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Page 62

PART I - THE PRESENT
CHAPTER XI - LIBERTY IN ENGLAND

(An address delivered at the Congres International des Ecrivains at Paris on Yune 21st, 1935.)

WHEN this committee honoured me with an invitation to speak and asked me to choose a subject, I replied that I would speak either on liberty of expression or on cultural tradition, as they preferred, but that in either case I should make the same speech. Coming from an Englishman, this is not an epigram. In England, our traditions and our liberties are closely connected, and so it should be possible to treat the two at once. Freedom has been praised in my country for several hundred years. Duty and self-abnegation have been praised too, but freedom has won the larger chorus. And if we writers to-day could carry this tradition on, if we could assert, under modern conditions, what has been asserted by Milton in his century and by Shelley and by Dickens in theirs, we should have no fear for our liberties.
I know very well how limited, and how open to criticism, English freedom is. It is race-bound and it's class-bound. It means freedom for the Englishman, but not for the subject-races of his Empire. If you invite the average Englishman to share his liberties with the inhabitants of India or Kenya, he will reply, ` Never,' if he is a Tory, and' Not until I consider them worthy ' if he is a Liberal. Last year, General Smuts made a magnificent speech about freedom to the students of the University of St. Andrews. With every word that he said, I agreed. But there was one thing he didn't say. He never suggested that the blessings he praised so eloquently might be applicable to the coloured peoples of South Africa. He was not even thinking about them. And this omission made his eulogy a mockery.
Then as to class. Freedom in England is only enjoyed by people who are fairly well off. For the down and out-unless he is very exceptional-it does not signify a plate of fish and chips.

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