“Over against the ever more amazing inventions of Science we see a kind of childishness creeping over our thoughts, our modes of expression, our art, our music, our morals. We talk in words from a very limited vocabulary, we produce pictures and statues of a more than ungainly ‘neo-primitiveness’, we croon nigger songs while we push one another round a room in dances that need no brain, no zest, and no vitality for their successful performance. Many of our buildings have as their chief merits the fact that they can be rushed up quickly and finished within a few weeks. We tear over the Earth’s surface along roads of brick-box straightness, past rows of houses of brick-box exactitude and hideousness, in order to get somewhere, it does not much matter where, in record time. Finally, the novels we read, apparently with pleasure, for there are many of them, show men and women as ill-conducted children whose one concern is that which they share with the animal world.
“There is to me something grim and horrible in an essentially mature civilisation playing at savage immaturity when it knows better. We cannot go back to the beginning of things any more than a mature mind can change into that of a child.”
[Footnote: Miss E. Strudwick, the Headmistress of St. Paul’s Girls’ School, Hammersmith, London, England, in a presidential address delivered on the 17th June, 1933, at Liverpool, at a Conference of the British Association of Head Mistresses. The text quoted here has been taken from the report in The Manchester Guardian of the 19th June, 1933.]
He must have kept the cutting. Quoting this was not, perhaps, Toynbee’s finest moment. He was consistently and passionately anti-racist and did not constantly complain about the modern world, but in 1954 his views on culture were still uncompromising. The N word could be introduced, in a quotation, in that context. No doubt those views were modified. His granddaughter Polly must have told him about pop music. Those were the conversations that happened in the ’60s. The older generation wasn’t entirely unaffected by the Zeitgeist.
“Roads of brick-box straightness [and] rows of houses of brick-box exactitude and hideousness” reminds one of dystopian cartoons of the time and of passages in novels such as Orwell’s Coming Up for Air.
As for neo-primitiveness, I wrote in an earlier post: “Englishmen of Toynbee’s generation and education probably thought, c 1935, of the sculptures of Jacob Epstein, with their ‘lines […] cunningly reduced to the clumsy stiffness of the pre-Romanesque Dark Ages’, before they thought of buildings in the clean, anti-archaising International Style when Modernism was mentioned.”
See John Carey, The Intellectuals and the Masses, Pride and Prejudice among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880-1939, Faber, 1992 and Richard Overy, The Morbid Age, Britain between the Wars, Allen Lane, 2009 (subsequently renamed).
Ethel Strudwick CBE (1880–1954) was the daughter of a Pre-Raphaelite painter, John Melhuish Strudwick. She read Classics at Bedford College, London and taught at City of London School for Girls from 1913. She was High Mistress of St Paul’s Girls’ School from 1927 to ’48. She has a DNB entry and apparently had a sense of humour.
Image at spgs.org, artist not stated
A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954