Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Hyde Park

Murray and his father spent the summer of 1936 in Europe. His dad had speaking engagements in England and Scotland, and Murray acted as his secretary and traveling companion. It was the summer before his senior year at UW, and their last chance to spend extended time together. After a last-minute scramble, they got tickets and accommodations and went on the the Olympics in Berlin. 

Wednesday, July 8, 1936
Dearest Rosa, 

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and my letter desk is littered with letters that I have started to you at one in the morning and have been unable to get myself going on more than a paragraph or two. But this time I’m starting in the morning and I’ll go on until I tell all the things that I have stored up to say. This is, I’m sorry and really ashamed to say, my first letter since Sunday so I have plenty to talk about. 

In the first place I “discovered” Hyde park and had an adventure last Sunday night. 

Hyde park, as you probably know, is the safety valve of London. It is the place where people go, mount soap-boxes and shoot off their faces in any way they like that does not insult decency or offend the King by name. Lying just on the periphery of the City of London proper—that middle district with which is connected all the pomp and business which Old England connotes—the Park is accessible to all, and popular with both the scatter-brained who want to talk and the more intelligent who want to observe the phenomena. 

Last Sunday evening I visited the park for the first time to attempt to play the latter part. It was a tremendously interesting, impressive scene. The Sunday crowd packed the open spaces in the lawn almost solid. Standing about two feet above the crowd at intervals of fifteen or twenty feet would be the speakers, haranguing for Communism, Socialism, Anarchism, the Salvation Army, The Sisters of Charity, The League of Nations, The Empire Union, Armament, Disarmament, Free Trade. 

The dominating classes of speakers were the Salvationists and the Communists. Their joint cries of Repent! Repent! for he Gave His Life to Save YOU! and What the Hell Right Have They to all the Good Things in Life! were curiously mixed, coming out in a jumble which seemed to typify the jumbled minds of both the speakers and the listeners.

During the years in which speakers have blown off steam in the Park, certain customs have grown up, traditions have been established, and rules—unwritten but obeyed in letter and spirit—have been made. A good speaker is not to be heckled; one who is not so good must be ready to defend himself verbally at all times. All questions must be answered. In answering questions, a speaker should be free from heckling until he tries to hedge. No violence is allowed at all, and it is usually considered unethical for a debate to spring up in the crown which diverts the attention from the main speaker. 

It is only natural, too, that such a wild-eyed gathering as is usually found in the park should have its characters of special interest and of even less than normal brain power. Such characters are the subjects of the most heckling, the most abuse, and yet they are the ones who shining-eyed carry on the work, glorying in their chance to improve the British nation by letting the masses hear the wisdom of their minds. 

The most impressive to me is “Jack” the red-bearded salvationist. He comes nightly, sets up his stand, and speaks of Salvation, earnestly and forcefully, almost oblivious to the ridicule of the crown. From a distance Jack appears to be the American ideal or prototype of the Communist. He has long red hair and a flowing red beard, speaks with much arm waving, and while the sound of his voices carries far, the words are not distinguishable at a distance. 

I went over to hear this giant attaching the dirty dogs of Capitalism but instead fund him begging the crowd to “Love one another, all of ye. But of such is the Kingdom of Heaven. Repent and ye shall be happy (You don’t look happy, Jack—from the crowd). Repent as I did and all your sins shall be forgiven (Maybe we haven’t done what you did Jack). Rejoice in the Love of God and all will be peace. (Say Jack, Does your wife sleep with you?) Shut up you. Now, rejoice…”

It was funny, in a way, but it was more pathetic. That shining-eyed saint really thought that he was helping, and he did so want to help. And all the time the crowd grows larger and larger as it does wherever a subject for heckling is found. Finally it would break out singing hymns just to drown Jack out, but, unperturbed, the red bearded giant would merely join him in the singing, leading the song with the sweep of his long forefinger.

Another of the interesting studies is “Tom,” a crazy old coot with a cockney accent and an unchanged voice despite his sixty-odd years. Every Sunday, I am told, he sets up his stand and tells how he has written letters to the various heads of the government telling them how to run their business, and how they have done it. He also offers to sell to the crowd the letters they have written in replay.

He was my first experience in the park, and I almost died laughing at him. Evidently several members of the gathering had heard him before and knew his lines as well as he did. Consequently, just when he would start to shout in emphasis, about three of the crowd would raise their voices to a steamwhistle pitch and make a chorus of “And this is the letter that I got in reply from the old man himself.”

Tom would nod, thank them, and then ask if anyone wanted to buy this sacred sheet, typed, quite evidently, on the same machine as all the others he had been trying to sell. He must be a marvelous man, hon. He had a personal letter from George Washington thanking him for the way he had told the Americans of defeating the British. He had one from the doctors who had saved the King from death seven years ago, thanking him for his advice. He had one from everyone worth mentioning except Theodore Roosevelt—but he said he didn’t agree with the New Deal!

But I said at the start of the letter that I had an “adventure” in Hyde park Sunday night, and it was not merely hearing the talks. But before I go on to tell about it, I had better explain that Dad considers riding on the Tube here in London quite an “adventure” and that this experience is dubbed by a romantic name on somewhat the same principle that Dad must use. However, here goes. 

I was in the crowd listening to Jack, when I noticed a really pretty girl standing right in front of me with her mother. I talked to the mother a little bit about Hyde Park, and could not help hearing the girl argue that she wanted to stay in the park and hear some more talks, while the mother was protesting that it was time to go home. Eventually the two left but it was not long before the girl came back to the crowd herself. I noticed her, gave her a mental congratulation for outarguing her mother who, by the way, should never have permitted herself to be out-argued since the park is inhabited mainly be streetwalkers on Sunday night, or rather, the women are of that class—the men have hardly taken up the “oldest profession.” But anyway, this girl came back. 

When the meeting broke up, almost everyone started heading for the group over to our left, and I went too. The girl was about twenty yards to my right. Looking in that direction, I saw some guy come up to her, take her by the arm. She whirled and started to talk very fast, jerking away, so I figured that Mama had been right and should not have left her daughter alone in the park. I breezed over, took her by the arm, and said with a wink which she evidently caught on to, “Got company, Mabel?”

“No, this fellow thought he wanted to walk with me.”

I took another look at the guy, slightly larger than I was and about as tough-looking as they come. With my knees playing Chop-Sticks and my heart shaking hands with my tonsils (which oughta come out), I put on the toughest accent I could and yodelled without my voice cracking:

“Ya better get da hell outten here, see. Scram, mugg.”

To my relief and grateful astonishment the guy scrammed, probably because the bobbies would not have relished seeing a couple of the boys mixing it up in the park. Sooo, I walked with the girl over to the next big group and then she thanked me, said she’d tell her mother what a kind fellow I was, and would up with a most cordial invitation for me to “Scram, mugg.” It was a good laugh and after a few minutes I did pull out. Adventure?

I have had several other trips down to the Park since, but the most exciting and amusing thing that happened to me occurred when I entered in the only argument that I really got interested in. Some fellow who called himself a “Christian Communist” was belaboring the Catholic Church as never having done a good thing it its entire existence, a fault which his religion did not have. I broke in to ask him if he could imagine Christ so bitterly attacking everything and everybody connected with another religion that did not agree with his and if he could say that his religion made him better than any catholic that ever lived. I also explained that I was not a Catholic and had never been connected with that church. 

As he so often did when arguing he tried to change the subject. He said: “Why do you have to ask your question in that affected American accent. I’ve lived in America for several months and can tell when someone is trying to pretend to be something he is not. Aren’t you proud of your English tongue, or why do you affect Americanisms? 

I congratulated him on his living in America and then told him I was born there, had lived there all my life.

He then started to bawl me out for trying to evade the question by a dialogue on accents! And was continuing on that till a high-pitched voice yelled from somewhere: “I sy. Yow blinkin well started him hon haccents yowr blinkin self.”

I miss you every minute, hon, but I’m not going to write about it anymore as it makes the feeling too acute and it makes the receiver feel it too—I know how I feel when I get your letters.

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