"Greg and Jim"

The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

January Thaw!

January 21, 1939

Gun Shy

Screams filled the air as the old bag gave way and a mountain slide of pistols, of revolvers, fat and bulgeous, slewed and sprawled over the pavement of Bay St….

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 19, 1935.

“We had better,” said Jimmie Frise, “register our pistols.”

“Nonsense,” I replied. “I’m an officer of his majesty’s Canadian militia. I’m an officer of the reserve. I am entitled to possess my arms.”

“The new law,” stated Jimmie, “says that every pistol or revolver – every – shall be registered with the police.”

“That means bohunks and shady characters,” I insisted. “It doesn’t mean officers and gentlemen. Say, listen: I’ve carried that pistol of mine through some of the greatest battles in human history. Vimy, Passchendaele, Amiens. It is my armor, just the same as the armor of the Crusaders. Just the same as the swords of the knights of King Richard the Lion Heart. Do you think I’ll submit to having my armor listed by a bunch of cops? No, sir.”

“You are liable to a fine of fifty dollars if you don’t,” said Jim.

“I think this is an outrage,” I declared hotly. “When there was a war they went through the streets with bugles and drums, begging me to come to the rescue of my native land. They thrust a pistol in my hands. Pleaded with me to use it often and truly. I marched through the world in those days with a pistol on my belt. Now they treat me like a suspect and demand that I register that same gun. I won’t do it.”

“It’s just a matter of form,” explained Jim.

“There is too much matter of form these days,” I roared. The world has got the jitters. Do they think I am a Red?”

“They never can tell,” said Jim. “How do they know but that you may have changed your mind about things this last fifteen years since the war? In case of trouble which side of the barricades do they know you will be on?”

“The fact that my pistol is registered won’t make any difference which side of the barricades I’ll be on,” I contended.

“No, but it will make a big difference to the cops that have got to rush around the city snatching up all the registered pistols, just in case,” argued Jim. “I don’t blame the cops. They’ll feel a lot easier if they know just where the guns are.”

“Caesar said,” I announced, “that it was easy to raise an army, but it was terribly hard to disband one. This is the disbanding. This last shameful act. This causing the old and broken knights to come to the police station and register their arms. I’m through. I give in. They don’t trust me any more. I’m just another suspect. They want to register my gun. All right. I’m through. They can fight their own wars from now on. They can employ registered soldiers and registered guns. I wouldn’t fight for a nation whose idea of statesmanship is registration of everything. I wouldn’t fight for a nation that would submit to such an indignity.”

“Then you’ll give up your guns?” asked Jim.

“I won’t,” I shouted. “I’ll take them, and all my sons will come with me, and I’ll throw them into the Humber. I’ll make a ceremony of it. My little sons will stand by me, and one by one I’ll throw my guns and my spurs and my Sam Browne belt and all the other things I’ve got left of those great and mighty days into the deepest hole in the river rather than submit them to the shame, the ignominy of being registered by a suspicious-eyed cop.”

New Ideas Come This Way

“I’ve often heard you speak far differently about pistols,” said Jimmie. “I’ve heard you say you never used your pistol. That pistols are of no use except for suicide or murder.”

“Quite true,” I admitted, “with this one exception: that in the middle of a battle, when you are scared stiff, a great big pistol in your hand gives you a lot of encouragement. If you bang it off in the air every few minutes, it encourages you.”

“Did you never use it on the enemy?” asked Jim.

“I’ve no doubt the noise of my pistol – it was a big forty-five, firing a slug of lead the size of the end joint of your thumb and making a noise like a double-barrelled shot-gun – I’ve no doubt the noise of my forty-five, added to the general racket of the war, helped to demoralize the Germans,” I said. “But I doubt if I could hit a barn with my pistol even if I was in the barn with the door shut.”

“Then,” demanded Jimmie, “what is your objection to having the blame thing registered?”

“It is a moral question,” I explained. “I think nothing of pistols. They are vicious and useless things. Fit for nothing but crime. But I have a pistol. It is mine. It is the mineness of the pistol, not the pistolness, that I am defending.”

“You’re a die-hard Tory,” decreed Jim. “Don’t you recognize, in this new law registering all pistols, the dawn of Communism in our government? Can you not see the wonder of Toronto’s police, who less than four years ago were slugging Communists in parks, now so converted to Communism that they are adopting one of the main planks of the Communists?”

“Sir,” I said.

“Certainly,” went on Jimmie. “The only difference is that the Communists started by confiscating factories and banks. We have started by confiscating pistols. It’s all the same. It’s the start. The fact that they register your property gives you a license to possess it. The next thing they do is revoke the license. Your property is thereby confiscated. It is very simple.”

“Well I’ll be!” I said.

“Yes,” agreed Jim. “In Russia, they started at the big end and are working down. In Canada we are starting at the little end, and are working up. It is all out of deference to some of our older gentlemen. In Russia, they haven’t the same respect for elderly gentlemen we have in Canada. So, out of respect for these old gentlemen, they are starting confiscation with your pistol. After the old gentlemen pass away, they will then confiscate their factories and trust companies. See?”

“Who would think our police are like that, from looking at them?” I gasped.

“It’s very simple,” said Jim. “New ideas always come that way. We resist them at first. Then all of a sudden, we just slump.”

“Well, I think as much of my pistol as a lot of old gentlemen think of their factories,” I declared. “By which I mean, it’s mine.”

“That’s it,” said Jim. “How many pistols have you?”

“Well,” I said, “I have my big army forty-five and a Luger automatic I got off a German. Then I have an old frontier Colt dating back to about 1870, but still capable of bumping off a buffalo at the gallop. I also have a little twenty-two trapper model I carry on fishing trips. And an old thirty-two pocket gun somebody gave me because they were afraid their children might get hold of it.”

Carrying Down the Hardware

“How on earth are you going to carry all those openly down to the police station to get them registered?” cried Jim.

“I’ll just send in a list,” I said.

“The police want to see them,” said Jim. “It is against the law to carry concealed weapons. So you’ll have to carry them openly. I can see you walking along with two fistfuls of gats of all sizes.”

“Ridiculous,” I said. “The streets of Toronto crowded with people carrying revolvers!”

“It would have been a queer sight four years ago,” said Jim. “But it’s all right now. I’ve just got the one gat. When will we take them down?”

“Under protest, I’ll go any time,” I said.

Jim had an old suitcase which his family said he could borrow for the purpose of transporting a load of greasy guns. We loaded it up with the hardware.

“Where do we take them?” asked Jim, hoisting the bag. It bulged. My old forty-five weighs nearly four pounds.

“I suppose to the city hall,” I said. “It’s handier. We can deliver them on the way to work.”

We put the suitcase in the car and drove down town. Even at nine o’clock in the morning it is hard to find a parking place near the city hall. We drove around the block twice and at last got a spot on Richmond St. over near the vendor’s which doesn’t open until ten.

“Here,” I said, “they’re mostly mine. Let me carry it.”

Along to Bay we lugged the bag. Jim was nervous.

“In a town like Toronto,” he said, “it is a creepy business carrying a suitcase full of guns.”

As we came to the corner, a large armored bank truck, defying all traffic laws, swung slowly around the turn, and behind it came two motor cars full of policemen, then a mounted cop and one motorcycle man. As if by magic, foot constables appeared on all four corners and stood like statues, while the august chariot of commerce and industry, in defiance of red lights, and calmly forcing common citizens in their cars to skid and slither out of the way as best they could, made the grand turn.

“Jimmie,” I said, “the bag’s a little heavy. Would you take it for a minute?”

“I have a sore hand,” said Jim. “Wait until I get my glove on.”

The whole city was filled with police. From the opposite direction, as we stood waiting for the lights to turn and for the traffic jam resulting from the bank car to solve itself, another stately steel fortress on wheels came to the corner, also accompanied by carloads of cops, with horse, cycle and foot police in attendance. And through the confusion of this mighty but daily spectacle in Toronto’s downtown, Jimmie and I, with the bag of pistols, threaded our timid way.

Our hearts were in our mouths.

“Easy,” whispered Jim anxiously.

I could hear the pistols rattling loudly in the bag. I looked at the bag. It was old. The handle seemed about to part. The walls of the bag bulged and I could see the shape of guns, of muzzles and cylinders, of trigger guards and butts, revealing themselves plainly.

“O-o-o-oh,” I murmured.

A Cataclysmic Moment

Jim clung closely and protectingly over me. Police were everywhere, in cars, tooting at us, on horseback, clattering with fierce hoofs on the icy pavement of Bay and Richmond, on motorcycles, and, in massive greatcoats and towering fur caps, looming on every side.

And curious crowds, caught in the daily pomp and circumstance of the parade of the armored bank trucks, gathered at all the corners of the street. Strange how people make way for Money. Strange how those homely steel lorries with faces peering from the bulletproof windows, create a sense of awe in a more or less civilized city like Toronto. In the Middle Ages, a duke or a cardinal went by in his guarded carriage, and we, the people, stood agape or the corners. Nowadays, a duke or a cardinal would have to take his chances along with all the rest of us. But the Money wagons, with a large constabulary hand raised on high in a grave reproof to all us rabble on the corners, is color blind, goes against the traffic lights, makes left hand turns where left hand turns are illegal, and we, with lumps in our throats and reverence in our eyes, make obeisance to the homely, the bullet-proof, the barred and blind-faced gods of to-day.

For us, it was a debilitating moment. As the bank trucks wheeled south, Jim and I started across the intersection, feeling as if all eyes were on us instead of on the solemn procession of the much-guarded money. If anyone knew, at this moment, in such a place, what we had hidden in this old brown bag!

A motor car backfired.

“Yarp!” I emitted.

“Look out!” hissed Jim, as I caught my balance.

But it was slippery. The bag had been for long years in the Frise family. The handle had been on too many trips to the railroad station in the back of democrats and surreys and phaetons with fringe around the tops. Rain had rained on the old bag, and snow had silted on it as it stood on Birdseye Center station platform at Christmas. And summer sun had eaten mercilessly into its fibre as it rode in launches on Lake Scugog or ridden in rumble seats all over central North America.

I felt it give.

I set it down as hastily as I could to save the crash.

The dunt was too much for the old frayed straps and buckles.

“Jimmie!” I cried.

An avalanche, a mountain slide of pistols, of revolvers fat and bulgeous, of snaky long black automatics, of glittering silvery twenty-twos with tapering slender snouts, of wicked little pocket guns, slewed and spewed all over the pavement of Bay St.

Screams and feet poundings, muffled ejaculations and squeaks, such words as “hold-up,” “duck” and “Oh my” filled the air. Car horns, street car bells and racing engines. Big Ben booming, and a flying maelstrom of nine o’clock figures rushing both way’s and across, all crowded into one cataclysmic instant as Jim seized my elbow; and head down into the throng, weaving and twisting, we raced around the corner and into a fish store.

Through its broad windows, we saw the nine o’clock throng all hasting, with never a sideways glance.

The fish store was abuzz with opening. A man in a white smock came up.

“A pound of smelts,” said Jim.

We caught our breath. We shook hands solemnly. The smelts were parcelled and paid for.

With chins up and expressions of Torontoesque innocence on our faces, we stepped out into Queen St. and went the other way around the block.

“Well,” I said, “we’re rid of the blame things.”

“The cops have them by now, I guess,” said Jim.

“They’re confiscated,” I pointed out.

“Isn’t it funny how guilty we Toronto people can feel, even when doing a perfectly legal thing,” said Jim.

Which certainly is a curious thing about us.


Editor’s Notes: Canada passed Firearms legislation in 1934, requiring handguns to be registered with the police.

The Sam Browne belt was standard issue in the Canadian army for officers in World War 1.

“Democrats and surreys and phaetons”, were all types of carriages and wagons that would be pulled by horses. The idea was that the Frise family would have had the old suitcase for many decades, dating back before cars.

Sometimes the stories would pretend that Jimmie was actually from a real place called Birdseye Center, but everyone knew it was a fictional reference to any small town in rural Ontario. Lake Scugog is also mentioned, as Jimmie was from that area around Port Perry.

This story appeared in Silver Linings (1978).

Bush League Vaudeville

January 13, 1934

This illustration by Jim went with a story by R. C. Reade about small time entertainers who travelled to small towns on the Vaudeville circuit.

Old Archie Gets the Fire Engine Contract for 1932

January 9, 1932

Toot! Toot!

“These two ladies say you were making faces at them,” said the conductor. “Is there any law against making faces?” I asked.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 9, 1937.

“I haven’t been on a train,” said Jimmie Frise, “for I don’t know how long.”

We were on one now.

“They’ve certainly made some changes,” I remarked. “Look at the color of this car.”

It was a parlor car and it was all done in maroon.

“I wonder,” said Jim, “they haven’t made more changes, after all. The competition of motor cars and buses ought to have done more than just a little upholstery.”

“This car is air-conditioned,” I pointed out. “A few years ago, even when you travelled in a parlor car for eighty cents extra, you still got cinders through the screens, and it still smelt of cigar butts from up at the smoking end.”

“It certainly is nice,” admitted Jim, leaning back in the luxurious revolving easy chair and looking out the wide observation window at the beautiful country wheeling by.

“It’s better riding,” I commented. “Feel how sort of nice and smooth and springy it is.”

“Modern, too,” said Jim, waving his hand at the pretty light fixtures, the handsome carpet, the architecture in general of this fast travelling living room.

“Wait till to-night,” I said. “Wait till we get into the sleeping car at Montreal. Then you’ll see something. We ride sideways.”

“Sideways?” said Jim.

“Yes, sir, we sleep sideways,” I explained. “It’s called a bedroom car. Instead of the old sleeping car, with berths and green curtains and feet sticking out and funny smells, we sleep in a car full of little sideways bedrooms. The corridor is along one side of the car and off that corridor are a lot of tiny bedrooms, with a bed, a wash basin, table, chair, nice soft table lamps. A regular dear little apartment bedroom. And instead of sleeping end for end, with your feet or head going first, you sleep crossways of the way you are travelling.”

“I don’t know how I will like that,” said Jim. “Every time the train stops or starts, I’ll be rolled out of bed.”

“They’ve got special engine drivers,” I suggested. “Specially trained to start and stop easy. You’re going to like it.”

“I saw a movie once,” said Jim, “in which there was a scene on a train where they had a sort of movie theatre on board, and a dance floor and a bar. It was just like a travelling hotel.”

“They have those in the United States,” I informed him. “We’ll get them in Canada in due time. With automobile trailers coming along the way they are, the railroads are sure to follow. Pretty soon there will really be hotels on wheels. Lots of people will just live in travelling hotels on the railroads. After all, why live your life in one place?”

Smoking Car Big Shots

“No, sir,” I predicted. “In a few years, our rich won’t have to be put to the inconvenience of stopping in this place and that, being bored to death all the time. They can simply take an apartment in a super-modern railway coach, and travel all the time, keeping constantly in motion, seeing fresh scenes not every month but every minute. Now that’s what I call living.”

“You’re right,” said Jim, leaning back heavily, like a banker or a president of something. “One lives rather dowdily, does one not, on the whole?”

“One does,” I agreed, also settling back in my deep ball-bearing, maroon lounge chair.

And so we sat, comfortably racing through the beautiful Canadian countryside. How much nicer it is in winter than summer, from a railway car window. When you are driving a car in the winter you are so busy watching the snow and ice ruts, you can’t look at the country. But in its white robe, with its dark trees, its scattered woods patterned far and near, its little farm homes not nearly so colorless against the white as against the green of summer, the winter view from a railway coach has a curious spell about it.

For a long while, we lounged, listening to the dull giddley-bump of the rails, looking at our fellow passengers and wondering who they were. Then we got up and went into the handsome smoking room of the parlor car. In the deep leather chairs were sitting a number of large fat dark men smoking cigars, with their eyes half shut and their minds partly open. And in loud, nasal voices, they were making speeches to one another and the car at large. They were talking about things they knew about. The King and business and Mackenzie King and Spain, politics and Bill this and Herb that, from which, in time, as we listened, we learned they were talking about prominent Canadian millionaires and such.

After quite a long time listening to the two or three talkingest ones, Jim and I tried a little private converse, but the others raised their voices and sat forward with fat hands resting on fat knees, and drowned us down.

So after a cigarette or two, Jim and I went back to our chairs in the car.

“That’s one thing hasn’t changed on trains,” I remarked. “The smoking car big shots.”

I started to read several things, but either something out the window would loom and distract me, or somebody would walk through the car and I’d have to take a look, or else somebody three seats down would suddenly start talking to his wife in a ringing voice for a half minute and then suddenly quit, leaving me with a wondering fragment in my mind….

I looked at Jimmie. He was snoozing. So I snoozed.

There is no nicer place on earth to snooze than in a parlor car chair. The murmuring giddley-bump of the wheels, the deep slumbrous hum, the gentle jiggling, all induce slumber. Yet there is just enough to keep you from going deep. The click of switches as you cross them. The varying sounds and silences as the train slows and stops and starts. Thus you hang suspended between sleeping and awake. A sort of lovely, lingering twilight.

Always the Human Factor

I woke wide. Jim was sitting gazing at me out of half open eyes.

“Where are we?” I asked.

“Kingston, I think,” said Jim, sitting up and yawning.

“Kingston,” I cried. “And here I’ve been sleeping all this pleasant journey away.”

Two or three of our neighbors in the car woke heavily and stared balefully at us for waking them with our talk. Their eyes were heavy and contemptuous. They revolved their chairs around to turn their backs on us. They resettled themselves in deeper, more comfortable attitudes for slumber.

“What’s the use,” I asked Jim, leaning close, “of modernizing the railways if all we do with them is to lie in old-fashioned sleep?”

“It’s always been the way,” said Jim. “Everybody sleeps on trains.”

“Then what’s the use of dolling trains all up and fitting them with every modern convenience, if we are too sleepy to notice the improvements?” I demanded.

“Look at them,” sneered Jimmie, staring along the parlor car. “Look at that woman with her mouth open. Look at that old guy there with his lip pushed out.”

“See?” I said. “It’s always the human factor that is amiss. What can you do about life, if the people aren’t alive?”

“You’re right,” agreed Jim. “It’s the people we’ve got to work on, not the fixtures or the upholstery or the rolling stock. Yet what can you do about it? Life, after all, look at it with common sense, life is pretty dull. For the vast majority of us, life has no more surprises.”

The train slowed again, somewhere east of Kingston, came to a stop, and as we looked out the window, we saw the platform, with the usual scattering of people standing gazing, with open mouth, at our train. There were funny-looking men in ear flap caps too big for them, and a drop on the end of their noses. Ladies staring intently at the wonder of us. Strangers, strange, beautiful, passing through their little town, going places, doing things.

Two middle-aged ladies came walking slowly along the platform, arm in arm and huddled close together as they walked, deep in talk. They leaned their heads together to chat in each other’s ears.

As they passed, they both glanced up, to see Jim and me staring out the window at them. Now, amongst ladies of this age, they have a saying which goes something like this: “I just gave him a look!

These two ladies did give us a look. A kind of perky, prim, indignant flick of the eyes.

But I beat them. I made a face at them.

I screwed up my nose and stuck my tongue out at them.

The effect was electrical.

“What on earth?” cried Jim, leaning to watch the two startled ladies dash along the platform.

“What did you do?” demanded Jim, looking at me.

“I made a face at them,” I confessed. “I did this.”

I showed Jim.

“What on earth for?” demanded Jim.

“Oh, I don’t know,” I said. “We were talking about life being so dull and weary for the vast majority. And when I saw those two coming along, and the way they looked up at us, and so belligerent… I don’t know, I just suddenly thought it would be swell to make a face at them.”

“You nearly scared the wits out of them,” laughed Jim.

“I guess,” I admitted, “I put a little mystery into their lives. I guess there’s two old gals in this town that will have something to wonder about for a while.”

“For a while?” howled Jim, as the train started, and we could see no trace of the two startled ladies. “All their lives, you mean. That’s a thing they’ll never forget. Imagine walking innocently along and suddenly have people making faces at you out of train windows.”

“It’s a natural,” I admitted.

“It’s a swell idea,” cried Jim. “We’ll both do it at the next stop. Boy. what a kick. Making faces at perfect strangers from train windows.”

No Law Against It

So we sat and laughed and giggled until all the people around us shifted and changed their positions six or seven times. We had a happy half hour rehearsing faces. Then we felt the train slowing. We sat forward, our faces close to the glass. As the train came to stop the usual man with the drop on the end of his nose was standing on the platform. He was gazing blankly.

Jim and I waited until he looked at us.

Then we both made a dreadful face.

The poor fellow glanced quickly away, and then returned his astonished gaze to us. We instantly made two more hideous faces.

He wheeled and walked rapidly away down the platform.

We clutched each other in agony of laughter. Several of our fellow passengers sat up and craned their necks at us, outraged.

Two ladies came walking arm in arm along the platform, looking eagerly up at the windows. They were middle-aged ladies.

“Wait a minute, Jim,” I hissed, ducking back. But Jim was forward, his laughter-flushed face almost pressed against the window, and indulging in the most awful face you ever saw. Eyes hugged, tongue out mouth twisted into a regular gargoyle grin.

“Oh, oh,” said Jim, sitting suddenly back. I looked out. There were the two ladies, pointing accusingly at our window, and they had the brakeman and conductor with them.

“Oh, oh,” repeated Jim. “They stopped and pointed, and the conductor was right behind them.”

“There’s no law against making faces,” I said, resolutely. “Anybody can make faces. But what worries me, those are the same two ladies I made a face at back at the last station.”.

“Ow,” said Jim. “They’re passengers, then. They were out for air.”

“Ow,” I agreed, seeing, out of the corner of my eye, the conductor and the two ladies, all drawn up with their chins in and a look of battle in their faces, coming into the parlor car.

“That’s them,” said a clear, thin voice.

“Pardon me,” said the conductor, “pardon me, gents, but these two ladies say you were making faces at them. I don’t know just what …”

“Is there any law against is making faces?” I asked in a low voice, because the train had not yet started.

“There certainly is no regulation,” said the conductor, “no regulation in the company’s rules about making faces.”

One of the ladies brushed the conductor aside, and stood before me. I rose, politely.

“Just because you’re riding in the parlor car,” cried the lady shrilly, “you can’t sit there making faces at innocent women.”

“Ma’am,” I said, “I’m very sorry. I have hay fever. I have a very bad cold, that is my nose itches …”

“Does his nose itch, too?” the lady demanded, pointing at Jim. “The most awful, most dreadful face, he made at us. Two ladies, walking on the platform.”

“If there is no rule of the company,” I said, politely, “and no law preventing us from making faces, after all…”

“Very well,” said the lady, breathlessly, and turning white. “Very well, mister man, if there is no law…”

And with that she swung her leather purse on its strap and cracked me on the head. And, to make the payment in full, cash, she turned, and took a spiteful whang at Jim, who was still seated, looking very unparlorish.

And shoving the conductor, she and her lady friend, heads high, marched back out of the parlor car, their duty done.

“Imph,” I said. “Harrummph. Jim, let’s have a smoke in the smoking end.”

Which we did, and listened with great interest to the big dark fat men and their cigars, nasaling along about the King and business and Dicky Bennett and all that stuff, all the way to Montreal.


Editor’s Notes: Mackenzie King was the current Prime Minister of Canada at the time, and “Dicky Bennett” would be R. B. Bennett, the leader of the Conservative party, and former Prime Minister. If people were also talking about Spain, it would be because of the Spanish Civil War which was still in progress.

Camaracum

By Gregory Clark, January 7, 1922.

“What has happened to your friends, the French?” asked my editor the other morning.

He tossed across to me the newspapers containing the dispatches of France’s demands in respect to submarines. France was “rattling the sabre,” they said; the new “mailed fist in Europe.”


Let’s see…

The last place I saw action was at Cambrai, the end of September, 1918.

We were lying in the Marcoing Line. Through the mist of dawn the towers and spires of Cambrai stood up before us a mile away – our goal, our proud objective.

It was as if we were in High Park, advancing on Toronto. A meadow valley lay between. A few advance troops were plodding across, like workers bent cityward at break of day. But over our heads swept an endless succession of wheezy shells which thumped and crashed on to the edge of the misty city ahead of us. And far and near the air pulsed and jiggled and hissed with machine gun fire, ours and his.

In the sky the first aeroplanes were greeting the sun. They circled and slowly swooped earthward, peering, seeking, bursting off their machine-guns occasionally, or dropping bombs on to stealthy Germans scuttling through the streets of Cambrai. As I lay, belly tight to earth, I watched these airy ships; for in one of them, I knew, was a small brother of mine, wearing a white and scarlet helmet that I would recognize if ….


And while I lay there, aching my eyes against the misty dawn, I beheld a strange vision.

The towers and roots of Cambrai faded, and I saw instead a queer, walled town the name of which was Camaracum, and it was one of the cities of a people named the Norvil.

It seemed to be a scene from the very long ago, for the walls were heavy and crude, and the people moving about them were clad in rough and primitive garments.

A procession approached the city of Camaracum: soldiers in short kilts and sandals, armed with spears and shields, and after a great advance of these soldiers into the walled city came men on horses, one of whom was the emperor of Rome, visiting the outposts of his empire.

That scene fades: and now I see groups of rough, savage men swarming at the walls of Camaracum. These are the Franks, barbarians from the north. The time is 445 Anno Domini. And after a brief struggle the Roman garrison is driven from Camaracum: and Clodion, chieftain of the Franks, makes it his city.

Along time passes, for I see Camaracum greatly changed. A spire rises from within its walls. And into it rides a cavalcade of men in armor with banners, at the head of whom rides Charlemagne, Charles the Great, emperor of Rome. The thing is about the year 800 A.D., and Charlemagne makes the city or Camaracum one of his bulwarks against the heathen Magyars and marauders from the north and east.

Then down the Scheldt and the rivers from the seas come ghostly craft, the long ships of the Norsemen, fierce pirates who slay and destroy wherever their long ships will carry them. And they come, in the year 870 A.D., to this same walled city of Camaracum and burn it, sack it and destroy it.

But it rises again, its castles and spires and strong walls. And the vision shows it, all through the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, being stormed and captured, burned and sacked by the factions of various bishops. For Camaracum, since the fifth century of our Lord, has been a bishop’s see.

The vision moves swiftly. It is the year 1595 A.D., and the Spaniards are besieging’ the castled city of Camaracum. Charles the Fifth fortifies it with a great citadel.

The years fly. in 1793 It is the Austrians laying vain siege to this ancient city. And in 1793 the revolution comes: the mob, in the name of liberty, equality and fraternity, destroys the old cathedral, burns castles and palaces, and ruin descends still again upon Camaracum.

At last it is the years 1815 to 1818, Napoleon has just fled, and Camaracum, the city of the Nervil, the city of the Caesars, the outpost of Charlemagne’s empire, is headquarters for three years of the British army of occupation under Wellington in France!


Indeed, you have guessed it, reader.

Camaracum is Cambrai. Cambrai, as it lay before us in the hands of the Germans, is the Camaracum of old, that ancient and embattled city.

As we crouched there in the dawn the destroying shells were simply renewing a destruction already as old as history. The long ships of the Norsemen and the strange ships in the sky which I so tenderly watched were of one purpose.

My men, tense beside me in the trench, were plying an ancient trade: Roman, Frank, Viking, Goth, Magyar, Spaniard, Austrian – all had, through the thousands of years, lay thus with grim faces turned upon Camaracum.


And Cambrai is one of the lesser historical cities in France.

So I said to my editor:

“It is a thousand years since William of Normandy brought an invading army against our forefathers.

“But in France they have known war and the sack and pillage through unbroken centuries.

“If I do not agree with their militaristic policy, I can at least wholly sympathize with their caution.”

And I can still see the pillar of black smoke that rose vastly out of Camaracum as the Huns of 1918 fled before us into the north.


Editor’s Note: The Washington Naval Conference was held between November 1921 and February 1922., which resulted in the Washington Naval Treaty. The goal was to prevent an arms race by limiting naval construction. The British wanted the abolition of the submarine, but the French opposed. The conference ended without an agreement to restrict submarines.

The New School Ma’m Arrives

January 2, 1926

This Is It!

“Jim!” I shouted, leaping into the air. “Our fortune is made! In half an hour – millions!”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 5, 1946.

“Wait a second!” cried Jimmie Frise. “Cranberry!”

“That’s the stuff,” I agreed. Jim’s family was out for the evening, and we had just found in the ice-box a great big plate with about 10 full-size slices off the breast of a cold turkey. Wrapped in wax paper.

“Hold everything,” said Jim, “while I run down cellar.”

I spread the turkey slices out on the wax paper. What a sight! A hot turkey, of course, is something. But cold turkey has a power and a glory all its own.

About a week after the festive season, is there anything more wonderful to find than 10 slices of turkey white meat wrapped in wax paper in the ice-box?

Jim came scampering up the cellar stairs with a quart sealer of preserved cranberries.

“Ho, ho, ho,” he said, wrapping his fist around the top of the jar.

“Salt,” I submitted, going to the cupboard shelves. “And a dash of pepper, eh?”

“Lots of salt on cold turkey,” agreed Jim, grunting as he twisted the top of the sealer.

“Bread?” I suggested.

“No bread,” decided Jimmie. “Just cold turkey, eaten in the hand, and dipped in cranberry.”

“Okay,” I confirmed lustily.

Jim wrenched and twisted. He got a tea-towel and wrapped it around the sealer top. He braced the sealer on the kitchen table and wrenched.

“Run the hot water on it,” I proposed. “That always works.”

Jim set the sealer under the tap and let the hot water run on it.

“That expands the metal top, see?” I explained. “Then it’s a cinch to open.”

Jim took the sealer, and with the tea-towel gave the top a confident twist. But nothing happened.

“Here,” I said, taking the jar, “let me show you.”

I let the hot water run a full minute, steaming, on the sealer. Then I seized it and gave the top a strong, long twist. It didn’t budge.

“Darn it,” said Jim, “there’s some sort of a rubber grip in the drawer here….”

He poked around the kitchen cabinet drawer and drew out a round rubber ring which fitted neatly over the sealer top. This gave a good firm grip. It gave traction. Jim grunted and twisted. But to no avail.

“You hold the jar,” he commanded, “and I’ll twist.”

But not the slightest effect did our combined efforts have.

“Go and get another jar,” I submitted, eyeing the sliced turkey laid out so banquetty on the kitchen table.

“It’s the last jar of cranberry,” explained Jim. “My wife does up just enough to see us over Christmas and New Year’s.”

“How about some jelly?” I suggested. “Red currant jelly?”

“Aw, what the heck,” protested Jim, looking indignantly at the lovely red sealer full of cranberries in his hands. “There is nothing else to take the place of cranberry with turkey. Do you mean to say two intelligent guys like us can’t open a quart jar of cranberries?”

“Let the hot water run on it for a good two or three minutes,” I offered, “solid.”

Jim set the jar under the tap again and let her run hot.

We stood gazing fondly at the turkey. What beautiful meat! White, grainy, smooth, tender.

“Do we need knives and forks?” I inquired.

“Naw,” said Jim. “We’ll just pick up the slice in our fingers, bend it over, dab it in the salt, nuzzle it in the cranberry, and eat it, hunter style.”

“Mmmmmm,” I confessed.

“Cranberries and turkey,” mused Jim tenderly. “Two of the gifts of the New World to humanity.”

“Not the cranberry,” I corrected. “It grows in northern Europe, in swamps, the same as here.”

“Well, I’ll bet you nobody knew what they were for until the turkey was introduced from North America,” asserted Jim.

“A Fortune Awaits Us”

“We’re always talking about tobacco,” I mused, “and the potato and the tomato as contributions of North America to the world. But I’ll bet the first turkeys brought home by the old explorers must have caused a tremendous sensation.”

“How about Henry VIII?” inquired Jim. “He was a noble feeder. I wonder if he ever ate turkey?”

“I’m sure he must have,” I replied, reaching out and nipping a small sliver off the nearest slice.

“Eh, eh, eh!” warned Jim.

“The Spaniards were the first to import turkeys from North America,” I recollected. “Henry came to the throne in 1509, at the age of 18. America had been discovered by Columbus 17 years, by then. Sure, Henry had turkey!”

Jim walked over and took the jar of cranberry from under the hot tap. He took two tea-towels and wrapped them securely around the jar. I took the jar and Jim got both hands snug around the top. One, two, three, and we twisted, putting our weight into it.

But we both had purple faces and aching wrists; and not a sign of the top letting go.

“Now, I’ve had about enough of this,” said Jim, unwrapping the jar and glaring at it.

“Aw, let’s eat the turkey without it,” I urged.

“Not on your life,” cried Jim. “I’m not going to let a silly little thing like a quart sealer stand between me and an historic feast like cold turkey. “No, sir.”

He put the rubber ring around it again and made a few violent efforts, including jerks; but all in vain.

He stood thinking.

“It’s a mighty queer thing,” he muttered, “that in modern science nobody has invented a simple, common, everyday device for easily opening jars. In the past 20 years food has been going into cans and bottles more and more. Yet, is there anything harder to get into than a can or a bottle? Science has not kept pace with modern domestic economy. We still have the old-fashioned can opener….”

“And sardines!” I agreed. “The first sardine can I ever opened, 30, 40 years ago, was opened with that silly old key, twisted kit-a-corner across the box. And in 40 years, I bet I haven’t cleanly and efficiently opened 10 boxes!”

“It always ends up,” concurred Jim, “by digging the sardines out in pieces with a fork.”

“And these vacuum or suction top jars!” I pointed out. “It says – insert point of knife….”

“Look,” announced Jim, with great determination, holding the jar of cranberries out at arm’s length. “Somebody once said, ‘Invent a better mouse trap, and the world will beat a pathway to your door.’ I tell you, Greg, there’s a fortune staring us in the face! Right here, this minute, in my kitchen, there is a fortune, maybe millions, offering itself to us.”.

“Jim,” I breathed, “I believe you.”

“This,” declared Jim eloquently, “is exactly how great ideas are born. This is how fortunes are made. Not by sitting thinking. Not by striving. But simply, two old friends, baffled by a bottle top, going to work, in the humblest manner, down their own cellar, and devising some simple gadget – that will be a necessity in MILLIONS of kitchens! All over the world.”

“It has been staring everybody in the face,” I cried, “all these years!”

“It’s always the way,” enunciated Jim. “Fortune is staring everybody in the face. But they never look. And it is not by great and powerful inventions that the millions are made. It is by these simple, commonplace inventions. Suppose you invent a simple way to split the atom. How many people will buy your machine? Yet, if we can invent some simple gadget that will open this bottle of cranberries, millions of people will buy it…!”

We stared at each other. We stared intently at the sealer of cranberries.

“Let’s go down cellar,” said Jim huskily, “to my work bench.”

We went down to the work bench. We took off coats. It was a great moment. There was an air of strange dignity in Jim’s cellar as we two humble men, with a jar of cranberries on the work bench, stood face to face with Fortune.

“We Need a Model”

Jim felt the magic of it. He cleared his throat.

“Now,” he said, reflectively. “To begin with, it must be an extremely simple thing. Simple to manufacture. Simple to use.”

“Dynamically,” I submitted, “it must have the principle of the lever. It must embody the principle of torsion.”

“Correct,” said Jim. “What we want is a simple ring, with a handle to it.”

“Like nut crackers,” I cried.

“Like nut crackers with a large gape,” agreed Jim, taking his pencil and drawing a little diagram on the work bench top. I looked at it. So simple. So trivial. Yet a device the whole wide world has been yearning for for centuries… or at least ever since gem jars were brought into use. I could hardly see the little diagram Jim had drawn for the $$$$$$ that danced before my eyes like little stars.

“The ring,” explained Jim, “will be serrated, or toothed, so as to grip the bottle top. The handles, like a nut cracker’s handles, should be big enough to be comfortable.”

“So as to afford,” I agreed, “the most comfortable grip to the hand. How long would you make them?”

“We must first,” explained Jim solemnly, “construct a model. Nothing can be decided without a model. All great inventions, however simple, must be expressed in what they call a working model.”

Jim was already exploring around his work bench. He opened drawers, upset old boxes full of junk and coat hangers all over the bench and we sorted through the mess. We found lengths of copper weather stripping, random bits of iron and brass, old door knobs, pot lid buttons, and the head of a small axe Jimmie has been looking for for the past eight years.

After we had thoroughly explored the work bench, the shelves and the cellar at large, we set out on the bench all the materials that might even remotely serve our great purpose.

“Now,” said Jim reverently, because he knew, as I did, that this was one of the great moments in history, “we naturally must not assume that we have found the ideal material with which to make visible our thoughts. It stands to reason that a cellar like mine would not provide, at random, the perfect material. Yet, in the long history of man’s ascent from the caves. I am sure the thinkers – the Thinkers – have seldom had more to start with than this.”

He stood back and surveyed the nondescript collection of copper, brass, tin, iron and other metals. He studied them long and intelligently, as befitted the occasion. I stood beside him and studied too.

Quietly, he stepped forward and picked up a length of pewtery-looking metal. It was just a strip, half an inch wide and about two feet long, which might have been part of the binding of a crate, or something out of the insides of a storm window or something.

“This,” said Jim.

With snips, he cut the length of metal accurately in half.

With two pairs of pliers, he began to bend and shape the soft metal into a half-circle.

“Let me help,” I suggested earnestly.

“Certainly,” said Jim with dignity.

So I took the other pair of pliers and held one end of the metal while Jim did the moulding.

Following Jimmie’s historic diagram on the bench top, a document that might some day find place in the archives of Canada, we bent and moulded the two strips of metal into equal halves and equal handles of a sort of wide-mouthed nutcracker.

By frequently checking the fit of the half-circle on the bottle top of the cranberries, we got a very accurate fit.

“Now,” pondered Jim, “for a hinge.”

“A rivet?” I suggested. “Just for a temporary working model…”

In a cigar box full of door catches, bed casters, hinges and screen door handles, Jim found a good zinc rivet.

With his drill, he bored a hole in each half of the circle of the giant nutcrackers. We inserted the rivet, Jim allowing me to hold the invention while he tapped the rivet and flattened its ends on the iron vise.

“I may be said,” I stated humbly, “to be the first ever to hold the completed Frise-Clark bottle top remover in my hands!”

I held it up.

“And I,” said Jim, taking the newly created epoch-maker in his hands, “shall be the first ever to open a gem jar with it!”

“I am glad,” I said, “that it is cranberries we are opening.”

Jim set the jaws of the new invention carefully and scientifically around the metal bottle top.

He gave it a slight turn.

It slipped.

“Ah,” said Jim.

And with his pliers, he worked slowly, technically, with deep concentration, putting a sort of scallop around the gripping edge of the top remover, like large, soft teeth.

He picked the cranberries up with a slow and dramatic gesture, set the grip of the device around the top, and slowly closed the handles, taking a firm grip on them.

“Now,” he cried, “the birth of an idea! The birth of a fortune!”.

He gave a strong, slow, easy twist.

The top turned.

He gave it another twist and a flourish.

And there in one hand was the open jar of cranberries and in the other, the Frise-Clark Bottle Top Remover, with the top in its grasp!

“Jim!” I shouted, leaping into the air. “Our fortune is made! In half an hour – millions!”

The One in the Drawer

At which moment, we could hear Jim’s family just arriving in the kitchen overhead and they called down:

“What’s doing down there!”

“Shhh!” I warned Jim. “Can they be trusted? Hadn’t we better keep this to ourselves until we see the patent people …?”

But Jimmie was too proud and happy. With the cranberries in one hand and the bottle top remover flourished in the other, he led up the cellar stairs. I noted, immediately, that the whole family was into the turkey.

“What’s all the rumpus down cellar?” asked one of the family with a mouthful of beautiful turkey. Jim, without a word, stood back and held up the jar and the newly born opener.

They all came, chewing and looked at it. They stood on one side of it and then on the other, staring intently.

“So what?” inquired one.

“I made it!” cried Jim triumphantly. “We just invented it!”

“Why didn’t you use the one in the drawer?” they inquired.

“What one?” demanded Jim coldly.

“The one in the drawer,” they repeated, suiting the action to the words, opening the kitchen cabinet drawer and poking around in it.

And then, from the drawer, they produced and held up-the exact image of our invention. Only factory-made.

“Wha… wha… who …?” said Jimmie, lowering the cranberries.

I took the thing and examined it. It was exactly like ours; only better finished, of course.

“Where did that come from?” demanded Jim hollowly.

“It’s been in that drawer,” said the family, “for 10 or 15 years. Why don’t you look in that drawer sometimes, instead of just fumbling?”

“Are they for sale?” I asked weakly.

“Every 5-and-10 has them,” they replied.

By which time, three or four young men, friends of the family, wandered into the kitchen from taking off their coats.

“Turkey!” they cried, pouncing.

And the four or five slices left, vanished.

So Jim and I went back down to the cellar to tidy up and turn out the lights.

“The point is, Jim,” I submitted, “before you invent something, you should always explore the kitchen drawers.”

“Or better,” opined Jim, “when there’s turkey to eat, eat it.”


Editor’s Note: Gem Jars were a brand of preserving jars created in Canada, just like Mason Jars.

“Italy Must Have a Regency”

Brooding and saddened, as if looking down on his country’s ruin, is the face of Benedetto Croce, world-famous Italian philosopher. At left and right are symbols of the tragedy of the peninsula’s recent history. Fascism – which Croce never yielded to – represented in the ceremony of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler in the heyday of the Axis placing a wreath on the tomb of the unknown soldier in front of the Victor Emmanuel II monument of Rome. At right, Italy’s present devastation, caused by combination of bombings, artillery bombardment and German demolitions, is typified by a war-wrecked granary. The nation faces a huge reconstruction after the war.

By Gregory Clark, December 31, 1943.

By Air Courier to the Star Weekly from Naples

Between my hotel in Naples and the temporary home of old and famous Benedetto Croce in Sorrento, lie 30 miles – in every foot of which occurs not one field, not one meadow, not one open garden.

It is just endless human habitation. Naples; then the suburbs of Naples; then the villages adjoining Naples, in continuous contact of house, hovel, wall, beautiful but forbidding villa, humanity crawling amidst it everywhere.

So that by the time my jeep drew up in front of the massive flower-laden (in November!) wall of the villa of the late William Waldorf Astor in Sorrento, where Benedetto Croce has had sanctuary the past year or so, I was already numbed and saddened for his answer to my question – “What is the future of Italy now?”

His answer was – a regency for the five-year-old prince, grandson of the present King Victor Emmanuel, which would allow 15 or 20 years before that young gentleman could become sufficient of a king to interfere with still one more of the countless attempts for Italy to work out a political system that will bring her abreast of the western world in freedom, in comfort, in stability – or abreast of us in our dreams of those things.

This regency would get rid of both the king and the crown prince who suffer some share of the Italian people’s furious reaction to fascism. They are tainted. The regency would permit Badoglio or some other trusted or half-trusted individual to act as head of the government, surrounded by ministers representing both the Socialists, who want a republic, and the anti-Socialists, who feel safer with a king.

There are not a few in Italy who want neither. They want exactly what all of us should have foreseen as the reaction to fascism when it collapsed. And that is communism. There is the rub in Italy.

All the forces, individual and political, in Britain, America, France and everywhere else in the shivering old-fashioned world who helped build up fascism in Italy and Germany as a barricade against communism failed to foresee that if fascism failed, a great dammed-up force of the thing they were trying so desperately to dam back, would burst upon them. Italy right now is the ground over which that dam is to burst – if a whole horde of excited and anxious people, not all of them Italian, do not bear false witness.

In going to see Benedetto Croce, who is 78 years old, and who was already a world-famous philosopher and scientist 40 years ago, and minister of education for three years prior to fascism, I went with no political interest whatever. I am just one of those thousands of Canadians and tens of thousands of Americans who for the past three months have been walking through Italy looking upon nationwide spectacle of poverty, degradation, despair and ruin.

We do not need to be politicians to know that something has got to be done about Italy. We need only be citizens of Canada and the United States to know that when this war is all over and we go back home, we will have memories to bear, opinions to hold and votes to cast.

Across the Bay of Naples from the villa window in Sorrento we could see Naples. Along the waterfront, as modern and up-to-date as any great seaport in the world, lay utter and pitiless ruin. Not millions, but billions of dollars have gone up under our bombs and German demolition blasts. By some infernal humor of war, we had left that part of Naples which was old and historic and muddled and narrow and typical of everything Italy has been trying to escape from intact. But everything modern and new and big, everything that represented Italy’s effort to escape from the past, her port, her shipbuilding yards, her great modern factories and warehouses of every conceivable line of industry, we had reduced to tangled ruins of bent steel and heaped rubble.

“And further north,” said Croce, “in Milan, Turin and Genoa, the ruin and loss are worse.”

“It is not this ruin I wanted to ask you about,” I started. “We have lately fought and marched several hundred miles from the very toe of Italy through an Italy I am sure not one of the thousands of Canadians who saw it believed was possible in this day and age. Tiny villages which in America would house 500 people, housing 5,000. Living conditions so remote from all modem conceptions of public health, let alone human dignity, that it seemed to us we were dreaming. Peasants in a world from which we thought peasants had gone long, long ago. Women acting as beasts of burden. Slavery, with no other word for it, everywhere. Here and there, a county town with a brave show of a few modern buildings in the midst. But around the back, the same old filth and degradation. If it takes billions to restore those factories over there along the proud front of Naples and in Milan and Turin and all over the north of Italy, how many more billions will it take to sweep Italy free of the 16th century?”

Croce may have been a little offended at my naive and unctuous question. But his answer was this:

“If we can have a pause, free of political turmoil, long enough to permit the best elements of the Italian people to express themselves to one another, I am confident that not only is there a sufficient number of those best elements to establish, by legislation, a reasonable and happy solution for Italy, but that the sufferings Italy has experienced in the last war, in this war and under fascism between the two, have finally inspired in the Italian people a mass desire for peace and security that will survive under whatever world politics the future may surround us with.

“I was offered, along with my friend Count Sforza, a ministry under the king when he escaped from Rome and set up his government in the south with Badoglio. I refused. I said I had no ambition but that I had 78 years! I am giving anyone who asks counsel and advice. My advice is always the same. Seek a pause in events in which to bring together all the parties, all the creeds, all the sections and interests of Italy. And in that pause, free from political struggle against one another or against the world, work out Italy’s salvation. Does that answer include both the proud modern cities and the peasants?”

“How long would it take to set up this regency in the present confusion?” I asked. “And is the regency the majority opinion of the national committee?”

“The regency suggested itself to the majority of the national committee, said Croce, “when it was realized no self-respecting experienced public man in Italy could associate himself with either the king or crown prince in view of their lack of character throughout the Fascist regime. It would take us only a matter of days to set up the regency if we had the facilities of press and public halls, which of course are denied at present. Above all, however, we do not want a coup de force, a coup d’etat, another party foisting itself upon Italy. We have had enough of those. Garibaldi was one. Mussolini another. It matters not who or how good the leader, or how bad. To force there is always the reaction. In God’s name let Italy have a rest, a pause, a time to relax and talk and think freely. I am certain that if the United Nations do not understand on what a brink Italy now stands, just another and worse confusion will descend upon us.”

Benedetto Croce all his long life has been an educator and a thinker. And in this hour, he thinks what Italy needs is a period of education. He was born on the island of Ischia, near Capri. When he was a small child, his mother was killed in a great earthquake and he himself was buried for many hours in the ruins. Then, in his prime years he was all but buried under the ruins of fascism. But he survived both catastrophes. He has no fear of the powers of nature, geological or human. But when the earthquake is over he believes in clearing away the ruin, not calling down another quake to reshape the ruins in the hope that they will tumble straight.

One of Benedetto Croce’s most famous contributions to modern philosophy is his writing on the absolute. He maintains that there is no absolute fact, no absolute good, no absolute truth or even absolute beauty. He has defined the forces that bear on life to change, imperceptibly but eternally, the absolute. A sort of Einstein in the realm outside mathematics.

He has lectured in America, France, Britain, at all the greatest universities of the world. He was already a very great man when fascism rose in Italy. So famous, indeed, that when he refused to join the Fascist party, and when his non-co-operation with the Fascists became a dangerous scandal to the party, there was not a thing they dared do to him.

He did not flee the country, as other anti-Fascists did. He just went ahead non-resisting and non-co-operating. He had been made a senator by the king in 1921. After fascism, he simply declined to take his seat. When they tried to convert his writings into support for the Fascist ideal, he immediately published corrections but in such terms that nothing could be done about it. To scientist, no truth can be adduced in support of anything. It is just truth – as far as it can be seen at the moment!

And now the only advice he can give is to cease believing you have the truth; cease fighting for what you conceive to be the truth; and to get together with all your fellowmen and try to find the truth among you all. All – including peasant women staggering day and night under huge burdens

And all – including such density of population that in my jeep journey from my hotel in Naples to the late William Waldorf Astor’s villa, with high thick walls for keeping people out, and hanging lovely and high over the famous Bay of Sorrento and of Naples, I did not pass in 30 miles, one open stretch of meadow, one garden, but only continuous human habitation, wall touching wall, house-house, hovel-hovel, and all swarming and crawling with humanity, ragged, stunned sleep-walking, bewildered in a far deeper bewilderment than I ever have seen in any humanity, but which I have seen in the animal kingdom, among herds of cattle in the stockyards, and among corrals and in herds of sheep driven along dangerous tumultuous town streets.

On my way home from seeing Croce I asked my jeep driver what he thought was the chief problem of Italy.

“Too many Italians,” was his solution, as he nipped the jeep in and out amidst the ragged, scampering, sleep-walking throngs.

Too many, too confused, too pitiably victimizing one another in their ultimate hunger of body and soul; too pitiably, with wide dark blank eyes, trying to victimize us in small pitiable things, so that the tough guys among us curse them for swindlers and the soft guys among us can scarce forbear to weep.

I am thinking this minute of my backyard in Toronto, full of peace, full of security. Thinking also of my jeep driver’s farm north of Orangeville on this afternoon brown and quiet and far-flung and with nothing moving. But in the barns, the stables, in the mow, in the house, in the kitchen, in the pantry, in the milk shed, in the rocking chair beside the stove, in the kettle simmering on the wide hot top – peace, security.

I have heard only one man laugh in Italy and that was old Benedetto Croce – you pronounce it Craw-chay – when he described how his king invited him to become a minister of this, his ruined and wrecked native land. And that was when he said, from the security of his age and of his pride these past 30 years in which he pursued only truth:

“I have no ambition: I have only 78 years!”

His laughter was the saddest thing to hear.


Editor’s Notes: Greg was a war correspondent in Italy at the time. Benedetto Croce was a Greg described him, and did serve in government again after the war was over. He was also President of PEN International from 1949 until 1952, and nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature sixteen times.

After the war, King Victor Emmanuel III had tried to save the monarchy by abdicating on May 9, 1946 with his son becoming King Umberto II. A constitutional referendum was held on June 2 1946 where the Republicans won, and the monarchy was abolished.

Pietro Badoglio was an Italian general during both World Wars. He became Prime Minister of Italy after the fall of the Fascists. Carlo Sforza was an Italian diplomat and anti-fascist politician.

“All Aboard!”

December 28, 1946

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