoot at him was that he should be a
corpse.

In so far as the big public in this country is responsible for the
monstrous peace settlement now being forced on Germany, it is because of
a failure to see in advance that punishing an enemy brings no
satisfaction. We acquiesce in crimes like the expulsion of all Germans
from East Prussia--crimes which in some cases we could not prevent but
might at least have protested against--because the Germans had angered
and frightened us, and therefore we were certain that when they were down
we should feel no pity for them. We persist in these policies, or let
others persist in them on our behalf, because of a vague feeling that,
having set out to punish Germany, we ought to go ahead and do it.
Actually there is little acute hatred of Germany left in this country,
and even less, I should expect to find, in the army of occupation. Only
the minority of sadists, who must have their 'atrocities' from one source
or another, take a keen interest in the hunting-down of war criminals and
quislings. If you asked the average man what crime Goering, Ribbentrop,
and the rest are to be charged with at their trial, he cannot tell you.
Somehow the punishment of these monsters ceases to seem attractive when it
becomes possible: indeed, once under lock and key, they almost cease to
be monsters.

Unfortunately, there is often a need of some concrete incident before one
can discover the real state of one's feelings. Here is another memory
from Germany. A few hours after Stuttgart was captured by the French
army, a Belgian journalist and myself entered the town, which was still
in some disorder. The Belgian had been broadcasting throughout the war
for the European Service of the BBC, and, like nearly all Frenchmen or
Belgians, he had a very much tougher attitude towards 'the Boche' than an
Englishman or an American would have. All the main bridges into town had
been blown up, and we had to enter by a small footbridge which the
Germans had evidently mad efforts to defend. A dead German soldier was
lying supine at the foot of the steps. His face was a waxy yellow. On his
breast someone had laid a bunch of the lilac which was blooming
everywhere.

The Belgian averted his face as we went past. When we were well over the
bridge he confided to me that this was the first time he had seen a dead
man. I suppose he was thirty five years old, and for four years he had
been doing war propaganda over the radio. For several days after this,
his attitude was quite different from what it had been earlier. He looked
with disgust at the bomb-wrecked town and the humiliation the Germans
were undergoing, and even on one occasion intervened to prevent a
particularly bad bit of looting. When he left, he gave the residue of the
coffee we had brought with us to the Germans on whom we were billeted. A
week earlier he would probably have been scandalized at the idea of
giving coffee to a 'Boche'. But his feelings, he told me, had undergone a
change at the sight of ce pauvre mort beside the bridge: it had suddenly
brought home to him the meaning of war. And yet, if we had happened to
enter the town by another route, he might have been spared the experience
of seeing one corpse out of the--perhaps--twenty million that the war
has produced.



THE SPORTING SPIRIT


Now that the brief visit of the Dynamo football team has come to an end,
it is possible to say publicly what many thinking people were saying
privately before the Dynamos ever arrived. That is, that sport is an
unfailing cause of ill-will, and that if such a visit as this had any
effect at all on Anglo-Soviet relations, it could only be to make them
slightly worse than before.

Even the newspapers have been unable to conceal the fact that at least
two of the four matches played led to much bad feeling. At the Arsenal
match, I am told by someone who was there, a British and a Russian player
came to blows and the crowd booed the referee. The Glasgow match, someone
else informs me, was simply a free-for-all from the start. And then there
was the controversy, typical of our nationalistic age, about the
composition of the Arsenal team. Was it really an all-England team, as
claimed by the Russians, or merely a league team, as claimed by the
British? And did the Dynamos end their tour abruptly in order to avoid
playing an all-England team? As usual, everyone answers these questions
according to his political predilections. Not quite everyone, however. I
noted with interest, as an instance of the vicious passions that football
provokes, that the sporting correspondent of the russophile NEWS
CHRONICLE took the anti-Russian line and maintained that Arsenal was NOT
an all-England team. No doubt the controversy will continue to echo for
years in the footnotes of history books. Meanwhile the result of the
Dynamos' tour, in so far as it has had any result, will have been to
create fresh animosity on both sides.

And how could it be otherwise? I am always amazed when I hear people
saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations, and that if only
the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or
cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield. Even
if one didn't know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for
instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred,
one could deduce it from general principles.

Nearly all the sports practised nowadays are competitive. You play to
win, and the game has little meaning unless you do your utmost to win. On
the village green, where you pick up sides and no feeling of local
patriotism is involved, it is possible to play simply for the fun and
exercise: but as soon as the question of prestige arises, as soon as you
feel that you and some larger unit will be disgraced if you lose, the
most savage combative instincts are aroused. Anyone who has played even
in a school football match knows this. At the international level sport
is frankly mimic warfare. But the significant thing is not the behaviour
of the players but the attitude of the spectators: and, behind the
spectators, of the nations who work themselves into furies over these
absurd contests, and seriously believe--at any rate for short
periods--that running, jumping and kicking a ball are tests of national
virtue.

Even a leisurely game like cricket, demanding grace rather than strength,
can cause much ill-will, as we saw in the controversy over body-line
bowling and over the rough tactics of the Australian team that visited
England in 1921. Football, a game in which everyone gets hurt and every
nation has its own style of play which seems unfair to foreigners, is far
worse. Worst of all is boxing. One of the most horrible sights in the
world is a fight between white and coloured boxers before a mixed
audience. But a boxing audience is always disgusting, and the behaviour
of the women, in particular, is such that the army, I believe, does not
allow them to attend its contests. At any rate, two or three years ago,
when Home Guards and regular troops were holding a boxing tournament, I
was placed on guard at the door of the hall, with orders to keep the
women out.

In England, the obsession with sport is bad enough, but even fiercer
passions are aroused in young countries where games playing and
nationalism are both recent developments. In countries like India or
Burma, it is necessary at football matches to have strong cordons of
police to keep the crowd from invading the field. In Burma, I have seen
the supporters of one side break through the police and disable the
goalkeeper of the opposing side at a critical moment. The first big
football match that was played in Spain about fifteen years ago led to an
uncontrollable riot. As soon as strong feelings of rivalry are aroused,
the notion of playing the game according to the rules always vanishes.
People want to see one side on top and the other side humiliated, and
they forget that victory gained through cheating or through the
intervention of the crowd is meaningless. Even when the spectators don't
intervene physically they try to influence the game by cheering their own
side and "rattling" opposing players with boos and insults. Serious sport
has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy,
boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing
violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.

Instead of blah-blahing about the clean, healthy rivalry of the football
field and the great part played by the Olympic Games in bringing the
nations together, it is more useful to inquire how and why this modern
cult of sport arose. Most of the games we now play are of ancient origin,
but sport does not seem to have been taken very seriously between Roman
times and the nineteenth century. Even in the English public schools the
games cult did not start till the later part of the last century. Dr
Arnold, generally regarded as the founder of the modern public school,
looked on games as simply a waste of time. Then, chiefly in England and
the United States, games were built up into a heavily-financed activity,
capable of attracting vast crowds and rousing savage passions, and the
infection spread from country to country. It is the most violently
combative sports, football and boxing, that have spread the widest. There
cannot be much doubt that the whole thing is bound up with the rise of
nationalism--that is, with the lunatic modern habit of identifying
oneself with large power units and seeing everything in terms of
competitive prestige. Also, organised games are more likely to flourish
in urban communities where the average human being lives a sedentary or
at least a confined life, and does not get much opportunity for creative
labour. In a rustic community a boy or young man works off a good deal of
his surplus energy by walking, swimming, snowballing, climbing trees,
riding horses, and by various sports involving cruelty to animals, such
as fishing, cock-fighting and ferreting for rats. In a big town one must
indulge in group activities if one wants an outlet for one's physical
strength or for one's sadistic impulses. Games are taken seriously in
London and New York, and they were taken seriously in Rome and Byzantium:
in the Middle Ages they were played, and probably played with much
physical brutality, but they were not mixed up with politics nor a cause
of group hatreds.

If you wanted to add to the vast fund of ill-will existing in the world
at this moment, you could hardly do it better than by a series of
football matches between Jews and Arabs, Germans and Czechs, Indians and
British, Russians and Poles, and Italians and Jugoslavs, each match to be
watched by a mixed audience of 100,000 spectators. I do not, of course,
suggest that sport is one of the main causes of international rivalry;
big-scale sport is itself, I think, merely another effect of the causes
that have produced nationalism. Still, you do make things worse by
sending forth a team of eleven men, labelled as national champions, to do
battle against some rival team, and allowing it to be felt on all sides
that whichever nation is defeated will "lose face".

I hope, therefore, that we shan't follow up the visit of the Dynamos by
sending a British team to the USSR. If we must do so, then let us
send a second-rate team which is sure to be beaten and cannot be claimed
to represent Britain as a whole. There are quite enough real causes of
trouble already, and we need not add to them by encouraging young men to
kick each other on the shins amid the roars of infuriated spectators.



YOU AND THE ATOMIC BOMB (1945)


Considering how likely we all are to be blown to pieces by it within the
next five years, the atomic bomb has not roused so much discussion as
might have been expected. The newspapers have published numerous
diagrams, not very helpful to the average man, of protons and neutrons
doing their stuff, and there has been much reiteration of the useless
statement that the bomb 'ought to be put under international control.'
But curiously little has been said, at any rate in print, about the
question that is of most urgent interest to all of us, namely: 'How
difficult are these things to manufacture?'

Such information as we--that is, the big public--possess on this
subject has come to us in a rather indirect way, apropos of President
Truman's decision not to hand over certain secrets to the USSR. Some
months ago, when the bomb was still only a rumour, there was a widespread
belief that splitting the atom was merely a problem for the physicists,
and that when they had solved it a new and devastating weapon would be
within reach of almost everybody. (At any moment, so the rumour went,
some lonely lunatic in a laboratory might blow civilisation to
smithereens, as easily as touching off a firework.)

Had that been true, the whole trend of history would have been abruptly
altered. The distinction between great states and small states would have
been wiped out, and the power of the State over the individual would have
been greatly weakened. However, it appears from President Truman's
remarks, and various comments that have been made on them, that the bomb
is fantastically expensive and that its manufacture demands an enormous
industrial effort, such as only three or four countries in the world are
capable of making. This point is of cardinal importance, because it may
mean that the discovery of the atomic bomb, so far from reversing
history, will simply intensify the trends which have been apparent for a
dozen years past.

It is a commonplace that the history of civilisation is largely the
history of weapons. In particular, the connection between the discovery
of gunpowder and the overthrow of feudalism by the bourgeoisie has been
pointed out over and over again. And though I have no doubt exceptions
can be brought forward, I think the following rule would be found
generally true: that ages in which the dominant weapon is expensive or
difficult to make will tend to be ages of despotism, whereas when the
dominant weapon is cheap and simple, the common people have a chance.
Thus, for example, thanks, battleships and bombing planes are inherently
tyrannical weapons, while rifles, muskets, long-bows and hand-grenades
are inherently democratic weapons. A complex weapon makes the strong
stronger, while a simple weapon--so long as there is no answer to
it--gives claws to the weak.

The great age of democracy and of national self-determination was the age
of the musket and the rifle. After the invention of the flintlock, and
before the invention of the percussion cap, the musket was a fairly
efficient weapon, and at the same time so simple that it could be
produced almost anywhere. Its combination of qualities made possible the
success of the American and French revolutions, and made a popular
insurrection a more serious business than it could be in our own day.
After the musket came the breech-loading rifle. This was a comparatively
complex thing, but it could still be produced in scores of countries,
and it was cheap, easily smuggled and economical of ammunition. Even the
most backward nation could always get hold of rifles from one source or
another, so that Boers, Bulgars, Abyssinians, Moroccans--even
Tibetans--could put up a fight for their independence, sometimes with
success. But thereafter every development in military technique has
favoured the State as against the individual, and the industrialised
country as against the backward one. There are fewer and fewer foci of
power. Already, in 1939, there were only five states capable of waging
war on the grand scale, and now there are only three--ultimately,
perhaps, only two. This trend has been obvious for years, and was
pointed out by a few observers even before 1914. The one thing that
might reverse it is the discovery of a weapon--or, to put it more
broadly, of a method of fighting--not dependent on huge concentrations
of industrial plant.

From various symptoms one can infer that the Russians do not yet possess
the secret of making the atomic bomb; on the other hand, the consensus of
opinion seems to be that they will possess it within a few years. So we
have before us the prospect of two or three monstrous super-states, each
possessed of a weapon by which millions of people can be wiped out in a
few seconds, dividing the world between them. It has been rather hastily
assumed that this means bigger and bloodier wars, and perhaps an actual
end to the machine civilisation. But suppose--and really this the
likeliest development--that the surviving great nations make a tacit
agreement never to use the atomic bomb against one another? Suppose they
only use it, or the threat of it, against people who are unable to
retaliate? In that case we are back where we were before, the only
difference being that power is concentrated in still fewer hands and that
the outlook for subject peoples and oppressed classes is still more
hopeless.

When James Burnham wrote THE MANAGERIAL REVOLUTION it seemed probable to
many Americans that the Germans would win the European end of the war,
and it was therefore natural to assume that Germany and not Russia would
dominate the Eurasian land mass, while Japan would remain master of East
Asia. This was a miscalculation, but it does not affect the main
argument. For Burnham's geographical picture of the new world has turned
out to be correct. More and more obviously the surface of the earth is
being parceled off into three great empires, each self-contained and cut
off from contact with the outer world, and each ruled, under one disguise
or another, by a self-elected oligarchy. The haggling as to where the
frontiers are to be drawn is still going on, and will continue for some
years, and the third of the three super-states--East Asia, dominated by
China--is still potential rather than actual. But the general drift is
unmistakable, and every scientific discovery of recent years has
accelerated it.

We were once told that the aeroplane had 'abolished frontiers'; actually
it is only since the aeroplane became a serious weapon that frontiers
have become definitely impassable. The radio was once expected to promote
international understanding and co-operation; it has turned out to be a
means of insulating one nation from another. The atomic bomb may complete
the process by robbing the exploited classes and peoples of all power to
revolt, and at the same time putting the possessors of the bomb on a
basis of military equality. Unable to conquer one another, they are
likely to continue ruling the world between them, and it is difficult to
see how the balance can be upset except by slow and unpredictable
demographic changes.

For forty or fifty years past, Mr. H. G. Wells and others have been
warning us that man is in danger of destroying himself with his own
weapons, leaving the ants or some other gregarious species to take over.
Anyone who has seen the ruined cities of Germany will find this notion at
least thinkable. Nevertheless, looking at the world as a whole, the drift
for many decades has been not towards anarchy but towards the
reimposition of slavery. We may be heading not for general breakdown but
for an epoch as horribly stable as the slave empires of antiquity. James
Burnham's theory has been much discussed, but few people have yet
considered its ideological implications--that is, the kind of
world-view, the kind of beliefs, and the social structure that would
probably prevail in a state which was at once UNCONQUERABLE and in a
permanent state of 'cold war' with its neighbors.

Had the atomic bomb turned out to be something as cheap and easily
manufactured as a bicycle or an alarm clock, it might well have plunged
us back into barbarism, but it might, on the other hand, have meant the
end of national sovereignty and of the highly-centralised police state.
If, as seems to be the case, it is a rare and costly object as difficult
to produce as a battleship, it is likelier to put an end to large-scale
wars at the cost of prolonging indefinitely a 'peace that is no peace'.



A GOOD WORD FOR THE VICAR OF BRAY


Some years ago a friend took me to the little Berkshire church of which
the celebrated Vicar of Bray was once the incumbent. (Actually it is a
few miles from Bray, but perhaps at that time the two livings were one.)
In the churchyard there stands a magnificent yew tree which, according to
a notice at its foot, was planted by no less a person than the Vicar of
Bray himself. And it struck me at the time as curious that such a man
should have left such a relic behind him.

The Vicar of Bray, though he was well equipped to be a leader-writer on
THE TIMES, could hardly be described as an admirable character. Yet,
after this lapse of time, all that is left of him is a comic song and a
beautiful tree, which has rested the eyes of generation after generation
and must surely have outweighed any bad effects which he produced by his
political quislingism.

Thibaw, the last King of Burma, was also far from being a good man. He
was a drunkard, he had five hundred wives--he seems to have kept them
chiefly for show, however--and when he came to the throne his first act
was to decapitate seventy or eighty of his brothers. Yet he did posterity
a good turn by planting the dusty streets of Mandalay with tamarind trees
which cast a pleasant shade until the Japanese incendiary bombs burned
them down in 1942.

The poet, James Shirley, seems to have generalised too freely when he
said that "Only the actions of the just Smell sweet and blossom in their
dust". Sometimes the actions of the unjust make quite a good showing
after the appropriate lapse of time. When I saw the Vicar of Bray's yew
tree it reminded me of something, and afterwards I got hold of a book of
selections from the writings of John Aubrey and reread a pastoral poem
which must have been written some time in the first half of the
seventeenth century, and which was inspired by a certain Mrs Overall.

Mrs Overall was the wife of a Dean and was extensively unfaithful to him.
According to Aubrey she "could scarcely denie any one", and she had "the
loveliest Eies that were ever seen, but wondrous wanton". The poem (the
"shepherd swaine" seems to have been somebody called Sir John Selby)
starts off:

Downe lay the Shepherd Swaine
So sober and demure
Wishing for his wench againe
So bonny and so pure
With his head on hillock lowe
And his arms akimboe
And all was for the losse of his
Hye nonny nonny noe...
Sweet she was, as kind a love
As ever fetter'd Swaine;
Never such a daynty one
Shall man enjoy again.
Sett a thousand on a rowe
I forbid that any showe
Ever the like of her
Hye nonny nonny noe.

As the poem proceeds through another six verses, the refrain "Hye nonny
nonny noe" takes on an unmistakably obscene meaning, but it ends with the
exquisite stanza:

But gone she is the prettiest lasse
That ever trod on plaine.
What ever hath betide of her
Blame not the Shepherd Swaine.
For why? She was her owne Foe,
And gave herself the overthrowe
By being so franke of her
Hye nonny nonny noe.

Mrs Overall was no more an exemplary character than the Vicar of Bray,
though a more attractive one. Yet in the end all that remains of her is a
poem which still gives pleasure to many people, though for some reason it
never gets into the anthologies. The suffering which she presumably
caused, and the misery and futility in which her own life must have
ended, have been transformed into a sort of lingering fragrance like the
smell of tobacco-plants on a summer evening.

But to come back to trees. The planting of a tree, especially one of the
long-living hardwood trees, is a gift which you can make to posterity at
almost no cost and with almost no trouble, and if the tree takes root it
will far outlive the visible effect of any of your other actions, good or
evil. A year or two ago I wrote a few paragraphs in TRIBUNE about some
sixpenny rambler roses from Woolworth's which I had planted before the
war. This brought me an indignant letter from a reader who said that
roses are bourgeois, but I still think that my sixpence was better spent
than if it had gone on cigarettes or even on one of the excellent Fabian
Research Pamphlets.

Recently, I spent a day at the cottage where I used to live, and noted
with a pleased surprise--to be exact, it was a feeling of having done good
unconsciously--the progress of the things I had planted nearly ten years
ago. I think it is worth recording what some of them cost, just to show
what you can do with a few shillings if you invest them in something that
grows.

First of all there were the two ramblers from Woolworth's, and three
polyantha roses, all at sixpence each. Then there were two bush roses
which were part of a job lot from a nursery garden. This job lot
consisted of six fruit trees, three rose bushes and two gooseberry
bushes, all for ten shillings. One of the fruit trees and one of the rose
bushes died, but the rest are all flourishing. The sum total is five
fruit trees, seven roses and two gooseberry bushes, all for twelve and
sixpence. These plants have not entailed much work, and have had nothing
spent on them beyond the original amount. They never even received any
manure, except what I occasionally collected in a bucket when one of the
farm horses happened to have halted outside the gate.

Between them, in nine years, those seven rose bushes will have given what
would add up to a hundred or a hundred and fifty months of bloom. The
fruit trees, which were mere saplings when I put them in, are now just
about getting in their stride. Last week one them, a plum, was a mass of
blossom, and the apples looked as if they were going to do fairly well.
What had originally been the weakling of the family, a Cox's Orange
Pippin--it would hardly have been included in the job lot if it had been a
good plant--had grown into a sturdy tree with plenty of fruit spurs on it.
I maintain that it was a public-spirited action to plant that Cox, for
these trees do not fruit quickly and I did not expect to stay there long.
I never had an apple off it myself, but it looks as if someone else will
have quite a lot. By their fruits ye shall know them, and the Cox's
Orange Pippin is a good fruit to be known by. Yet I did not plant it with
the conscious intention of doing anybody a good turn. I just saw the job
lot going cheap and stuck the things into the ground without much
preparation.

A thing which I regret, and which I will try to remedy some time, is that
I have never in my life planted a walnut. Nobody does plant them
nowadays--when you see a walnut it is almost invariably an old tree. If
you plant a walnut you are planting it for your grandchildren, and who
cares a damn for his grandchildren? Nor does anybody plant a quince, a
mulberry or a medlar. But these are garden trees which you can only be
expected to plant if you have a patch of ground of your own. On the other
hand, in any hedge or in any piece of waste ground you happen to be
walking through, you can do something to remedy the appalling massacre of
trees, especially oaks, ashes, elms and beeches, which has happened
during the war years.

Even an apple tree is liable to live for about 100 years, so that the Cox
I planted in 1936 may still be bearing fruit well into the twenty-first
century. An oak or a beech may live for hundreds of years and be a
pleasure to thousands or tens of thousands of people before it is finally
sawn up into timber. I am not suggesting that one can discharge all one's
obligations towards society by means of a private re-afforestation
scheme. Still, it might not be a bad idea, every time you commit an
antisocial act, to make a note of it in your diary, and then, at the
appropriate season, push an acorn into the ground.

And, if even one in twenty of them came to maturity, you might do quite a
lot of harm in your lifetime, and still, like the Vicar of Bray, end up
as a public benefactor after all.



A NICE CUP OF TEA (1946)


If you look up 'tea' in the first cookery book that comes to hand you
will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few
lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most
important points.

This is curious, not only because tea is one of the main stays
of civilization in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New
Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject
of violent disputes.

When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no
fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would
be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely
controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard
as golden:

First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has
virtues which are not to be despised nowadays--it is economical, and one
can drink it without milk--but there is not much stimulation in it. One
does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone
who has used that comforting phrase 'a nice cup of tea' invariably means
Indian tea. Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities--that is,
in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made
in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of
china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea
and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a
rarity nowadays) is not so bad. Thirdly, the pot should be warmed
beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the
usual method of swilling it out with hot water. Fourthly, the tea should
be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly
to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of
rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the
week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak
ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a
little stronger with each year that passes--a fact which is recognized in
the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners. Fifthly, the tea should be
put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to
imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little
dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are
supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in
considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose
in the pot it never infuses properly. Sixthly, one should take the teapot
to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually
boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on
the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water
that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that
it makes any difference. Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir
it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves
to settle. Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup--that
is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The
breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one's tea is always half
cold--before one has well started on it. Ninthly, one should pour the
cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always
gives tea a sickly taste. Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first.
This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family
in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The
milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I
maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting
the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the
amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does
it the other way round.

Lastly, tea--unless one is drinking it in the Russian style--should be
drunk WITHOUT SUGAR. I know very well that I am in a minority here.
But still, how can you call yourself a true tea-lover if you destroy
the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally
reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter,
just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer
tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very
similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.

Some people would answer that they don't like tea in itself, that they
only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar
to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try
drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely
that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.

These are not the only controversial points to arise in connexion with
tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilized the whole
business has become. There is also the mysterious social etiquette
surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your
saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary
uses of tea leaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of
visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet. It is
worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water
that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one's
ration the twenty good, strong cups of that two ounces, properly handled,
ought to represent.



BOOKS VS. CIGARETTES


A couple of years ago a friend of mine, a newspaper editor, was
fire watching with some factory workers. They fell to talking about his
newspaper, which most of them read and approved of, but when he asked
them what they thought of the literary section, the answer he got was:
"You don't suppose we read that stuff, do you? Why, half the time you're
talking about books that cost twelve and sixpence! Chaps like us couldn't
spend twelve and sixpence on a book." These, he said, were men who thought
nothing of spending several pounds on a day trip to Blackpool.

This idea that the buying, or even the reading, of books is an expensive
hobby and beyond the reach of the average person is so widespread that
it deserves some detailed examination. Exactly what reading costs,
reckoned in terms of pence per hour, is difficult to estimate, but I have
made a start by inventorying my own books and adding up their total price.
After allowing for various other expenses, I can make a fairly good guess
at my expenditure over the last fifteen years.

The books that I have counted and priced are the ones I have here,
in my flat. I have about an equal number stored in another place, so that
I shall double the final figure in order to arrive at the complete amount.
I have not counted oddments such as proof copies, defaced volumes, cheap
paper-covered editions, pamphlets, or magazines, unless bound up into
book form. Nor have I counted the kind of junky books-old school
text-books and so forth--that accumulate in the bottoms of cupboards.
I have counted only those books which I have acquired voluntarily,
or else would have acquired voluntarily, and which I intend to keep.
In this category I find that I have 442 books, acquired in the
following ways:

Bought (mostly second-hand)            251
Given to me or bought with book tokens  33
Review copies and complimentary copies 143
Borrowed and not returned               10
Temporarily on loan                      5
Total                                  442

Now as to the method of pricing. Those books that I have bought I have
listed at their full price, as closely as I can determine it.
I have also listed at their full price the books that have been given
to me, and those that I have temporarily borrowed, or borrowed and kept.
This is because book-giving, book-borrowing and book stealing more or
less even out. I possess books that do not strictly speaking belong
to me, but many other people also have books of mine: so that the books
I have not paid for can be taken as balancing others which I have paid
for but no longer possess. On the other hand I have listed the review and
complimentary copies at half-price. That is about what I would have paid
for them second-hand, and they are mostly books that I would only have
bought second-hand, if at all. For the prices I have sometimes had to
rely on guesswork, but my figures will not be far out. The costs were
as follows:

                           £   s.   d.
Bought                    36    9    0
Gifts                     10   10    0
Review copies, etc        25   11    9
Borrowed and not returned  4   16    9
On loan                    3   10    0
Shelves                    2    0    0
Total                     82   17    6

Adding the other batch of books that I have elsewhere, it seems that I
possess altogether nearly 900 books, at a cost of £165 15s. This is the
accumulation of about fifteen years--actually more, since some of these
books date from my childhood: but call it fifteen years. This works out
at £11 1s. a year, but there are other charges that must be added in
order to estimate my full reading expenses. The biggest will be for
newspapers and periodicals, and for this I think £8 a year would be
a reasonable figure. Eight pounds a year covers the cost of two daily
papers, one evening paper, two Sunday papers, one weekly review and
one or two monthly magazines. This brings the figure up to £19 1s., but
to arrive at the grand total one has to make a guess. Obviously one often
spends money on books without afterwards having anything to show for it.
There are library subscriptions, and there are also the books, chiefly
Penguins and other cheap editions, which one buys and then loses or
throws away. However, on the basis of my other figures, it looks as
though £6 a year would be quite enough to add for expenditure of this
kind. So my total reading expenses over the past fifteen years have been
in the neighbourhood of £25 a year.

Twenty-five pounds a year sounds quite a lot until you begin to measure
it against other kinds of expenditure. It is nearly 9s. 9d. a week, and
at present 9s. 9d. is the equivalent of about 83 cigarettes (Players):
even before the war it would have bought you less than 200 cigarettes.
With prices as they now are, I am spending far more on tobacco than I do
on books. I smoke six ounces a week, at half-a-crown an ounce, making
nearly £40 a year. Even before the war when the same tobacco cost 8d. an
ounce, I was spending over £10 a year on it: and if I also averaged a
pint of beer a day, at sixpence, these two items together will have cost
me close on £20 a year. This was probably not much above the national
average. In 1938 the people of this country spent nearly £10 per head per
annum on alcohol and tobacco: however, 20 per cent of the population were
children under fifteen and another 40 per cent were women, so that the
average smoker and drinker must have been spending much more than
£10. In 1944, the annual expenditure per head on these items was no less
than £23. Allow for the women and children as before, and £40 is a
reasonable individual figure. Forty pounds a year would just about pay
for a packet of Woodbines every day and half a pint of mild six days
a week--not a magnificent allowance. Of course, all prices are now
inflated, including the price of books: still, it looks as though the
cost of reading, even if you buy books instead of borrowing them and
take in a fairly large number of periodicals, does not amount to more
than the combined cost of smoking and drinking.

It is difficult to establish any relationship between the price of books
and the value one gets out of them. "Books" includes novels, poetry, text
books, works of reference, sociological treatises and much else, and
length and price do not correspond to one another, especially if one
habitually buys books second-hand. You may spend ten shillings on a
poem of 500 lines, and you may spend sixpence on a dictionary which
you consult at odd moments over a period of twenty years. There are
books that one reads over and over again, books that become part of
the furniture of one's mind and alter one's whole attitude to life,
books that one dips into but never reads through, books that one reads
at a single sitting and forgets a week later: and the cost, in terms
of money, may be the same in each case. But if one regards reading
simply as a recreation, like going to the pictures, then it is possible
to make a rough estimate of what it costs. If you read nothing but novels
and "light" literature, and bought every book that you read, you would
be spending-allowing eight shillings as the price of a book, and four
hours as the time spent in reading it-two shillings an hour. This is
about what it costs to sit in one of the more expensive seats in the
cinema. If you concentrated on more serious books, and still bought
everything that you read, your expenses would be about the same.
The books would cost more but they would take longer to read. In either
case you would still possess the books after you had read them, and
they would be saleable at about a third of their purchase price. If
you bought only second-hand books, your reading expenses would, of
course, be much less: perhaps sixpence an hour would be a fair estimate.
And on the other hand if you don't buy books, but merely borrow them
from the lending library, reading costs you round about a halfpenny an
hour: if you borrow them from the public library, it costs you next door
to nothing.

I have said enough to show that reading is one of the cheaper recreations:
after listening to the radio probably THE cheapest. Meanwhile, what is
the actual amount that the British public spends on books? I cannot
discover any figures, though no doubt they exist. But I do know that
before the war this country was publishing annually about 15,000 books,
which included reprints and school books. If as many as 10,000 copies
of each book were sold--and even allowing for the school books, this
is probably a high estimate-the average person was only buying, directly
or indirectly, about three books a year. These three books taken together
might cost £1, or probably less.

These figures are guesswork, and I should be interested if someone
would correct them for me. But if my estimate is anywhere near right,
it is not a proud record for a country which is nearly 100 per cent
literate and where the ordinary man spends more on cigarettes than an
Indian peasant has for his whole livelihood. And if our book consumption
remains as low as it has been, at least let us admit that it is because
reading is a less exciting pastime than going to the dogs, the pictures
or the pub, and not because books, whether bought or borrowed, are too
expensive.



CONFESSIONS OF A BOOK REVIEWER


In a cold but stuffy bed-sitting room littered with cigarette ends and
half-empty cups of tea, a man in a moth-eaten dressing-gown sits at a
rickety table, trying to find room for his typewriter among the piles of
dusty papers that surround it. He cannot throw the papers away because
the wastepaper basket is already overflowing, and besides, somewhere
among the unanswered letters and unpaid bills it is possible that there
is a cheque for two guineas which he is nearly certain he forgot to pay
into the bank. There are also letters with addresses which ought to be
entered in his address book. He has lost his address book, and the
thought of looking for it, or indeed of looking for anything, afflicts
him with acute suicidal impulses.

He is a man of 35, but looks 50. He is bald, has varicose veins and wears
spectacles, or would wear them if his only pair were not chronically
lost. If things are normal with him he will be suffering from
malnutrition, but if he has recently had a lucky streak he will be
suffering from a hangover. At present it is half-past eleven in the
morning, and according to his schedule he should have started work two
hours ago; but even if he had made any serious effort to start he would
have been frustrated by the almost continuous ringing of the telephone
bell, the yells of the baby, the rattle of an electric drill out in the
street, and the heavy boots of his creditors clumping up and down the
stairs. The most recent interruption was the arrival of the second post,
which brought him two circulars and an income tax demand printed in red.

Needless to say this person is a writer. He might be a poet, a novelist,
or a writer of film scripts or radio features, for all literary people
are very much alike, but let us say that he is a book reviewer. Half
hidden among the pile of papers is a bulky parcel containing five volumes
which his editor has sent with a note suggesting that they "ought to go
well together". They arrived four days ago, but for 48 hours the reviewer
was prevented by moral paralysis from opening the parcel. Yesterday in a
resolute moment he ripped the string off it and found the five volumes to
be PALESTINE AT THE CROSS ROADS, SCIENTIFIC DAIRY FARMING, A SHORT
HISTORY OF EUROPEAN DEMOCRACY (this one is 680 pages and weighs four
pounds), TRIBAL CUSTOMS IN PORTUGUESE EAST AFRICA, and a novel, IT'S
NICER LYING DOWN, probably included by mistake. His review--800 words,
say--has got to be "in" by midday tomorrow.

Three of these books deal with subjects of which he is so ignorant that
he will have to read at least 50 pages if he is to avoid making some
howler which will betray him not merely to the author (who of course
knows all about the habits of book reviewers), but even to the general
reader. By four in the afternoon he will have taken the books out of
their wrapping paper but will still be suffering from a nervous inability
to open them. The prospect of having to read them, and even the smell of
the paper, affects him like the prospect of eating cold ground-rice
pudding flavoured with castor oil. And yet curiously enough his copy will
get to the office in time. Somehow it always does get there in time. At
about nine p.m. his mind will grow relatively clear, and until the small
hours he will sit in a room which grows colder and colder, while the
cigarette smoke grows thicker and thicker, skipping expertly through one
book after another and laying each down with the final comment, "God,
what tripe!" In the morning, blear-eyed, surly and unshaven, he will gaze
for an hour or two at a blank sheet of paper until the menacing finger of
the clock frightens him into action. Then suddenly he will snap into it.
All the stale old phrases--"a book that no one should miss", "something
memorable on every page", "of special value are the chapters dealing
with, etc etc"--will jump into their places like iron filings obeying the
magnet, and the review will end up at exactly the right length and with
just about three minutes to go. Meanwhile another wad of ill-assorted,
unappetising books will have arrived by post. So it goes on. And yet with
what high hopes this down-trodden, nerve-racked creature started his
career, only a few years ago.

Do I seem to exaggerate? I ask any regular reviewer--anyone who reviews,
say, a minimum of 100 books a year--whether he can deny in honesty that
his habits and character are such as I have described. Every writer, in
any case, is rather that kind of person, but the prolonged,
indiscriminate reviewing of books is a quite exceptionally thankless,
irritating and exhausting job. It not only involves praising trash--though
it does involve that, as I will show in a moment--but constantly INVENTING
reactions towards books about which one has no spontaneous feelings
whatever. The reviewer, jaded though he may be, is professionally
interested in books, and out of the thousands that appear annually, there
are probably fifty or a hundred that he would enjoy writing about. If he
is a top-notcher in his profession he may get hold of ten or twenty of
them: more probably he gets hold of two or three. The rest of his work,
however conscientious he may be in praising or damning, is in essence
humbug. He is pouring his immortal spirit down the drain, half a pint at
a time.

The great majority of reviews give an inadequate or misleading account of
the book that is dealt with. Since the war publishers have been less able
than before to twist the tails of literary editors and evoke a paean of
praise for every book that they produce, but on the other hand the
standard of reviewing has gone down owing to lack of space and other
inconveniences. Seeing the results, people sometimes suggest that the
solution lies in getting book reviewing out of the hands of hacks. Books
on specialised subjects ought to be dealt with by experts, and on the
other hand a good deal of reviewing, especially of novels, might well be
done by amateurs. Nearly every book is capable of arousing passionate
feeling, if it is only a passionate dislike, in some or other reader,
whose ideas about it would surely be worth more than those of a bored
professional. But, unfortunately, as every editor knows, that kind of
thing is very difficult to organise. In practice the editor always finds
himself reverting to his team of hacks--his "regulars", as he calls them.

None of this is remediable so long as it is taken for granted that every
book deserves to be reviewed. It is almost impossible to mention books in
bulk without grossly overpraising the great majority of them. Until one
has some kind of professional relationship with books one does not
discover how bad the majority of them are. In much more than nine cases
out of ten the only objectively truthful criticism would be "This book is
worthless", while the truth about the reviewer's own reaction would
probably be "This book does not interest me in any way, and I would not
write about it unless I were paid to." But the public will not pay to
read that kind of thing. Why should they? They want some kind of guide to
the books they are asked to read, and they want some kind of evaluation.
But as soon as values are mentioned, standards collapse. For if one
says--and nearly every reviewer says this kind of thing at least once a
week--that KING LEAR is a good play and THE FOUR JUST MEN is a good
thriller, what meaning is there in the word "good"?

The best practice, it has always seemed to me, would be simply to ignore
the great majority of books and to give very long reviews--1,000 words is
a bare minimum--to the few that seem to matter. Short notes of a line or
two on forthcoming books can be useful, but the usual middle-length review
of about 600 words is bound to be worthless even if the reviewer genuinely
wants to write it. Normally he doesn't want to write it, and the week-in,
week-out production of snippets soon reduces him to the crushed figure in
a dressing-gown whom I described at the beginning of this article.
However, everyone in this world has someone else whom he can look down
on, and I must say, from experience of both trades, that the book
reviewer is better off than the film critic, who cannot even do his work
at home, but has to attend trade shows at eleven in the morning and, with
one or two notable exceptions, is expected to sell his honour for a glass
of inferior sherry.



DECLINE OF THE ENGLISH MURDER


It is Sunday afternoon, preferably before the war. The wife is already
asleep in the armchair, and the children have been sent out for a nice
long walk. You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on
your nose, and open the NEWS OF THE WORLD. Roast beef and Yorkshire, or
roast pork and apple sauce, followed up by suet pudding and driven home,
as it were, by a cup of mahogany-brown tea, have put you in just the
right mood. Your pipe is drawing sweetly, the sofa cushions are soft
underneath you, the fire is well alight, the air is warm and stagnant. In
these blissful circumstances, what is it that you want to read about?

Naturally, about a murder. But what kind of murder? If one examines the
murders which have given the greatest amount of pleasure to the British
public, the murders whose story is known in its general outline to almost
everyone and which have been made into novels and re-hashed over and over
again by the Sunday papers, one finds a fairly strong family resemblance
running through the greater number of them. Our great period in murder,
our Elizabethan period, so to speak, seems to have been between roughly
1850 and 1925, and the murderers whose reputation has stood the test of
time are the following: Dr. Palmer of Rugely, Jack the Ripper, Neill
Cream, Mrs. Maybrick, Dr. Crippen, Seddon, Joseph Smith, Armstrong, and
Bywaters and Thompson. In addition, in 1919 or thereabouts, there was
another very celebrated case which fits into the general pattern but
which I had better not mention by name, because the accused man was
acquitted.

Of the above-mentioned nine cases, at least four have had successful
novels based on them, one has been made into a popular melodrama, and the
amount of literature surrounding them, in the form of newspaper
write-ups, criminological treatises and reminiscences by lawyers and
police officers, would make a considerable library. It is difficult to
believe that any recent English crime will be remembered so long and so
intimately, and not only because the violence of external events has made
murder seem unimportant, but because the prevalent type of crime seems to
be changing. The principal CAUSE CÉLÈBRE of the war years was the
so-called Cleft Chin Murder, which has now been written up in a popular
booklet; the verbatim account of the trial was published
some time last year by Messrs. Jarrolds with an introduction by
Mr. Bechhofer Roberts. Before returning to this pitiful and sordid case,
which is only interesting from a sociological and perhaps a legal point of
view, let me try to define what it is that the readers of Sunday papers
mean when they say fretfully that "you never seem to get a good murder
nowadays".

In considering the nine murders I named above, one can start by excluding
the Jack the Ripper case, which is in a class by itself. Of the other
eight, six were poisoning cases, and eight of the ten criminals belonged
to the middle class. In one way or another, sex was a powerful motive in
all but two cases, and in at least four cases respectability--the desire
to gain a secure position in life, or not to forfeit one's social
position by some scandal such as a divorce--was one of the main reasons
for committing murder. In more than half the cases, the object was to get
hold of a certain known sum of money such as a legacy or an insurance
policy, but the amount involved was nearly always small. In most of the
cases the crime only came to light slowly, as the result of careful
investigations which started off with the suspicions of neighbours or
relatives; and in nearly every case there was some dramatic coincidence,
in which the finger of Providence could be clearly seen, or one of those
episodes that no novelist would dare to make up, such as Crippen's flight
across the Atlantic with his mistress dressed as a boy, or Joseph Smith
playing "Nearer, my God, to Thee" on the harmonium while one of his wives
was drowning in the next room. The background of all these crimes, except
Neill Cream's, was essentially domestic; of twelve victims, seven were
either wife or husband of the murderer.

With all this in mind one can construct what would be, from a NEWS OF
THE WORLD reader's point of view, the "perfect" murder. The murderer
should be a little man of the professional class--a dentist or a
solicitor, say--living an intensely respectable life somewhere in the
suburbs, and preferably in a semi-detached house, which will allow the
neighbours to hear suspicious sounds through the wall. He should be
either chairman of the local Conservative Party branch, or a leading
Nonconformist and strong Temperance advocate. He should go astray
through cherishing a guilty passion for his secretary or the wife of a
rival professional man, and should only bring himself to the point of
murder after long and terrible wrestles with his conscience. Having
decided on murder, he should plan it all with the utmost cunning, and
only slip up over some tiny unforeseeable detail. The means chosen
should, of course, be poison. In the last analysis he should commit
murder because this seems to him less disgraceful, and less damaging to
his career, than being detected in adultery. With this kind of
background, a crime can have dramatic and even tragic qualities which
make it memorable and excite pity for both victim and murderer. Most of
the crimes mentioned above have a touch of this atmosphere, and in three
cases, including the one I referred to but did not name, the story
approximates to the one I have outlined.

Now compare the Cleft Chin Murder. There is no depth of feeling in it. It
was almost chance that the two people concerned committed that particular
murder, and it was only by good luck that they did not commit several
others. The background was not domesticity, but the anonymous life of the
dance-halls and the false values of the American film. The two culprits
were an eighteen-year-old ex-waitress named Elizabeth Jones, and an
American army deserter, posing as an officer, named Karl Hulten. They
were only together for six days, and it seems doubtful whether, until
they were arrested, they even learned one another's true names. They met
casually in a teashop, and that night went out for a ride in a stolen
army truck. Jones described herself as a strip-tease artist, which was
not strictly true (she had given one unsuccessful performance in this
line); and declared that she wanted to do something dangerous, "like
being a gun-moll." Hulten described himself as a big-time Chicago
gangster, which was also untrue. They met a girl bicycling along the
road, and to show how tough he was Hulten ran over her with his truck,
after which the pair robbed her of the few shillings that were on her. On
another occasion they knocked out a girl to whom they had offered a lift,
took her coat and handbag and threw her into a river. Finally, in the
most wanton way, they murdered a taxi-driver who happened to have £8 in
his pocket. Soon afterwards they parted. Hulten was caught because he had
foolishly kept the dead man's car, and Jones made spontaneous confessions
to the police. In court each prisoner incriminated the other. In between
crimes, both of them seem to have behaved with the utmost callousness:
they spent the dead taxi-driver's £8 at the dog races.

Judging from her letters, the girl's case has a certain amount of
psychological interest, but this murder probably captured the headlines
because it provided distraction amid the doodle-bugs and the anxieties of
the Battle of France. Jones and Hulten committed their murder to the tune
of V1, and were convicted to the tune of V2. There was also considerable
excitement because--as has become usual in England--the man was
sentenced to death and the girl to imprisonment. According to Mr.
Raymond, the reprieving of Jones caused widespread indignation and
streams of telegrams to the Home Secretary: in her native town, "SHE
SHOULD HANG" was chalked on the walls beside pictures of a figure
dangling from a gallows. Considering that only ten women have been hanged
in Britain this century, and that the practice has gone out largely
because of popular feeling against it, it is difficult not to feel that
this clamour to hang an eighteen-year-old girl was due partly to the
brutalizing effects of war. Indeed, the whole meaningless story, with its
atmosphere of dance-halls, movie-palaces, cheap perfume, false names and
stolen cars, belongs essentially to a war period.

Perhaps it is significant that the most talked-of English murder of
recent years should have been committed by an American and an English
girl who had become partly Americanized. But it is difficult to believe
that this case will be so long remembered as the old domestic poisoning
dramas, product of a stable society where the all-prevailing hypocrisy
did at least ensure that crimes as serious as murder should have strong
emotions behind them.



HOW THE POOR DIE


In the year 1929 I spent several weeks in the Hôpital X, in the fifteenth
ARRONDISSEMENT of Paris. The clerks put me through the usual third-degree
at the reception desk, and indeed I was kept answering questions for some
twenty minutes before they would let me in. If you have ever had to fill
up forms in a Latin country you will know the kind of questions I mean.
For some days past I had been unequal to translating Reaumur into
Fahrenheit, but I know that my temperature was round about 103, and by
the end of the interview I had some difficulty in standing on my feet. At
my back a resigned little knot of patients, carrying bundles done up in
coloured handkerchiefs, waited their turn to be questioned.

After the questioning came the bath--a compulsory routine for all
newcomers, apparently, just as in prison or the workhouse. My clothes
were taken away from me, and after I had sat shivering for some minutes
in five inches of warm water I was given a linen nightshirt and a short
blue flannel dressing-gown--no slippers, they had none big enough for
me, they said--and led out into the open air. This was a night in
February and I was suffering from pneumonia. The ward we were going to
was 200 yards away and it seemed that to get to it you had to cross the
hospital grounds. Someone stumbled in front of me with a lantern. The
gravel path was frosty underfoot, and the wind whipped the nightshirt
round my bare calves. When we got into the ward I was aware of a strange
feeling of familiarity whose origin I did not succeed in pinning down
till later in the night. It was a long, rather low, ill-lit room, full of
murmuring voices and with three rows of beds surprisingly close together.
There was a foul smell, faecal and yet sweetish. As I lay down I saw on a
bed nearly opposite me a small, round-shouldered, sandy-haired man
sitting half naked while a doctor and a student performed some strange
operation on him. First the doctor produced from his black bag a dozen
small glasses like wine glasses, then the student burned a match inside
each glass to exhaust the air, then the glass was popped on to the man's
back or chest and the vacuum drew up a huge yellow blister. Only after
some moments did I realize what they were doing to him. It was something
called cupping, a treatment which you can read about in old medical
text-books but which till then I had vaguely thought of as one of those
things they do to horses.

The cold air outside had probably lowered my temperature, and I watched
this barbarous remedy with detachment and even a certain amount of
amusement. The next moment, however, the doctor and the student came
across to my bed, hoisted me upright and without a word began applying
the same set of glasses, which had not been sterilized in any way. A few
feeble protests that I uttered got no more response than if I had been an
animal. I was very much impressed by the impersonal way in which the two
men started on me. I had never been in the public ward of a hospital
before, and it was my first experience of doctors who handle you without
speaking to you or, in a human sense, taking any notice of you. They only
put on six glasses in my case, but after doing so they scarified the
blisters and applied the glasses again. Each glass now drew about a
dessert-spoonful of dark-coloured blood. As I lay down again, humiliated,
disgusted and frightened by the thing that had been done to me, I
reflected that now at least they would leave me alone. But no, not a bit
of it. There was another treatment coming, the mustard poultice,
seemingly a matter of routine like the hot bath. Two slatternly nurses
had already got the poultice ready, and they lashed it round my chest as
tight as a strait-jacket while some men who were wandering about the ward
in shirt and trousers began to collect round my bed with half-sympathetic
grins. I learned later that watching a patient have a mustard poultice
was a favourite pastime in the ward. These things are normally applied
for a quarter of an hour and certainly they are funny enough if you don't
happen to be the person inside. For the first five minutes the pain is
severe, but you believe you can bear it. During the second five minutes
this belief evaporates, but the poultice is buckled at the back and you
can't get it off. This is the period the onlookers enjoy most. During the
last five minutes, I noted, a sort of numbness supervenes. After the
poultice had been removed a waterproof pillow packed with ice was thrust
beneath my head and I was left alone. I did not sleep, and to the best of
my knowledge this was the only night of my life--I mean the only night
spent in bed--in which I have not slept at all, not even a minute.

During my first hour in the Hôpital X I had had a whole series of
different and contradictory treatments, but this was misleading, for in
general you got very little treatment at all, either good or bad, unless
you were ill in some interesting and instructive way. At five in the
morning the nurses came round, woke the patients and took their
temperatures, but did not wash them. If you were well enough you washed
yourself, otherwise you depended on the kindness of some walking patient.
It was generally patients, too, who carried the bed bottles and die grim
bedpan, nicknamed LA CASSEROLE. At eight breakfast arrived, called
army-fashion LA SOUPE. It was soup, too, a thin vegetable soup with slimy
hunks of bread floating about in it. Later in the day the tall, solemn,
black-bearded doctor made his rounds, with an INTERNE and a troop of
students following at his heels, but there were about sixty of us in the
ward and it was evident that he had other wards to attend to as well.
There were many beds past which he walked day after day, sometimes
followed by imploring cries. On the other hand if you had some disease
with which the students wanted to familiarize themselves you got plenty
of attention of a kind. I myself, with an exceptionally fine specimen of
a bronchial rattle, sometimes had as many as a dozen students queuing up
to listen to my chest. It was a very queer feeling--queer, I mean,
because of their intense interest in learning their job, together with a
seeming lack of any perception that the patients were human beings. It is
strange to relate, but sometimes as some young student stepped forward to
take his turn at manipulating you he would be actually tremulous with
excitement, like a boy who has at last got his hands on some expensive
piece of machinery. And then ear after ear--ears of young men, of girls,
of negroes--pressed against your back, relays of fingers solemnly but
clumsily tapping, and not from any one of them did you get a word of
conversation or a look direct in your face. As a non-paying patient, in
the uniform nightshirt, you were primarily A SPECIMEN, a thing I did not
resent but could never quite get used to.

After some days I grew well enough to sit up and study the surrounding
patients. The stuffy room, with its narrow beds so close together that
you could easily touch your neighbour's hand, had every sort of disease
in it except, I suppose, acutely infectious cases. My right-hand
neighbour was a little red-haired cobbler with one leg shorter than the
other, who used to announce the death of any other patient (this happened
a number of times, and my neighbour was always the first to hear of it)
by whistling to me, exclaiming "NUMÉRO 43!" (or whatever it was) and
flinging his arms above his head. This man had not much wrong with him,
but in most of the other beds within my angle of vision some squalid
tragedy or some plain horror was being enacted. In the bed that was foot
to foot with mine there lay, until he died (I didn't see him die--they
moved him to another bed), a little weazened man who was suffering from I
do not know what disease, but something that made his whole body so
intensely sensitive that any movement from side to side, sometimes even
the weight of the bedclothes, would make him shout out with pain. His
worst suffering was when he urinated, which he did with the greatest
difficulty. A nurse would bring him the bed bottle and then for a long
time stand beside his bed, whistling, as grooms are said to do with
horses, until at last with an agonized shriek of "Je fissel" he would get
started. In the bed next to him the sandy-haired man whom I had seen
being cupped used to cough up blood-streaked mucus at all hours. My
left-hand neighbour was a tall, flaccid-looking young man who used
periodically to have a tube inserted into his back and astonishing
quantities of frothy liquid drawn off from some part of his body. In the
bed beyond that a veteran of the war of 1870 was dying, a handsome old
man with a white imperial, round whose bed, at all hours when visiting
was allowed, four elderly female relatives dressed all in black sat
exactly like crows, obviously scheming for some pitiful legacy. In the
bed opposite me in the farther row was an old bald-headed man with
drooping moustaches and greatly swollen face and body, who was suffering
from some disease that made him urinate almost incessantly. A huge glass
receptacle stood always beside his bed. One day his wife and daughter
came to visit him. At sight of them the old man's bloated face lit up
with a smile of surprising sweetness, and as his daughter, a pretty girl
of about twenty, approached the bed I saw that his hand was slowly
working its way from under the bedclothes. I seemed to see in advance the
gesture that was coming--the girl kneeling beside the bed, the old man's
hand laid on her head in his dying blessing. But no, he merely handed her
the bed bottle, which she promptly took from him and emptied into the
receptacle.

About a dozen beds away from me was Numéro 57--I think that was his
number--a cirrhosis-of-the-liver case. Everyone in the ward knew him by
sight because he was sometimes the subject of a medical lecture. On two
afternoons a week the tall, grave doctor would lecture in the ward to a
party of students, and on more than one occasion old NUMÉRO 57 was
wheeled in on a sort of trolley into the middle of the ward, where the
doctor would roll back his nightshirt, dilate with his fingers a huge
flabby protruberance on the man's belly--the diseased liver, I
suppose--and explain solemnly that this was a disease attributable to
alcoholism, commoner in the wine-drinking countries. As usual he neither
spoke to his patient nor gave him a smile, a nod or any kind of
recognition. While he talked, very grave and upright, he would hold the
wasted body beneath his two hands, sometimes giving it a gentle roll to
and fro, in just the attitude of a woman handling a rolling-pin. Not
that NUMÉRO 57 minded this kind of thing. Obviously he was an old
hospital inmate, a regular exhibit at lectures, his liver long since
marked down for a bottle in some pathological museum. Utterly
uninterested in what was said about him, he would lie with his
colourless eyes gazing at nothing, while the doctor showed him off like
a piece of antique china. He was a man of about sixty, astonishingly
shrunken. His face, pale as vellum, had shrunken away till it seemed no
bigger than a doll's.

One morning my cobbler neighbour woke me up plucking at my pillow before
the nurses arrived. "NUMÉRO 57!"--he flung his arms above his head.
There was a light in the ward, enough to see by. I could see old NUMÉRO
57 lying crumpled up on his side, his face sticking out over the side of
the bed, and towards me. He had died some rime during the night, nobody
knew when. When the nurses came they received the news of his death
indifferently and went about their work. After a long time, an hour or
more, two other nurses marched in abreast like soldiers, with a great
clumping of sabots, and knotted the corpse up in the sheets, but it was
not removed till some time later. Meanwhile, in the better light, I had
had time for a good look at NUMÉRO 57. Indeed I lay on my side to look at
him. Curiously enough he was the first dead European I had seen. I had
seen dead men before, but always Asiatics and usually people who had died
violent deaths. NUMÉRO 57's eyes were still open, his mouth also open,
his small face contorted into an expression of agony. What most impressed
me, however, was the whiteness of his face. It had been pale before, but
now it was little darker than die sheets. As I gazed at the tiny,
screwed-up face it struck me that this disgusting piece of refuse,
waiting to be carted away and dumped on a slab in the dissecting room,
was an example of "natural" death, one of the things you pray for in the
Litany. There you are, then, I thought, that's what is waiting for you,
twenty, thirty, forty years hence: that is how the lucky ones die, the
ones who live to be old. One wants to live, of course, indeed one only
stays alive by virtue of the fear of death, but I think now, as I thought
then, that it's better to die violently and not too old. People talk
about the horrors of war, but what weapon has man invented that even
approaches in cruelty some of the commoner diseases? "Natural" death,
almost by definition, means something slow, smelly and painful. Even at
that, it makes a difference if you can achieve it in your own home and
not in a public institution. This poor old wretch who had just flickered
out like a candle-end was not even important enough to have anyone
watching by his deathbed. He was merely a number, then a "subject" for
the students' scalpels. And the sordid publicity of dying in such a
place! In the Hôpital X the beds were very close together and there were
no screens. Fancy, for instance, dying like the little man whose bed was
for a while foot to foot with mine, the one who cried out when the
bedclothes touched him! I dare say "JE PISSE!" were his last recorded
words. Perhaps the dying don't bother about such things--that at least
would be the standard answer: nevertheless dying people are often more or
less normal in their minds till within a day or so of the end.

In the public wards of a hospital you see horrors that you don't seem to
meet with among people who manage to die in their own homes, as though
certain diseases only attacked people at the lower income levels. But it
is a fact that you would not in any English hospitals see some of the
things I saw in the Hôpital X. This business of people just dying like
animals, for instance, with nobody standing by, nobody interested, the
death not even noticed till the morning--this happened more than once.
You certainly would not see that in England, and still less would you see
a corpse left exposed to the view of the other patients. I remember that
once in a cottage hospital in England a man died while we were at tea,
and though there were only six of us in the ward the nurses managed
things so adroitly that the man was dead and his body removed without our
even hearing about it till tea was over. A thing we perhaps underrate in
England is the advantage we enjoy in having large numbers of well-trained
and rigidly-disciplined nurses. No doubt English nurses are dumb enough,
they may tell fortunes with tea-leaves, wear Union Jack badges and keep
photographs of the Queen on their mantelpieces, but at least they don't
let you lie unwashed and constipated on an unmade bed, out of sheer
laziness. The nurses at the Hôpital X still had a tinge of Mrs Gamp about
them, and later, in the military hospitals of Republican Spain, I was to
see nurses almost too ignorant to take a temperature. You wouldn't,
either, see in England such dirt as existed in the Hôpital X. Later on,
when I was well enough to wash myself in the bathroom, I found that there
was kept there a huge packing case into which the scraps of food and
dirty dressings from the ward were flung, and the wainscotings were
infested by crickets. When I had got back my clothes and grown strong on
my legs I fled from the Hôpital X, before my time was up and without
waiting for a medical discharge. It was not the only hospital I have fled
from, but its gloom and bareness, its sickly smell and, above all,
something in its mental atmosphere stand out in my memory as exceptional.
I had been taken there because it was the hospital belonging to my
ARRONDISSEMENT, and I did not learn till after I was in it that it bore a
bad reputation. A year or two later the celebrated swindler, Madame
Hanaud, who was ill while on remand, was taken to the Hôpital X, and
after a few days of it she managed to elude her guards, took a taxi and
drove back to the prison, explaining that she was more comfortable there.
I have no doubt that the Hôpital X was quite untypical of French
hospitals even at that date. But the patients, nearly all of them working
men, were surprisingly resigned. Some of them seemed to find the
conditions almost comfortable, for at least two were destitute
malingerers who found this a good way of getting through the winter. The
nurses connived because the malingerers made themselves useful by doing
odd jobs. But the attitude of the majority was: of course this is a lousy
place, but what else do you expect? It did not seem strange to them that
you should be woken at five and then wait three hours before starting the
day on watery soup, or that people should die with no one at their
bedside, or even that your chance of getting medical attention should
depend on catching the doctor's eye as he went past. According to their
traditions that was what hospitals were like. If you are seriously ill
and if you are too poor to be treated in your own home, then you must go
into hospital, and once there you must put up with harshness and
discomfort, just as you would in the army. But on top of this I was
interested to find a lingering belief in the old stories that have now
almost faded from memory in England--stories, for instance, about
doctors cutting you open out of sheer curiosity or thinking it funny to
start operating before you were properly "under". There were dark tales
about a little operating-room said to be situated just beyond the
bathroom. Dreadful screams were said to issue from this room. I saw
nothing to confirm these stories and no doubt they were all nonsense,
though I did see two students kill a sixteen-year-old boy, or nearly kill
him (he appeared to be dying when I left the hospital, but he may have
recovered later) by a mischievous experiment which they probably could
not have tried on a paying patient. Well within living memory it used to
be believed in London that in some of the big hospitals patients were
killed off to get dissection subjects. I didn't hear this tale repeated
at the Hôpital X, but I should think some of the men there would have
found it credible. For it was a hospital in which not the methods,
perhaps, but something of the atmosphere of the nineteenth century had
managed to survive, and therein lay its peculiar interest.

During the past fifty years or so there has been a great change in the
relationship between doctor and patient. If you look at almost any
literature before the later part of the nineteenth century, you find that
a hospital is popularly regarded as much the same thing as a prison, and
an old-fashioned, dungeon-like prison at that. A hospital is a place of
filth, torture and death, a sort of antechamber to the tomb. No one who
was not more or less destitute would have thought of going into such a
place for treatment. And especially in the early part of the last
century, when medical science had grown bolder than before without being
any more successful, the whole business of doctoring was looked on with
horror and dread by ordinary people. Surgery, in particular, was believed
to be no more than a peculiarly gruesome form of sadism, and dissection,
possible only with the aid of body snatchers, was even confused with
necromancy. From the nineteenth century you could collect a large
horror-literature connected with doctors and hospitals. Think of poor old
George III, in his dotage, shrieking for mercy as he sees his surgeons
approaching to "bleed him till he faints"! Think of the conversations of
Bob Sawyer and Benjamin Alien, which no doubt are hardly parodies, or the
field hospitals in LA DÉBÂCLE and WAR AND PEACE, or that shocking
description of an amputation in Melville's WHITEJACKET! Even the names
given to doctors in nineteenth-century English fiction, Slasher, Carver,
Sawyer, Fillgrave and so on, and the generic nickname "sawbones", are
about as grim as they are comic. The anti-surgery tradition is perhaps
best expressed in Tennyson's poem, The Children's Hospital, which is
essentially a pre-chloroform document though it seems to have been
written as late as 1880. Moreover, the outlook which Tennyson records in
this poem had a lot to be said for it. When you consider what an
operation without anaesthetics must have been like, what it notoriously
WAS like, it is difficult not to suspect the motives of people who would
undertake such things. For these bloody horrors which the students so
eagerly looked forward to ("A magnificent sight if Slasher does it!")
were admittedly more or less useless: the patient who did not die of
shock usually died of gangrene, a result which was taken for granted.
Even now doctors can be found whose motives are questionable. Anyone who
has had much illness, or who has listened to medical students talking,
will know what I mean. But anaesthetics were a turning point, and
disinfectants were another. Nowhere in the world, probably would you now
see the kind of scene described by Axel Munthe in THE STORY OF SAN
MICHELE, when the sinister surgeon in top hat and frock coat, his
starched shirtfront spattered with blood and pus, carves up patient
after patient with the same knife and flings the severed limbs into a
pile beside the table. Moreover, the national health insurance has
partly done away with the idea that a working-class patient is a pauper
who deserves little consideration. Well into this century it was usual
for "free" patients at the big hospitals to have their teeth extracted
with no anaesthetic. They didn't pay, so why should they have an
anaesthetic--that was the attitude. That too has changed.

And yet every institution will always bear upon it some lingering memory
of its past. A barrack-room is still haunted by the ghost of Kipling, and
it is difficult to enter a workhouse without being reminded of OLIVER
TWIST. Hospitals began as a kind of casual ward for lepers and the like
to die in, and they continued as places where medical students learned
their art on the bodies of the poor. You can still catch a faint
suggestion of their history in their characteristically gloomy
architecture. I would be far from complaining about the treatment I have
received in any English hospital, but I do know that it is a sound
instinct that warns people to keep out of hospitals if possible, and
especially out of the public wards. Whatever the legal position may be,
it is unquestionable that you have far less control over your own
treatment, far less certainty that frivolous experiments will not be
tried on you, when it is a case of "accept the discipline or get out".
And it is a great thing to die in your own bed, though it is better still
to die in your boots. However great the kindness and the efficiency, in
every hospital death there will be some cruel, squalid detail, something
perhaps too small to be told but leaving terribly painful memories
behind, arising out of the haste, the crowding, the impersonality of a
place where every day people are dying among strangers.

The dread of hospitals probably still survives among the very poor, and
in all of us it has only recently disappeared. It is a dark patch not far
beneath the surface of our minds. I have said earlier that when I entered
the ward at the Hôpital X I was conscious of a strange feeling of
familiarity. What the scene reminded me of, of course, was the reeking,
pain-filled hospitals of the nineteenth century, which I had never seen
but of which I had a traditional knowledge. And something, perhaps the
black-clad doctor with his frowsy black bag, or perhaps only the sickly
smell, played the queer trick of unearthing from my memory that poem of
Tennyson's, The Children's Hospital, which I had not thought of for
twenty years. It happened that as a child I had had it read aloud to me
by a sick-nurse whose own working life might have stretched back to the
time when Tennyson wrote the poem. The horrors and sufferings of the
old-style hospitals were a vivid memory to her. We had shuddered over the
poem together, and then seemingly I had forgotten it. Even its name would
probably have recalled nothing to me. But the first glimpse of the
ill-lit murmurous room, with the beds so close together, suddenly roused
the train of thought to which it belonged, and in the night that followed
I found myself remembering the whole story and atmosphere of the poem,
with many of its lines complete.



JAMES BURNHAM AND THE MANAGERIAL REVOLUTION

[Note: This essay was originally printed in POLEMIC under the title
"Second Thoughts on James Burnham", and later reprinted as a pamphlet
with the present title.]


James Burnham's book, THE MANAGERIAL REVOLUTION, made a considerable stir
both in the United States and in this country at the time when it was
published, and its main thesis has been so much discussed that a detailed
exposition of it is hardly necessary. As shortly as I can summarise it,
the thesis is this:

Capitalism is disappearing, but Socialism is not replacing it. What is
now arising is a new kind of planned, centralised society which will be
neither capitalist nor, in any accepted sense of the word, democratic.
The rulers of this new society will be the people who effectively control
the means of production: that is, business executives, technicians,
bureaucrats and soldiers, lumped together by Burnham, under the name of
"managers". These people will eliminate the old capitalist class, crush
the working class, and so organise society that all power and economic
privilege remain in their own hands. Private property rights will be
abolished, but common ownership will not be established. The new
"managerial" societies will not consist of a patchwork of small,
independent states, but of great super-states grouped round the main
industrial centres in Europe, Asia, and America. These super-states will
fight among themselves for possession of the remaining uncaptured
portions of the earth, but will probably be unable to conquer one another
completely. Internally, each society will be hierarchical, with an
aristocracy of talent at the top and a mass of semi-slaves at the bottom.

In his next published book, THE MACHIAVELLIANS, Burnham elaborates and
also modifies his original statement. The greater part of the book is an
exposition of the theories of Machiavelli and of his modern disciples,
Mosca, Michels, and Pareto: with doubtful justification, Burnham adds to
these the syndicalist writer, Georges Sorel. What Burnham is mainly
concerned to show is that a democratic society has never existed and, so
far as we can see, never will exist. Society is of its nature
oligarchical, and the power of the oligarchy always rests upon force and
fraud. Burnham does not deny that "good" motives may operate in private
life, but he maintains that politics consists of the struggle for power,
and nothing else. All historical changes finally boil down to the
replacement of one ruling class by another. All talk about democracy,
liberty, equality, fraternity, all revolutionary movements, all visions
of Utopia, or "the classless society", or "the Kingdom of Heaven on
earth", are humbug (not necessarily conscious humbug) covering the
ambitions of some new class which is elbowing its way into power. The
English Puritans, the Jacobins, the Bolsheviks, were in each case simply
power seekers using the hopes of the masses in order to win a privileged
position for themselves. Power can sometimes be won or maintained without
violence, but never without fraud, because it is necessary to make use of
the masses, and the masses would not co-operate if they knew that they
were simply serving the purposes of a minority. In each great
revolutionary struggle the masses are led on by vague dreams of human
brotherhood, and then, when the new ruling class is well established in
power, they are thrust back into servitude. This is practically the whole
of political history, as Burnham sees it.

Where the second book departs from the earlier one is in asserting that
the whole process could be somewhat moralised if the facts were faced
more honestly. THE MACHIAVELLIANS is sub-titled DEFENDERS OF FREEDOM.
Machiavelli and his followers taught that in politics decency simply does
not exist, and, by doing so, Burnham claims, made it possible to conduct
political affairs more intelligently and less oppressively. A ruling class
which recognised that its real aim was to stay in power would also
recognise that it would be more likely to succeed if it served the
common good, and might avoid stiffening into a hereditary aristocracy.
Burnham lays much stress on Pareto's theory of the "circulation
of the élites". If it is to stay in power a ruling class must
constantly admit suitable recruits from below, so that the ablest
men may always be at the top and a new class of power-hungry
malcontents cannot come into being. This is likeliest to happen, Burnham
considers, in a society which retains democratic habits--that is, where
opposition is permitted and certain bodies such as the press and the
trade unions can keep their autonomy. Here Burnham undoubtedly
contradicts his earlier opinion. In THE MANAGERIAL REVOLUTION, which was
written in 1940, it is taken as a matter of course that "managerial"
Germany is in all ways more efficient than a capitalist democracy such as
France or Britain. In the second book, written in 1942, Burnham admits
that the Germans might have avoided some of their more serious strategic
errors if they had permitted freedom of speech. However, the main thesis
is not abandoned. Capitalism is doomed, and Socialism is a dream. If we
grasp what is at issue we may guide the course of the managerial
revolution to some extent, but that revolution IS HAPPENING, whether we
like it or not. In both books, but especially the earlier one, there is a
note of unmistakable relish over the cruelty and wickedness of the
processes that are being discussed. Although he reiterates that he is
merely setting forth the facts and not stating his own preferences, it is
clear that Burnham is fascinated by the spectacle of power, and that his
sympathies were with Germany so long as Germany appeared to be winning
the war. A more recent essay, "Lenin's Heir", published in the PARTISAN
REVIEW about the beginning of 1945, suggests that this sympathy has since
been transferred to the USSR. "Lenin's Heir", which provoked violent
controversy in the American left-wing press, has not yet been reprinted
in England, and I must return to it later.

It will be seen that Burnham's theory is not, strictly speaking, a new
one. Many earlier writers have foreseen the emergence of a new kind of
society, neither capitalist nor Socialist, and probably based upon
slavery: though most of them have differed from Burnham in not assuming
this development to be INEVITABLE. A good example is Hilaire Belloc's
book, THE SERVILE STATE, published in 1911. THE SERVILE STATE is written
in a tiresome style, and the remedy it suggests (a return to small-scale
peasant ownership) is for many reasons impossible: still, it does
foretell with remarkable insight the kind of things that have been
happening from about 1930 onwards. Chesterton, in a less methodical way,
predicted the disappearance of democracy and private property, and the
rise of a slave society which might be called either capitalist or
Communist. Jack London, in THE IRON HEEL (1909), foretold some of the
essential features of Fascism, and such books as Wells's THE SLEEPER
AWAKES (1900), ZAMYATIN'S WE (1923), and Aldous Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD
(1930), all described imaginary worlds in which the special problems of
capitalism had been solved without bringing liberty, equality, or true
happiness any nearer. More recently, writers like Peter Drucker and F.A.
Voigt have argued that Fascism and Communism are substantially the same
thing. And indeed, it has always been obvious that a planned and
centralised society is liable to develop into an oligarchy or a
dictatorship. Orthodox Conservatives were unable to see this, because it
comforted them to assume that Socialism "wouldn't work", and that the
disappearance of capitalism would mean chaos and anarchy. Orthodox
Socialists could not see it, because they wished to think that they
themselves would soon be in power, and therefore assumed that when
capitalism disappears, Socialism takes its place. As a result they were
unable to foresee the rise of Fascism, or to make correct predictions
about it after it had appeared. Later, the need to justify the Russian
dictatorship and to explain away the obvious resemblances between
Communism and Nazism clouded the issue still more. But the notion that
industrialism must end in monopoly, and that monopoly must imply tyranny,
is not a startling one.

Where Burnham differs from most other thinkers is in trying to plot the
course of the "managerial revolution" accurately on a world scale, and in
assuming that the drift towards totalitarianism is irresistible and must
not be fought against, though it may be guided. According to Burnham,
writing in 1940, "managerialism" has reached its fullest development in
the USSR, but is almost equally well developed in Germany, and has made
its appearance in the United States. He describes the New Deal as
"primitive managerialism". But the trend is the same everywhere, or
almost everywhere. Always LAISSEZ-FAIRE capitalism gives way to planning
and state interference, the mere owner loses power as against the
technician and the bureaucrat, but Socialism--that is to say, what used to
be called Socialism--shows no sign of emerging:

Some apologists try to excuse Marxism by saying that it has "never had a
chance". This is far from the truth. Marxism and the Marxist parties have
had dozens of chances. In Russia, a Marxist party took power. Within a
short time it abandoned Socialism; if not in words, at any rate in the
effect of its actions. In most European nations there were during the
last months of the first world war and the years immediately thereafter,
social crises which left a wide-open door for the Marxist parties:
without exception they proved unable to take and hold power. In a large
number of countries--Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Austria, England,
Australia, New Zealand, Spain, France--the reformist Marxist parties have
administered the governments, and have uniformly failed to introduce
Socialism or make any genuine step towards Socialism.... These parties
have, in practice, at every historical test--and there have been
many--either failed Socialism or abandoned it. This is the fact which
neither the bitterest foe nor the most ardent friend of Socialism can
erase. This fact does not, as some think, prove anything about the moral
quality of the Socialist ideal. But it does constitute unblinkable
evidence that, whatever its moral quality, Socialism is not going to come.

Burnham does not, of course, deny that the new "managerial" régimes,
like the régimes of Russia and Nazi Germany, may be CALLED Socialist. He
means merely that they will not be Socialist in any sense of the word
which would have been accepted by Marx, or Lenin, or Keir Hardie, or
William Morris, or indeed, by any representative Socialist prior to about
1930. Socialism, until recently, was supposed to connote political
democracy, social equality and internationalism. There is not the
smallest sign that any of these things is in a way to being established
anywhere, and the one great country in which something described as a
proletarian revolution once happened, i.e. the USSR, has moved steadily
away from the old concept of a free and equal society aiming at universal
human brotherhood. In an almost unbroken progress since the early days of
the Revolution, liberty has been chipped away and representative
institutions smothered, while inequalities have increased and nationalism
and militarism have grown stronger. But at the same time, Burnham
insists, there has been no tendency to return to capitalism. What is
happening is simply the growth of "managerialism", which, according to
Burnham, is in progress everywhere, though the manner in which it comes
about may vary from country to country.

Now, as an interpretation of what is HAPPENING, Burnham's theory is
extremely plausible, to put it at the lowest. The events of, at any rate,
the last fifteen years in the USSR can be far more easily explained by
this theory than by any other. Evidently the USSR is not Socialist, and
can only be called Socialist if one gives the word a meaning different
from what it would have in any other context. On the other hand,
prophecies that the Russian régime would revert to capitalism have
always been falsified, and now seem further than ever from being
fulfilled. In claiming that the process had gone almost equally far in
Nazi Germany, Burnham probably exaggerates, but it seems certain that the
drift was away from old-style capitalism and towards a planned economy
with an adoptive oligarchy in control. In Russia the capitalists were
destroyed first and the workers were crushed later. In Germany the
workers were crushed first, but the elimination of the capitalists had at
any rate begun, and calculations based on the assumption that Nazism was
"simply capitalism" were always contradicted by events. Where Burnham
seems to go most astray is in believing "managerialism" to be on the
up-grade in the United States, the one great country where free
capitalism is still vigorous. But if one considers the world movement as
a whole, his conclusions are difficult to resist; and even in the United
States the all-prevailing faith in LAISSEZ-FAIRE may not survive the next
great economic crisis. It has been urged ag