The Cotman Collection | 13

Cotmania. Vol. VII. 1931-2

Archive: SDK Sydney Decimus Kitson Archive
Reference Number: SDK/1/2/1/7
Page: 5 verso

  • Description

    Kitson's toast at Architect's Conference, 1931

    Report from the RIBA Journal of Cotman's toast at the Architect's Conference, 1931

    Date: 1931

  • Transcription

    The toast of the guests was proposed by Mr. SYDNEY KITSON, Hon. Secretary, R.I.B.A. He said : There are three ways of approaching this toast. The first is to mention by name and to commend to your notice—with full biographical details—each one of the 70 guests whom we rejoice to welcome here to-night. This is the way 1 should like to take, but its length would be so great that I fear I should get into sad trouble with the organisers of this dinner, who have so wisely set a time limit—of, shall we say, five minutes?—upon every speech that is made here to-night.
    The second way of approach is for the speaker to pick out—in his wisdom or his ignorance—those names which he considers most worthy of mention. This is a way that has its very obvious pitfalls—especially for a stranger who is enjoying, and enjoying intensely, contact for the first time with a vivid, individual, and highly gifted nationality in its own capital city. A stranger might, perhaps, leave unmentioned those names which he ought to have mentioned, and he might mention those names which he ought not to have mentioned—and there would be no health in his toast.
    I remember an incident which once happened at a banquet in London, given by a professional society such as this, when the proposer of this toast adopted this second course, and specified (as architects say) the names of the guests which he considered most worthy of mention. When he sat down, one of the guests—who had not been named, and thought that he should have been—rose up and with majestic but unsteady steps strode to the folding doors. These he tried to slam behind him as an audible demonstration of his annoyance. Unfortunately these doors were fitted with what the manufacturers lightheartedly call "silent spring hinges"—which sometimes function and which sometimes do not. They happened to function that night, and the doors closed silently behind him. But the disgruntled guest was determined to show his disapproval. He returned and putting his head through the doors, he said in dignified hut husky tones, "To hell with the lot of you!"
    Such an incident is, of course, unthinkable and impossible anywhere but in London—where, believe me, one comes across from time to time some very odd characters.
    And yet—and yet—I am taking no chances to-night. I shall adopt the third way of approach and mention no names. I am conscious of the presence of a galaxy of distinguished guests seated at the high table, like a great crowd of witnesses at the shrine of the mistress art of architecture. Nevertheless I shall mention no names.
    Even exalted personages have, in common with us humbler folk, digestions, and these digestions should be allowed to work quietly after dinner. The sudden shock of hearing some familiar name or thing mentioned, when one has settled down quietly—not to listen to the speeches—is known in the past to have led to awkward results. Once when one of George III's sons, himself then an elderly gentleman, was dozing through a church service, some chord of memory was suddenly awakened as the seventh commandment was being read. He sat bolt upright in his pew and murmured : "Quite right, quite right—but damned difficult!" And so, on behalf of my colleagues, I thank each one of our guests for his and her presence here to-night—unnamed and unmolested witnesses at the shrine of the goddess of architecture. Unnamed and unmolested—all except three, and these I am bound to mention, in spite of my self- denying ordinance, for they are the responders to this toast. Fellow members of the Architects' Conference, 1 ask you to rise and drink the health of our guests, coupled with the names of the Right Honourable the Lord Mayor of Dublin, His Excellency the French Minister, and Sir Philip Hanson.

    [Note added by Kitson]
    R.I.B.A. Journal, 11.7.'31.

Kitson's toast at Architect's Conference, 1931