As I Please

in Tribune

19 January 1945

George Orwell

LAST week 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.

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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 aren’t 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!

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‘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 don’t 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.

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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 Smiles’s 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 Wyndham’s 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.

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