S. N. Behrman
The New Yorker
 March 22, 1947: 37-52

On the first leg of a flight I made to England a few months ago, I exchanged consolations with the rather sardonic Englishman who sat next to me on the plane which at midnight lifted us off LaGuardia Field. I tried to comfort him for having been unable to get on the Queen Elizabeth, and he tried to comfort me for having been unable to wait for the America, which was held up by a strike. The flaps in the backs of the seats in front of us were stuffed with literature provided by American Overseas Airlines. A booklet with fancifully humorous colored sketches set forth the delights of travel on flagships. (I have yet to travel on a plane that is not a flagship.) Every phase of air travel, according to this booklet, provides a vista of delight. Even the sudden dips into air pockets, which cause some passengers to hold on tight to the arms of their seats in spasms of self-preservation, were described in this booklet as agreeable variations in the smoothness of journeys that might otherwise be tinged with monotony. The hypersensitives who are affected by these dips were put in their place. "So you mind these dips! Boo-hoo!" it said, making you feel contemptible and lily-livered. A plane is never referred to as what it is in such literature; it is always called a ship, if not a flagship, a euphemism calculated, I suppose, to convey the suggestion that the aircraft has the solidity and comfort and safety of an ocean liner. The incredibly pretty and smartly uniformed hostess came along and instructed us in putting on the gear we were to use in case the flagship foundered. She told us where to noose our heads, and just how to buckle and unbuckle, and where. "When you leave the ship . . ." she said parenthetically, making it all sound as if such a departure would, of course, be entirely voluntary and as agreeable as a stroll on deck on another, old-time kind of ship. Such is the necromancy of words and so naturally did the phrase slip off her lips that you forgot for a moment that even if you got the chance, in an emergency, to make use of this gear, "leaving the ship" would still have a certain insistence about it. The Englishman and I smiled over that as soon as the hostess had passed on to instruct other potential strollers and we had had a moment to think about it.

We exchanged a few more desultory remarks, but after that we didn't talk much. I notice that people don't converse a great deal on planes. Each passenger—except the incurably air-minded, who zestfully jump on a plane carrying newspapers with screaming headlines on the disaster of the day before—is insulated in his private concentration on the next stop. Ours was in Gander, in Newfoundland, at four o'clock in the morning. It is very cold in Gander, in Newfoundland, at four o'clock in the morning. We huddled in the newly built, neon-lit terminal—I wonder why the airplane companies don't call it a dock—and had coffee and cold sandwiches. At five, in a steely dawn, we mariners boarded the ship again and were soon looking down at the swamps and fens of Newfoundland. These changed into cloud formations, through an occasional rift in which we caught a glimpse of the Atlantic. For the next twelve and a half hours, we passed over cloud formations, and I submit that after five minutes of it, nothing is more dull and inhuman than a cloud formation. A certain reserve formed between the Englishman and myself, caused, I believe, by nothing more specific than that we were shipmates. We kept getting bulletins from the pilothouse—that we were so-and-so many feet higher or lower, that we were slowing up because of head winds, or perhaps tail winds. Anyway, we were going to be late getting into Shannon, in Ireland. It was also announced that, owing to weather conditions in London, we were to spend the night in Ireland, in an inn at which accommodations were to be provided by the company.

As we approached Shannon, at around 9 P.M., my neighbor brightened perceptibly and we resumed the cordial relations of the night before. "I advise you," he said, "to feed well in Ireland. Stoke up, because you'll get nothing to eat in England." He paused for a moment and then as an afterthought gave me another piece of advice: "Take plenty of matches from the plane. The hostess will give them to you. They'll come in handy in London, where they're next to impossible to get." He paused for another moment and added, by way of explanation, "You see, we won the war." This phrase, "We won the war," uttered with various degrees of ironic intonation, was one that I was to hear repeatedly, like a refrain in Poe, for the three months of my stay in England. It was said to me by hotel clerks, porters, taxidrivers, doctors, businessmen, stage stars, Members of Parliament, economists, novelists, editors. One of the times I heard it was at Claridge's, where I stayed while I was in London. I had been told that though you could not get fruit or eggs or bacon for breakfast in England; you could get kippers. My first morning there, I ordered kippers. They looked like kippers, but they tasted funny. I asked the waiter about it. He explained to me wearily (he must have done it often before) that kippers are no longer smoked. Smoking kippers takes fuel and there is no fuel for smoking kippers. These had therefore been dipped in a chemical that gave them the appearance of having been smoked. "You see," he said, "we won the war."

A well-known English woman novelist came to lunch with me at the hotel. She ate my lunch as well as her own, which I was very happy to let her do; the quality of the food was such that forgoing it was a negligible sacrifice. She told me about the improvisations of housekeeping in Britain at present. She has to baste her meat—when she gets any—with mineral oil, which formerly she had used to cure her dog of constipation. She gibed at me. "What do they know of England who only Claridge's know?" she said. As she is an extremely good friend of mine, she did not feel that she had to moderate her feeling about Americans, to whom, under less abnormal conditions, she is devoted. "We would almost rather have cut our throats," she said, "than have accepted the loan. But we had to accept it. And the effrontery of your politicians in telling us what to do in the Middle East about complications of which they know nothing!" She is one of the fairest and kindest and most acute and best-informed people I know, but now, perhaps because she was overtired and hungry, she was bitter. During the war she had worked incessantly, going out on small boats in mined waters to get material for articles for the British Ministry of Information. The Manchester Guardian, which before the war used to pay her twenty-five pounds for an article, now pays her two. Her reward, she felt, as well as the reward of England, is mineral oil at home and being misunderstood by overfed Americans. "You see," she said, finally, "we won the war."

After lunch with a friend in his house at Hampstead Heath, where the talk was warm and brilliant but the atmosphere was distinctly cold, I got back to my hotel with a chill and a fever. I had been aware for some time that I was inadequately dressed for the British climate. Instead of a dinner jacket, I should have brought heavy underwear. Unless you have been in England two months, you can't get a ration book, and I hadn't been there that long, so I couldn't buy any underwear, or even a handkerchief. The hotel doctor put me to bed and left me a prescription. "Can't you prescribe some heavy underwear for me instead of these medicines?" I asked him. "I do not issue that sort of prescription," he said, somewhat loftily. But a moment later, as he picked up his kit and started to leave, he softened a little. "I quite appreciate your difficulty," he said. "You see, we won the war."

In the Caledonian Hotel, in Edinburgh, when I got into an ice-cold room after an appalling journey from Blackpool on three unheated trains on a blizzardy day, I rang for the porter and asked him if I couldn't have a fire in the grate. "Sorry, sir," he said. "No coal." And as he left the room, he turned to give me the reiterated explanation: "You see, we won the war."

Another day at Claridge's, breakfast and lunch having been unsatisfactory, I ordered tea and pastry. I bit confidently into a little pastry skiff, which unexpectedly revealed the quality of a dreadnought, with the result that I broke a tooth on her. When I explained to the dentist what had happened, he made a hearty joke about the sturdiness of the Claridge confectionery, and as he braced himself with his pliers to extract what remained of my tooth, he let me have the theme song.

At the Shannon Airport restaurant, where all the passengers from our ship herded together at one table, we had a hearty enough dinner. My prime objection to airplane travel for long journeys is the absence of privacy. It is like being on the subway for thirty hours, except that there is nothing to hang on to when you feel like getting up to stretch your legs. Even at our airport dinner, the maritime powers who ran this particular excursion were determined not to let any of us slip off by ourselves. And now, in obedience to some further caprice of theirs, we could not go to our inn—the Dunraven Arms, in Adare, twenty-five miles away—until long after midnight, because there was no immediate transportation, but we could not leave the airport, either, because the bus that was to take us to Adare was expected at any minute.

When, finally, the bus came, I sat next to the young driver, with whom I got into conversation. I wanted some information about the lady called "the Countess," who is the proprietor of the Dunraven Arms and about whom I had heard many stories during the war. But this Irishman had an extraordinary (perhaps an ordinary) idiosyncrasy: he knew "the Countess" and started to tell me about her, but after a sentence or two he managed to lose her in a general denunciation of England. His agility in this respect was astonishing. No matter what I tried him on—his working hours, unionization in Ireland, unemployment, which movies he preferred—it all came to the same thing: what England had done to Ireland, as far back as the sixteenth century. I got him off on Mayor O'Dwyer for a minute, but even Mayor O'Dwyer, at the mention of whose name his eyes lit up, somehow led right into the Battle of the Boyne. I had the feeling that on a longer journey this young man might develop into a bore. We reached the Dunraven Arms at 1:30 A.M. I was assigned a room with two other passengers, and as we got between the icy sheets, the room was filled with humorous expletives from the pampered Americans. We were awakened at six and trundled back to Shannon, where a terrific breakfast awaited us—porridge and heavy cream and eggs. So fortified, we got aboard our ship again.

Over London, there was a thick mist. The pilot circled the airport for about half an hour; he seemed to be changing his mind all the time—another of those breaks in the monotony provided gratis by the company. During this prolonged vacillation, the hostess approached me—a new hostess but of the same immaculately handsome type that seems to have been evolved for this purpose. "We are going to land by instrument," she said quietly. Whether I was expected to derive comfort or apprehension from this faintly Caesarean prophecy, I did not know, but ten minutes later I had landed by instrument. I remembered my English friend's advice of the night before and, from a tray offered by the hostess, stuffed my pockets with match books that blazoned a picture of a flagship. Then I stepped out into the cold drizzle of Heathrow.

The driver who taxied me to my hotel was, like his opposite number in New York, willing to talk, and he began without preamble. "Except for the blackout and the bombing, we're worse off than we were during the war," he said. "No housing, no food you can eat, and nothing to buy with what you're paid." I said that somebody must be satisfied, because the Government was winning all the by-elections. He chose to ignore this interruption and went on to inventory his grievances. He spoke scornfully of the industrial exhibition then current at the Victoria and Albert Museum and of its slogan, "Britain Can Make It." "Yes," he said, "Britain can make it, but Britain can't buy it." He was the first person to make this stock remark to me, as well as to quote to me a doggerel that, he claimed, was framed above the empty display bottles in his favorite pub:

No beer, no ale, no stout
You got 'em in, now you get 'em out.

Fair-minded Conservatives, when I pinned them down to it, told me that Churchill couldn't have done much better than Attlee, except, possibly, to be less pedantic about petty restrictions, but this driver, a Labourite, was quite intolerant. At least, I thought he was. I was warned later to discount the grumblings against the Government that I might hear from waiters, taxicab drivers, and hotel valets. I was told that they grumble so vociferously because they think their capitalist customers like to hear it, just as, during the Roosevelt election campaigns in the United States, taxidrivers would assure their presumably Republican patrons that they were voting for Willkie or Dewey. But on this first day in England I naďvely took my driver at his many words. While he droned on pessimistically, I looked out through the drizzle at the city I hadn't seen since 1944, when the V-2s were falling. The bombed-out parts looked about as before, boarded up, with rank grass growing in them. The oblong tanks that were then full of water for use during incendiary raids were still there, but now they were empty, and looked like swimming pools on estates in the wintertime. Grosvenor Square, which was the heartland of the late American occupation and which is where the controversial statue of F.D.R. is to stand, was quite changed; the American jeeps and war gear were no longer there. I asked the driver to go out of his way a bit and drive me by Piccadilly Circus. I wanted to see if the winged and beckoning Eros, who had disappeared when I was there in 1944, was back on his pedestal. He was still not there; the pedestal on which he had stood, in an attitude of taking off, as if on a mission to shed his special commodity over a world famished for lack of it, was still topped, rather lamely, by an octagonal wooden shed. One knows that this essential boy is safely poised somewhere else, but the illusion that he is inside the octagon, beating his wings painfully against it to be free, is inescapable. In the cleverest of the London revues, called "Sweetest and Lowest," there is an entertaining skit on the nostalgia evoked by the absence of the god. The scene shows Piccadilly Circus with an assortment of characters strolling about—bobbies, ladies of the town, flower girls, and nursemaids. A sailor, back from overseas, comes looking for a stenographer with whom he had been in love before he left. He finds his girl and they begin where they left off, but something is lacking. It suddenly strikes them that it is the sympathetic Eros; all the others, even the ladies of the town, feel that a key inspiration is lacking. They sing:

Let's have Eros
Near us,
Just to cheer us,
In the center of the center of the world.

At the end of the skit, the mass wish-dream produces results; the wooden box flies open and the most fetching blonde in the show pops out. The actors (and the audience) accept this apparition despite the change of sex—as the real thing, and almost instantaneously the moonstruck sailor is able to make a satisfactory adjustment with his girl. As the cab went down Regent Street, I realized that my driver, unaware that he had not held my attention, was still droning on about his deprivations. "Well," he said by way of summary as we drew up in front of the hotel, "you know, we won the war."

At LaGuardia Field, I had paid a hundred and twenty dollars' excess fare because I was carrying a good bit of canned food—orange juice, sardines, salmon, and so on. I thought that the least I could do for the kind Londoner who had invited me to share his apartment, in a hotel where it is very difficult to get a room, was to put this cache of food on his desk before settling down. My host, not to be outdone, asked me if I wouldn't dine in the apartment with him. There was to be an ex-Cabinet member and the attractive daughter of an ex-Prime Minister. I thanked him but declined. Landing by instrument had exhausted me and I was fit only for bed. The next morning, I asked the waiter for some of my orange juice. He retired to the apartment's "fridge" and came back to report that there was no orange juice. In fact, all my canned food had disappeared. The exes and the other guests had taken it away the night before. "I knew that if you had seen their expressions when they saw this heap of food," my host said, "you would have said to them, 'Take it away.' That is what I said." And yet, in this famished country, a strong and steady protest is being made that not enough food is being sent from England to the starving people in Germany and Central Europe.

There is a popular superstition in America that English people don't mind the cold. Of course, their climate, which is of such consistent inclemency that it staggers metaphor, has inured them to rigors that would (and do) knock Americans out. As for the present fuel crisis, the Labour Government gambled on the weather and lost. To gamble on the weather in England represents a high degree of optimism. Although the English are tougher than we are and can stand what we can't, they have nevertheless suffered acutely from the cold this winter. A play I'd written was going to be put on in London, and the leading light comedian of England, who was going to appear in it, rang me up to make a lunch date. "I can't invite you to my flat," he said, "because I have no heat. I can't invite you to my club, because it is unheated too. Where shall we lunch?" I asked him to the hotel. He came into my rooms and made at once, beaming, for the electric heater. Bending over to rub his hands in front of it, he said, "This is luxury. There is no other room in England as warm as this," By American standards, the room wasn't warm at all. In fact, you had to keep pretty close to the heater not to shiver. In my bedroom, there was a thing called panel heating. One rather slender wall panel, behind which were alleged hot-water pipes, was supposed to heat the room. It sounded like Niagara all night, but it didn't do much else. (My host walked in on me one afternoon to find me sitting with my shoes off and the soles of my feet pressed against the tepid wall. "What on earth are you cluing?" he asked. "I am trying to keep my feet warm," I said with dignity.) The light comedian and I had a jolly lunch, and after it was over, he said, "I am going to ask you something and I hope you will he frank with me and tell me plainly if I am asking too much." He wanted to know if I would mind if he just sat there for a couple of hours. He smiled ironically. "My house has authentic Georgian panelling," he said, "but it is bitter cold." When he finally left, several hours later, he had the air of one who is checking out of Elysium.

Another superstition among Americans concerns the London fog. They regard it as an agreeable pastel, softening ugly contours—a subject for popular songs and romantic plays. One of George Gershwin's last songs, "A Foggy Day in London Town," had Fred Astaire wandering dreamily through one, swinging a stick and 'confiding his melancholy to its cozy swathings. In one of the most popular plays of my youth, an English importation by Hubert Henry Davies called "Outcast," there was, as I remember it, a nasty fog outside the set. Out of its amber depths, it yielded a glamorous lady of the night, Elsie Ferguson. For many years, I thought of the London fog as a warmly enveloping medium in which you strolled in an Inverness cape and from which, with passable luck, you might emerge with Elsie Ferguson. Actually, the London fog is paralyzing and murderous. At its mildest, it merely keeps people away from home all night who have been unlucky enough to start out in its early stages. One evening, I invited a lady to dinner. She was late, and explained that the fog had forced her taxi to go very slowly. The lights of London, ordinarily visible from the hotel windows, had disappeared; a thick-textured, almost tangible substance pressed against them, obscuring everything. At midnight, my friend suggested that perhaps she had better go. I went to the telephone and called down to the hall porter and asked for a taxi. He laughed at me. "No taxis tonight, sir," he said. "People who have left the hotel for the evening can't get back." An hour later, my guest went to the telephone herself to call a private driver who, she said, never let her down. I heard this loyal driver's apology over the telephone: "Sorry, Madam, it is too dangerous tonight for passenger and driver." The difficulty was ended, at 2 A.M., by my calling downstairs for a room. As my guest was known to the hotel people, they stretched a point and consented to let her have a room belonging to a guest who was stranded somewhere else. A few formalities ensued: the porter came up with the elaborate form that has to be filled out by all hotel guests; when he asked for baggage, my friend ceremoniously offered him her handbag.

The next day, the papers reported assorted incidents. There had been a motor block all night near a bridge. It was not discovered until morning that the car at the head of the block had no driver. Deciding that it was useless to try to go on, he had abandoned his car and ventured off afoot to find some place to spend the night. In another instance, a man and his wife had driven from their place in the country to Southampton to meet some friends arriving from India. By the time the passengers had disembarked, the fog was thick, but the reunion took place. The newly arrived passengers got into the car. The driver started off, trusting to instinct, since his headlights availed him nothing. He drove his car off the dock. Everyone in it was drowned.

The fog penetrates into hotel lobbies, museums, theatres. Mary Martin, who is playing in Noel Coward's South Seas operetta, "Pacific 1860," told me what it was like to stand in the great, windy spaces of the stage of the Drury Lane, singing tropical ditties on a foggy London night. "You sing not at an audience but into the haze," she said. "You shiver and sing." Rather desperately, I gathered. But the fog is only a modest hazard compared to the more exacting cold. As the consequence of having to walk on blithely every night in a summer dress, swinging a sunshade, against a background of Miss Gladys Calthrop's gracefully bending palm trees, another actress in Miss Martin's company suffered from frostbite on one leg. Can this be the first case of the kind on record? Some girls in the same company had attacks of nausea—a surprising reaction to cold. The audiences are better off than the actors, because they are able to take their eiderdowns off their beds and bring them to the theatres. Couples snuggle up together in their quilts to watch the play, somewhat the way their ancestors who colonized Massachusetts Bay bundled up on winter nights and settled down for less detached diversions.

To rehearse a play this winter in England requires a hardihood our actors are never called upon to display. The first rehearsal of my play took place in the Haymarket, one of the loveliest and most distinguished theatres in Europe. "Lady Windermere's Fan" has been playing there for more than a year. In the gold and ivory and crimson damask of Lady Windermere's drawing room sat my company, muffled to the ears, mittened and hatted and booted, looking as if it were engaged in a performance of "Icebound," Owen Davis's dour play about New England. But the agony of rehearsing in cold theatres is nothing compared to the ordeal of the actual performances. At the rehearsals, the actors can wrap themselves up any way they like; at the performances, they must dress and behave to create the illusion that whatever unresolved problems they may be wrestling with do not concern fuel. Every night, in "Lady Windermere's Fan," Mrs. Erlynne protects her daughter, but not from the cold!

Against the star of my own play, Miss Yvonne Arnaud, I committed the unintentional sadism of requiring her, in Act II, to appear in formal evening dress. Women in the stalls no longer wear evening dress, but I was told by everybody that the English audiences love to see such clothes on the stage, because it is for them simultaneously a reminder of an amenity that is gone and an augury that it may come again. We opened on New Year's Eve in Blackpool, an indescribable year-round pleasure resort in the north of England. As I watched the folk from Liverpool and Manchester being ushered into their unheated hotel rooms on the last day of the old year, I wondered that anyone should subject himself to this kind of holiday of his own volition. When I went into Miss Arnaud's dressing room after the opening performance, the first thing she said to me was "I cannot tell you what it was to go out on that stage with my shoulders bare. I thought the audience would see them shaking." For subsequent performances, a casual scarf was provided for Miss Arnaud, but I never watched her make that entrance again—in Blackpool, in Edinburgh, or in London—without suffering a twinge of remorse.

While we were in Edinburgh, a fascinatingly beautiful, black city, I dropped in, without being invited especially, at John Knox's house. It is the oldest still-inhabited (though only by the caretaker) house in Scotland. I was rewarded for my courtesy. I climbed up the ancient but firm stairs to John Knox's study, an unbelievably tiny room—no bigger than a good-sized closet—whose leaded windows look down on the High Street, from which the rebels fired up three times at him. I could see how wise the eminent divine had been to make this room his study; with his mantling beard and his books, he must have been fairly warm in it. But now it had an electric heater besides, the only one in the house, and the room was so comfortably warm that I felt like remaining there myself to study.

The new London theatre hours, which were made necessary by the blackout emergency during the war, when audiences had to be on the way home before it was too dark to find the curb, have apparently come to stay. Evening performances of plays begin at six-fifteen, six-thirty, or at seven. On Saturday, many theatres have their matinees at four or four-thirty, so the evening performances start very soon after the curtain has fallen on the matinee; the actors say they feel like the drudges of the old five-a-day vaudeville houses. The managers are in favor of keeping these hours, because through them they have tapped an entirely new theatre public. It is an upper-bracket working and white-collar public for the stalls, a graded-down one for the balconies. Less and less do the theatres depend on the smart, formerly rich upper classes, who now have all they can do to keep their country places going. The new theatregoers have a cup of tea, or a sandwich, when they leave their offices or shops, make the theatre handily, and then go home by Underground or suburban train for supper and the good night's sleep that the nine-o'clock final curtain permits them.

Not only are the upper classes no longer depended upon to buy theatre tickets; they are no longer called upon for leadership. It is the general belief that the Conservative Party is not likely to return to power, and that if it should, the change will amount to a counter-revolution—a counter-revolution, to paraphrase Harold Laski's familiar phrase, by dissent. The Government is determined quietly to tax the upper classes out of existence, and the process is going along swiftly. There are a great many people who still live on their country places in something of the old style, but they do it by selling other country places, or parts of the ones they're on, or pictures. There is no capital-gains tax in England, which has given some businessmen a certain leeway, but I was told that it is coming. The proprietor of an estate which his family has owned for a hundred years, and on which he provides cottages for young writers and other needy, was able to get some belated repairs done on his house only because, in addition to making them, he proposed to build some flats to house workers on the estate. This proprietor, a brilliant Oxonian and a war hero, descanted mournfully on the role of the country house in English history and English life. Rather sadly, he quoted Walter Bagehot, who said, "Toryism is enjoyment." Presumably, and paradoxically, it is the ambition of the Labour Government to make Toryism, under this definition, more pervasive.

A large number of the upper-class English want to emigrate. They suffer from an accumulated claustrophobia which started during the war. This group may be divided into two categories: those who want to get away willy-nilly and are thinking constantly of means to effect their escape, and those who want to go and could manage it but won't think of doing so until things begin to look up for England. The coherence of the mighty, unified effort, and the gaiety and gallantry in ever-present danger, that were characteristic of wartime England have largely vanished. "We knew the war would have to end one day," a lift man said to me. "We don't know when this will end." Many of the English apologize to you for the disappearance of their traditional politeness, but if they have become impolite, it is by their standards, not by ours. The service on the Queen Elizabeth is still impeccable. (A New Yorker who returned to the United States on the America told me that he knew he was back in the Land of the Free when he and his wife boarded the ship at Southampton. In a corridor, along which they were wandering in an effort to find their cabin, his wife asked a steward where M-44 was. The steward jerked his thumb toward a diagram on the wall and said, flatteringly, "You can read, can't you?") It is nevertheless true that a certain good feeling has gone out of English life. There is resentment, envy, and even hatred between the classes. In the East End of London, there is hatred of the West End. The Conservatives say that the Labour Government has deliberately fostered this interclass animosity. The upper classes find that the servant class is no longer as reliable as it used to be. "I cannot tell you the effort it takes to give even a small dinner party for six people," said a normally hospitable London hostess. "I have to prepare for it weeks in advance. For one thing, my cook refuses to stand in the queue for the rations, so I have to do it myself." In a certain hotel patronized by Americans, the waiters are frankly resentful because the guests are in a position to press buttons to summon them. Many years ago, when I was crossing on an English ship, the purser energetically defended the caste system to me. "I believe in being governed by my betters," he said. The belief in "betters" seems no longer to exist, a fact that leaves the mass of the people free to denounce not only the defeated Conservatives but their own victorious leaders. Leadership itself is suspect.

There is even—and this I had never heard before in England—open grumbling against the King and Queen. In a crowded compartment of the Flying Scotsman, going from Edinburgh to London, six of us sat around in overcoats, gloves, and mufflers. In the corridor stood several airmen who had got on at Newcastle and were complaining because they had bought first-class tickets and there were not enough seats for all of them. One of them, smiling and saying wryly, "Democracy! ," tossed a copy of an illustrated weekly magazine to a companion who had been lucky enough to squeeze into our compartment. The magazine was opened to a double-page layout of colored photographs of the train that was to transport the King and his family through South Africa. The airman in our compartment studied the pictures—the Queen's robin's-egg-blue bedroom, the King's study—and handed the magazine around, making humorous comparisons with the conditions on our train. It is, however, also true that when the Queen, a woman of immense charm and friendliness, attends a matinee, the streets around the theatre are badly congested with admirers who want to watch her come out. Nevertheless, when the King and Queen visited Oxford recently to attend a quadricentennial celebration at one of the colleges, there were audible murmurs of disapproval in the streets when they passed through in procession. It was particularly striking that this could have taken place in Oxford; had it happened in a proletarian town, like Glasgow, it would have been less surprising.

It is frightening to think that the amenities of civilization require for their sustenance certain margins of surplus, not only in material goods and money but in vital energy and sense of security. In England, all these margins have been noticeably narrowed, but, fundamentally, kindliness and gentleness and the sense of the inviolability of basic human rights are so imbedded in custom and national memory that one still feels that these rights are safer in England than they are anywhere else in the world. In America, violence always seems nearer the surface; there is the tendency to settle an argument with fists, or even with a gun or a rope. While the American visitor is conscious of an interclass exacerbation in England, he cannot but reflect upon how much more intense this exacerbation would be in the United States if the margins had been pared down as far as they have in England. In our "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" era, the majority of our people were still getting along pretty well, and yet jagged and ugly intolerances and hatred jutted up through the thin crust of our good manners. In England, the impoverishment affects everybody. "To come from New York to London now," an Englishman said to me, "is, as far as the standard of living is concerned, like going from London to Belgrade before the first World War." This is true, and yet one feels, as surely as ever, that the traditional decency and fairness and orderliness among the ordinary people of England make unthinkable some of the excesses that are commonplaces in this country, even at a moment when our own prosperity is relatively overwhelming.

In spite of the grumbling, the anger, the indignation against the Labour Government, in spite of the charges of inefficiency and a congenital incapacity to plan among the planners, there is a solid basis for the continuing victories of the Labour Party in the by-elections. The great mass of the people feels that it is better off than it ever was before. The people love, for example, the prefabricated houses provided by the Government. A Conservative who had told me, the last time I was in England, that the workers would never accept these prefabs now cheerfully admits that he was wrong. The housewives are enthusiastic about the gadgets in these structures; they reduce housework. The houses are, of course, cramped, but they are cozy and they are easy to warm. Opponents of the Government call this bribing the masses; the masses accept the bribes unashamedly. The Conservatives, like my defeatist taxidriver, say also that the increased wages in the lower brackets are illusory, because there is nothing to buy with the money; the recipients are content with the illusion. Milk, which is practically unobtainable in the hotels and restaurants, is practically unobtainable because the children of the pour are getting it. The children of the poor get half a pint of free milk at school every day. With the illusory extra wages, these same people buy oranges and grapes and even pineapples. I am told that the diet of this group has been enriched by things they never knew before the war. They are aware, also, that the Government's long-range plans (whether they will ever materialize or not) are concerned with the general amelioration of their lot. They can hope, for example, that their children will attend the great public schools—Eton, Harrow, and Winchester—because the Government is planning to convert these closed preserves into schools that may he entered by competition. Altogether, the evidence is unmistakable that the mass of the people knows on which side its bread is buttered.

The upper classes feel themselves sliding toward the abyss and the middle classes grouse, but there is a high enthusiasm for England's destiny among the young and rebellious Parliamentarians. They see an England that, almost alone in the world between the converging colossi of Russian Communism and American Capitalism, will keep alive the free, inquiring, individual, humanistic spirit. They are not the least bit interested in preserving the British Empire; in fact, they are intent on liquidating it. And when you talk to them, you see that they are animated by a belief that there is imminent a new and liberating renaissance for the creative impulse in man, as heady as the winds that blew on Shakespeare and Milton. They see, without being in the least pompous about it, an England emerging from a series of temporary crises, an England that will never succumb to a totalitarianism of either the Right or the Left and that will perpetuate its best traditions.

Meanwhile, to visit England now is like going to stay honorable, incorruptible, highly cultivated, extremely poor relations. I have heard critics of Churchill say that he is responsible for England's plight because he tried constantly to pull, and somewhat grandiosely succeeded, more than England's weight in the war—a criticism that would sound strange in the ears of an American chauvinist of the "England expects every American" school. These critics say that Churchill acted on the assumption that England was a first-class power, whereas she wasn't, and they also criticize Bevin for acting on the same premise and keeping abroad British soldiers who could be home mining coal. Others, considering poverty, as Bernard Shaw does, the ultimate sin, say flatly that England should have fought neither of the German wars. Still others rail at the patience of the English people. The English will stand for anything, they say, and out of stubbornness won't complain. Often this anger of Englishmen at English docility has a partisan tinge: the complainers cannot endure patience with government regulations they themselves are weary of. What is extraordinary, amid all these bewildering crosscurrents, is the continuing and pervading preoccupation of the people of England with music, the theatre, and art. A prime example was the great exhibition of the King's pictures recently held at Burlington House. It was a glorious collection of more than five hundred paintings that have belonged to the Crown since the fifteenth century. The attendance at this exhibition was enormous. It is inconceivable that Americans would come in such crowds, day after day and month after month, to look at pictures in a building as frigid as Burlington House was. One shuddered for the nymphs. The love of the British public for the theatre, too, must be an emotion more intense than ours. Bundled in their overcoats and eiderdowns, they sit with their feet on hot-water bottles and watch "King Lear," "The Alchemist," "Antony and Cleopatra," the complete "Back to Methuselah," and "The Master Builder." The concert halls and opera houses and ballet theatres are equally crowded, and equally cold. I went to a concert in Usher Hall, in Edinburgh. A Russian pianist sat down to play a concerto. Never had I seen a pianist massage his hands for so preternaturally long a time before beginning. I looked around me at the audience during this extended interval, and many of its members were doing the same thing.

On the night before I left London for America, I attended a dress rehearsal of my play. The theatre was so cold and my fingers so stiff that I couldn't use a pencil to make notes until I put on mittens, which didn't help the legibility of my writing. When I came out of the theatre, the blizzard that was to initiate the winter's great fuel crisis had started. The next morning, I drove to Waterloo Station through rising snowdrifts. London, which I had never seen under snow before, looked singularly beautiful; the soft gray masonry became impalpable through the haze of the gently falling, lethal flakes. Soundlessly, gently, they ushered in the Second Battle of Britain, outmaneuvering the Government in its gamble on the weather. At Waterloo Station, the loudspeaker announced that, owing to a frozen engine, the boat train would be delayed. It was held up nearly three hours. My companions and I stood about, stamping our feet, then went into the waiting room and drank a tepid liquid humorously called coffee. The train was unheated. We walked about in it to keep our circulation going. We ordered Scotch and soda. The soda came frozen solid in the bottle. Some children laughed at our efforts to shake out a few drops. But, as everything ends, this journey ended, too, and presently we were on the Elizabeth, her decks drifted with snow. I got into my tiny inside cabin, mercifully no bigger than John Knox's study. It was warm. An electric heater was going great guns. In ecstatic relief, I sat down before the fire and took off my shoes.

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