Sunday, March 7, 2021

Dunsany on Politics and Art

Dunsany was a candidate for political office in 1906. He lost. He quickly decided that his loss was a good thing. And he seems never to have written much about his political views. But in 1919, Norman MacDermott was founding the Everyman Theatre in Hampstead, and he solicited a statement from Dunsany for his new (short-lived) journal, Theatre-Craft: A Book of the New Spirit in the Theatre. Dunsany's commentary, though brief, touches on both politics and art, and is nonetheless quite interesting.  I copy it below. 


I am a Tory. That is to say, I believe in leadership by the class whose leisure and opportunities give them the best chance of thinking rightly.

Yet if it happens that this class, in spite of its opportunities, fail to lead rightly, I do not then believe in the continuance of their leadership merely for the sake of old romantic traditions.

Our age lives; live people must lead it.

To what depths animal life descends, and whether there be any­thing lower than the sponge, I do not know; but at the top of life the highest manifestation is the arts. We are not more powerful, nor hardier, than many of the beasts, nor do we endure wounds as well; it is in our intellect that we are superior to the beasts, and of the intellect the arts are the supreme flower.

What of the arts in England? Especially what of the theatre?

A struggle upwards is taking place among the people of England for better homes, better wages, better conditions of life. Will the workingman be content in his better conditions with no pictures upon his walls, no music in his house, and no thoughts in his head? I doubt it. Hence the revolution against the holy places, the autocratic playhouses of the West End.

A theatre is soon to be set up in Hampstead in which it will be possible to see plays that touch on the affairs of man without re­stricting their scope to the crudest emotion of all; for though we be cousins of the ape, we have also had dreams of the angels.

I have heard it said that they will not get people to go as far as Hampstead. But are there no people there already?

I have no bitterness against any community and no axe to grind; but I live in a great age, and when for the first time after four and a half years I enter what should be the temples of human thought, I come away depressed and sometimes disgusted. . . .

Of course, there are exceptions. But if reverent and decent ser­vices were exceptions in cathedrals religion would be in a bad way.

How will Hampstead take it? If they welcome and keep a better theatre than there is in the West End, they will have done more for the prosperity of their district than if they raided Bond Street and looted all the jewellery that was there and displayed it in windows of Hampstead. The West End of London has almost been a centre of civilisation. The situation goes begging!

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