3 JANUARY 1936, Page 17



1936 is opening, even more noticeably than most years, in an atmosphere of mutual inter- national distastes. One is not surprised to be told that this has been a remarkably home-keeping Christmas ; for abroad is just now, for most nations, a somewhat perilous pleasure-ground, and the winter resorts of other days have assumed, for one reason or another, an intimi- dating, even a menacing, air. Yes ; even our adored Balearics . . . while as for the Italian Riviera . . . One can still cruise, you say, about the high seas ? But doubtfully, warily, looking up at the heavens, looking for all the fire-folk seated in the sky. .

• To set against these imperfect sympathies, each nation would appear to be taking increasing pleasure in its own qualities and exploits. One boasts itself a democracy, which can write letters to its representatives telling them where they get off, thus changing history ; another delights to be a corporate State, obeying orders in unison; another to be a great republic, thinking with resolution and continuity of its own security ; one is proud to be marching, Roman civilisation in hand, into uncultured lands ; one to be outside European imbroglios; soothing the troubled waters and the raging flames with oil. There is always some cause for national self-love ; and for my part I find it a pretty and engaging spectacle, in a world of nations whom there are all too few to love. For this reason I enjoy the broadcast European Interchanges, and regret the cancelling last week of that between an English- man and a Russian. I always like to hear the Briton posing the alien with the time-honoured British question, asked by English tourists abroad for many centuries, "How do you like having no freedom ? " and to hear the foreigner vehemently explaining that he has as much as, or more than, his questioner. I should like to have heard, and hope still to hear, the repartee of the representative of the U.S.S.R. "In Russia we say that it is you capitalist States who have no freedom." Or, "Freedom is of no importance. What matters is social welfare." Or, " Well, you see, Russians have never had any freedom, so don't miss it." I should enjoy him on capitalist vice and soviet virtue, and the Englishman on the reverse. It would be, surely, an agreeable entertainment, and to cancel it because inaccuracies, or asperities, or both (in fact, human nature) would keep breaking in was a timid and a tedious act. "The free range and fair balance of give-and-take argument could not be secured," the B.B.C. is reported to have said. But who wants it, when we might have instead the free range and unfair lack of balance of human and national vanity, beside which fair argument is but a dull and prosy affair ? Give us free human nature to divert us, and we will not ask for fairness. Alice, a dull little prig, was shocked by the unfairness of the "nice knock-down arguments" used by Humpty- Dumpty and the other beings she encountered ; had she been wiser, she would have listened to them with delight. "How unfair they are both being ! " That is what we say when we hear these international back-chats : doubt- less we should have said it again had we been permitted to hear the Anglo-Russian dialogue ; but should we have turned it off for that ? A thousand times no. No one wants people to be fair or balanced about the places they live in ; a fine and maniac frenzy should possess them (and does) when they describe their no doubt deplorable homes. For one must remember this : if we do not &laud our own places of residence and national habits, these may lack altogether a trumpeter, and become melancholy affairs indeed.

Give us, then, our Anglo-Russian air-chat, for we shall enjoy it greatly.