One of life’s pleasures (for me anyway) alongside obituaries, Laphroiag, arguing with Derb, and reruns of the last moments of the late President Caucescu is a visit to a secondhand bookstore, mainly because I never know what it is that I am going to find. I was in Madison, Wisconsin, earlier this week and the fine store on State Street yielded three splendidly obscure treasures for a total of $23. The first was the memoir of a Finn (one Unto Parvilahti) who had spent ten years as a prisoner of the Soviets, the second was a 1939 book (The Soviet Power – The Socialist Sixth of The World) by the late – and unlamented – Rev. Hewlett Johnson, the ‘Red Dean’ of Canterbury (a man who would have got on rather badly with Mr. Parvilahti) and the third was This England, a travel book from 1936.
Hewlett Johnson’s effort was a reminder that the idiocy of ‘progressive’ clergymen has never known any limits and nor has their capacity to crawl to dictators. Here are a few choice examples of his ‘analysis’:
“[The Soviet] programme gripped me from its earliest formulation. Majestic in spirit, practical in detail, scientific in form, Christian in spirit…it is a programme which thinks, not in terms of a privileged class, but in terms of each individual soul…”
And then there’s this (remember this book was written two years after the launch of Stalin’s Great Terror):
“Nothing strikes the visitor to the Soviet Union more forcibly than the absence of fear.”
What’s more, the USSR was such a clean-cut place:
“Sex plays a comparatively small part in Soviet Russia…and everything lascivious or degenerate has been expunged from Soviet public life…”Petting parties” are unknown…”
Well, thank heavens for that.
Mary Ellen Chase’s This England was an altogether more pleasant, if rather rose-tinted, experience. For all the sugar-coating, however, it was difficult to read it and not come to the wistful conclusion that, for all its flaws England was, in many ways, a much nicer society than it is today. What’s more, those who could afford it also knew what made for a proper breakfast:
“Porridge with milk, rarely with cream, fish [kippers, I presume], bacon (or sausage or liver or kidneys or cold ham) and eggs, toast and orange marmalade, tea or coffee, the Times or The Daily Mail, a terse comment upon the weather and then calm, good-natured silence…”
A scepter’d isle indeed.