As I Please
by George Orwell
Tribune, 1947
January 17 / January 24 / January 31 / February 7 / February 14 / February 21 / February 27 / February 28


January 3:


NEARLY a quarter of a century ago I was travelling on a liner to Burma. Though not a big ship, it was a comfortable and even a luxurious one, and when one was not asleep or playing deck games one usually seemed to be eating. The meals were of that stupendous kind that steamship companies used to vie with one another in producing, and in between times there were snacks such as apples, ices, biscuits and cups of soup, lest anyone should find himself fainting from hunger. Moreover, the bars opened at ten in the morning, and, since we were at sea, alcohol was relatively cheap.

The ships of this line were mostly manned by Indians, but apart from the officers and the stewards they carried four European quartermasters whose job was to take the wheel. One of these quartermasters, though I suppose he was only aged forty or so, was one of those old sailors on whose back you almost expect to see barnacles growing. He was a short, powerful, rather ape-like man, with enormous forearms covered by a mat of golden hair. A blond moustache which might have belonged to Charlemagne completely hid his mouth. I was only twenty years old and very conscious of my parasitic status as a mere passenger, and I looked up to the quartermasters, especially the fair-haired one, as godlike beings on a par with the officers. It would not have occurred to me to speak to one of them without being spoken to first.

One day, for some reason, I came up from lunch early. The deck was empty except for the fair-haired quartermaster, who was scurrying like a rat long the side of the deck-houses, with something partially concealed between his monstrous hands. I had just time to see what it was before he shot past me and vanished into a doorway. It was a pie dish containing a half-eaten baked custard pudding.

At once glance I took in the situation—indeed, the man’s air of guilt made it unmistakable. The pudding was a left-over from one of the passengers’ tables. It had been illicitly given to him by a steward, and he was carrying it off to the seamen’s quarters to devour it at leisure. Across more than twenty years I can still faintly feel the shock of astonishment that I felt at that moment. It took me some time to see the incident in all its bearings: but do I seem to exaggerate when I say that this sudden revelation of the gap between function and reward—the revelation that a highly-skilled craftsman, who might literally hold all our lives in his hands, was glad to steal scraps of food from our table—taught me more than I could have learned from half a dozen Socialist pamphlets?

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A NEWS item to the effect that Jugoslavia is now engaged on a purge of writers and artists led me to look once again at the reports of the recent literary purge in the U.S.S.R., when Zoschenko, Akhmatova and others were expelled from the Writers’ Union.

In England this kind of thing is not happening to us as yet, so that we can view it with a certain detachment, and, curiously enough, as I look again at the accounts of what happened, I feel somewhat more sorry for the persecutors than for their victims. Chief among the persecutors is Andrei Zhdanov, considered by some to be Stalin’s probable successor. Zhdanov, though he has conducted literary purges before, is a full-time politician with—to judge from his speeches—about as much knowledge of literature as I have of aerodynamics. He does not give the impression of being, according to his own lights, a wicked or dishonest man. He is truly shocked by the defection of certain Soviet writers, which appears to him as an incomprehensible piece of treachery, like a military mutiny in the middle of a battle. The purpose of literature is to glorify the Soviet Union; surely that must be obvious to everyone? But instead of carrying out their plain duty, these misguided writers keep straying away from the paths of propaganda, producing non-political works, and even in the case of Zoschenko, allowing a satirical note to creep into their writings. It is all very painful and bewildering. It is as though you set a man to work in an excellent, up-to-date, air-conditioned factory, gave him high wages, short hours, good canteens and playing-grounds, a comfortable flat, a nursery-school for his children, all-round social insurance and music while you work—only to find the ungrateful fellow throwing spanners into the machinery on his very first day.

What makes the whole thing somewhat pathetic is the general admission—an honest admission, seeing that Soviet publicists are not in the habit of decrying their own country—that Russian literature as a whole is not what it ought to be. Since the U.S.S.R. represents the highest existing form of civilization, it is obvious that it ought to lead the world in literature as in everything else. ‘Surely,’ says Zhdanov, ‘our new Socialist system, embodying all that is best in the history of human civilization and culture, is capable of creating the most advanced literature, which will leave far behind the best creations of olden times.’ Izvestia (as quoted by the New York paper, Politics) goes further: ‘Our culture stands on an immeasurably higher level than bourgeois culture. . . . Is it not clear that our culture has the right not to act as pupil and imitator but, on the contrary, to teach others the general human morals?’ And yet somehow the expected thing never happens. Directives are issued, resolutions are passed unanimously, recalcitrant writers are silenced: and yet for some reason a vigorous and original literature, unmistakably superior to that of capitalist countries, fails to emerge.

All this has happened before, and more than once. Freedom of expression has had its ups and downs in the U.S.S.R., but the general tendency has been towards tighter censorship. The thing that politicians are seemingly unable to understand is that you cannot produce a vigorous literature by terrorizing everyone into conformity. A writer’s inventive faculties will not work unless he is allowed to say approximately what he feels. You can destroy spontaneity and produce a literature which is orthodox but feeble, or you can let people say what they choose and take the risk that some of them will utter heresies. There is no way out of that dilemma so long as books have to be written by individuals.

That is why, in a way, I feel sorrier for the persecutors than for the victims. It is probably that Zoschenko and the others at least have the satisfaction of understanding what is happening to them: the politicians who harry them are merely attempting the impossible. For Zhdanov and his kind to say, ‘The Soviet Union can exist without literature’ would be reasonable. But that is just what they can’t say. They don’t know what literature is, but they know that it is important, that it has prestige value, and that it is necessary for propaganda purposes, and they would like to encourage it, if only they knew how. So they continue with their purges and directives, like a fish bashing its nose against the wall of an aquarium again and again, too dim-witted to realize that glass and water are not the same thing.

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FROM The Thoughts of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius:

In the morning when thou risest unwillingly, let this thought be present—I am rising to the work of a human being. Why then am I dissatisfied if I am going to do the things for which I exist and for which I was brought into the world? Or have I been made for this, to lie in the bed-clothes and keep myself warm?—But this is more pleasant—Dost thou exist then to take thy pleasure, and not at all for action or exertion? Dost thou not see the little plants, the little birds, the ants, the spiders, the bees working together to put in order their several parts of the universe? And art thou unwilling to do the work of a human being, and dost thou not make haste to do that which is according to thy nature?

It is a good plan to print this well-known exhortation in large letters and hang it on the wall opposite your bed. And if that fails, as I am told it sometimes does, another good plan is to buy the loudest alarm clock you can get and place it in such a position that you have to get out of bed and go round several pieces of furniture in order to silence it.




January 17:


THE Daily Herald for 1 January 1947 has a headline MEN WHO SPOKE FOR HITLER HERE, and underneath this a photograph of two Indians who are declared to be Brijlal Mukerjee and Anjit Singh, and are described as having come ‘from Berlin’. The news column below the photograph goes on to say that ‘four Indians who might have been shot as traitors’ are staying at a London hotel, and further describes the group of Indians who broadcast over the German radio during the war as ‘collaborators’. It is worth looking a bit more closely at these various statements.

To begin with, there are at least two errors of fact, one of them a very serious one. Anjit Singh did not broadcast on the Nazi radio, but only from Italian stations, while the man described as ‘Brijlal Mukerjee’ is an Indian who has been in England throughout the war and is well known to myself and many other people in London. But these inaccuracies are really the symptom of an attitude of mind which comes out more clearly in the phraseology of the report.

What right have we to describe the Indians who broadcast on the German radio as ‘collaborators’? They were citizens of an occupied country, hitting back at the occupying power in the way that seemed to them best. I am not suggesting that the way they chose was the right one. Even from the narrow point of view which would assume that Indian independence is the only cause that matters, I think they were gravely wrong, because if the Axis had won the war—and their efforts must have aided the Axis to some extent—India would merely have had a new and worse master. But the line they took was one that could perfectly well be taken in good faith and cannot with fairness or even with accuracy be termed ‘collaboration’. The word ‘collaboration’ is associated with people like Quisling and Laval. It implies, first of all, treachery to one’s own country, secondly, full co-operation with the conqueror, and thirdly, ideological agreement, or at least partial agreement. But how does this apply to the Indians who sided with the Axis? They were not being traitors to their own country—on the contrary, they were working for its independence, as they believed—and they recognized no obligation to Britain. Nor did they co-operate in the same manner as Quisling, etc. The Germans allowed them a separate broadcasting unit on which they said what they liked and followed, in many cases, a political line quite different from the Axis one. In my opinion they were mistaken and mischievous, but in moral attitude, and probably in the effects of what they did, they were quite different from ordinary renegades.

Meanwhile one has to consider the effect of this kind of thing in India. Rightly or wrongly, these men will be welcomed as heroes when they get home, and the fact that British newspapers insult them will not go unnoticed. Nor will the slovenly handling of the photographs. The caption ‘Brijlal Mukerjee’ appears under the face of a totally different person. No doubt the photograph was taken at the reception which the repatriated Indians were given by their fellow countrymen in London, and the photographer snapped the wrong man by mistake. But suppose the person in question had been William Joyce. In that case, don’t you think the Daily Herald would have taken good care that it was photographing William Joyce and not somebody else? But since it’s only an Indian, a mistake of this kind doesn’t matter—so runs the unspoken thought. And this happens not in the Daily Graphic, but in Britain’s sole Labour newspaper.

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I HOPE everyone who can get access to a copy will take at least a glance at Victor Gollancz’s recently published book, In Darkest Germany. It is not a literary book, but a piece of brilliant journalism intended to shock the public of this country into some kind of consciousness of the hunger, disease, chaos and lunatic mismanagement prevailing in the British Zone. This business of making people conscious of what is happening outside their own small circle is one of the major problems of our time, and a new literary technique will have to be evolved to meet it. Considering that the people of this country are not having a very comfortable time, you can’t, perhaps, blame them for being somewhat callous about suffering elsewhere, but the remarkable thing is the extent to which they manage to remain unaware of it. Tales of starvation, ruined cities, concentration camps, mass deportations, homeless refugees, persecuted Jews—all this is received with a sort of incurious surprise, as though such things had never been heard of before but at the same time were not particularly interesting. The now-familiar photographs of skeleton-like children make very little impression. As time goes on and the horrors pile up, the mind seems to secrete a sort of self-protecting ignorance which needs a harder and harder shock to pierce it, just as the body will become immunized to a drug and require bigger and bigger doses.

Half of Victor Gollancz’s book consists of photographs, and he has taken the wise precaution of including himself in a good many of them. This at least proves that the photographs are genuine and cuts out the routine charge that they have been obtained from an agency and are ‘all propaganda’. But I think the best device in the book, after innumerable descriptions of people living on ‘biscuit soup’, potatoes and cabbage, skim milk and ersatz coffee, was to include some menus of dinners in the messes provided for the Control Commission. Mr Gollancz says that he slipped a menu card into his pocket whenever he could do so unobserved, and he prints half a dozen of them. Here is the first on the list:

Consommé in cups
Fried Soles in Butter
Fresh Potatoes
Dutch Steak
Mashed Potatoes
Cauliflower
Raspberry Cream
Cheese
Coffee

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THESE accounts of starvation in Europe seem to link up with a paragraph, headed ‘This Week’s Hint for Dog-Lovers’, which I cut out of the Evening Standard just before Christmas:

Your dog may also have that ‘after Christmas hangover’ feeling if you have been indulging him with too many titbits. Many owners like to give their pets ‘a taste of everything’, regardless of the fact that many of the items of Christmas fare are unsuitable for dogs.

No permanent harm may be done, but if the dog seems dull, the tongue loses colour and the breath becomes offensive, a dose of castor oil is indicated.

Twelve hours rest from food, followed by a light diet for a few days, usually effects a speedy cure—and from eight to twelve grains of carbonate of bismuth may be given three times a day. The dog should be encouraged to drink barley water rather than plain water.

Signed by a Fellow of the Zoological Society.

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LOOKING through what I have written above, I notice that I have used the phrase ‘a totally different person’. For the first time it occurs to me what a stupid expression this is. As though there could be such a thing as a partially different person! I shall try to cut this phrase (and also ‘a very different person’ and ‘a different person altogether’) out of my vocabulary from now onwards.

But there are other word and phrases which obviously deserve to go on the scrap-heap, but which continues to be used because there seems to be no convenient substitute. An example is the word ‘certain’. We say, for instance, ‘After a certain age one’s hair turns grey’, or ‘There will probably be a certain amount of snow in February’. In all such sentences ‘certain’ means uncertain. Why do we have to use this word in two opposite meanings? And yet, unless one pedantically says ‘after an uncertain age’, etc., there appears to be no other word which will exactly cover the required meaning.




January 24:


RECENTLY I was listening to a conversation between two small businessmen in a Scottish hotel. One of them, an alert-looking, well-dressed man of about forty-five, was something to do with the Federation of Master Builders. The other, a good deal older, with white hair and a broad accent, was some kind of wholesale tradesman. He said grace before his meals, a thing I had not seen anyone do for many a year. They belonged, I should say, in the £2,000-a-year and the £1,000-a-year income groups respectively.

We were sitting round a rather inadequate peat fire, and the conversation started off with the coal shortage. There was no coal, it appeared, because the British miners refused to dig it out, but on the other hand it was important not to let Poles work in the pits because this would lead to unemployment. There was severe unemployment in Scotland already. The older man then remarked with quiet satisfaction that he was very glad—‘varra glad indeed’—that Labour had won the General Election. Any government that had to clean up after the war was in for a bad time, and as a result of five years of rationing, housing shortage, unofficial strikes and so forth, the general public would see through the promises of the Socialists and vote Conservative next time.

They began talking about the housing problem, and almost immediately they were back to the congenial subject of the Poles. The younger man had just sold his flat in Edinburgh at a good profit and was trying to buy a house. He was willing to pay £2,700. The other was trying to sell his house for £1,500 and buy a smaller one. But it seemed that it was impossible to buy houses or flats nowadays. The Poles were buying them all up, and ‘where they get the money from is a mystery’. The Poles were also invading the medical profession. They even had their own medical school in Edinburgh or Glasgow (I forget which) and were turning out doctors in great numbers while ‘our lads’ found it impossible to buy practices. Didn’t everyone know that Britain had more doctors than it could use? Let the Poles go back to their own country. There were too many people in this country already. What was needed was emigration.

The younger man remarked that he belonged to several business and civic associations, and that on all of them he made a point of putting forward resolutions that the Poles should be sent back to their own country. The older one added that the Poles were ‘very degraded in their morals’. They were responsible for much of the immorality that was prevalent nowadays. ‘Their ways are not our ways,’ he concluded piously. It was not mentioned that the Poles pushed their way to the head of queues, wore bright-coloured clothes and displayed cowardice during air raids, but if I had put forward a suggestion to this effect I am sure it would have been accepted.

One cannot of course, do very much about this kind of thing. It is the contemporary equivalent of antisemitism By 1947, people of the kind I am describing would have caught up with the fact that antisemitism is discreditable, and so the scapegoat is sought elsewhere. But the race hatred and mass delusions which are part of the pattern of our time might be somewhat less bad in their effects if they were not reinforced by ignorance. If in the years before the war, for instance, the facts about the persecution of Jews in Germany had been better known, the subjective popular feeling against Jews would probably not have been less, but the actual treatment of Jewish refugees might have been better. The refusal to allow refugees in significant numbers into this country would have been branded as disgraceful. The average man would still have felt a grudge against the refugees, but in practice more lives would have been saved.

So also with the Poles. The thing that most depressed me in the above-mentioned conversation was the recurrent phrase, ‘let them go back to their own country’. If I had said to those two businessmen, ‘Most of these people have no country to go back to’, they would have gaped. Not one of the relevant facts would have been known to them. They would never have heard of the various things that have happened to Poland since 1939, any more than they would have known that the over-population of Britain is a fallacy or that local unemployment can coexist with a general shortage of labour. I think it is a mistake to give such people the excuse of ignorance. You can’t actually change their feelings, but you can make them understand what they are saying when they demand that homeless refugees shall be driven from our shores, and the knowledge may make them a little less actively malignant.

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THE other week, in the Spectator, Mr Harold Nicolson was consoling himself as best be could for having reached the age of sixty. As he perceived, the only positive satisfaction in growing older is that after a certain point you can begin boasting of having seen things that no one will ever have the chance to see again. It set me wondering what boasts I could make myself, at forty-four, or nearly. Mr Nicolson had seen the Czar, surrounded by his bodyguard of enormous Cossacks, blessing the Neva. I never saw that, but I did see Marie Lloyd, already almost a legendary figure, and I saw Little Tich—who, I think, did not die till about 1928, but who must have retired at about the same time as Marie Lloyd—and I have seen a whole string of crowned heads and other celebrities from Edward VII onwards. But on only two occasions did I feel, at the time, that I was seeing something significant, and on one of these occasions it was the circumstances and not the person concerned that made me feel this.

One of these celebrities was Pétain. It was at Foch’s funeral in 1929. Pétain’s personal prestige in France was very great. He was honoured as the defender of Verdun, and the phrase ‘They shall not pass’ was popularly supposed to have been coined by him. He was given a place to himself in the procession, with a gap of several yards in front of and behind him. As he stalked past—a tall, lean, very erect figure, though he must have been seventy years old or thereabouts, with great sweeping white moustaches like the wings of a gull—a whisper of Voilà Pétain went rippling through the vast crowd. His appearance impressed me so much that I dimly felt, in spite of his considerable age, that he ought still have some kind of distinguished future ahead of him. The other celebrity was Queen Mary. One day I was walking past Windsor Castle when a sort of electric shock seemed to go through the street. People were taking their hats off, soldiers springing to attention. And then, clattering over the cobbles, there came a huge, plum-coloured open carriage drawn by four horses with postilions. I believe it was the first and last time in my life that I have seen a postilion. On the rear seat, with his back to the carriage, another groom sat stiffly upright, with his arms folded. The groom who sat at the back used to be called the tiger. I hardly noticed the Queen, my eyes fixed on that strange, archaic figure at the back, immobile as a wax-work, with his white breeches that looked as though he had been poured into them, and the cockade on his top-hat. Even at that date (1920 or thereabouts) it gave me a wonderful feeling of looking backwards through a window into the nineteenth century.




January 31:

As I Pleased


ONE’S relations with a newspaper or a magazine are more variable and intermittent than they can be with a human being. From time to time a human being may dye his hair or become converted to Roman Catholicism, but he cannot change himself fundamentally, whereas a periodical will go through a whole series of different existences under the same name. Tribune in its short life has been two distinct papers, if not three, and my own contacts with it have varied sharply, starting off, if I remember rightly, with a rap on the knuckles.

I did not learn of the existence of Tribune till some time in 1939. It had started early in 1937, but of the thirty months that intervened before the outbreak of war I spent five in hospital and thirteen abroad. What first drew my attention to it, I believe, was a none too friendly review of a novel of mine. During the period 1939–42 I produced three or four books and reprints, and I think it is true that I never had what is called a ‘good’ review in Tribune until after I became a member of the staff. (The two events were unconnected, needless to say.) Somewhat later, in the cold winter of 1939, I started writing for Tribune, though at first, curiously enough, without seeing it regularly or getting a clear idea of what kind of paper it was.

Raymond Postgate, who was then editor, had asked me to do the novel reviews from time to time. I was not paid (until recently it was unusual for contributors to left-wing papers to be paid), and I only saw the paper on the somewhat rare occasions when I went up to London and visited Postgate in a bare and dusty office near London Wall. Tribune (until a good deal later everyone called it ‘the’ Tribune) was at that time in difficulties. It was still a threepenny paper aimed primarily at the industrial workers and following more or less the Popular Front line which had been associated with the Left Book Club and the Socialist League. With the outbreak of war its circulation had taken a severe knock, because the Communists and near-Communists who had been among its warmest supporters now refused to help in distributing it. Some of them went on writing for it, however, and the futile controversy between ‘supporters’ and ‘opposers’ of the war continued to rumble in its columns while the German armies gathered for the spring offensives.

Early in 1940 there was a large meeting in a public hall, the purpose of which was to discuss both the future of Tribune and the policy of the left wing of the Labour Party. As is usual on such occasions nothing very definite was said, and what I chiefly remember is a political tip which I received from an inside source. The Norway campaign was ending in disaster, and I had walked to the hall past gloomy posters. Two M.P.s whom I will not name, had just arrived from the House.

‘What chance is there,’ I asked them, ‘of this business getting rid of Chamberlain?’

‘Not a hope,’ they both said. ‘He’s solid.’

I don’t remember dates, but I think it can only have been a week or two before Chamberlain was out of the Premiership.

After that Tribune passed out of my consciousness for nearly two years. I was very busy trying to earn a living and write a book amid the bombs and the general disorganization, and any spare time I had was taken up by the Home Guard, which was still an amateur force and demanded an immense amount of work from its members. When I became aware of Tribune again I was working in the Eastern Service of the B.B.C. It was now an almost completely different paper. It had a different make-up, cost sixpence, was orientated chiefly towards foreign policy, and was rapidly acquiring a new public which mostly belonged, I should say, to the out-at-elbow middle class. Its prestige among the B.B.C. personnel was very striking. In the libraries where commentators went to prime themselves it was one of the most sought-after periodicals, not only because it was largely written by people who knew something at first hand about Europe, but because it was then the only paper of any standing which criticized the Government. Perhaps ‘criticized’ is an over-mild word. Sir Stafford Cripps had gone into the Government, and the fiery personality of Aneurin Bevan gave the paper its tone. On one occasion there were some surprisingly violent attacks on Churchill by someone who called himself ‘Thomas Rainsboro’. This was obviously a pseudonym, and I spent a whole afternoon trying to determine the authorship by stylistic evidence, as the literary critics employed by the Gestapo were said to do with anonymous pamphlets. Finally I decided that ‘Thomas Rainsboro” was a certain W––. A day or two later I met Victor Gollancz, who said to me. ‘Do you know who wrote those Thomas Rainsboro’ articles in Tribune? I’ve just heard. It was W—.’ This made me feel very acute, but a day or two later I heard that we were both wrong.

During this period I occasionally wrote articles for Tribune, but only at long intervals, because I had little time or energy. However, towards the end of 1943 I decided to give up my job in the B.B.C., and I was asked to take over the literary editorship of Tribune, in place of John Atkins, who was expecting call-up. I went on being literary editor, as well as writing the ‘As I Please’ column, until the beginning of 1945. It was interesting, but it is not a period that I look back on with pride. The fact is that I am no good at editing. I hate planning ahead, and I have a psychical or even physical inability to answer letters. My most essential memory of that time is of pulling out a drawer here and a drawer there, finding it in each case to be stuffed with letters and manuscripts which ought to have been dealt with weeks earlier, and hurriedly shutting it up again. Also, I have a fatal tendency to accept manuscripts which I know very well are too bad to be printed. It is questionable whether anyone who has had long experience as a free-lance journalist ought to become an editor. It is too like taking a convict out of his cell and making him governor of the prison. Still, it was ‘all experience’, as they say, and I have friendly memories of my cramped little office looking out on a backyard, and the three of us who shared it huddling in the corner as the doodlebugs came zooming over, and the peaceful click-click of the typewriters starting up again as soon as the bomb had crashed.

Early in 1945 I went to Paris as correspondent for the Observer. In Paris Tribune had a prestige which was somewhat astonishing and which dated from before the liberation. It was impossible to buy it, and the ten copies which the British Embassy received weekly did not, I believe, get outside the walls of the building. Yet all the French journalists I met seemed to have heard of it and to know that it was the one paper in England which had neither supported the Government uncritically, nor opposed the war, nor swallowed the Russian myth. At that time there was—I should like to be sure that it still exists—a weekly paper named Libertés, which was roughly speaking the opposite number of Tribune and which during the occupation had been clandestinely produced on the same machines as printed the Pariser Zeitung.

Libertés, which was opposed to the Gaullists on one side and the Communists on the other, had almost no money and was distributed by groups of volunteers on bicycles. On some weeks it was mangled out of recognition by the censorship; often nothing would be left of an article except some such title as ‘The Truth About Indo-China’ and a completely blank column beneath it. A day or two after I reached Paris I was taken to a semi-public meeting of the supporters of Libertés, and was amazed to find that about half of them knew all about me and about Tribune. A large working man in black corduroy breeches came up to me, exclaimed ‘Ah, vous êtes Georges Orrvell!’ and crushed the bones of my hand almost to pulp. He had heard of me because Libertés made a practice of translating extracts from Tribune. I believe one of the editors used to go to the British Embassy every week and demand to see a copy. It seemed to me somehow touching that one could have acquired, without knowing it, a public among people like this: whereas among the huge tribe of American journalists at the Hotel Seribe, with their glittering uniforms and their stupendous salaries, I never encountered one who had heard of Tribune.

For six months during the summer of 1946 I gave up being a writer in Tribune and became merely a reader, and no doubt from time to time I shall do the same again; but I hope that my association with it may long continue, and I hope that in 1957 I shall be writing another annivesary article. I do not even hope that by that time Tribune will have slaughtered all its rivals. It takes all sorts to make a world, and if one could work these things out one might discover that even the — — serves a useful purpose. Nor is Tribune itself perfect, as I should know, having seen it from the inside. But I do think that it is the only existing weekly paper that makes a genuine effort to be both progressive and humane—that is, to combine a radical Socialist policy with a respect for freedom of speech and a civilized attitude towards literature and the arts: and I think that its relative popularity, and even its survival in its present form for five years or more, is a hopeful symptom.




February 7:


RECENTLY I have been looking through Mr Peter Hunot’s Man About the House, published a month or two back by the Pilot Press. Books telling you how to do household repairs are fairly numerous, but I think this is about the best I have seen. The author gathered his experience the hard way by taking over a nearly derelict house and making it habitable with his own hands. He thus concentrates on the sort of difficulties that do actually arise in real life, and does not, like the author of another book in my possession, tell you how to mend Venetian blinds while ignoring electrical fittings. I looked up all the domestic calamities that I have had to deal with during the past year, and found all of them mentioned, except mice, which perhaps hardly come under the heading of decorations and repairs. The book is also simply written and well illustrated, and takes account of the difficulty nowadays of getting hold of tools and materials.

But I still think that there is room for a very large, comprehensive book of this type, a sort of dictionary or encyclopaedia with every conceivable household job tabulated under alphabetical headings. You would then be able to look up Tap, how to stop a dripping, or Floorboards, causes of squeaking in, with the same certainty of getting the right answer as when you look up madeira cake or Welsh rarebit in Mrs Beeton’s cookery book. The time was when the amateur handyman, with his tack hammer and his pocketful of rawl-plugs, was looked on as a mere eccentric, a joke to his friends and a nuisance to his women-folk. Nowadays, however, you either do your repairs yourself or they don’t get done, and most of us are still remarkably helpless. How many people even know how to replace a broken sash-cord, for instance?

As Mr Hunot points out, much of the tinkering that now goes on would be unnecessary, or would be much easier, if our houses were sensibly built. Even so simple a precaution as putting fuse boxes in get-at-able places would save a lot of nuisance, and the miserable business of putting up shelves could be greatly simplified without any extra materials or radical change in methods. I hear rumours that the new houses now being built will have the pipes so placed that they will not freeze, but surely this cannot be true. There will be a snag somewhere, and the annual freeze-up will happen as usual. Burst water-pipes are a part of the English winter, no less than muffins or roasted chestnuts, and doubtless Shakespeare would have mentioned them in the song at the end of Love’s Labour’s Lost, if there had been water-pipes in those days.

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IT is too early to cheer, but I must say that up to date the phenomena of the freeze-up have been less unpleasant than those of 1940. On that occasion the village where I lived was not only so completely snowed up that for a week or more it was impossible to get out of it, or for any food vans to get in, but every tap and pump in the village froze so hard that for several days we had no water except melted snow. The disagreeable thing about this is that snow is always dirty, except just after it has fallen. I have noticed this even in the high peaks of the Atlas mountains, miles from human habitation. The everlasting snow which looks so virginal, is in fact distinctly grimy when you get close to it.


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ABOUT the time when Sir Stafford Cripps came back from India, I heard it remarked that the Cripps offer had not been extended to Burma because the Burmese would have accepted it. I don’t know whether any such calculation really entered into the minds of Churchill and the rest. It is perfectly possible: at any rate, I think that responsible Burmese politicians would have accepted such an offer, although at that moment Burma was in process of being overrun by the Japanese. I also believe that an offer of Dominion status would have been gladly accepted if we had made it in 1944 and had named a definite date. As it is, the suspicions of the Burmese have been well roused, and it will probably end by our simply getting out of Burma on the terms least advantageous to both countries.

If that happens, I should like to think that the position of the racial minorities could be safeguarded by something better than promises. They number ten to twenty per cent of the population, and they present several different kinds of problem. The biggest group, the Karens, are a racial enclave living largely within Burma proper. The Kachins and other frontier tribes are a good deal more backward and more different from the Burmese in customs and appearance. They have never been under Burmese rule—indeed, their territories were only very sketchily occupied even by the British. In the past they were well able to maintain their independence, but probably would not be able to do so in the face of modern weapons. The other big group, the Shans, who are racially akin to the Siamese, enjoyed some faint traces of autonomy under British rule. The minority who are in the most difficult position of all are the Indians. There were over a million of them in Burma before the war. Two hundred thousand of them fled to India at the time of the Japanese invasion—an act which demonstrated better than any words could have done their real position in the country.

I remember twenty years ago a Karen remarking to me, ‘I hope the British will stay in Burma for two hundred years.’ ‘Why?’—‘Because we do not wish to be ruled by Burmese.’ Even at the time it struck me that sooner or later it would become a problem. The fact is that the question of minorities is literally insoluble so long as nationalism remains a real force. The desire of some of the peoples of Burma for autonomy is genuine, but it cannot be satisfied in any secure way unless the sovereignty of Burma as a whole is interfered with. The same problem comes up in a hundred other places. Ought the Sudan to be independent of Egypt? Ought Ulster to be independent of Eire? Ought Eire to be independent of Britain? And so on. Whenever A is oppressing B, it is clear to people of goodwill that B ought to be independent, but then it always turns out that there is another group, C, which is anxious to be independent of B. The question is always how large must a minority be before it deserves autonomy. At best, each case can only be treated on its merits in a rough and ready way: in practice, no one is consistent in his thinking on this subject, and the minorities which win the most sympathy are those that have the best means of publicity. Who is there who champions equally the Jews, the Balts, the Indonesians, the expelled Germans, the Sudanese, the Indian Untouchables and the South African Kaffirs? Sympathy for one group almost invariably entails callousness towards another.

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WHEN H. G. Wells’s The Island of Doctor Moreau was reprinted in the Penguin Library, I looked to see whether the slips and misprints which I remembered in earlier editions had been repeated in it. Sure enough, they were still there. One of them is a particularly stupid misprint, of a kind to make most writers squirm. In 1941 I pointed this out to H. G. Wells, and asked him why he did not remove it. It had persisted through edition after edition ever since 1896. Rather to my surprise, he said that he remembered the misprint, but could not be bothered to do anything about it. He no longer took the faintest interest in his early books: they had been written so long ago that he no longer felt them to be part of himself. I have never been quite sure whether to admire this attitude or not. It is magnificent to be so free from literary vanity. And yet, what writer of Wells’s gifts, if he had had any power of self-criticism or regard for his own reputation. would have poured out in fifty years a total of ninety-five books, quite two thirds of which have already ceased to be readable?




February 14:


HERE are some excerpts from a letter from a Scottish Nationalist. I have cut out anything likely to reveal the writer’s identity. The frequent references to Poland are there because the letter is primarily concerned with the presence of exiled Poles in Scotland:

The Polish forces have now discovered how untrue it is to say ‘An Englishman’s word is his bond’. We could have told you so hundreds of years ago. The invasion of Poland was only an excuse for these brigands in bowler hats to beat up their rivals the Germans and the Japs, with the help of Americans, Poles, Scots, Frenchmen, etc. etc. Surely no Pole believes any longer in English promises. Now that the war is over you are to be cast aside and dumped in Scotland. If this leads to friction between the Poles and Scots so much the better. Let them slit each other’s throats and two problems would be thereupon ‘solved’. Dear, kind little England! It is time for all Poles to shed any ideas they may have about England as a champion of freedom. Look at her record in Scotland, for instance. And please don’t refer to us as ‘Britons’. There is no such race. We are Scots and that’s good enough for us. The English changed their name to British, but even if a criminal changes his name he can be known by his fingerprints . . . Please disregard any anti-Polish statement in the — — —. It is a boot-licking pro-English (pro-Moscow you would call it) rag. Scotland experienced her Yalta in 1707 when English gold achieved what English guns could not do. But we will never accept defeat. After more than two hundred years we are still fighting for our country and will never acknowledge defeat whatever the odds.


There is a good deal more in the letter, but this should be enough. It will be noted that the writer is not attacking England from what is called a ‘left’ standpoint, but on the ground that Scotland and England are enemies as nations. I don’t know whether it would be fair to read race-theory into this letter, but certainly the writer hates us as bitterly as a devout Nazi would hate a Jew. It is not a hatred of the capitalist class, or anything like that, but of England. And though the fact is not sufficiently realized, there is an appreciable amount of this kind of thing knocking about. I have seen almost equally violent statements in print.

Up to date the Scottish Nationalist movement seems to have gone almost unnoticed in England. To take the nearest example to hand, I don’t remember having seen it mentioned in Tribune, except occasionally in book reviews. It is true that it is a small movement, but it could grow, because there is a basis for it. In this country I don’t think it is enough realized—I myself had no idea of it until a few years ago—that Scotland has a case against England. On economic grounds it may not be a very strong case. In the past, certainly, we have plundered Scotland shamefully, but whether it is now true that England as a whole exploits Scotland as a whole, and that Scotland would be better off if fully autonomous, is another question. The point is that many Scottish people, often quite moderate in outlook, are beginning to think about autonomy and to feel that they are pushed into an inferior position. They have a good deal of reason. In some areas, at any rate, Scotland is almost an occupied country. You have an English or anglicized upper class, and a Scottish working class which speaks with a markedly different accent, or even, part of the time, in a different language. This is a more dangerous kind of class division than any now existing in England. Given favourable circumstances it might develop in an ugly way, and the fact that there was a progressive Labour Government in London might not make much difference.

No doubt Scotland’s major ills will have to be cured along with those of England. But meanwhile there are things that could be done to case the cultural situation. One small but not negligible point is the language. In the Gaelic-speaking areas, Gaelic is not taught in the schools. I am speaking from limited experience, but I should say that this is beginning to cause resentment. Also, the B.B.C. only broadcasts two or three half-hour Gaelic programmes a week, and they give the impression of being rather amateurish programmes. Even so they are eagerly listened to. How easy it would be to buy a little good-will by putting on a Gaelic programme at least once daily.

At one time I would have said that it is absurd to keep alive an archaic language like Gaelic, spoken by only a few hundred thousand people. Now I am not so sure. To begin with, if people feel that they have a special culture which ought to be preserved, and that the language is part of it, difficulties should not be put in their way when they want their children to learn it properly. Secondly, it is probable that the effort of being bilingual is a valuable education in itself. The Scottish Gaelic-speaking peasants speak beautiful English, partly, I think, because English is an almost foreign language which they sometimes do not use for days together. Probably they benefit intellectually by having to be aware of dictionaries and grammatical rules, as their English opposite numbers would not be.

At any rate, I think we should pay more attention to the small but violent separatist movements which exist within our own island. They may look very unimportant now, but, after all, the Communist Manifesto was once a very obscure document, and the Nazi Party only had six members when Hitler joined it.

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TO change the subject a bit, here is an excerpt from another letter. It is from a whisky distiller:

We regret we are reluctantly compelled to return your cheque as owing to Mr Strachey’s failure to fulfil his promise to release barley for distilling in Scotland we dare not take on any new business . . . . When you have difficulty in obtaining a drink it will be some consolation to you to know that Mr Strachey has sent 35,000 tons of barley to NEUTRAL Eire for brewing purposes.


People must be feeling very warmed-up when they put that kind of thing into a business letter which, by the look of it, is almost a circular letter. It doesn’t matter very much, because whisky distillers and even their customers don’t add up to many votes. But I wish I could feel sure that the people who make remarks like the one I overheard in the greengrocer’s queue yesterday—‘Government! They couldn’t govern a sausage-shop, this lot couldn’t!’—were equally few in numbers.

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SKELTON is not an easy poet to get hold of, and I have never yet possessed a complete edition of his works. Recently, in a selection I had picked up, I looked for and failed to find a poem which I remember reading years ago. It was what is called a macaronic poem—part English, part Latin—and was an elegy on the death of somebody or other. The only passage I can recall runs:

Sepultus est among the weeds,
God forgive him his misdeeds,
With hey ho, rumbelo,
Rumpopulorum,
Per omnia saecula,
Saecula saeculorum.

It has stuck in my mind because it expresses an outlook totally impossible in our own age. Today there is literally no one who could write of death in that light-hearted manner. Since the decay of the belief in personal immortality, death has never seemed funny, and it will be a long time before it does so again. Hence the disappearance of the facetious epitaph, once a common feature of country churchyards. I should be astonished to see a comic epitaph dated later than 1850. There is one in Kew, if I remember rightly, which might be about that date. About half the tombstone is covered with a long panegyric on his dead wife by a bereaved husband: at the bottom of the stone is a later inscription which reads, ‘Now he’s gone, too’.

One of the best epitaphs in English is Landor’s epitaph on ‘Dirce’, a pseudonym for I do not know whom. It is not exactly comic, but it is essentially profane. If I were a woman it would be my favourite epitaph—that is to say, it would be the one I should like to have for myself. It runs:

Stand close around, ye Stygian set,
With Dirce in one boat conveyed,
Or Charon, seeing, may forget
That he is old and she a shade.

It would almost be worth being dead to have that written about you.




February 21:


Manchester Evening News, for Tribune.

For the third and fourth weeks of February 1947, the national weekend reviews and many trade papers were suspended from publication by government order because of the severe shortage of fuel and the consequent power cuts. To help out during the crisis, The Observer, the Manchester Evening News, and the Daily Herald offered Tribune the hospitality of their columns. Orwell refers to the suspension and the loss of revenue for Tribune in his letter to Dwight Macdonald of 26 February 1947. The following is an extract-row George Orwell’s page, ‘As I Please,’ included each week in ‘Tribune’.


THE NEWS that, for the second time in the last few months, a play banned from the stage is to be broadcast by the B.B.C. (which will probably enable it to each a much bigger public than it would if it were acted) brings out once gain the absurdity of the rules governing literary censorship in Britain.

It is only stage plays and films that have to be submitted for censorship before they appear. So far as books go you can print what you like and take the risk of prosecution. Thus, banned plays like Granville Barker’s ‘Waste’ and Bernard Shaw’s ‘Mrs. Warren’s Profession’ could immediately appear in book form with no danger of prosecution, and no doubt sell all the better for the scandal that had happened beforehand. It is fair to say that, if they are any good, banned plays usually see the light sooner or later. Even ‘Waste,’ which brought in politics as well as sex, was finally allowed to appear thirty years after it was written, when the topicality which gave it a good deal of its force had vanished.

The trouble with the Lord Chamberlain’s censorship of plays is not that it happens, but that it is barbarous and stupid-being, apparently, done by bureaucrats with no literary training. If there is to be censorship, it is better that it should happen beforehand, so that the author may know where he stands. Books are only very rarely banned in Britain, but the bannings that do happen are usually quite arbitrary. ‘The Well of Loneliness,’ for example, was suppressed, while other books on the same theme, appearing round about the same time, went unnoticed.

The book that gets dropped on is the one that happens to have been brought to the attention of some illiterate official. Perhaps half the novels now published might suffer this fate if they happened to get into the right hands. Indeed—though the dead are always respectable ‘I doubt whether Petronius, or Chaucer, or Rabelais, or Shakespeare would remain un-bowdlerised if our magistrates and police were greater readers.




February 27:


Daily Herald, for Tribune.

The extracts from Tribune were preceded by this statement: 'The Daily Herald has again allotted space to "Tribune", the Socialist weekly, which has had to suspend publication because of the power cuts.' The space allotted on 20 February was not devoted to anything by Orwell, nor does anything of his appear on any other day during this period. A different section of'As I Please,' was published by the Manchester Evening News on February 28th.


RECENTLY I was looking through a child's illustrated alphabet, published this year. It is what is called a "travel alphabet." Here are the rhymes accompanying three of the letters, J, N and U:

J for the Junk which the Chinaman finds Is useful for carrying goods of all kinds.
N for the Native from Africa's land.
He looks very fierce with his spear in his hand.
U for the Union Jacks Pam and John carry While out for a hike with their nice Uncle Harry.

The "native" in the picture is a Zulu dressed only in some bracelets and a fragment of leopard skin. As for the Junk, the detail of the picture is very small, but the "Chinamen" portrayed in it appear to be wearing pigtails.

Perhaps there is not much to object to in the presence of the Union Jack. This is an age of competing nationalisms, and who shall blame us if we flourish our own emblems along with all the rest? But is it really necessary, in 1947, to teach children to use expressions like "native" and "Chinaman"?

The last-named word has been regarded as offensive by the Chinese for at least a dozen years. As for "native," it was being officially discountenanced even in India as long as twenty years ago.

It is no use answering that it is childish for an Indian or an African to feel insulted when he is called a "native." We all have these feelings in one form or another. If a Chinese wants to be called a Chinese and not a Chinaman, if a Scotsman objects to being called a Scotchman, or if a Negro demands his capital N, it is only the most ordinary politeness to do what is asked of one.

The sad thing about this alphabet-book is that the writer obviously has no intention of insulting the "lower" races. He is merely not quite aware that they are human beings like ourselves. A "native" is a comic black man with very few clothes on; a "Chinaman" wears a pigtail and travels in a junk— which is about as true as saying that an Englishman wears a top hat and travels in a hansom cab.

This unconsciously patronising attitude is learned in childhood and then, as here, passed on to a new generation of children. And sometimes it pops up in quite enlightened people, with disconcerting results; as for instance at the end of 1941, when China officially became our Ally, and at the first important anniversary the B.B.C. celebrated the occasion by flying the Chinese flag over Broadcasting House, and flying it upside-down.






February 28:


(Manchester Evening News for Tribune)


ONE thing one notices in these days when typewriters have become so scarce is the astonishing badness of nearly everyone’s handwriting. A handwriting which is both pleasant to look at and easy to read is now a very rare thing. To bring about an improvement we should probably have to evolve a generally accepted ‘style’ of writing such as we possessed in the past and have now lost.

For several centuries in the Middle Ages the professional scribes wrote an exquisite script, or rather a series of scripts, which no one now living could equal. Then handwriting declined, reviving in the nineteenth century after the invention of the steel pen. The style then favoured was ‘copperplate.’ It was neat and legible, but it was full of unnecessary lines and did not fit in with the modern tendency to get rid of ornament wherever possible. Then it became the fashion to teach children script, usually with disastrous results. To write script with real neatness one practically has to learn to draw, and it is impossible to write it as rapidly as a cursive hand. Many young or youngish people now make use of an uneasy compromise between script and copperplate, and indeed there are many adult and fully literate people whose handwriting has never properly ‘formed.’

It would be interesting to know whether there is any connection between neat handwriting and literary ability. I must say that the modern examples I am able to think of do not seem to prove much. Miss Rebecca West has an exquisite handwriting, and so has Mr. Middleton Murry. Sir Osbert Sitwell, Mr. Stephen Spender, and Mr. Evelyn Waugh all have handwritings which, to put it as politely as possible, are not good. Professor Laski writes a hand which is attractive to look at but difficult to read. Arnold Bennett wrote a beautiful tiny hand over which he took immense pains. H. G. Wells had an attractive but untidy writing. Carlyle’s writing was so bad that one compositor is said to have left Edinburgh in order to get away from the job of setting it up. Mr. Bernard Shaw writes a small, clear but not very elegant hand. And as for the most famous and respected of living English novelists, his writing is such that when I was at the B.B.C. and had the honour of putting him on the air once a month there was only one secretary in the whole department who could decipher his manuscripts.






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