A Commentary (Apr 1938)
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[ 609 A Commentary The Criterion: A Literary Review, 17 (Apr 1938) 478-85 Anyone who has questioned the benefits to be obtained from the Nuffield Endowments of Oxford, or the National Theatre, should be at least sceptical of the Music and Drama Bill, a measure (as The Times newspaper of the 10th February informs us) prepared by the League of Audiences, an organization fromwhichinthepastIhavereceivedleafletswhichIfearIhavetreatedwith inadequate attention.1 I have reason to hope that others, beyond those mentioned in the previous sentence, will have their doubts: for the Editor of The Church Times, whose mind is easy about the Nuffield Endowments,2 devotes a leading article in his issue of the 11th February to arousing dubiety in the minds of his readers on the subject of the Music and Drama Bill.3 “Support from Members of All Parties” is the sub-headline which The Times gives its report of a meeting held at the House of Commons to support this Bill. I suggest that since any measure supported by one party needs to be scrutinized carefully, a fortiori a measure supported by “members of all parties” requires to be scrutinized with threefold (or should I say manifold?) care. I am happy to be at one with the Editor of The Church Times in this matter. Three months ago I suggested the possibility that the creation of a National Theatre was a step which might lead to the eventual creation of a Ministry of Fine Arts. I note that The Times (apparently quoting Mr. Alfred Wareing, hon. organizing secretary of the League of Audiences) says that the object of the Music and Drama Bill is “to obtain Government recognition of music and drama without setting up a Ministry of Fine Arts.”4 It may fairly be observed, I think, that measures intended to do one thing without leading to another thing, may ultimately implement that other thing which they intend to make unnecessary. I do not know whether Mr. Wareing (if the words are his) and the League of Audiences have any positive objection to a Ministry of Fine Arts, or whether they merely wish to assure us that their aim is not to “set up more machinery.” But it seems to me possible that, once the Government takes an active and overt part in the cultivation of the Arts, such confusion will ensue that in time there will be a call for a “dictator of the Arts” (will it, by that time, be Mr. Hore-Belisha or Mr. Duff Cooper?) to put things to rights.5 Essays, Reviews, Commentaries, and Public Letters: 1938 610 ] It is premature to pass any opinions upon a measure of which so little is known. The matter was raised in the Church Assembly by the Archbishop of York, moving a resolution pledging general (why general?) support to the principle of the Music and Drama Bill promoted by the League of Audiences. The spark was quenched by the Archbishop of Canterbury (I am referring now to The Times newspaper of February 11) who observed that the Assembly was not sufficiently informed about the proposed Bill to justify passing the motion.6 If the Assembly did not know that much, I may be excused for knowing less. But, from the report of the meeting at the House of Commons (of “members of all parties”) I learn that the Bill is maintained on two grounds: first, that its operation would encourage and assist the organization of companies of the highest standard to produce notable English works in drama and music and present them oversea, where they would help to bring a better understanding of our national outlook and so help to keep the peace of the world and preserve the spirit of community which was (sic) the support of the India, Dominion and Colonial Offices as well as the Overseas Trade Department, and second that it would increase the amenities of rural life by visits of performers, orchestras, brass bands, and thus helping (sic) to arrest the drift to the towns.7 Letus,byallmeans,haveanImperialCampaignofDrama,withapicked repertory company performing Candida, Hassan, The Tragedy of Nan and presumably Hamlet.8 Let Mr. John Gielgud and Miss Peggy Ashcroft respond to the irresistible appeal of patriotism and peace and receive curtain calls from enthusiastic audiences of Bengalis and Gujuratis, and from inhabitants of Malta, Mauritius and Tobago: to what will this avail? And to what is it meant to avail? Will “a better understanding of our national outlook ” (whatever that is...


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