W A popular hieroglyphic for Viva.
LETTERS OF TRAVEL
XV. FROM MONTE CARLO
The voice of a man in the Riviera express: "I am absolutely broke. I'm up against it, up against the great It, and it's neck or nothing for me, my boy—so I'm off for Monte Carlo. I'm going to leave it to Chance, and Chance is the best counsellor after all. What's human wisdom by the side of Chance? Just a turn of the wheel, and all my troubles are solved."
"God d—-n it, it's more sporting than fretting my brains out in a dirty city like London or Paris, and trying to find a way out of my tangle. Heads I win, tails——well, devil take it, tails doesn't matter. I've lost, anyway."
It reminded me somehow of the title of a famous story: "Never Bet the Devil your Head." But there's no need to feel righteous. We all do it. We yield to despair. A wise man said, "Gambling is the real sin against the Holy Ghost because no man should be so unfaithful to his God-given reason as to resort to chance, and all things are possible for the man who believes."
All things are possible for a man, for a nation, for a Europe, no matter in what plight they find themselves, if only they will yield to the Spirit.
However, it is not of much use talking in this wise to a scoffer. He that maun to Cupar maun to Cupar. We're all in the same express train, plunging towards the Riviera.
The wild shore of North-western Italy and Southern France, tamed with villas and white halls, and luxurious with palms and vineyards hinting of North Africa. You roll along a magnificent coast to the Principality of Monaco, and Europe's formal garden of sin. It makes much difference whether you arrive there in despair, or just in a spirit of curiosity, or for a change, or "to make a little money," or for your health, or whether you just land up there through weariness of travel. But you always find Monte Carlo has been arranged for your arrival. It is serious; it is smart and clean. Everything seems first class. There is something of the smartness of execution morning when a court-martial sentence is being carried out.
Yes, there are no poor at Monte Carlo; a poor person is thought to be ugly in himself, and is not allowed to dwell there. Even an ill-dressed person might be conducted to the frontier. No beggars are allowed. No bits of dirty paper or refuse are lying in the streets, and certainly there are no weeds in the gardens. The profits of the gambling-tables provide the most efficient municipality in the world, and no one who lives in Monaco is charged any taxes; the revenue derived from roulette covers all that and more besides. At the same time, no actual resident is allowed to stake his money at the tables.
Everything here is perfect. It has been produced like the scenery of a piece, and when you arrive the curtain goes slowly up, and it is your first night. The beauty which you see is strangely artificial, and all partakes of the grotesque. Here flourishes that monstrous cactus-like growth called prickly-pear, with flat flap-like leaves resembling fingerless green hands; warped and brutal-looking stems looking like palsied arms. The cactus is abloom in red-hot poker ends. Orange trees and lemon trees and olive trees abound. Burlesquely-shaped palms, swathed in their overcoats, stand on the green lawns like waxwork figures. There is a strange field of palms, and above and behind them the great rocks of the mountain coast, and then the sea-serpents of green water and white foam.
You walk along the parade-ground of the Terrace where wealth and style show themselves to themselves, and then enter the gloomy portals of the gaming-halls, and you step at once into a new and very serious atmosphere. You feel something of the seriousness of an animal's mind when it has become conscious of the existence somewhere of a trap.
The Casino is like a great club. You leave your hat and stick and coat. You go upstairs, not as a visitor, but as one at home. The place is moving with well-dressed people, some passing one way, some another. You show your pass-ticket, and come not without trepidation to the actual tables. I have all my travelling expenses in my pocket—what if I get infected and put all on to a number?
The first impression is pleasant. In a mellow, golden light, a whole series of happy afternoon-parties have been arranged. Groups of interesting strangers have found a common interest and are sitting side by side in perfect good manners around tables. There is only one row of seats round each table, no tiers of seats. It is like a party at home. At the back of those who sit others are standing looking on—not indifferently. Tokens—chips, as they are called—are being placed on various numbers, on the chance of a red number, or the chance of a black number, on the chance of an even or on the chance of uneven, pair or Impair, passe or manque. It is so elementary that even the dullest of Europeans can grasp the game at a few glances.
The croupiers, with their rakes, also sit at table (among the guests), and help see that all is in order. The ball spins round. It rattles. It loses its clear course and will come to rest in a slot. It does. Some have won, many have lost.
The many parties, each with its separate table and distinct stories of chance and luck going on, are intense and preoccupied. The sitters have notebooks in which they record the numbers which win and on which they base their future "play." Some play exclusively on colour, others on odds and evens, others on the dozens, others on voisinage, others on numbers, some on zero. It is very serious. In the secret hearts of the sitters some liken themselves to Napoleon, who, they are persuaded, was at once one of the greatest of gamblers and the greatest of men. Some are would-be Cagliostros and Michael Scotts. You see the stupid, brainy European, devoid of superstition as he thinks, and yet eaten up with natural superstition. You see also the emotional turbulent soul developing abnormality and mania on absurd stakes for money, the mad, unpractical Russian staking on zero or on the slenderest chance for the greatest of gains. The Russians and the Jews and the Americans are the greatest of gamblers.
No, it is not quite such a pleasant atmosphere as you thought when you first came in. It is an atmosphere in which vigilance tries to still the pulse. You pass restlessly from one hypnotized table of gamblers to another. The grandeur of gold and heavy glass make you feel as if you were swimming under water in some great untroubled lake. And as you tread softly and silently over the thick carpets it is something like swimming. There is an intense stillness about each roulette table. Even the winners are impassive. And the groups are gloomier still at the stables where they are playing "Trente et Quarante."
"Every one came in to win, but nearly every one is losing—isn't it like life?" said a friend.
"Worse even than life."
Pompous and watchful lackeys dressed as for the stage are walking about, keeping their eyes open for sharps, for possible scandal-raisers, or would-be suicides. The greatest care is taken to preserve decorum. If you lose your whole fortune there you must not shout it out and strike a heroic posture or blow your brains out. These strong lackeys will whisk you dexterously from the scene before the other gamblers realize what you were about to do. There is a sense of being watched all the while.
"Faites le jeu, messieurs!"
"Le jeu est fait."
"Rien ne va plus."
The winners get their winnings. The bank rakes in tremendous quantities of money-tokens. Its success is very impressive.
You see very clearly demonstrated how poor is the mental apparatus of the average man. No wonder it is difficult to get Europe on to a basis of common sense when homo sapiens has such a limited brain-box.
"I'm staking on the number 13 now," says one. "The number 13 has not come up for thirty-four times. It's almost bound to come soon."
"So as to correspond to the theory of chances."
"I don't suppose the number 13 is much excited about it."
The number 13 comes up. The exultant gambler pockets thirty-six times his stake, and then engrosses himself in his exercise-book of figures to find another number which hasn't come up for a long while.
He stakes on 7.
Thirteen comes up again.
"What a fool I was," he whispers in mortification. "I ought to have known there was a chance of its coming up a second time."
To the theory of chances most minds are susceptible and this delightful theory lies at the bottom of most systems.
Not in the case, however, of a certain lady who claimed to have considerable success. She played by astrology. She kept the record of the winning numbers. "See," said she, "how many of them are even numbers."
"Why is that?" I murmured.
"Hercules is in the ascendant this month. That always means more even numbers."
You do not see the humour of such a remark whilst you are in the Casino. The strain on the minds of the gamblers tells on your mind, too. It is terribly tiring for every one taking part, and this is noticeable in the drawn and fatigued-looking faces. Even the croupiers have to be changed every hour. The strain is utterly exhausting.
It would doubtless be different in these fine high halls if there were currents of air, but there are not. It is thousand-times-breathed gamblers' breath that you are breathing, suffused with the heavy odour of the expensive perfumes on the women. What a change when you step outside into the fresh air once more. You realize what it feels like when the Casino closes, and the maniacs with their hot heads are actually forced to leave the tables and come out.
To think that at ten in the morning there are queues waiting to get in and get seats at the tables, and that men and women are ready to remain at the tables all day, and can live on it and die at it!
Up on the heights above, at Rocco Bruna, is a Saracen-built little town with strange dark people who seldom come down from the heights. You go by shady steps between high white walls to a little chapel, and there on Sunday a beloved cure beguiles an innocent little flock with a murmuring, heavenly, sing-song voice, whilst the children with untroubled voices are like larks in a heaven above Monte Carlo, singing, "Sancta, sancta, nostra Dama priez pour nous!"
I'd rather live at Rocca Bruna than in the main seat of the Principality of Monaco. So would we all. But the devil has got such a terrible pull.
LETTERS OF TRAVEL
XVI. FROM LONDON
You would hardly think that the greatest drama in world history is being played out in Europe, and that England was taking a part. You would hardly think that England herself was in mortal danger. London astonishes the traveller. It seems entirely given over to trivial and alien interest. Betting on horses has never reached such dimensions. Whilst the street-criers of Belgrade keep calling "Politika, Politika!" and the attention of Berlin is ruefully pinned down to Reparations, and Paris is dignified and serious and national in both newspapers and conversation, you hear nothing in the streets of London but, "What's the latest, Bill?" and "I can tell you of a 'orse."
In the vestry of a fashionable church the admirers of a certain earnest preacher come to see him after the sermon. Says a lady, "Well, padre, can you tell us the great secret?"
The priest pauses and reflects.
"I suppose by the great secret you mean the love of God? I could not tell you that at once."
"Oh, no," says the lady, "I don't mean that. I mean who will be winner on June the first."
Derby Day is given in the Press the prominence of a grand European event. Descriptions of what the ladies wear at Ascot occupy as many columns in the newspaper as the condition of four million unemployed occupy lines. The attention of the public is engulfed in second-rate sport. It is not as if there were a real boom in sport. The war has effected men's physique and their nerves so that most sporting exhibitions are of the second class. Strictly speaking, it is not an interesting cricket year. But the interest in the county competitions has been whipped up by the Press till people buy special editions of papers, not for the latest news from Silesia or Turkey, or of the great strikes, but to know how Middlesex or Lancashire is getting on. England versus Australia is greatly starred. England loses matches, and the nation seems as much plunged in gloom as she was at the failures of the old South African War. In the golf and tennis and polo competitions there is a similar neurotic interest in the supposed sporting rivalry of England and America. It seems even fortunate for the mens sana of old Britain that she has failed in boxing, and that the Dempsey-Carpentier match in America did not affect our national status in our own esteem.
But even our secondary public interests are not in vital matters. The traveller returning to London in the summer of 1921 plunges into a whole series of unsavoury divorce cases being threshed out in public. Divorce is applied for, considered, granted, in every capital in Europe, but nowhere does it receive the publicity in the Press that it does in England. Its unseemly details are left in the obscurity of private life elsewhere, and not brought forward for public consideration as in England. One arrives in London just in time to hear the Lord Chief Justice make a grand summing-up of a nullity suit, and to hear two other judges court the public eye with detailed remarks in levity of moral conduct and the immodesty of women. We sometimes in England refer to the poisonous daily Press of Paris, but Paris, with all its men-and-women troubles, has no salacious columns in its papers comparable to those of England. It would not at present pay in Paris; the people are not so much interested.
Sport is the first interest; divorce second; and only third comes the great coal strike which threatens a revolution in industrial life. Fourth in interest come anti-waste crusades directed against an unpopular Government. Then the Irish trouble, and after that probably European affairs.
"They're writing so much about sport just to keep people's minds off the coal strike and more serious matters," says a comfortably-minded citizen. "The Government gives the papers a hint every day as to the line to take."
The idea that the Government prompts the Press came with the war and the efforts of the Press Bureau, and has come perhaps to stay. Journalists have made great efforts since 1918 to regain for the British Press that independence and freedom it had before the war. Fleet Street has been hard hit, and the free-lancers who live outside Fleet Street hit harder still. Not that the writing profession has been beaten by the manipulators of public opinion. It is fighting hard in London and will ultimately win.
But some one is responsible for a perversion of public interest at this time, and for leading the mind of the nation away from the real points of vital significance. It is not mere commerce. Papers could have been sold in even greater numbers on the strength of the stupendous political events of England and the Continent.
England is a democracy, but what is the virtue of a democracy which languishes in ignorance? Of all countries Britain has now the broadest basis of franchise. We can vote, but what is the use of voting when you know nothing of the issues at stake, and when even the candidates are ignorant of affairs and try to win by making sentimental popular appeals to varying prejudices? England is low. It is a humiliating platitude. England stands far lower to-day than the level of her national sacrifices.
The civil service and army and police are carrying on the administration of Great Britain and Ireland, and foreign and imperial policy. Politicians and statesmen seem to be inferior in mind and training to the civil servants who keep the machine going. The gifts requisite for getting into power in England are not the same gifts which are needed for wise government. What the undistinguished have learned painfully at school our leaders somehow have missed. One could forgive the politician if he understood the elements of political economy. But the unforgiveable confronts us, and our new system of government has admitted to power people capable of abrogating penny post and abolishing penny-a-mile railway travel, and of raising telephone charges because the more the subscribers the more the expense. If they are capable of these elementary mistakes it is not surprising that they should have failed to ward off the great trade depression, and failed to help Europe to get together. The accessibility of markets in Europe does not interest politicians except in the most casual way.
A remarkable phenomenon of the time is the continuation of the grand traffic in public honours which reached such dimensions during the war. It cannot be thought that the party funds of the politicians in power are so low that they have to be supplemented two or three times a year. Yet on June 4th, for instance, behold once more new Barons, Baronets, Knights, Orders of the Bath, and Privy Councillors in columns of names. Over and above the heads of the ordinary English people a new aristocracy, if one can call it so, is being built up from the ranks of business men. The ordinary British citizen begins to feel in a vague way that there are now many thousands of new titled people up above. One wonders what it means for the future. Is England going to develop a new caste system which the commonalty will have to fight? There are now six barons of the Press, and "The Times" and "Daily Mail," the "Daily Telegraph," the "Sunday Herald," the "Express," the "News of the World," the "Daily Chronicle," and "Pall Mall Gazette," are, as it were, feudal castles and feudal organizations in our new England. It is enough to start a new War of the Roses. Lord Northcliffe has much in common with the king-maker if prime ministers are uncrowned kings. These Press barons in their way are remarkable men, but as the gates were opened to let them in a whole host of other people slipped through. It is a human weakness to desire decorations. It ought to be the function of a strong, wise Government to save us from ourselves. In the sixteenth century Spaniards gave coloured beads to Indians in exchange for gold. In the twentieth century something similar obtains in England where successful gentlemen part with large sums in exchange for tiny decorations.
Perhaps the matter is not so important as it might seem to the theorist. Japanese students of our life make many strange deductions from such phenomena as the extensive manufacture of new titles of nobility. But whether they are right or wrong in their far-drawn conclusions it must be admitted that so much honour bestowed in such unremarkable days has made us flabby as a nation.
Indeed, we suffer by comparison with the French and the Americans who have notably increased the dignity of simple citizenship. And yet another contrast strikes one after a tour of Europe in 1921 and that is that in England, despite protests about taxes, there are more people of independent means than in any other country. The pensionnaires of the State and of industry have increased with us, whilst in many countries they have almost disappeared. Fewer people are actually earning their living in England than in any other country; more people are just passengers on the economic machine. The working part of the population carries a mass of non-workers on its back all the while. Anyone who did well in the great war could reasonably hope to lay by 25,000 pounds which gave him an income of 1,000 pounds a year tax free. That 1,000 pounds a year tax free has now to be earned by those who work and given to those who work not. In Germany, in Austria, there were also those who did well in the war and invested in war loans and the like. But their currency depreciated to such an extent that what would have been an income equivalent to 1,000 pounds a year had Germany won, became in Germany 80 pounds a year, and in Austria only 7 pounds or 8 pounds. They have to work nowadays. So have all the old moneyed class. And even in France and Italy incomes have been reduced by one-half and two-thirds. England is fortunate no doubt; but in another sense she is unfortunate. We cannot exactly afford so many idle hands; nor can we afford the number of empty minds that England has to-day. And more time and trouble is being given to the education of children who will not do anything for England than to the education of the middle and working classes. The teachers generally are very enthusiastic for their profession and their work. Like the journalists they would make for real values, but they are obstructed by forces which prove too great for them.
The remedy which is generally propounded is "revolution," and revolution of a kind is bound to come. It is difficult to believe in the suggestion of Chesterton, "Our wrath come after Russia's wrath, and our wrath prove the worst." It may not be wrath but it will be change. A few men on Clydeside and a few in South Wales are of the dangerous stuff, but most people in Great Britain are passive to a fault. A great economic change brought about by business depression is more probable than a stampede to the barricades.
Strangely enough, all winter, spring, and summer of 1921 the "cost of living" decreased in England. No doubt, if England resolved to live on European food instead of colonial food, and if she could get that food in sufficient quantities, and if she could import all the goods she requires, the "cost of living" would still go down for quite an appreciable time. Down also would go the pound, and eventually up—very rapidly up—would go the cost of living.
The position of the pound is in any case against nature. Money and the cost of materials tend like water to find a common level. The majestic pound is standing up on end like the waters of the Red Sea to let the Israelites pass over dry-shod out of Egypt. When they get to the other side down will come the pound.
There is besides the economic element of revolution a political one also. If England follows her parliamentary institutions and does not suspend them as Czecho-Slovakia has done hers, there is bound to be a great change soon. Adult franchise of male and female ought certainly to bring Labour into power. But the spirit of England will overcome the greed and vulgarity of the age.
England still preserves a fine reputation on the Continent. That is because of the code of a gentleman. The man who keeps his word, lives cleanly, and is generally reserved in conversation, is admired in every capital. The political efforts made to ease the peace treaty and help the Germans, have done England's reputation no harm. The English fill the imagination as men of honour.
It is difficult, however, to relate England to Europe. In terms of England's honour we are nearer than we were, and Perfide Albion is not nearly so perfidious. But as a business people we are out of touch. We have more bad types of business men than formerly. There are a lot of commercial rogues, who, at least, call themselves English, though their mothers may have played false. On the other hand, the stalwart, honest type does not get on so well as he did. The war has confused his mind a little. Many still want to punish the Germans. And in punishing the ex-enemy they punish themselves.
One would think that the supposed "nation of shopkeepers" would be appealed to on grounds of commercial sagacity. A nation that has made the experiment of a business government might be expected to live by a business code. It is well known in business that good-will is the foundation of prosperous trade, and that hostile relationships do not pay.
How often has one read this type of appeal in England. The sentences are taught in English commercial correspondence classes:
"I want to make a proposition to you, a strictly commercial proposition. How can we help one another to do more business? How can we be mutually serviceable to one another? Think it over. I do you a good turn now because I know you are certain to be in a position by and by to do me a good turn."
It has been open for England to say this to Germany, France, Serbia, Czecho-Slovakia, the United States, and to many other countries, but for some reason or other we have held off. We have substituted another and not very worthy phrase, "Let them stew in their own juice," forgetting that if we let them stew there we shall stew, too, in ours. And it is not likely to be a very good stew.
"The Times" has given its powerful influence to promote the idea of an alliance with France. But it came at a moment when France had just been thwarted by Great Britain in her European policy. Moreover, it was not inspired by either the people or the Government of England. France understood this. "The Times" also has been developing the idea of Anglo-American friendship, and that has made more progress there. The many titled American women in England naturally desire it, and collectively they have considerable power. Most American writers in England and English writers in America work for it.
"If we can't run together, we of the same blood and of the same tongue," says Sinclair Lewis, to a literary club one June night, "let's give it up. Let's cry off altogether and admit that we are all a lot of savages."
The English masses are indifferent to the idea of alliance. The real opposition to it is not in England, but in America where Anglophobes abound. There are more haters of England in America than in the countries of Europe—more lovers also. Both are sensitive, and the game of mortifying one another goes on.
Germany, Czecho-Slovakia, Serbia, Hungary, are more eager for a constructive friendship with Great Britain, and indeed generally speaking Europe needs England more than America needs her.
There is one slight exception to the general apathy, and that is the abandonment of anti-Bolshevik hate, and the signing of a trading treaty with Russia—a long-delayed fruit of common sense. Russia is in a desperate plight, and we cannot live by what she yields alone, but it will help. But if we can shake hands with Bolsheviks why not with Germans? It is curious that despite the strong sympathies for Germany in England there is no public move for a friendly understanding between the two powers. Pro-Germans are still a little afraid of the war-epithets and abuse. Commercial travellers in their quiet way are steadily placing orders for cheap German goods all over England, but there is no effort to exploit the situation to the mutual advantage of English and German. Alone Sir Reginald MacKenna, the chairman of the London City and Midland Bank, in a remarkable speech to the shareholders and directors indicated our astonishing passivity. The war has brought Germany low, and the lower she goes the more dangerous she is to the rest of us. But no one will face it. If we did resolve to face it we should find many Germans ready to co-operate and give help in exchange for help. The low German mark may seem to mean the ruin of English manufacturers, but we ought to bear in mind that there is no nation more direly in need of international help than this same fearsome Germany. The trade slump is great, but it is perhaps only the beginning. People ignorantly blame the strikers, but many manufacturers have secretly not been sorry for the strikes. The strikes have damped down production. They have brought down wages, they have not raised them. It is of little use going on producing great quantities of goods for which there is at present no market, and no use producing above the European market price. It would be truer to say that the strikes are partly the result of the depression. Most of the strikes have been caused by "cuts" in wages. Wages have been sought to be reduced in order to turn out cheaper products and so be able to compete with other cheap European goods. The secret of the obduracy of the coal-owners has lain in the fact that British coal costs more than the world-price per ton. The difference in price could be put on to the private consumer but there are limits to his means of purchasing. It is impossible to do more trade with the consumer. The main coal business is with the factory and the ship, and these compete in world-markets for their own business. All want to keep the cost of production low in order to compete with the countries of low exchange.
The European exchange is proving to be the most vital matter for English trade. Its irregularities reflect the irregularities of our Europe and they must be met. An equality of values must somehow be obtained, and it could be obtained in a spirit of general friendship and good-will. Great sacrifices would be necessary from rich people of all the nations concerned, and large schemes of revenge and punishment would have to be abandoned. But in doing so we should all save one another; in not doing so we are likely all to ruin one another.
LETTERS OF TRAVEL
XVII. FROM PARIS
France is the mainspring of the new mechanism, and Paris the control. That is why I chose to go to Paris last—so that all, even London, could be related to her. The initiative in European politics is taken by France and she has the most active policy. Most other States wait to see what France is doing and shape their policies accordingly. London is generally in opposition to Paris, but English action is so sluggish and so independable that even those States who loathe the new France are obliged to assume that England does not really count. With the exception of Greece, England is not giving active support or practical sympathy to any other country in Europe. But France backs Poles and Turks and Hungarians and Serbs, and is carrying out a grand scheme of world-policy clearly—if not very effectively.
France has made great progress since the war. Alone among the warring powers in this respect she stands higher than she did in 1914. She stands higher than she has done at any time since the great Napoleon. The Government it is true is in direful need of money, and has always a difficult political path to tread, but both the French individual and the nation as a whole have gained enormously. Peoples and governments are too often confused, and the plight of M. Briand sometimes deceives people as to the position of France.
"France is bankrupt," says a leading publicist, in one of the London reviews. But the French people are not bankrupt. Far from it. On the average they are a very rich people. Even in the devastated areas there has been a rapid financial recovery due to the hard work and perseverance of the returned inhabitants. The constant talk about the ruined North of France has been more a matter of propaganda than verity. Though war was not carried into Yorkshire and Lancashire, it is quite clear that England is to-day in a much more ruinous state than France. The French drove our sentimental politicians through carefully chosen routes and showed them the grand spectacle of war's ruins. And they were impressed. But there is ruin which cannot be seen from a car window. An economic dry-rot at the heart of a country is more terrible than excoriations on the surface.
In Paris you realize at once a remarkable change in atmosphere after London. The barometer has risen. It suddenly feels better to be alive. There is a sense of something in the air; something doing. Yes, the people are smarter and cleaner; their eyes are brighter. The streets are better kept. Amour propre is expressed in all the shop windows, in the manners of 'bus conductors, waiters, salesmen, chance acquaintances, in the tone of the Press. What is the matter? Can it be that Paris has become first-class and London has ceased to be first-class? Paris was not like this in 1913. She was decidedly down-at-heel. There was no particular verve or dignity in the ways of Parisians. They carried on in a second-rate way in a civilization which to the general European traveller seemed inferior both to London and Berlin.
Something has intervened, and that something is not merely war but victory. Victory has intervened and has fed the French soul with the thing which it required. We know now more of what France was like before 1870. Evidently for fifty years she has lived in a state of depression and spiritual thraldom, and now she has escaped and is more herself. France has recovered her national pride and self-consciousness. She has expanded. Increase of territory and of national interests has given to French self-consciousness more room, and you behold the opposite type of development to that which is in process in Germany, where national self-consciousness has been turned in on itself. That is why it is good to be alive in Paris and not so good in London or Berlin.
It is possible to be winning and still remain down-hearted, but this is not the case at Paris. The supposed fear of Germany is only political bluff. France fears no Germans. She fears nobody. Perhaps she ought to fear—for the far future. But she has always had a belief in herself and her way of doing things and an inbred contempt for other races as for barbarians, and it has only needed this colossal victory in a world-war to set her on her pedestal of fame once more.
It was in doubt for a while before the war, but now it is sure—all the world must learn French; if it cannot speak French it must at least think French. French is the universal medium of civilization and good manners. The emissaries of France in every country of Europe carry France's civilizing mission and tell the foreign statesmen of the young States what to do and how to do it. As England sends missionaries to spread the gospel of Christ so France sends hers to spread the gospel of France.
The sense of this glorious activity comes back to the heart and the brain at Paris, and it is small wonder that steps are lighter and eyes brighter.
If only the Government could fill its exchequer! France lives by loans, and even an interest of six per cent free of income-tax will not tempt the citizens to invest sufficient money to pay the Government's way. The Government cannot raise its revenue by taxes. An Englishman slavishly pays half his income in taxes, but not a Frenchman. It is difficult to get five per cent. And there one comes suddenly upon France's greatest vice and weakness—avarice.
It is France's penuriousness and meanness and her exaggerated thrift that stands most in the way of her material greatness now. The Government needs to spend a great deal more than it used to do before the war, must spend it, if it is to do the best for France. France has the consciousness of being the greatest power in Europe, and she has the will to play the role of the greatest power, and she is called upon to do things in style.
France is romantic in ambition, she is vivacious and happy and dignified, till she is called upon to pay anything. Then the Frenchwoman in the French nation reveals herself. The eyes become small, the lips thin, the cheeks pale, the whole being shrinks into itself and goes on the defensive.
France wishes to run this new Europe which has come into being, on the old lines, playing with hatreds and jealousies and conflicting interests as a chess-player with his pieces. The idealists of England and America want to eradicate the jealousies and hatreds and run the same new Europe on principles of pure love. France says human nature never changes. Britain and America say human nature has progressed with them and it must progress similarly in Europe. France's final answer is laughter. So constant is France's amusement at the expense of the Anglo-Saxon that she has adopted the sourire ironique as something necessary to typical beauty in a Frenchman.
It is, therefore, not surprising that M. Octave Duplessis in the "Figaro" should find that characteristic work of H. G. Wells, the "Salvaging of Civilization," quite ridiculous.
Il nous ramene aux reves ineptes des Fourier et des Cabet, effacant de la surface de ce pauvre globe terraque toutes les barrieres, aplanissant avec intrepiditee les plus grands obstacles, niant le fait concret des nationalites, de plus en plus positif pourtant a mesure que progresse la civilisation, et saluant deja l'aurore du jour ou
Ce globe deplume, sans barbe et sans cheveux Comme un grand potiron roulera dans les cieux
M. Britling nous ramene donc de cent ans en arriere, au mauvais socialisme primitif de l'epoque romantique. Il ressuscite de poussiereuses momies.
By denying the possibility of realizing the dream of a world-State or a collective European State, the Frenchman speaks for his country. France regards the development of European history with simple realism and without ideals. The only weak link in her chain-mail is the belief in the civilizing mission of France. If there is no progress why have a mission to civilize?
Perhaps the religious sentimentalism of Western politicians was a revelation to French statesmen. France, for all her cosmopolitanism, has always been badly informed as to the life of the people in England and America. Something of the general astonishment was voiced by Clemenceau, if the story of him is true. He is supposed to have said of Wilson: "He is an excellent man, but he thinks he's Jesus Christ."
In France all excellence is excellence of form. The idea of the growth of the soul and of germinal excellence of any kind is foreign. For our part in England and America we understand little of form. France therefore can upon occasion show the world something which no one can deny to be excellent.
The Parisian can very well say in London or New York: "You have much that is large and fine, but it is clear that you do not understand Art and have very little taste. In France we do things better than this."
He does not put his poilu inconnu in the depths of a cathedral in order to bring an unbelieving crowd into the house of God, but puts him in the public way under the Arc de Triomphe. He does not say that the soldier died for King and Country, and then mutilate a text—"Greater love hath no man than this," but he inscribes—"Ici repose un soldat francais mort pour la patrie," and leaves the living to make their own reflections. His Paris is a city of statues and gardens but it is all dignified, it is all in good taste. Even the houses and the shops conform to the general idea of the fitness and elegance of Paris.
Among the emblems of the time, however, there is in Paris one statue on exhibition which offends good taste, and even an Englishman can see that it may become ludicrous. It is the marble figure representing the "Republique Francaise pendant la guerre," now placed at the head of the Tuileries Gardens. It is Madame France wearing a poilu's helmet. There is a look of triumph in her upturned face. France in her has become younger. Most figures of France are Diana-like, but here apparently is one the tender contour of whose limbs is not official but intimate. A policeman is in charge, but it verges on the indiscreet to ask him any questions. One dare be certain that Paris will not accept this statue, for though it expresses something of the new spirit of France, it is not in perfect taste, it is not quite dignified.
There is something very characteristic of France in the thousands of seeming-widows whom you see clad in becoming weeds. The widow's veil raises the dignity of the Frenchwoman and confirms her piety so that she feels like a Madonna when her husband is dead, and loves to walk like one. Some wear this attire without being widowed—it conforms so well to a secret desire. The demure widow so dressed has much charm. There is, however, another and a better type, and that is the Joan of Arc type of young Frenchwoman so often overlooked in a survey of French reality. The new, bright, white marble figure of Joan in the cathedral of Notre-Dame is worth a prayer for France. One has met Joan in life, she is generally sixteen or seventeen, ardent, heroic, romantic, with the poetry of Corneille and Racine upon her lips. She is full of effervescent devotion, impetuous and entirely "pure." What happens to her in modern France it would be difficult to say. The English do not come and burn her for a witch; but English people do not like the type, do not understand it, and generally prefer the insincere Madonnas or the Madame Bovarys of France. But to understand France one must take cognizance of this feminine crusading spirit. Much that is genuine and worth while in France can be associated with the type of Joan. Even in the midst of modern politics one should look for Joan. French aspirations has a grand turn. We think of the French as realists, but they are romanticists. They look back and then look forward. They see events with long black shadows as at sunset. They harangue themselves. In the English people humour comes to chase the romantic away and it will not let us get into a heroic vein. But not so with the French. Their humour is weak. So at school, in books, in inscriptions on statues, in public speeches, you will constantly come upon the heroic, romantic strain, and you will find adjurations to the French people: "Francais, elevez vos ames et vos resolutions a la hauteur des perils qui fondent sur la patrie. Il depend encore de vous de montrer a l'univers ce qu'est un peuple qui ne veut pas perir," as it says on the Gambetta monument.
This splendid spirit is betrayed by the sordidness of modern life. The exchange for romantic idealism is cynicism and soullessness. Joan does not remain Joan all her life—if she 'scapes burning she is quickly destroyed by the world. The philosophy of Voila tout soon possesses her. I always remember the end of Octave Feuillet's "Histoire d'une jeune Parisienne"—
Dans l'ordre moral, il ne nait point de monstres: Dieu n'en fait pas; mais les hommes en font beaucoup. C'est ce que les meres ne doivent pas oublier.
In France's plan for Europe there is both the idealistic romantic and the cynical materialistic. If England really understood the spirit of France she would strengthen the former. And France might really take England into her confidence. England, and indeed most other nations, see in France a selfish, narrow, matter-of-fact power, and in seeing these things they help to make France so.
If France took Britain into her confidence she would possibly explain her policy in this way—"The great war which has just passed was first and foremost a war between Germany and France. The Germans do not understand us; they loathe and despise our civilization. They have been entirely wrong, but they had the big battalions on their side. Once they beat us in the field and they took away and subjugated two of our provinces, almost killing the French spirit there and Germanizing to the utmost of their ability. A second war has taken place and we, thanks to the help of allies, have won. We have gained an overwhelming victory. The Germans have made a complete surrender. President Wilson deceived them into thinking that they might arrange an easy peace, and they surrendered their weapons. France was glad to see her vain enemy fooled and despoiled of her means of continuing the strife. France, however, never accepted Wilsonian idealism. Why should she? America has never bled as France has bled. She has never lived in the danger in which France has lived. She does not understand Europe. But France owed America a great deal of money and could not afford to offend her. She had the mortifying and difficult role to play second to Wilson at the peace-table though first in sacrifice and first in danger. France's object has been and is to place Germany completely hors de combat. Her mortal enemy is in her power. France's first desire is not money or territory, but just security. France does not fear Germany in her present spiritless, unarmed state. France does not fear Germany at all. But the fruit of victory which she desires is that she should put it entirely out of the power of Germany to return to the struggle. The League of Nations is being arranged to stop warfare among all races. France does not believe that that is practicable, human nature being what it is. But France does see that one war of the future can be eliminated, and that is another Franco-German struggle.
With that in view France has embarked on a real policy embodied in the following programme:—
(1) The complete demilitarization of the German people. We will not allow her to have an army or a navy.
(2) The dismantling of the German Empire. We would undo what Bismarck accomplished; for in destroying the unity of Germany we should destroy most of its power to reorganize after defeat. The dismantling of modern Germany implies for us:
(a) Alsace and Lorraine for France. (b) Upper Silesia for Poland. (c) A separate State of Bavaria. (d) A separate State of Westphalia. (e) A Polish corridor to Dantzig, separating East and West Prussia. (f) No union between Austria and Germany.
"France is not in favour of plebiscites, as the war was won not by a plebiscite but by a superior number of cannon. The plebiscite was a Wilson invention and France regards it passively. If plebiscites stand in the way of a real policy in Europe they ought to be disregarded. As regards questions such as that of the Ruhr Valley occupation France is ready to take any avenue which leads to a furtherance of her fundamental policy. The saddling of Germany with an immense indemnity is primarily necessary in order to pay off the war debts of France and Britain to the United States. For the rest, the indemnity debt can be used as a check on Germany so that we can watch her."
Such is in any case France's policy. She pursues it in subterranean ways and through intrigue and by all the old tricks of secret diplomacy, evidently trusting no one but herself. It is unfortunate. Much could be gained both in England and America by a clear, frank statement.
With regard to Russia there is little of the idealistic spirit in French policy. Her attitude towards Russia has little to do with her attitude towards Europe as a whole. France does fear that Poland may come to nothing, and that Germany and Russia may come into vital contact. Otherwise Russia is a place apart. Russia is a place where many millions of French francs have been lost. France does not understand Russia, does not want to. France is quite sufficient for France. But she has received a terrible blow in a most sensitive part. France's vice as we have said is avarice. She does not expect to lose money. France is not like America where one loses a fortune to-day and makes one to-morrow. In France when you make a fortune you keep it. The Russia which confiscated foreign holdings and ceased to pay dividends is a thief of portentous guilt to France. France, therefore, steadfastly opposes that Russia, and she has as steadfastly supported the other Russia which says she will recognize these old debts and pay them back plus dividends. France disapproved of the original revolution, but is said to have been persuaded to it by England. France thought the March '17 conspiracy very risky. And she soon realized that she had been right. Revolution meant repudiation of debt. And Russia will never pay back her debts now unless in the form of "rights of exploitation."
France backed Koltchak and Yudenitch and Denikin and Wrangel and the Polish War—all for the sake of her money. Not because she was sorry for the Russians or for the rights of humanity, or because she was scandalized by Communism. Her plan generally has been to persuade England to supply the outfit and pay for the expense, but she has also paid somewhat and has thrown good money after bad—the thief gone with so much and so much to find the thief! Russia is a sore point, an aggravated loss. And now that the counter-revolutionaries have failed, France is almost as much out of sympathy with the Russian refugees as she is with the Bolsheviks themselves.
Paris, however, remains the capital of Russia in exile. There are more distinguished Russians there than in any other capital of Europe, and Russian world-policy is organized from there. It is General Wrangel's civil headquarters. During the last days I was in Paris the Russian National Congress constituted itself a "National Union of Russia," dedicated to the task of liberating Russia from the Third International and at the same time excluding partisans of a Tsaristic restoration. It rejoiced in glowing terms in a Russian army which though now vanishing was still the hope of Russia. It pronounced against the trade treaties made by Great Britain and other powers with Soviet Russia, and it passed a resolution recognizing Russia's old debts and commercial obligations as contracted under the Tsardom.
A national committee of seventy-four members was elected, from Paris, Constantinople, London, Belgrade, Berlin, Finland, Poland, Switzerland, Sofia, Vienna, Athens, Riga, the United States, and amongst those elected were the following well-known Russian personalities—Burtsef, Struve, Kartashef, Bunin, Kuprin, Roditchef, Savitch, Tyrkova, Dioneo.
This powerful organization is likely enough to go back to Russia if Lenin and Trotsky fall. The latter are doing their utmost to safeguard themselves, but they are weaker than the Tsar was. The Tsardom had most of the brains and abilities of the Russians at its disposal, but Lenin has driven nearly all the educated and trained minds out of the country. Russia as an internationalist State is a failure; as a peasant Communist State she has not succeeded in straightening out the comparatively simple problems of her economic subsistence.
Of course, there are many abstentions from the Russian National Union, and among the most notable is Milyukof who characterizes their actions as "words without force." Milyukof and Burtsef have quarrelled. Burtsef stood for backing General Wrangel, but Milyukof has taken a strong line on that matter. He does not believe that Wrangel can do anything, or that force applied externally can bring Bolshevism down. He believes in the renovation of Russia from within. Milyukof's contention is undoubtedly sound, but it has resulted in a wordy warfare in the columns of Burtsef's "Obshy Delo" and Milyukof's "Posledny Novosti," both Paris daily papers in Russian which keep up a malevolent cross-fire on one another.
One of the happiest evenings spent in Paris was at Babief's toy theatre—"The Flittermouse," where I saw again a programme rendered in Moscow in 1914. Russians in themselves are the most unmechanical people, the most emotional and unexpected in their ways. It is, therefore, curious that they should shine so much when they pretend that they are dolls, when they take on extra human limitations. In the Russian Ballet it is the doll-stories of "Petrouchka" and "Boutique Fantasque" which charm most, and so it is in the programme of the Flittermouse Theatre, "The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" and the toy-box story of "Katinka" are the favourites every night.
I was touched, however, by one of their lesser successes, that was called "Minuet," which seemed to have a national pathos in it.
A young man is sitting on a seat in the garden of Versailles or some such place of formal grandeur. It is after the revolution and the death of the King—one evening at twilight time—
"How I love to come here and dream a little," says the young man. "This is a beautiful place. And sometimes one sees strange people, the old courtiers of the King come walking as they used to walk."
Presently an aged man in Court attire appears with a tall, gilded stick in his hand. "The King gave me this," says he in a quavering voice. And then an aged dame appears. They will not explain themselves to the young man, for he cannot understand. How can youth understand those who are old?
The two old courtiers are bent and stiff. But they dance in the late dusk a minuet again. You fear all the time their stiffness and age will prevent them, but they dance it, not for the young man, but for themselves and for their King. How poignant it was, how terrible! Like ghosts at Ekaterinburg.