GENERAL ARTICLES

London Letter

Beverley Baxter August 1 1936
GENERAL ARTICLES

London Letter

Beverley Baxter August 1 1936

London Letter

I AM WRITING this in London after a tempestuous moving and fantastic fortnight spent in going to and from America on the Queen Mary’s maiden voyage, sleeping two nights on a train, two nights in New York, dining in Montreal, lunching in Ottawa, and being back home in exactly a fortnight.

I am sufficiently a journalist to realize that the Queen Mary is almost as out of date as yesterday’s newspaper, and therefore we shall skip the details of that modem Odyssey. Nor in these days, when young people breakfast in London, lunch in Cairo and dine in Hong Kong, will I stress the achievement of having travelled so far in two weeks. Personally, in my own earthbound, middle-aged philosophy 1 am more than a little impressed, but there is no reason why you should be. Yet it seemed to me that in this hurried and historic trip I learned more about the psychology of the Old World and the New than in any of my previous and more lengthy expeditions.

When we left Southampton the shadows were darkening over Europe. When we returned to Southampton the shadows were still deeper, as a vast series of strikes in France were heralding the first moves of M. Blum’s “Popular Front” Government. The Emperor of Abyssinia is in London, the brave little man who believed in the honor of the white man and lost his country. My friends tell me that Hitler is nearly ready for his Austrian coup, while great parallel roads leading to the Rhine frontier are being created with efforts that recognize no respite. The Arab is out of hand in Palestine. Mussolini is wondering whether he has gained a Mediterranean Empire or if his feet are caught in the Abyssinian mud. Poor Anthony Eden lifts his weary eyes from the map of Europe to gaze at the map of the Far East, where China is flaming into resentment at the arrogant advances of the Japanese. Meanwhile the British Fleet patrols the Mediterranean, and the League of Nations is still making it as difficult as possible for Mussolini to wage a war that is already finished.

In another week these things will seem the commonplace preoccupation of those of us concerned with British public affairs. This is the heart of an Empire on whose troubles the sun never sets. If worry be the price of Empire, Lord God we have paid in full ! Of course Ascot is on—that incredible race meeting which functions only on four days a year, but manages to run seven races a day for which the cheapest stake is £2,000 and most of them well over £3,000. But that is Britain, paradox of paradoxes, the undiscovered Island, the unknown country. Time and the onslaught of events leave her unchanged, let the shadows darken over Europe as they will. But there is another side to all this.

Aloof New York

AGAIN and again my political friends in London ask why America does not join us in creating a better order of things in Europe.

“If only the United States would join the League,” they say, “the world would be transformed overnight. With the British Empire and the United States co-operating at Geneva, no power or combination of powers could defy the League.”

It is pitifully true. It is tragically true. Many times it has seemed to me impossible that America could hold aloof much longer from the task to which history was calling her.

Yet this flying trip to America taught me how difficult it would be for any administration at Washington to pledge the United States to participation in the problems of Europe. It does not matter that New York is only five days away by boat and a matter of hours by airship. The North American continent is as much the New World today as when Columbus first set foot upon it, just as Britain is as much the Old World as when the vaunting Roman outraged her shores. Telegraphs, wireless, airplanes, cinemas, alter habits but not the soul. When the New York newspapers were delivered to my room and I read of the mutterings and muddlings of European statesmanship, they seemed even to my familiar senses to be the activities of a distant madhouse.

Here in New York was the brave new world where men fought the battles of material progress, where a nation was wrought out of heartbreak and discouragement, where incredible buildings were erected as memorials of victory. Damn it as a city without a soul, call it a ghetto city or a melting pot or a human monstrosity, but New York remains a monument to the bravery of men. Let me put it another way. New York, as the gateway to America, stands as an everlasting symbol to the excitement and heroism of peace.

I lunched in the top of Radio City with the president of the National Broadcasting Company. Far below us spread the steeple-studded panorama of New York. Like a toy ship one would see in a nursery, the Queen Mary was at anchor, waiting to take us back to the world of wooden soldiers and the silly military games of nasty little boys. The attitude of my host was courtesy itself, but how to interest him in a continent tom by ageold feuds when a continent of peaceful development was literally lying outspread at his feet?

At Rideau Hall

WITH ALL these things in my mind, my wife and I journeyed to Ottawa to lunch at Rideau Hall. I was curious to see what transformation, if any, had come over my friend John Buchan, novelist, historian and politician. Also I could not bear the thought of being on the North American continent without visiting my own country, if only for a few hours. The very journey from Montreal to Ottawa puts one in a gentler and more contemplative mood. Here is a countryside as rich in verdure and as gentle as that of Surrey or Sussex. It is not like going to any other city I can remember. It is journey’s end. One arrives at Ottawa as an author reaches a full stop. Perhaps the presence of R. B. Bennett on the train added to the slight suggestion of St. Helena.

I do not propose to publish the details of my conversation with Lord Tweedsmuir, because my visit was not in the capacity of a journalist. But let me admit that when I left Rideau Hall I felt that I had been in the presence of a man who is going to play a great part in the solution of the problem which I have discussed in this article. John Buchan has changed already. In England he was the friend of premiers and kings. He is no less their friend today, but his heart is in Canada.

“What are you now?” I asked him, and he replied with a moving simplicity: “I am a Canadian.”

As we walked about the lovely

fields that creep to the river’s edge and talked about this person and that problem in England and that person and this problem in Canada. I began to realize once more that Canada has a fateful rôle to play in the history of the world.

I am not going to use any of the phrases so beloved of after-dinner orators and write that Canada is an interpreter between America and England, because truths, like women, need new dresses now and then. Canada must lx: more than an interpreter. She must be a partner, perhaps some day the dominating partner in the union of kindred nations that sjx'ak the common tongue of England.

In New York 1 felt a vast distance from London. In Ottawa, talking to Lord Tweedsmuir, I felt that I was walking on the soil of Canada but that just beyond the fields lay England.

No man lives unto himself alone. No nation lives unto itself alone. On the doors of the Canadian Parliament I read for the first time these words graven in stone:

“The wholesome sea is at her gates, Her gates both East and West.”

Beautiful words, nobly and serenely conceived. But the seas that lave the shores of Canada carry ships to her ports, and in the ships there are men, and in the minds of those men are beliefs, doubts, ideas, plots, dreams. No customs inspection ever devised can keep out dreams or ideas, and on those dreams and ideas the world is built.

The Battle of Ideas

THERE ARE men in Germany—not all men—who have the spirit of the jungle and the soul of beasts. There are men in Italy who believe that by foul death inflicted upon defenseless people a happier world may be created for Italians. There are men in France ready to mount the barricades in the name of communism, and there are men in France ready to die against those barricades in the name of fascism. Fear, hatred, suspicion, greed and despair stalk like spectres across the continent of Europe. And divided by a little silver channel that now means nothing lies Britain. By day and by night her Government strives for a settlement of Europe’s problems. By day and by night the civilizing influence of the British people moves toward Europe like a cooling breeze after the heat of the day.

Do not imagine that Britain’s task is for herself alone. It is for you in Canada. It is for the men and women in New York and California. Let the civilization of Europe sink into anarchy or be plunged into despotism, and the plague will find its way across the seas and through any barriers.

These are fateful days for Europe, which means that these are fateful days for Canada and the United States of America. The greatest danger to mankind is not guns. Metal does not breed. It kills and is itself at an end. But ideas breed and scatter to the four ends of the earth, and there is no defense against them. Therefore, if at times it seems that British statesmen are groping blindly, following a course without any clear conception of what lies at the end, taking strong measures and then seeming to weaken for no cause, remember that they are carrying the heavy burden which history has placed upon their shoulders. That burden is not only the preservation of the British Empire but the preservation of Western civilization. As England fails or succeeds, so is the future of the new world deeply and irrevocably influenced, for in the land of the mind there is neither old world nor new, neither barriers nor frontiers.

Continued on page 25

Continued from page 17

And as men think, so is the life of humanity and humanity’s children determined.