Mr. Reckitt, Mr. Tomlin, and the Crisis
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[ 449 Mr. Reckitt, Mr. Tomlin, and the Crisis The New English Weekly, 10 (25 Feb 1937) 391-93 In complying, somewhat unwillingly, with the Editor’s request that I should contribute to this discussion, I should like to begin by being no less complimentary to Mr. Reckitt and Mr. Tomlin than they have been to each other.1 I think too highly of their abilities, and of the value of their opinions , to hope that I can compose their differences. But when two opposed views have been put forward, there is something to be said for attempting to express another which is not quite identical with either. I can speak, at least, as one who, from what may be either a judicial or a vacillating temper of mind, failed to make up his mind until some time after the “crisis” was over. That was a period in which one was exposed to winds of emotion from every side at once; in which one’s feelings might vary several times a day. It does not seem to me that either Mr. Reckitt or Mr. Tomlin has yet quite separated the true issues from the irrelevant. First of all, public opinion, which they both invoke. As I have just reported, my own private opinion fluctuated constantly, so I can hardly be expected to take at their face value the “instinctive reactions” of the people at such a moment. Mr. Tomlin is naturally shocked at the conduct of the organs of information, in giving quite a contrary meaning to the behaviour of a crowd in which he had himself mixed: the fact of having been an eyewitness inflamed his indignation. Such conduct should not surprise anyone who has already felt apprehension about our organs of public information (see Jane Soames: The English Press; or George Blake The Press and the Public).2 I think that Mr. Tomlin’s indignation led him to attach too much importance to the feelings of the crowd. Where we cannot trust our own feelings, why should we put faith in the collective feeling of people the majority of whom are probably less reflective than ourselves? That the behaviour of any crowd means something I do not deny; but it requires interpretation. I suspect that the behaviour of this particular crowd represented a feeling which in many individuals is conscious: a distrust of the present Government, combined with a distrust of the only alternative political party in the House of Commons.3 This distrust had for some time past reinforced the popular charm which King Edward undoubtedly exerted, Essays, Reviews, Commentaries, and Public Letters: 1937 450 ] and had led many people who cannot be dismissed as merely constituents of a mob, to look towards him as the only hope of leadership.4 It was hoped that he might be a model of public life, and that his private life might remain private; and the reaction of a crowd, when these hopes were suddenly dashed, was a natural howl of disappointment and rage, and a state of mind in which people are inclined to blame somebody. I do not attach any more importance to Mr. Reckitt’s counter-evidence (what he produces is pretty feeble) than to Mr. Tomlin’s. What neither of them seems to recognise is the possibility of both attitudes being adopted by the same people at different moments, and this, for what my small opportunities of observation are worth, must be allowed for. The attitude of indignation and loyalty to a King against a distrusted Government, may be held by the same man who is the gouailleur of the public-house.5 I think that what may be called the Upper Middle Class – including the more serious part of the “aristocracy” – felt that the change was inevitable. I do not mean the plutocracy, but the best, as well as the disinterestedly narrowminded and prejudiced elements of Whiggery. I cannot prove this; and I am not defending this class; I only maintain that the people who were shocked are not people to be ignored. Similarly, I think that in the present perspective we may now come to attach less importance to the behaviour of the newspapers. The behaviour of the Press, at emotional moments, is seldom edifying; and on this occasion one could hardly take satisfaction in the newspapers whatever line they took, whether the righteous and sanctimonious or the demagogic. Some seemed to be fishing in troubled waters. I have not the slightest doubt of the...