Dinner of 'Writers Group' last night at Reform. At the start of the war, I was one of a group of leading writers called in by the War Propaganda Bureau of the British Government to suggest the best ways to promote Britain's wartime interests, especially in the US. George Bernard Shaw, who knew nothing of the War Propaganda Bureau, launched a fierce assault on what he saw as the jingoistic writing of British authors. It fell to me to defend the writers' group in letters to magazines and newspapers. My literary colleagues included Chesterton, Conan Doyle, Hardy, Kipling and Wells. It was decided to drop our three months' debated Manifesto entirely as being quite absurd in present circumstances. A wise decision, my God!
Spender (see 'Writing for Victory' September 3rd.) spoke about the poverty of Germany, and of a great struggle between inhabitants of 2 room tenements in poorer quarters and the police. The police laid down that it was unsanitary for people to sleep in a room where cooking was done. This of course would have put the whole family into one room to sleep. They could not enforce the decree practically. Then they had kitchens constructed in new tenements, in such a manner, so full of corners, that beds could not be put into them! He also spoke of seeing a highly respectable-looking long row of tenements in Munich, as to which a guide friend said to him: "You see those houses? There isn't a w.c. in the whole row. When the tenants want a w.c. they go to that beer hall there and have a drink in order to use a w.c." Spender, the influential Liberal editor and publicist, is a wonderful, ageing man, so informed and judicious and sagacious and kindly, but with a tendency to bore people, a bit 'grey' in colour; there is a lack of vitality and fun in him. He told me once that he wished he could make enough to live on by writing an article a week. Well he can't and never will, because his really admirable articles are not exciting enough to read!
Ellery Sedgwick, of the Atlantic Monthly, was at the dinner. I talked privately to him afterwards and walked with him back to the Ritz, and gave him my ideas on most of the big political personages. I was just in the humour for being highly indiscreet, and I was indiscreet. He said seriously at the end: "You may like to know that I accept your judgement absolutely." Every now and then in the rain he would stand still in order to put an important question.