LONDON TO PARIS TO ROME
AN ADDRESS BY GREGORY CLARK
Chairman--The President, Mr. J. P. Pratt, K.C.
Tuesday, April 4th, 1939.
PRESIDENT: Gentlemen of the Empire Club of Canada: How can I introduce one whom you already know so well? Even if you have not had the privilege of speaking to him--I spoke to our guest yesterday for the first time, yet I felt I had known him for yearswho is there among us on Saturday night does not turn over the pages to see what Greg and Jimmie are doing tonight?
Mr. Gregory Clark, our guest speaker, was born and educated in this city. He joined the Star in 1912 and rapidly rose through the ranks until today he is recognized as one of the best feature writers in North America. His coverage of such well-known scenes as the Coronation, the Vimy Pilgrimage, the Moose Mine Disaster and, later, the trip to Rome to describe the election of the Pope, speak for themselves and for himself.
Mr. Clark is well known to all of us also because of his stories as an angler of repute. But there is the other side. That was and is a peaceful diversion, but in 1916 he took the opposite side of the picture, joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry in action. (Applause)
Still further, who among us listening to Mr. Clark's broadcast for the Star Christmas Fund has not been touched and touched deeply by his description of the poverty which he saw in the homes which he visited and, incidentally, whose pocket has not been touched by that description?
Gentlemen, I can only say that it gives me a very great deal of pleasure indeed to introduce to you Mr. Gregory Clark, who will speak to you upon the subject, "London to Paris to Rome." Mr. Clark. (Applause)
MR. GREGORY CLARK: Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen: It always strikes me as funny that a newspaper man can sit down and dash off words of wisdom, of infinite wisdom, to half a million readers at any hour of the day or night; but the minute he has to stand up and face even fifty or a hundred of his fellow mortals he gets a cramp in his intelligence and his courage vanishes. I wonder if the reason is the same reason I take it to be? I hope not. One advantage, of course, in being the newspaper man is that when you have a bad cold, as I have now, you merely tell your wife to bring your typewriter to you in bed, you put it on your "pinny" and the world can proceed on its majestic round; but I have to inflict my cold upon you and all these unseen guests.
I have just come home from a swift trip to Rome, Paris and London, and it is to report to you what I have seen and sensed that I stand before you now. Is there to be a war? How do people feel in Italy, in France? What were the impressions of a Protestant sitting within thirty yards of the papal altar at the Coronation of the Pope--one of the most sacred moments in the Catholic life? And what of Edward, Duke of Windsor? Perhaps you noticed that I saw him.
Well, as to no war, I will tell you presently that the men I saw all had two strong legs, two brave, searching eyes, stomachs that have to be filled three times every day. As to how the people of Italy or France feel, how can I tell you? I was as far from France and Italy as we are from the moon. What the man in the moon knows of our feelings I cannot venture a guess, though he has been looking down on us with that same expression of astonishment for how long? As to the Papal Coronation I will be able to give you some feelings and thoughts, but as for Edward, Duke of Windsor, all I will tell you is how I came to buy this suit of clothes I now stand in before you.
Fresh home from Europe the question everyone asks me is: How near is war? I am a little afraid, being a newspaper man, to avow my profound conviction that there will be no war for fear that tonight's editions might carry the dread announcement of war. Where are all the prophets? What a time is this for prophets! But, with my fingers crossed, I declare my deep, and intuitive feeling that there will be no war, not now and perhaps not for a sufficient number of years for those vast forces of humanity which are now struggling gigantically, as light struggles in the dawn, to triumph over darkness. That may seem a silly faith to you, who know of the powers and the men who are loose in the earth today. Great greedy and acquisitive power, inspiring whole races and nations, even as our race and nation were inspired in the days of Queen Elizabeth, and our sailors went with ships and cannon, round and round the earth, dyeing it red, with Shakespeare giving our intelligence self-confidence, and to Frenchmen and Spaniards and Germans and all we looked perhaps as dangerous and disturbing as certain other peoples appear to us today. It might be easy to take the ground, the philosophic ground, that life goes on and that as one breed tires nature builds another breed, but in Italy I saw a nation in the throes of a great modern revival. Its antique slums are vanishing, its crooked roads are giving way to highways more magnificent than anything I have seen in America, the buildings as majestic and beautiful as anything in all its glorious past, its tragic past. I say tragic, because on every hilltop is a ruin of either a fortress or a church in which men sought security and there was no security. In no country on earth is the pathos and the tragic comedy of the human passion for security more obviously written in stone and in dust than in Italy. In Italy, more than anywhere else on earth, it seems to me should be the dawn of the notion in men's minds that all the forms and ideas by which men sought security in the past are not good enough. There must be a new and a better idea. There must be somehow worked out a programme for the brotherhood of man. Yet, in Italy, where the slums are vanishing as before a juggernaut, where new cities are rising on the ashes of ten cities, you see no signs of that serene essence of humanity which is the joy of living in the faces and actions of men and women. Italy is a country without smiles, without song. Italians are often sombre and melancholy, as we all know, but in Rome, Naples, Florence and Venice, and in all the villages I motored through I was physically oppressed by the curiously sad abstraction, the solemnity of the people.
Don't leap to the conclusion that they are fretting under the Fascist regime. As far as I could discover or discern they are full of devotion to that regime. There are those who live in Rome, resident newspaper correspondents and foreign officials whom I met, and who think very differently, who believe the people are fuming under the oppression of Mussolini. I must declare that I could find no hint or word of that. They spoke with instant fire and enthusiasm of their Duce on every occasion. It is easy for us to say, "Ah, yes, they are afraid to do otherwise," but maybe we are wishful.
True, Italy is filled with police. Every cop has two assistant cops. The streets of Rome, especially, but also in most of the other cities, are full of soldiers, welldressed, smart, self-conscious soldiers, with that look both Hitler and Mussolini deem to be part of the faith, a self-conscious, stony expression.
We must remember that until 1870 Italy was almost wholly agricultural, and that in the very blood and bone of the Italians are ages of oppression by princes, both native and foreign, and this latest revival, which is not the first in the century but the third great effort to revitalize the Italian people, is certainly the most intense.
But I am a profound believer in the biology of race. I know the difference between a Scotsman, and Englishman and an Irishman, and it seems to me perhaps biologically the Italians are not gifted for power and aggression. Maybe the reason they walk so sadly and abstractedly amidst all the splendours of their new renaissance is the same reason some of my friends who are writers, artists and musicians do not take kindly to getting up at six a.m. and rushing to the office at eight So much for supposition.
I talked to great numbers of young Italians. One train porter, alert, Italian to his core, said to me at the end of a conversation in which I succeeded in breaking him a little down, "We will never shoot Frenchmen."
Off in a vineyard, where I saw peasants working, sombre, unsmiling, labouring with mattocks in the soil, cultivating among the vines, I spoke to a vine culturist. I suppose if he were working in the Niagara Peninsula he would be making great money as an expert in his art. He gave me some idea of the wages they receive. A first class bricklayer gets $1.50 a day-$9.00 a week. Bread is 21/2 lira 12 cents a loaf. The waiters who waited upon us in the hotels, where there is no tipping, get $50 a month. When I said to this vine culturist, "Are you satisfied? Is there any unrest under this regime of taxation and expenditure upon all this modernity, this new renaissance?" he looked at me with instant and surely unfeigned emotion and said, "Mussolini is a great man. If you see him he will look at you and read your thoughts." I said, "I hope I don't meet him."
In Naples there is a very marvellous restaurant, the restaurant of Li Theresa which many of you have seen, hanging over the water of the beautiful Bay of Naples. I was there and looked with great interest at the musicians. There was a guitarist, a mandolinist and a singer-three men. I had heard of the songs of Naples, its laughter, its music and song. This was the first I saw, after having been in Naples forty-eight hours. Here they were in the restaurant, off to one side of the Manageress's rostrum, where she sat with the money box, the three musicians, sombre, with downcast eyes. Suddenly, the Manageress snapped her fingers--let there be music! These three leaped forward, with mandolin and guitar, and teeth flashing, and the singer sang with joy all the familiar songs. They played and sang with gusto, smiles and flashing teeth. The minute they had finished down fell the veil of melancholy on their faces and they retired to stand with downcast heads until the snap of the fingers called for music, the smiles commenced and the music and song which is the tradition of Naples for its guests went on.
The man who drove me through the lovely country up to Assisi was a young man, about twenty-four years of age. I asked him about war. He was very proud of his soldier's uniform, all complete with beautiful cape. He said, "Signor, young men can no longer look forward to war as an adventure, as a patriotic sacrifice. Today war means in our minds only death. I think perhaps in your time and older times war had some balance, some compensation, but now it means to my mind, death. I do not want to die. How terrible it would be to be away fighting in some far place, knowing that every hour of the day and night my mother, my sweetheart, maybe, some day, my little children are dying terribly. No, no," he says, "war has nothing for me or young men, ever any more."
That was very sincere. That may be the thought that is in their minds as they stand with a curious abstraction and sadness.
I think of the darkness in the faces of Italy, but I also think of the strange, bright, hard light in the faces of the Frenchmen. What a joy it was to come down over the Alps out of Italy, into France, to see those fairfaced, wide-Baited, loud and laughing Frenchmen! In their faces there is a certain glint, too. A glint, which, if I were a statesman or a ruler or a master of wealth or power, I would not very much like to incite. No, the mass of mankind in this world, so far as I could see, here and there, do not want war. I think the mass of mankind the world over have risen all unawares to a position of power. I think the rulers of this earth must realize the gathering will to peace in the hearts of that mass of mankind. Almost any day now the power of cant and bunk and propaganda may collapse and vanish like a fog, like an old fog. I have the feeling we are on the verge of a sort of dawn somewhere, of something very great and splendid in human history, the appreciation of some clear and glorious truth we can't quite see yet, like the sun rising at the dawn. I cannot shake off that profound intuition of peace, despite every cloud that surrounds us.
Of course, I wasn't in Germany. After all this past century of false prophets, what good to go and stare at Germany? I would see only what has been seen before, there, here and everywhere--nations like ours and theirs, fighting for a place in the sun. Maybe it all has no end.
In Rome the Italian officials took me to the marvellous Exhibition where they are showing the Italian people the advances in self-sufficiency in Italy. They wanted most of all to show me the building where the arms and weapons of modern Italy were exhibited. They showed me monstrous bombs, shells, torpedoes, model planes of every description, engines of destruction. They told, with almost reverence, that Italy was strong, terrible in might; but when they took me to lunch I saw in the restaurants the Italian waiters serving, with a distaste so obvious that it was almost comic, the German tourists who now infest Italy these days in their great enthusiasm for the Rome-Berlin Axis. I saw in the same restaurant a long table, full of thirty Fascist Black Shirts, in their uniform of black shirt and gray trousers, entertaining about twelve members of the German Nazi Party in their bright brown uniforms and red swastikas. The dark Italians and the bright blonde Germans were all laughing heartily together but the Germans, fresh down from Germany, were casting curious, haughty and cold eyes around the restaurant at all us rag tag and bobtail. Before I left an official said to me, "Of course these Germans think they are God." Gentlemen, it isn't biological.
Of the Pope there is little that I can add to what I have written. The coverage of that assignment by a Protestant was, as you can well imagine, a most difficult task. It was like walking a tight rope across a great abyss, but my best Catholic friends assure me I share with Blond in the high wire title. This, I assure you, was due not to me, but to the Catholic priests who in Rome took me in hand, day and night, and stood by me, despite the great excitement and pleasure they had in that city for the twelve days I was there and with the greatest kindness gave every assistance to helping me get it straight. I must say also, I come of a family of Presbyterians and Methodists who have never been able to translate out of the Bible anything but love. I think that simple statement covers it.
Of the scene in St. Peter's, I would like to mention only two highlights. There was the procession into the church. St. Peters held sixty thousand people of the seventy thousand who could get in--sixty thousand because they had to leave space for the procession. We came into our places a little after five o'clock in the morning. My companion was Reverend Father Crossland, of Barrie, a young Canadian priest taking his Doctor's degree, and we got into our position a little after five in the morning and the procession didn't begin until eight-thirty. Into that immense church we came and waited, into that church where suddenly you are made of no account, because of its immense architecture. Wherever you stand it seems to be not far away, so beautiful are all the distances spaced. When you look the full length at some painting on a distant wall it seems to be just the right size. Not until you are under it do you realize it is 75 ft. tall, or that the little cupids I mentioned in one of my broadcasts, the little cupids over the holy water are seven feet high when you come close to them.
Into this enormous church came this procession, among sixty thousand onlookers, and for two hours we, who were in one arm of the cross and couldn't see down the long nave, listened to the stentorian cheers and roars of thousands, tens and twenties of thousands who could see His Holiness as he was borne in a high papal chair from one part of the ceremony to another in the great five or six hour ceremony. To sit there for two hours, listening to these roars of cheers in a church, and those roars and cheers seemed to be like cheers in a distant street, as though you were in a town, not a church, and it was men in another street who were cheering, was to me probably the strangest experience of my churchly life.
His Holiness drew near, down through the nave, passing from one chapel to another, receiving the homage of the Cardinals; the long procession, the Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops, in all their magnificent robes; then His Holiness came into sight, borne on his chair aloft, all in white, and you could hear the cheers then, not of just those who could see, 'but of all the thousands who could not see him-sixty thousand people madly cheering in a church. I ask those of us who are familiar, both Catholics and Protestants, with the silence, the reverent silence of churches, to realize how strangely different and how absolutely unique is this magnificent Church of St. Peters.
The other high spot was when the Pope, not yet the Pope, in white, with tiny cap on his head, white cap, white robes, knelt for forty minutes at the high papal altar over the tomb of St. Peter, with his hands in an attitude of prayer, while one after another of the external and accumulating glories of ancient tradition and liturgy developed to make him Pope.
Cardinal Caccia-Dominioni an aged man, passed around the papal altar and down the golden staircase, never otherwise used, to the tomb of St. Peter, where there is a little old stone tomb, dating back, this one in actuality 1700 years, and knelt there and his old voice, while we held even our hearts from beating too loudly, cried out of the great stairway, from the crypt of that ancient church, calling upon God and Jesus and Mary, and the archangels and the saints, one by one, and as each name was called to ring up through the spaces of the enormous church, the Sistine Chapel choir, a symphony orchestra of voices of men and boys would burst from a hidden pillar where they were all concealed, a glorious burst of music--"Tu illum adjuva"--"Aid Thou Him." And it was right there I realized what Catholics have in devotion to their faith.
As to the Duke, nobody is sorrier than I am that my story was so small, so slight. My son said when I got home it was as if Toscanini had conducted a great prelude and I rose from the back with a tin whistle and played a brief trill. But in that little whistle was all the heartiness I could put. It was a trick to get in to see him and the time may not be long before I can let loose the product of a most exciting, utterly delightful meeting with two people, so completely, wholly, and shockingly different from what we have perhaps been helplessly led to picture, that I count it among the greatest surprises of my life.
The office wired me in Rome to try and see the Duke of Windsor. I know why they did it. I am, unfortunately, a cocky little man with a nasty habit of charging new and larger hats on my expense account, so the office always tries to give me a sharp defeat before I ever come home from abroad. It is tough, you see, to be an Editor, chained to a desk from one year's end to another, and to have to welcome hirelings fresh off the Normandie. So they cabled me casually to drop in and see the Windsors. It seemed somewhat like receiving a cable to drop in and see Julius and Calpurnia Caesar.
I made the promise which I kept. I will not tell you how keen and renewed he is, how gone all the old nervous, harassed mannerisms, how incredibly beautiful she is, with a beauty that led her to so strange and fabled a life. I will not even tell about their lovely little house, nor of how he asked of so many things in Canada, and how we laughed about nabobs and snobs-all the things you could talk about to even plumbers and newspapermen and Dukes.
All I will do is tell you about this suit I am wearing. When I arrived all forlorn in Paris, I went to a certain contact which the Star has, a great news agency there, where I announced that I was going to try to see the Windsors. Now, these gentlemen to whom even a newspaper man from Chicago or St. Louis is from the sticks gave eye business to one another. Hadn't they been trying for two years? But I got from them the name of a lady--Mrs. Bedford--who is secretary to the Duchess, and I wrote a letter and mailed it and then went to the steamship office and the railway office and arranged my unhappy ticket and berth on the Normandie to come home. I packed my trunk for refusal, denial, defeat and home-and no new hat on the expense account.
At ten o'clock in the morning a lady called: "Mr. Clark?" "Yes." "Mr. Gregory Clark? Of the Star?" "Yes." "This is Mrs. Bedford. His Royal Highness wishes to see you at six o'clock tonight."
Now, I had a good brown Harris tweed suit. I had a nice light tan gabardine, or whatever you call it, and a dinner jacket and a coat with tails and a morning coat, but I didn't have anything for six o'clock. I was very jittery-more jittery than I was when first I stood before this little microphone. I stepped out of the hotel about noon, into the Boulevard des Capucines and looked helplessly about. As you know, I am not the shape of man for whom clothes can be picked down off a hook. I have never bought a ready-made suit in my life since I jelled. If it is wide enough it is too long, and if it is long enough it is much too long. I proceeded hopelessly amid all those beautiful people in Parisin Paris in the spring-to find a place where I could buy a suit that would fit by six o'clock. I went down the street and I went into a store and consulted those in charge as to where I should go. They directed me to a store for gentlemen and I went down to the great store of Madelios. I was taken to the ready-made gents department and I explained it was a suit for this gentleman, off the hook, please, by four o'clock. I listened while they looked doubtfully at me, making their remarks in a type of French which I could not follow. They looked at me a little longer. Then I said that it was for an engagement with the Duke of Windsor. Such is the affection of Paris for the Duke that they leaped into action, took me into an inner sanctum, whipped off my bright tweeds, tried various suits until they arrived at this one. It was a little ill-fitting at the shoulders, a little long in the cuff, much too long in the legs. I said, "Four o'clock, Gentlemen." They said, "It will be ready, Sir." I said, "This must be Paris." They said, "It is, en effet, Paris."
With trepidation I went home. They close at noon. That is the kind of stores they have in Paris. They close at noon for everyone to go home and have lunch or go wherever they go. I went to my hotel to sit and quietly jitter. At four o'clock I called. There was the suit. They put it on me. It fitted, the shoulders fitted, the sleeves were right length, the pants were the right length. I said, "Gentlemen, this must be Paris." They said, "It is, en effet, Paris."
I very proudly rang three times on the bell for the valet. (Once for the waiter, twice for the maid, and thrice for the valet.) I rang thrice for the valet. He came and I asked him how I looked. He thought very nice, suggested a kerchief in this pocket, and he lengthened the trouser legs slightly by an adjustment of the suspenders. I said, "I think now I am ready," by which time of course the whole hotel knew the purpose of my purchase.
Time draws to a close. I have told you nothing. I have told in as good faith as I can of a swift trip around Rome, Paris and London. I haven't mentioned London. I don't think there is ever any need to mention London. London is the same as it was, the same as it will be--always London--the same as it was twenty-five years ago. These gallant people are busily going about their business, equal to anything. When I said to them, "How do you feel about these troubles?" they said, "'Let them come. Let them come." That is all I can tell you of London. I was only there forty-eight hours and I spent quite a considerable period of that time in the fishing tackle shops, and there, as in all the other shops, there is a cold, clear, bold courage in the hearts and faces and eyes of the Britisher.
Thank you. (Applause--prolonged)
THE PRESIDENT: It must be wonderful to be a feature writer and yet be able to speak as our guest has spoken to us today. I am sure that I voice the sentiment of all here and all who are listening on the air when I say that it has been a wonderful treat to have a description of events as seen by such keen eyes as those possessed by our speaker.
Mr. Clark, in thanking you on behalf of the members, I cannot resist the temptation, Sir, to say--with perhaps a little presumption, but a sincere desire that we will not be misunderstood, that we thank you, "Greg."
The meeting is adjourned. (Applause)