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The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1934

Random Memories and Thoughts

page 27

Random Memories and Thoughts

As the first Editor of The Spike I have been asked, and in a weak moment have consented, to take up again for my bantling, now grown to the lusty manhood of over thirty years, a pen which, never facile, has grown strangely crabbed in the exercise of a profession calculated above all others to deaden imagination and to cramp style. My appointment as Editor was a mistake. Either of the Assistant Editors would have done better. Both F. A. de le Mare and Miss F. Irvine Smith had far higher literary gifts, and Miss Smith was not only a brilliant English scholar but also the master of a clever pencil. The bright sketches which were reproduced in the early numbers and used for many years were all her work. The amount of talent we discovered among the early students was amazing. Our chief find of course was Seaforth Mackenzie, whose stirring verse enriched our early numbers, and who recently contributed that fine ode to the foundation Professors. The only credit I can claim was for some slight power of organisation. The question was one of expense. I ascertained the cost, cal-culated the number of advertisements required to make the volume self-supporting, expressed confident opinion that these could be obtained; and in one short afternoon de la Mare and I persuaded a sufficient number of retailers in Lambton Quay to cast their bread upon the waters. Our stock argument was some fable, acquired I know not where, about the great loss suffered by the proprietors of Pears Soap when, in a rare fit of economy, they reduced their costs of advertising in one year by half. That made a good opening point, but I remember a few incredulous smiles, and I suspect that in most cases no great return was expected from the outlay. When one remembers the small number of students, and our collective impecuniosity those who looked on it as a strictly commercial transaction must have been blessed with an optimistic temperament and peculiarly long sight. Most of them, I think, regarded the matter in the same light as if a kindly officer of the Salvation Army had called and reminded them that self-denial week had come round again. It is always harder to say "no" than to submit to a little gentle extortion.

The second year de la Mare became Editor and I one of his assistants. I have not yet forgiven my co-editors for a practical joke which they imposed on me. Miss Smith had a clever way of making a caricature by sketching the body and the surroundings and cutting the face of the victim from a photograph. In conspiracy with the other Editor a caricature of me was thus made, a block of it was prepared, and secret instructions were given to the printer to insert it without my knowledge. This was shameful conduct. At the same time a caricature of de la Mare was prepared in the same way and submitted to me for approval. I at once recognised its merit and determined to use it, but being well aware of the modesty of the Editor we very properly agreed that there was really no necessity for him to know. I read all the proofs, and chuckled over the little surprise in store for de la Mare, quite unconscious of the treachery of my co-editors. I was waiting eagerly for the first complete copy from the printer, and as soon as I received it rushed off to enjoy de la Mare's astonishment. On the way I discovered the caricature of myself. I expressed my disapproval in no uncertain terms, to the accompaniment of the unrepentant chuckles of my associ-ates. But my revenge came when the Editor in the middle of his laughter came upon his own caricature. In his chagrin he was rude enough to say we had played a trick, on him.

But Eheu fugaces Postume, Postume, labuntur anni, and we who strove so strenuously are now told that we are old (though none of us will admit it); and we also hear that we are old fashioned, and that the faith we then held and the ideals we cherished were all wrong, and are now anathema to the young. We were all intensely proud of our Empire and our Country. We were most of us politically minded. We knew that everything was not right in the world. That there was much unnecessary injustice and misery to be righted. We all meant to take our part in doing this; but the world seemed more spacious. There was the zest of life and work, with romance and adventure always round the corner, and we had faith in our future and the destiny of our race. The best evidence of our faith is the long list of old college friends who gaily laid down their lives for their page 28 ideals. Now all seems changed. The new fashion is to belittle our Empire, and to pour scorn on the system of government by the people, through the people and for the people, which was England's contribution to the happiness of the world. The new idea is government by a class or by some strong dictator, who would abolish war and bring about the millennium, for themselves at any rate. The British Empire is visualised not as a Commonwealth of nations governed by the people themselves which has managed to confer on its subjects more individual liberty and opportunities for the pursuit of happiness than has been done under any other form of government yet devised, but as an unscrupulous and predatory power dealing unjustly with its subjects and still as ready to turn its arms to aggression as all strong nations were in the eighteenth century. Some even proclaim that it is wicked for the Empire to maintain any armed force, even for its defence. The building of armaments is a cause of war, it is said, as though all life is not in a sense a battle, and as though nations could not wage war just as destructively though at its commencement there was not a battleship or a cannon left in the world. If all nations disarmed then would not the nation with the greatest engineering facilities be better armed than the rest? If that nation were cramped for room or for markets would the lack of armaments deter it from aggression when all nations were disarmed? To argue that it is immoral for our Empire to arm for its defence seems to me to argue that it is immoral to lock one's door against a burglar, for there are predatory nations as well as men. Have not two of them already scornfully withdrawn from co-operation with the League of Nations and shown conclusively by their actions that they are ready to pursue their aims by force? While powerful nations display such a spirit would it not be folly to rob ourselves of the means of defence?

These are hard times for the young. The world has grown smaller and poorer. Opportunity does not knock at the door as of yore, and it embitters a man after he has spent strenuous years in qualifying to find that there it no place for him to fill. But that will pass, and better times will come. I still hold to the ideals of my youth. I still believe that with all its faults, faults which it is the duty of every graduate and undergraduate to do his best to remedy, our system of government is the one which gives the greatest measure of liberty, and which is best suited to the genius of the British race. And I believe that our youth who are striving for higher education are still sound at heart, and would rally as of yore to the defence of their country, though I pray that the need will never arise. Some I know have persuaded themselves that it is their duty rather to die in any other way than by fighting for King and Country, whatever the cause of the war. I spoke with an Auckland Professor recently who held this view, and I could not but be impressed by his sincerity. If they feel that way I see no harm in their expressing their opinion. They will gain a following, mostly amongst the physical weaklings who are unfit for fighting. It would be the greatest mistake to make martyrs of such men. In war much peace time work must go on, and there will always be plenty of work for such conscientious objectors. But most men love adventure and believe in the gospel of living dangerously. On such the new Oxford movement will make no mark. With centuries of history of our race to guide me, I find it impossible to think that it will change its characteristics in one generation. The enemies of the Empire are vocal and have made many people think that our University colleges are hotbeds of sedition. But let them take courage. At heart the student of to-day in spite of changed times is much the same as he was thirty years ago. But I trust that in so thinking I have not proved against myself the charge of being old-fashioned.

—H. H. Ostler.