CERTAIN ASPECTS OF BRITISH LIFE AND THOUGHT
AN ADDRESS BY
SIR ARTHUR SHULDHAM REDFERN, K.C.V.O., C.M.G.
Chairman: The President, Mr. Thos. IT. Howse
Thursday, October 28th, 1948
Honoured Guests and Gentlemen: The Empire Club always considers it an honour when distinguished gentlemen from England visiting Canada are kind enough to so arrange their itinerary to permit them to address a regular meeting of our Club. Today is another one of those happy occasions.
Our guest speaker for today is Sir Shuldham Redfern, who is no stranger to Canadians, having occupied the post of Secretary to the Governor-General from 1935 to 1945.
Sir Shuldham was educated at Winchester and Trinity College, Cambridge. He served as a Major in World War I with the Royal Flying Corps and later with the Royal Air Force.
In 1920 he joined the Sudan Political Service and filled many important positions with distinction, concluding his service in the Sudan as Governor of Kassala Province in 1934.
In recognition of his services in the Sudan, Sir Shuldham was created an officer of the Order of the Nile.
In 1947 Sir Shuldham was appointed Director of the Commonwealth Department of the British Council, which is a Government sponsored organization aimed at spreading knowledge of British culture and thought throughout the Commonwealth.
Today Sir Shuldham is going to deal with certain cultural relations between this country and Great Britain. It now affords me very great pleasure to introduce Sir Shuldham Redfern, K.C.V.O., C.M.G., who has chosen as his subject "Certain Aspects of British Life and Thought."
Before I say anything about the subject of my address, there is one thing I would like to mention to you which has nothing to do with the purpose of my visit. I speak simply as an ordinary Englishman visiting this country. Now, I have been sent food parcels by friends in Canada and before I left England last week, I though it would be interesting to find out how many other people were getting these parcels. I discovered that since 1940, Canadians have sent 10,929,000 gift food parcels to individuals and more than 54,485,000 pounds of gift food in bulk between December, 1945 and March, 1948.
Now, those figures are staggering figures and I think that the first thing that anyone from the Old Country would wish to say to a public audience such as this in Canada is "Thank you". We in England are not starving, we have an efficient and well administered rationing system. Everyone gets the same and it is absolutely fair. According to the scientists and statisticians, it is adequate and it has made us into a healthy nation but it is terribly dull and I cannot tell you how much your parcels are appreciated. They are appreciated particularly by old people living alone who cannot spend the morning standing in a queue, like my wife often does and comes home with a pot of jam. And you can readily understand how these parcels are appreciated by families with children. I am told that you are setting up a special organization called the "United Emergency Fund for Britain" in order to ensure that these parcels are efficiently and economically distributed. That sort of thing just leaves us speechless with admiration. As a people, we are not effusive in our gratitude, but I can assure you that we are deeply grateful for all you have done for us and are doing for us to help win the second Battle of Britain.
Now, the subject of my address, "Cultural Relations", is, I would think, rather forbidding. I don't care much for the words "cultural" and "culture". They carry with them the suspicion of self-righteousness and gentility. There is something a bit high-hatted about them--something that suggests intellectual snobbery. They are not quite genuine and what is far worse, they sound dreadfully pompous and boring.
It is a pity, I think, that the expression "Cultural Relations" should have such unfortunate associations, because it represents something which is of great import ance at this time. It represents an attempt to define a greater mutual understanding of peoples and on that depends the peace of the world which is another way of saying "The survival of the world". As we all know, peace is no chance growth; it has to be planned and built up and I am sure that there is no material which is stronger or more durable in the building up of the structure of peace than an imaginative programme of cultural relations.
Now, we are all agreed that science has brought us much closer together than we have ever been before. All countries and people are our neighbours whether we like it or not, space and time have been almost obliterated. You can, for instance, escape as I did the other day from the fogs and mist and general austerity of post-war London, get into a comfortable Canadian airplane and reach Canada in a matter not of clays but of hours. Nothing has ever been known like that before but how many people can actually do it? What advantage are these phenomenally rapid means of communication if only a few people can make use of them? Centuries ago you could travel all over the known world without any restrictions in the way of passports, visas and currency controls. People were then truly international, they even spoke the same language (Latin), but today, in spite of all these technical advances that have been made, the peoples of the world are reduced to a state of immobility almost unprecedented in the annals of mankind. They are hemmed in by the barriers they have been putting up themselves after the purely physical barriers have been successfully destroyed. What an absurd and anomalous position, but the result is very serious for it means that as we are all separated by these artificial barriers which we have erected, there is a danger of our working and thinking in watertight compartments. There is a danger of severe restrictions in the interchange of thought and ideas and knowledge. There is a danger, and a very real danger, that misunderstanding may be the inevitable conclusion.
Can you wonder that the world is in its present appalling and confused state? But this 20th Century of ours ought to be a century in which there is no excuse for not knowing how men and women in other lands live and how they look at life; how they spend their leisure; what sort of music they listen to; what sort of pictures they see; what sort of places they go to; what sort of books they read; what their homes are like and their food; what wages they get and, in fact, how they live.
People in our country no longer think of Canadians in terms of Eskimos and Red Indians, and people in Canada no longer think of us as high-hatted individuals wearing eye glasses and striped pants and living in medieval castles. All these romantic notions are things of the past.
The night before President Roosevelt died he wrote these words
"Today, science has brought all the different quarters of the globe so close together that it is impossible to isolate then one from another. Today, we are faced with the pre-eminent fact that if civilization is to survive we must cultivate the science of human relationships, the ability of all peoples of all kinds to live together and work together in the same world at peace.
You will no doubt say that there have always been unofficial contacts either by organizations or individuals between the nations of the world, just as there have been and still are official contacts. That is true, but until recently the official and formal channels between countries have been on political, commercial or military levels. The other channels of communication are liable to become impeded and blocked. It is therefore important that they should be widened and freed from debris and that they should contain a free flow of material which will produce understanding and not misunderstanding so that sympathy and friendship, rather than prejudice and hatred, may be disseminated throughout the world.
I, myself, do not believe that there is ever real hatred between peoples of different countries, no matter how critical the international situation may be. There is often profound ignorance and ignorance produces prejudice and prejudice is sometimes mistaken for enmity but if you can dispel ignorance and promote knowledge and understanding, then you have undermined the causes of hostility. But it is no good just talking about these things. No country can expect to be understood by others if it remains passive and aloof. The most enlightened foreign policy cannot possibly be successful unless it is developed against a background of knowledge.
Now, in 1935, we in Britain came to the conclusion that in addition to the ordinary channels of communication between governments, there was need of another channel, official it is true, but non-political and non-economic. You may call it "cultural" if you like, but the idea was to make the life and thought of Britain more widely known overseas and an organization called the "British Council" was inaugurated by His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom by funds granted by parliamentary grants. You see, at present Great Britain is in an anomalous position, it is both rich and poor. It is poor in material resources, in food, money and raw materials but it is immensely rich in what one might call its "cultural heritage" and that great store house of treasure is being added to every day. Times of stress always seem to stimulate the creative works of mankind and that is true of the present time. We, in Britain, feel that we possess a great wealth of drama and music and fine arts, and we have recently created a whole range of new social services. In scientific achievements our progress has, I suggest, been spectacular.
People often think of us in England as living rather drab, rationed lives but the other day 1 counted up the number of plays, operas, concerts, ballets, picture galleries and recitals in London and I found that in every case there were far more than there were in New York. Britain has, in fact, become the world's greatest source of cultural creative effort.
Now, we are not better people than anyone else but we have gathered up these things over a long period and now it is surely common sense that we should export from what we have in abundance. Of course, each country has a strong belief in the importance of its own culture and a desire to have other countries know and appreciate it. That is a worthy belief and a healthy desire, because there is no doubt that the improvement of cultural relations between countries leads to better economic and political relations.
Now, what exactly does one mean by cultural activities. Well, they include the interchange of technical experts, professors, teachers, students and leaders in various fields of intellectual and artistic expression. They include the exchange of books and other printed material, lectures, concerts and exhibitions. We believe that the imaginative and skillful development of cultural relations can assure a system of national interpretation on a reciprocal basis and promote understanding, friendship and peace. The British Council, to which I belong, exists for that very purpose.
We hear a lot about what is called the "Iron Curtain" but the British Council has been responsible for displaying behind the Iron Curtain all manner of British cultural activities and they have been most warmly appreciated. We want to break down not only the Iron Curtain but all curtains, no matter what they are made of. And so we seek not only to convey knowledge of Britain to other countries but to encourage other countries to make themselves better known to Britain. If it is true that you can learn something about our achievements, it is equally true that we can learn something of yours and we are anxious to do so.
And so, within this general field including the humanities, the arts and sciences, the British Council seeks to achieve this, at the present time, by encouraging the exchange of ideas between technical, professional and educational groups in Britain and similar groups in countries overseas. The British Council is our official agency for these exchanges. It is in no sense an instrument of propaganda for the Government of the clay; it has nothing to do with politics; and has no concern with economic and financial relations. And although it is financed by a grant in aid from the U.K. treasury, the conduct of its affairs is placed in the hands of an executive committee representative of all branches of current thought.
The Council is, moreover, assisted by a number of experienced advisory committees which link it up with every phase of our national life. It has representatives in over sixty countries and it can also grant scholarships overseas to enable students from all countries to visit Britain and carry out a course of study of their own choosing. And we also invite to Britain as our guests visitors and groups of visitors so that they can see and study whatever they want in our country.
For example, a young Australian artist came to see me the other day in London with a note from our representative in Melbourne. He had worked his way by sea from Australia, but had never been in England before and he wanted to study at a good school of art. Left to his own devices, he might have spent weeks trying to find a school that would take him in but vet our Fine Arts Department managed to fix him up within half an hour of his first appearance and he is now a student at one of our best art schools in London.
A few months ago the director of the Canadian National Gallery came over to England and asked if we could arrange to send over exhibitions of contemporary British drawings. That exhibition was sent over, I saw it two days ago in the National Gallery in Ottawa and you will be able to see it here.
Last winter I was asked if we could find an adjudicator for the Dominion Drama Festival. Now, that is not an easy task for an adjudicator not only has to be highly competent and knowledgable, he must also be bilingual. But we managed to arrange for Mr. Robert Speaight to come over to Canada and from all accounts his visit was an unqualified success. When he came back to England he was tremendously enthusiastic about the quality and quantity of dramatic talent in this country.
And so I decided that we should send to Canada one of the very best dramatic companies we possess, the "Old Vic" Company. As a result, Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Dame Edith Evans are coming over here in January with the "Old Vic". Now the "Old Vic" does not consist of two stars and a tail, all members of the Company are accomplished actors and actresses. They are the best we have and I want to emphasize that any project we send over here will be the best possible quality. We shall never send you or take part in sending a second rate show. One of the great events of the year in Great Britain is the Edinburgh Festival. Famous orchestras, conductors, artists and players come from all parts and as my Scottish friends will know, there could be no finer setting for a festival of arts than the city of Edinburgh. One of the finest orchestras at Edinburgh this year was a small English orchestra, the Boyd Neel orchestra. Last year they went to Australia and New Zealand under British Council auspices and were an overwhelming success. Those who heard them say they have never heard such music so wonderfully played. The Boyd Neel orchestra stole the show at Edinburgh this year and it is probably the best small collection of orchestral players in the world. I am hoping to be able to send them to Canada on a tour about this time next year.
Another of our ventures in which we are particularly interested is the Sadler's Wells Ballet. They have toured the Continent of Europe on both sides of the Iron Curtain and have given performances before some of the most critical audiences in the world. The general opinion is that the Sadler's Wells Ballet is quite incomparable. Even the Russians who saw it said it was better than the old Russian Ballet. I am hoping to be able to arrange for the Sadler's Wells Ballet to come over to Canada next year.
These are just a few of the things that the British council arranges. We want to submit these things to your critical judgment. If you like them, well, we shall be delighted. If you do not like them, we hope you will criticize them-it will do them no harm.
In introducing some of our cultural achievements to you and hoping that you will reciprocate by sending some of your cultural achievements to Great Britain, we believe that we are engaged in good and useful work. I hope that Canadians will tell me what they want my Council to do and if we can, we will do it. Canada and Great Britain--we have the same great traditions of democracy, of tolerance and respect for one another, of humour and fair play. These are treasured gifts in the torn world of our time.
Before I left London a member of the London press, not always friendly towards the British Council, called up Canada House in Trafalgar Square and asked them if I had been invited to Canada by the Canadian Government. He got the answer from Canada House that no one had to be invited to Canada, it was a free country and they would gladly welcome me or anyone else. Now, that seems quite an ordinary and natural reply. But it is tremendously momentous in these days when you think of the number of countries which are closed from the free interchange of ideas and persons.
When I asked your Secretary, Mr. Hyde Bennett, what he would like me to talk about, he said, "You can talk about anything you like." No, there are many countries where that would not be possible and so we have their great advantage of freedom of communication and intercourse between our peoples. Let us see that we make the best possible use of it so that both together and individually we can make a worthwhile contribution to the peace of the world.
These things of which I have spoken,-mutual knowledge and understanding, the interchange of ideas and an appreciation of our common heritage, are among the threads which bind our Commonwealth together. Whether you call it Empire or British Commonwealth or Commonwealth, the material of which it is composed is strong and durable. What matters is the seams, and as the political threads weaken, as they inevitably must, it is all the more important to strengthen by every means in our power the other ties by which it is held together-the ties of sentiment and freedom and understanding. There are many people who, looking at the Commonwealth from outside, say that it is breaking up. And the odd thing is that it always looks as if it is.
In that sense it is one of the most baffling organizations that has ever existed. But, in fact, what is happening is that it is being reshaped and remoulded so as to bring it into line with a changing world. Therein lies its strength and its capacity for endurance. There are others who say that all empires have blossomed and then faded until they have collapsed and fallen in ruins. They say that that is bound to happen to our Commonwealth. But ours is different from all the empires of the past in that the bonds which unite it are not subject to any strain. They are flexible. New threads are constantly being added to the seams and old ones taken out so that the fabric as a whole remains intact. The seams, therefore, will not give and the thread will not snap, leaving a heap of rags and tatters.
Your country and mine are still great countries. Let us not be afraid to say so. Let us "Have no craven fear of being great". Let us have faith in our destiny for we must remember that the Commonwealth has many lessons to teach. All the problems which now face the world have been met at some time or other in the Commonwealth. Think what a lesson Canada can give to those who are trying to form a Western Union of European States. But the Commonwealth will not survive if we just "sit pretty" and do nothing about it. We must work for it and improve it, and renew it and maintain constant vigilance. I believe one way in which we can preserve it is by doing all we can to break down the barriers of prejudice and ignorance and misunderstanding by which peoples, as opposed to Governments, are so often through no fault of their own, separated.
To whatever extent the British Council can assist in that work, I believe it will be readily supported by people of goodwill, here as in many other countries.
The speaker was thanked by Mr. Charles R. Sanderson.
We have just listened to a very significant address. The magnificent work of the British Council has been far too little known in Canada and we are indebted to Sir Shuldham Redfern for his story of what it is doing.
The ties which bind Canada and Britain together today are our common heritage, our common fealty and loyalty, our common background. But two things should be added to that statement. Each can be said in a single sentence.
First: The background for tomorrow is being created today. Background must be kept alive, kept real, kept meaningful. That is what the British Council is doing. That is what Sir Shuldham has been doing today.
Secondly: The things he has been talking about are all "things of the mind." But just because they are things of the mind they need to be kept in mind. We need to be re-minded of them. And again that is what the British Council is doing. That is what Sir Shuldham has been doing for us today. We are grateful to him.