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OUR LONDON LETTER, Issue 15672, 10 December 1914
OUR LONDON LETTER
[By W. L. George.}
I have been able in my last two letters to inform you of tho unexpectedly normal condition of life and trade in London, and, strange to say, as the war progresses the tendency of daily life is to become yet more normal. In some parts of tho city, "such as Oxford street, that endless succession of big stores, the pavements are occupied by scores of women shopgazing, as they might have done six months ago, and also, I am glad to hear, buying much more freely than they did last month. If you do "not look at the war placards, which is easy now, as most of us are becoming slightly bored with the war. you can forgot "the'great contest. From time to time only, as endless lines of recruits march past to the tunc of ' It's a Long, Long Way to Tipperary,' does the conflict become actual. In some special spots war is more evident; at the Red Cross office, for instance, which I visited yesterday. It is an immense building in Pall Mall, at the doors of which two streams of in-going and outgoing persons form a little whirlpool. Inside there is bewilderment, for there aTe endless cashiers receiving money; there is room after room overflowing with bedding, woollen garments, cases of medicines, groat bales of tobacco, comforts of all kinds; and there is the ever-growing library of books for the wounded. A visit to the four vast floors certainly doc 3 (jive the impression cf something large: but that is about as near as London gets to " the horrors of war.'' Indeed, London is doing its best to escape these horrors by turning as much as it can towards its pleasures, even towards literature and the drama.
The drama is in a peculiar condition in London. There is a large' demand for plays, and people are anxious to go to the theatre, and yet a certain number of houses have closed down, while complaints ariso from every *ido of lack of employment in tho profession. Bat what has really happened is twofold. Many people are foo.ish enough to think that there is something tactless or sinful in going to see a comedy while hundreds of thousands of young Englishmen mo fighting and dying on tho held of battle. That is washy sentimentality, for, quito obviously, it does no harm to the soldiers if tho people at home try to enjoy themselves, and it certainly has the result of increasing poverty by depriving the theatrical trade of it 3 patrons. I hope New Zealand ha* not ceded to that sort of thing, for by theatrical trade one must understand something more than actresses and actors, and take in a vast number of scene-painters, stage hands, printers, bill - posters, costumiers, lighting specialists, etc., who live through thu Stage. The other cause, is, however, indirect, and more interesting. During the last month, fearing the Zeppelin, London has greatly reduced its lights. as a result of which, even with reduced slow traffic, the streets arc supposed not to bo safe after dark —safe from collision, I mean. This has arown «o pronounced during the laat weeS that many women refuse to go out at all in the evening, and as a result the theatres are seriously thinking of giving the daily performance every afternoon, and two '•matinees" in the evening. Quite a practical idea, and it has -just the upside-down qnnl'ty of war disturbance which may make it" attractive.
Literature, on the other hand, is fast recovering, its normal condition. In August its prospects wore very black. Every publisher in London suggested that ho would never publish a book again except a war book, and within a fortnight Such authors and story writers a? were not fit to go to tho front were thinking of going to the workhouse. Then, very shyly, one or two publishers conceived the idea that the public might perhaps get tired of thinking of the war and reading of the war and of doing nothing else. One or two novels stole Out, then in .September some mo*?, and then actually a little verso. By the end of September nearly all the publishers had pulled themselves and, with a rush, all the old literary favorites came forward with their new novels—H. G. Wells. Arnold Ben-
nett, W. W. Jacobs, Pett Ridge, Gertrude Atherton, Marie C'orelli, May Sinclair, etc. Now,, .tha-example. being given, hooks are coming out almost normally, and the newspapers, having realised very quickly the change in public feeling, -are every day giving morn space to review?. Indeed, they go further, for thev are recovering from the columns they dad given over entirely to war news space for fashion articles, sports, accounts of law cases, and general information. This is very welcom.% not only because after two and a-half montli3 the continual prcssuro of war news becomes wearisome, but because I believe it very necessary to react against this obsession of the war drama. At first sight it may seem small to ask for relief from war fever, but if wc do not get it, and if, as may happen, the coming yoar lapses without seeing tho end of the war, the effects on our" mentality must be serious. If we do not manage to recover something of our ordinary life, our pleasures, our social intercourse, our literature, w«* shall inevitably become coarsened, because we shall have gained the habit of sensation and be unfit for anything but sensation. Some weeks ago I this would happen, but I am glad to be able to tell you of the recovery, for after all New Zealand is so closely connected with Great Britain that if our arts were io suffer for i long period you would find vour own bookshelves empty of new books, and would have to content yourselves with touring companies equipped with plava little more recent than ' Charley's Aunt.'' *******
Ono oi the mnsi interesting iide-iesues this month has been tho r-erwwal of the charter of the British South Africa Company, which controls Rhodesia. The arrangement was that, the charter should cttl.er lapse or be re™wed for 10 vcars, and a great deal of rHfficiiitv was anticipated, because Southern Ehcd«ia, had become ho important and .so • peopled with white men that it would probably be necessary to remove it iron? the control of the Chartered Conipanv. At least such i« my hope, belonging asr I do to that section of opinion which bitterly objects to chartered companies of any hir.d. knowing only too well the evil career of tho East'lndia Company, that made of India a sink of corruption ending in the Mutiny. The British South Africa Company committed no crimes, and by the bido of John Company was an angid, but I have always felt, that no great territory of the Crown should bo handed over to a. irroup of private individuals, and that it wa„ the Empire's business to pay for the policing and administration oi its ow.i land. But the war, which has spread to Africa and there mado it possible that fighting would take place bt>tn-«n Rhodesia awl the German colonies, created a. new situation. It was impossible for the State to take over the country while in a etatc of war, so a provisional ar.d very K ood arrangement has been made. Northern Rhodesia is left in tho hands of the Chartered Company for another 10 years; Southern Khcdesia is alsr? toft nominally for 10 years, but subject to the right of" the British (rovsrnnier.t to take over at any time during that period. This means that if at the end of the war tho white settlers demand admission to vhe Union of South Africa, they will not find themselves impeded by the British South Africa. Company. The Government are much to be congratulated, and though I have had now and then to criticise them harshly, Ism glad to think that oven in a European war anything so well thought out has been executable. •*»** *• * *
On tho othev hand, the Government, who havo hitherto bson very lax in tho matter of alien residents in Great Britain, have at last been stirred to vigorous action. Mr M'Kennn- has found an excuse for not interning in a concentration camp every German and Austrian of military age by »juggesting that the War Office had n» accommodation for prisoners, aa all its energies were absorbed by preparing camps for bur 100,000 recruits. That is true enough, but we sire short of neither money nor workmen, and the. excuse m not very good; throughout tho Cabinet
has minimised the spy peril, and had it not been for fno violent campaign conducted recently by the • Globe' and tho ; Ev«ning News,' Ido not fctippose it would have moved much. Ido not want to exaggerate tho *py peril, for I am convinced that tho great, niajotity of the German residents in this country have nothing to do with tho spy system; that most of thorn? who-ave of military age are delighted to avoid tho'war; and, much more, that there is< very little for tho .spips to find out. We have had a great to-do about tho possible blowing up of bridals and waterworks,- but in two, and a-half months tho only thing that has happened has been one attempt on a railway line. We have confiscated a few wifeless installations, some weapons, and camera*, tho possession of which might or micht not be criminal. It has all turned out very small. Still, in war one can take no chances, and if indeed, there were in England a doz-m efficient spies and a few dozen determined men with explosives, that would be quite reason enough to intern all tho alien enemies in camps. The maintenance of thousands of men for many months is far loss costly and damaging than the passage oT information leading to the destruction of a Dreadnought. Yesterday the order went out that all male Orinans and Austrians between the ag3s of 17 and 45 to go to concentration camps. That is futile. It' alien enemies are to be controlled properly, there must be nr> age limit or sex difference, for there is neither age limit nor rex difference in tho spy system I trust that the Government will greatly expedite their action. . There is no humane reason .why tho prisoner* should not bo perfectly, well treated. They have committed "no crime, and arc imprisoned merely as a preventive measure-. There is no'reason lo make their confinement at all strait. Indeed, if T were in control of this brsmess, I should transport them to the Scifly Mcs, which are- endowed with a beautiful climate, and where they could enjoy perfect liberty while unable to <!« cape or to communicate with their friends. It is worth thinking of this, '"or we must not be carried awav and become hrutalised. but ma-'iage to do just those tinners which will protect our troops without inflicting hardship upon people agamst whom no misdemeanor has been proved.
OUR LONDON LETTER, Issue 15672, 10 December 1914
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