Henri Béraud, the French journalist, was sentenced to death later commuted to life
imprisonment for collaboration with the Germans. Béraud used to contribute to the Fascist weekly paper Gringoire,
which in its later years had become the most disgusting rag it is possible to imagine. I
have seldom been so angered by anything in the press as by its cartoon when the wretched
Spanish refugees streamed into France with Italian aeroplanes machine-gunning them all the
way. The Spaniards were pictured as a procession of villainous-looking men, each pushing a
hand-cart piled with jewellery and bags of gold. Gringoire kept up an almost
continuous outcry for the suppression of the French Communist Party, but it was equally
fierce against even the mildest politicians of the Left. One can get an idea of the moral
level at which it conducted political controversy from the fact that it once published a
cartoon showing Léon Blum
in bed with his own sister. Its advertisement columns were full of ads for clairvoyants
and books of pornography. This piece of rubbish was said to have a circulation of 500,000.
At the time of the Abyssinian war
Béraud wrote a violent pro-Italian article in which he proclaimed I hate
England, and gave his reasons for doing so. It is significant that it was mostly
people of this type, who had made no secret of their Fascist sympathies for years
beforehand, that the Germans had to make use of for press propaganda in France. A year or
two ago Mr Raymond Mortimer published an article on the activity of French writers during
the war, and there have been several similar articles in American magazines. When one
pieces these together, it becomes clear that the French literary intelligentsia has
behaved extremely well under the German occupation. I wish I could feel certain that the
English literary intelligentsia as a whole would have behaved equally well if we had had
the Nazis here. But it is
true that if Britain had also been overrun, the situation would have been hopeless and the
temptation to accept the New Order very much stronger.
I think I owe a small apology to the twentieth century. Apropos of my remarks about the
Quarterly Review for 1810 in which I pointed out that French books could get
favourable reviews in England at the height of the war with France two
correspondents have written to tell me that during the present war German scientific
publications have had fair treatment in the scientific press in this country. So perhaps
we arent such barbarians after all.
But I still feel that our ancestors were better at remaining sane
in war-time than we are. If you ever have to walk from Fleet Street to the Embankment, it
is worth going into the office of the Observer and having a look at something that
is preserved in the waiting-room. It is a framed page from the Observer (which is
one of our oldest newspapers) for a certain day in June, 1815. In appearance it is very
like a modern newspaper, though slightly worse printed, and with only five columns on the
page. The largest letters used are not much more than a quarter of an inch high. The first
column is given up to Court and Society, then follows several columns of
advertisements, mostly of rooms to let. Half-way down the last column is a headline
SANGUINARY BATTLE IN FLANDERS. COMPLETE DEFEAT OF THE CORSICAN UPRISING. This is the first
news of Waterloo!
Today there are only eighty people in the United Kingdom, with net incomes of
over six thousand pounds a year. (Mr Quintin Hogg M.P., in his pamphlet The Times
We Live In.)
There are also about eighty ways in the English and American
languages of expressing incredulity for example, garn, come off it, you bet, sez
you, oh yeah, not half, I dont think, less of it or and the pudding! But
I think and then you wake up is the exactly suitable answer to a remark
like the one quoted above.
Recently I read the biography of Edgar
Wallace which was written by Margaret Lane some years ago. It is a real log
cabin to White House story, and by implication a frightful commentary on our age.
Starting off with every possible disadvantage an illegitimate child, brought up by
very poor foster-parents in a slum street Wallace worked his way up by sheer
ability, enterprise and hard work. His output was enormous. In his later years he was
turning out eight books a year, besides plays, radio scripts and much journalism. He
thought nothing of composing a full-length book in less than a week. He took no exercise,
worked behind a glass screen in a super-heated room, smoked incessantly and drank vast
quantities of sweetened tea. He died of diabetes at the age of fifty-seven.
It is clear from some of his more ambitious books that Wallace
did in some sense take his work seriously, but his main aim was to make money, and he made
it. Towards the end of his life he was earning round about £50,000 a year. But it was all
fairy gold. Besides losing money by financing theatres and keeping strings of race-horses
which seldom won, Wallace spent fantastic sums on his various houses, where he kept a
staff of twenty servants. When he died very suddenly in Hollywood, it was found that his
debts amounted to £140,000, while his liquid assets were practically nil. However, the
sales of his books were so vast that his royalties amounted to £26,000 in the two years
following his death.
The curious thing is that this utterly wasted life a life
of sitting almost continuously in a stuffy room and covering acres of paper with slightly
pernicious nonsense is what is called, or would have been called a few years ago,
an inspiring story. Wallace did what all the get on or get out
books, from Smiless Self Help onwards, have told you to do. And the world
gave him the kind of rewards he would have asked for, after his death as well as in life.
When his body was brought home,
He was carried on board the Berengaria . . . . They laid a Union
Jack over him, and covered him with flowers. He lay alone in the empty saloon under his
burden of wreaths, and no journey that he had ever taken had been made in such quiet
dignity and state. When the ship crept into Southampton Water her flag was flying at
half-mast, and the flags of Southampton slipped gently down to salute him. The bells of
Fleet Street tolled, and Wyndhams was dark.
All that and £50,000 a year as well! They also gave Wallace a plaque on the wall at
Ludgate Circus. It is queer to think that London could commemorate Wallace in Fleet Street
and Barrie in Kensington Gardens, but has never yet got round to giving Blake a monument in Lambeth.