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Discussions of Recent Books, Winter 1975

ISSUE:  Winter 1975
Morning without Noon. By Salvador de Madariaga. Saxon House. $14.75.

“THAT sunny day of August (1921), Geneva was at her best. . .the light from the blue sky brightened and freshened the scene and made it as new as it had just come out of the hands of the Creator. Then the Lake. What an enchantment! After so many doubts, struggles, frustrations, shadows, and dead-ends, to come to such a Paradise, where, between its two heavens, one above and one below, I found air and light. . . . No more wars. We were to organise things so that conflicts were all settled round the table. Who could doubt that we should succeed when the Lake reflected that immaculate sky and there was no shadow to be seen anywhere?”

From their very opening passages Salvador de Madariaga’s memoirs “Morning without Noon,” are an artist’s work, of this there can be no doubt. But what kind of artist? The very richness of his career makes an answer difficult. His father, convinced Spain had lost the War with the United States “for lack of technique,” sent him to be educated as an engineer at the Paris School of Mines. In Paris Senor de Madariaga, “born a poet,” had discovered his “literary vocation.” By 1921, however, he found himself a member of the Spanish delegation to the League of Nations Transit Conference in Barcelona. From there he moved to the League Secretariat and served as head of the disarmament section for its first six years. After a brief interlude as Professor of Spanish Studies at Oxford, he assumed a variety of diplomatic and political assignments, including ambassadorships to Washington and Paris, cabinet posts under the Spanish Republic, and a return to Geneva as the Spanish delegate to the League. When the Civil War came in Spain, he went into exile. From the School of Mines, to the literary vocation, to the League Secretariat, to the Oxford Chair, to the ambassadorial posts—”once again I had entered through the window another profession and another institution.”

“Every human being carries in his or her inner essence the essence of one or more animals.” Seflor de Madariaga’s spirit is that of a bird: “I have the idea for essentials (bird’s eye), the need for swiftness, the impatience and horror of plodding and trudging, the urge to go from one point to another in a straight flight, all features to which I owe the best and the worst of my literary work.” The memoirs are an expression of Senor de Madariaga’s literary vocation, and of the soaring spirit that is his essence. But they are an artist’s work in another form, for throughout Senor de Madariaga reveals a painter’s eye sensitive to light and color in their endless gradations.

As we read we travel the passageways of a richly endowed gallery. On one floor one finds an extensive collection of miniatures, sketches of the prominent, in evil works no less than good, of an era: Drummond, Monnet, Thomas, Briand, de Falla, Shaw, Einstein, Rivera, Segovia, Unamuno, Franco, Barthou, Laval, Mussolini, Vansittart, Léger, Azana. One pauses to catch the artist’s shading. Of Austen Chamberlain:

I suddenly came upon him. He was alone, standing by, almost leaning on, a French Empire metal and mahogany desk, smoking a cigarette, his eye-glass on, whose truant reflections enlivened the glint of his eye. He was the very image of the upper class man born to govern. Not a shadow of doubt in his mind that Britain ruled not only the waves but the hills as well, and that the Chamberlains ruled Britain. His courtesy and perfect manners did nothing whatever to lubricate his stiffness, which was by far his dominant feature.

Of Herbert Hoover:

. . . a man I saw only once . . . and for whom I conceived a thorough dislike. The cause of this feeling was plain to me. In the half hour our ceremony lasted, I never saw his eyes. He managed to look anywhere in the room but at the face and eyes of the man he was conversing with. I came to the conclusion that he could not be straight.

Or, finally, of Anthony Eden. He “had a fine face, and eyes, if anything, too beautiful for a human creature of the male sex.”

On another floor of the gallery hang works of larger compass—portraits, not of individuals, but of nations. Senor de Madariaga’s artist’s eye is ever fascinated by the diverse colors of the nations, those of Spanish America in particular. While on a lecture tour in Mexico he was cautioned by his host to say nothing of Cortes, since Mexicans put their pride in Cuautemoc. His characteristically independent response was to devote virtually his entire lecture to Cortés,

with no blurring of outlines, no diluting of colour, to please or displease any one; and I explained how he had been the first Mexican citizen and the first Mexican author, whose letters to the Emperor stood as the first Mexican classic, and I depicted him as an oak whose roots delved into Spanish soil but whose trunk and foliage blossomed in Mexico.

Britain’s uncertain reactions to the Ethiopian crisis led the artist to depict her soul as dual: Albion driven by empire and power, England concerned with the Covenant and rule of law.

On a third floor of the gallery only a few canvasses are found, but these the largest. Portraits of neither individuals nor nations, they capture the great and tragic events that mark the artist’s time, and the Republic’s, and Europe’s. Of these the most powerful are those which tried, and then broke, the League: Manchuria, disarmament, Ethiopia, Hitler. The Manchurian crisis was a fateful first test, a conflict between Japan and the League, not between Japan and China. “It was the true cause and origin of Hitler’s power and of the Second World War. The responsibility of the permanent members of the Council, notably of Britain and France, was heavy; that of the United States, appalling.” With Ethiopia one confronted a situation, liked by neither matador nor audience, of “two bulls in a ring.” It was by then idle to speculate if Britain and France would have acted more firmly against Mussolini if Hitler had not been “let loose in the European ring.” For “we were all conscious of there being two bulls ready to gore us.”

The canvas on disarmament is the largest and most abstract in the gallery. It is also the one most likely to be hung upside down by the unknowing. “Nations don’t distrust each other because they are armed; they are armed because they mistrust each other.” A question not tackled in time leads to a problem which, when it proves insoluble, passes into a dispute which, once it gets out of hand, leads to a conflict that, in turn, leads to war as the ultima ratio.Therefore to “want disarmament before a minimum of cammon agreement on fundamentals is as absurd as to want people to go undressed in winter.”

What is fundamental? Liberty—as an essential value, not a utilitarian one. And the free press, as an essential embodiment of liberty. To the charge that most Spaniards don’t care a bit about the freedom of the press, the retort:

“If you hold a man’s head under the water, the almost totality of his body may remain dry, but the man dies.” “There is perhaps nothing more provident in Providence than the decree that denies to man any foreknowledge of his future.” With the coming of civil war to Spain, Senor de Madariaga’s national base was undermined; with the coming of civil war to Europe, his international one. His was a spirit of light in the crowded kingdom of the blind. Its lonely rays, too weak to drive out the darkness, proved strong enough to await another morning. “I was by nature and training a citizen of that Continent of Nations that was not to be. Not yet.”


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