Shrewsbury School

From the School Archive

Friday 9 November 2018

Recently rediscovered in the vast Shrewsbury School Archive, an account in the Forum Society's Minutes Book of a talk on the Spanish Civil War given by the poet WH Auden on 30th October 1938... 


The Society met on Sunday, October 30th 1938 to hear Mr W.H. Auden on “Spain”.

Mr J.M. Street was in the chair and there was an attendance of about 150 boys and masters. In order to accommodate the larger audience it had been arranged to hold the meeting in Top Schools.

Mr Auden began by impressing upon us the fallacy of any attempt to judge Spanish affairs by English standards, pointing out that Spain had been forced to compress the political development which had taken 400 years in this country into four years. He stressed the backwardness of Spain and emphasised the point that North African culture had had at least as great an effect as Latin in its development. To illustrate the violence of the Spanish temperament he read an extract from Lorca’s poem on the death of a Bull Fighter.

He then gave us a short historical explanation of the three main forces which the Republican government in Spain had tried to overthrow – Absolutism, Church control of politics and education, and the power of the great landowners. In particular he pointed out that the burning of churches was a spontaneous mob activity, discountenanced by political leaders.

This attempt to make fundamental changes in the organisation of the country and met with right-wing opposition so uncompromising and so nearly equal in strength that a resort to force was a not unnatural outcome.

Mr Auden then gave a rough analysis of the parties composing the two sides and read two extremely interesting extracts from Malraux’s novel describing the war conditions. His final words were an appeal not to judge causes by the private character and good-fellowship of their adherents.

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