Philip’s other letter was much slenderer and had been posted only one day after its precursor. It opened with his amazed account of the collapse of the General Strike. “Everything has happened as Uncle Robert foretold, and so far I am proved a fool,” it began.
He went on to express a quite extravagant contempt for the leaders of the Labour Party who had “neither the grit to prevent the General Strike nor the grit to keep on with it.” It was clear that he had a little lost his equanimity over the struggle and that his criticisms of selfish toryism had tilted him heavily towards the side of the strikers in the struggle. And he was intensely annoyed to find his uncle’s estimate of the situation so completely confirmed. The time had come to call out the second line, stop light and power and food distribution and bring matters to a crisis, and there was little reason to suppose that most of the men of the second line would not have stood by their unions.
But it would have meant the beginning of real violence and a grimmer phase of the struggle and the trade union leaders were tired, frightened and consciously second-rate men. They were far more terrified by the possibilities of victory than by the certainty of defeat. They had snatched at the opportunity offered by a new memorandum by “that Kosher Liberal, Herbert Samuel”—“Tut tut!” said Mrs. Rylands; “but this is real bad temper, Philip!"— which nobody had accepted or promised to stand by, and unconditionally, trusting the whole future of the men they stood for, to a government that could publish the British Gazette, they had called the strike off. They had given in and repented like naughty children “and here we are — with men being victimised right and left and the miners in the cart! Nothing has been done, nothing has been settled. The railway workers are eating humble pie and the red ties of the Southern railway guards are to be replaced by blue ones. (Probably Jix thought of that.) The miners have already refused to accept Samuel’s memorandum, and Uncle Robert’s little deal is almost the only hopeful thing in the situation. He gets his laugh out of it sure enough.”
Even the writing showed Philip in a phase of anti-climax. He was irritated, perplexed.
“Is all life a comedy of fools? Am I taking myself too seriously and all that? Here is a crisis in the history of one of the greatest, most intelligent, best educated countries in the world, and it is an imbecile crisis! It does nothing. It states nothing. It does not even clear up how things are. By great good luck it did not lead to bloodshed or bitterness — except among the miners. Who aren’t supposed to count. And Catherine’s kill of course. There was no plan in it and no idea to it. It was a little different in form and it altered the look of the streets; but otherwise it was just in the vein of affairs as they go on month by month and year by year, coming to no point, signifying nothing. Burbling along. Just, as you say old Sempack said, just Carnival. Where are we going? — all the hundreds of millions that we are on this earth? Is this all and has it always been such drifting as this? Are the shapes of history like the shapes of clouds, fancies of Polonius the historian? Now we expand and increase and now we falter and fail. Boom years and dark ages until the stars grow tired of us and shy some half-brick of a planet out of space to end the whole silly business.
“I cannot believe that, and so I come back to old Sempack again with his story of all this world of ours being no more than the prelude to a real civilisation. Hitch your mind to that idea and you can make your life mean something. Or seem to mean something. There is no other way, now that the religions have left us, to make a life mean anything at all. But then, are we getting on with the prelude? How are we to get on with the prelude? How are we to get by Uncle Robert? How are we to get by Winston and Amery? How are we to get by all these posturing, vague-minded, labour politicians? My dear, I set out writing these letters to you to tell you how my mind was going on and what I was finding out to do. And in this letter anyhow I have to tell you that my mind isn’t going on and that I am lost and don’t know what to do. It is as if a squirrel in a rotating cage reported progress. I wish I had old Sempack here, just to put him through it. Is he anything more than a big bony grey squirrel spinning in a cage of his own? The great crisis came and the great crisis went, and it has left me like a jelly-fish stranded on a beach.
“The only people in all this tangle of affairs who seem to have any live faith in them and any real go are — don’t be too startled — the Communist Party. I’ve had glimpses of one or two of them. And the stuff they teach and profess seems to me the most dead-alive collection of half-truths and false assumptions it is possible to imagine. For everyone who isn’t a Communist they have some stupid nickname or other, and their first most fundamental belief is that nobody who owns any property or directs any sort of business, can be other than deliberately wicked. Everything has to be sabotaged and then everything will come right. They don’t work for one greatly organised world in the common interest, not for a moment. Their millennium is a featureless level of common people, and it is to be brought about by a paradox called the dictatorship of the proletariat. And yet they have an enthusiasm. They can work. They can take risks and sacrifice themselves — quite horrible risks they will face. While we ——”
He had pulled up in mid sentence. The second fascicle began as abruptly as the first ended.
“I have just been to see Sempack at Charing Cross Hospital. I had no idea that he too had come back to England. I thought he was doing a walking tour in the Alpes Maritimes. But it seems that he was knocked down by a bus in the Strand this morning. They got through to me by telephone when he recovered consciousness and I went to see him at once. There is some question whether the bus skidded, but none that the great man, with his nose in the air and his thoughts in the year 4000, overlooked it as he stepped off the kerb. He wasn’t killed or smashed, thank goodness, but he had a shock and very bad contusions and a small bone broken in his fore-arm, and for two hours he seems to have been insensible. He was very glad to see me and talked very pleasantly — of you and the garden among other things. Voice unabated. I could not have imagined they could have packed him into an ordinary hospital bed, but they had. There are no complications. He will be out of hospital to-morrow and I shall take him to South Street and see that he is sent off properly and in a fit condition to his own house near Swanage. Perhaps I will take him down. I like him and it might be good to talk things over with him. But what can he be doing in London? He wasn’t at all clear about that. Has everybody come to London? Shall I next have to bail you out at Bow Street or identify the body of Bombaccio recovered from the Thames?”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:15