Essays in Rebellion
Henry W. Nevinson
Part 2 out of 6
last. In his greatest imaginative works (and to me they appear the
highest achievement that the human imagination has yet accomplished in
prose)--in the struggles and perplexities and final solutions of
Petroff, Nekhludoff, and Levin; in the miserable isolation of Ivan
Ilyitch; in the resurrection of the prostitute Maslova; and in the
hardly endurable tragedy of Anna Karenin herself, there runs exactly the
same deep undercurrent of thought and exactly the same solution of
life's question as in the briefer and more definite statements of the
essays and letters. The greatest men are generally all of a piece, and
of no one is this more true than of Tolstoy. Take him where you please,
it is strange if after a few lines you are not able to say, "That is the
finger of Tolstoy; there is the widely sympathetic and compassionate
heart, so loving mankind that in all his works he has drawn hardly one
human soul altogether detested or contemptible. But at the same time
there is the man whose breath is sincerity, and to whom no compromise is
possible, and no mediocrity golden."
To the philosophers of the world his own solution may appear a simple
issue, indeed, out of all his questioning, struggles, and rebellions. It
was but a return to well-worn commandments. "Do not be angry, do not
lust, do not swear obedience to external authority, do not resist evil,
but love your enemies"--these commands have a familiar, an almost
parochial, sound. Yet in obedience to such simple orders the chief of
rebels found man's only happiness, and whether we call it obedience to
the voice of the soul or the voice of God, he would not have minded
much. "He lives for his soul; he does not forget God," said one peasant
of another in Levin's hearing; and Tolstoy takes those quiet words as
Levin's revelation in the way of peace. For him the soul, though finding
its highest joy of art and pleasure only in noble communion with other
souls, stood always lonely and isolated, bare to the presence of God.
The only submission possible, and the only possible hope of peace, lay
in obedience to the self thus isolated and bare. "O that thou hadst
hearkened unto my commandments!" cried the ancient poet, uttering the
voice that speaks to the soul in loneliness; "O that thou hadst
hearkened unto my commandments! Then had thy peace been as a river."
THE IRON CROWN
When we read of a man who, for many years, wore on his left arm an iron
bracelet, with spikes on the inside which were pressed into the flesh,
we feel as though we had taken a long journey from our happy land. When
we read that the bracelet was made of steel wire, with the points
specially sharpened, and the whole so clamped on to the arm that it
could never come off, but had to be cut away after death, we might
suppose that we had reached the world where Yogi and Sanyasi wander in
the saffron robe, or sit besmeared with ashes, contemplating the eternal
verities, unmoved by outward things. Like skeletons of death they sit;
thorns tear their skin, their nails pierce into their hands, day and
night one arm is held uplifted, iron grows embedded in their flesh, like
a railing in a tree trunk, they hang in ecstasy from hooks, they count
their thousand miles of pilgrimage by the double yard-measure of head to
heel, moving like a geometer caterpillar across the burning dust. To
overcome the body so that the soul may win her freedom, to mortify--to
murder the flesh so that the spirit may reach its perfect life, to
torture sense so that the mind may dwell in peace, to obliterate the
limits of space, to silence the ticking of time, so that eternity may
speak, and vistas of infinity be revealed--that is the purport of their
existence, and in hope of attaining to that consummation they submit
themselves with deliberate resolve to the utmost anguish and abasement
that the body can endure.
Contemplating from a philosophic distance the Buddhist monasteries that
climb the roof of the world, or the indistinguishable multitudes
swarming around the shrines on India's coral strand, we think all this
sort of thing is natural enough for unhappy natives to whom life is
always poor and hard, and whose bodies, at the best, are so
insignificant and so innumerable that they may well regard them with
contempt, and suffer their torments with indifference. But the man of
whose spiky bracelet we read was not in search of Nirvana's
annihilation, nor had he ever prayed in nakedness beside the Ganges.
Cardinal Vaughan, Archbishop of Westminster, was as little like a
starveling Sanyasi as any biped descendant of the anthropoids could
possibly be. A noticeable man, singularly handsome, of conspicuous,
indeed of almost precarious, personal attraction, a Prince of the
Church, clothed, quite literally, in purple and fine linen, faring as
sumptuously as he pleased every day, welcome at the tables of the
society that is above religion, irreproachable in address, a courtier in
manner, a diplomatist in mind, moving in an entourage of state and
worldly circumstance, occupied in the arts, constructing the grandest
building of his time, learned without pedantry, agreeably cultivated in
knowledge, urbane in his judgment of mankind, a power in the councils of
his country, a voice in the destinies of the world--so we see him moving
in a large and splendid orbit, complete in fine activities, dominant in
his assured position, almost superhuman in success. And as he moves, he
presses into the flesh of his left arm those sharpened points of steel.
"Remember!" We hear again the solemn tone, warning of mortality. We see
again the mummy, drawn between tables struck silent in their revelry. We
listen to the slave whispering in the ear while the triumph blares.
"Remember!" he whispers. "Remember thou art man. Thou shalt go! Thou
shalt go! Thy triumph shall vanish as a cloud. Time's chariot hurries
behind thee. It comes quicker than thine own!" So from the iron bracelet
a voice tells of the transitory vision. All shall go; the jewelled
altars and the dim roofs fragrant with incense; the palaces, the towers,
and domed cathedrals; the refined clothing, the select surroundings, the
courteous receptions of the great; the comfortable health, the noble
presence, the satisfactory estimation of the world--all shall go. They
shall fade away; they shall be removed as a vesture, and like a garment
they shall be rolled up. Press the spikes into thy mouldering flesh.
Remember! Even while it lives, it is corrupting, and the end keeps
hurrying behind. Remember! Remember thou art man.
But below that familiar voice which warns the transient generations of
their mortality, we may find in those sharpened spikes a more profound
and nobler intention. "Remember thou art man," they say; but it is not
against overweening pride that they warn, nor do they remind only of
death's wings. "Remember thou art man," they say, "and as man thou art
but a little lower than the angels, being crowned with glory and honour.
This putrefying flesh into which we eat our way--this carrion cart of
your paltry pains and foolish pleasures--is but the rotten relic of an
animal relationship. Remember thou art man. Thou art the paragon of
animals, the slowly elaborated link between beast and god, united by
this flesh with tom-cats, swine, and hares, but united by the spirit
with those eternal things that move fresh and strong as the ancient
heavens in their courses, and know not fear. What pain of spikes and
sharpened points, what torment that this body can endure from cold or
hunger, from human torture and burning flame, what pleasure that it can
enjoy from food and wine and raiment and all the satisfactions of sense
is to be compared with the glory that may be revealed at any moment in
thy soul? Subdue that bestial and voracious body, ever seeking to
extinguish in thee the gleam of heavenly fire. Press the spikes into the
lumpish and uncouth monster of thy flesh. Remember! Remember thou art
"Oh, wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this
death?" We have grown so accustomed to the cry that we hardly notice it,
and yet that the cry should ever have been raised--that it should have
arisen in all ages and in widely separated parts of the world--is the
most remarkable thing in history. Pleasure is so agreeable, and none too
common; or, if one wanted pain for salt, are there not pains enough in
life's common round? Does it not take us all our time to mitigate the
cold, the heat, and hunger; to escape the beasts and rocks and
thunderbolts that bite and break and blast us; to cure the diseases that
rack and burn and twist our poor bodies into hoops? Why should we seek
to add pain to pain, and raise a wretched life to the temperature of a
torture-room? It is the most extraordinary thing, at variance alike with
the laws of reason and moderation. Certainly, there is a kind of
self-denial--a carefulness in the selection of pleasure--which all the
wise would practise. To exercise restraint, to play the aristocrat in
fastidious choice, to guard against satiety, and allow no form of
grossness to enter the walled garden or to drink at the fountain
sealed--those are to the wise the necessary conditions of calm and
radiant pleasure, and in outward behaviour the Epicurean and the Stoic
are hardly to be distinguished. For the Epicurean knows well that
asceticism stands before the porch of happiness, and the smallest touch
of excess brings pleasure tumbling down.
But mankind seems not to trouble itself about this delicate adjustment,
this cautious selection of the more precious joy. In matters of the
soul, man shows himself unreasonable and immoderate. He forgets the laws
of health and chastened happiness. The salvation of his spirit possesses
him with a kind of frenzy, making him indifferent to loss of pleasure,
or to actual pain and bodily distress. He will seek out pain as a lover,
and use her as a secret accomplice in his conspiracy against the body's
domination. Under the stress of spiritual passion he becomes an
incalculable force, carried we know not where by his determination to
preserve his soul, to keep alight just that little spark of fire, to
save that little breath of life from stifling under the mass of
superincumbent fat. We may call him crazy, inhuman, a fanatic, a
devil-worshipper; he does not mind what we call him. His eyes are full
of a vision before which the multitude of human possessions fade. He is
engaged in a contest wherein his soul must either overcome or perish
everlastingly; and we may suppose that, even if the soul were not
immortal, it would still be worth the saving.
It is true that in this happy country examples of ascetic frenzy are
comparatively rare. There is little fear of overdoing the mortification
of the flesh. We practise a self-denial that takes the form of training
for sport, but, like the spectators at a football match, we do our
asceticism chiefly by proxy, and are fairly satisfied if the clergy do
not drink or give other cause for scandal. It is very seldom that
Englishmen have been affected by spiritual passion of any kind, and that
is why our country, of all the eastern hemisphere, has been least
productive of saints. But still, in the midst of our discreet comfort
and sanity of moderation, that spiky bracelet of steel, eating into the
flesh of the courtly and sumptuous Archbishop, may help to remind us
that, whether in war, or art, or life, it is only by the passionate
refusal of comfort and moderation that the high places of the spirit are
to be reached. "Still be ours the diet hard, and the blanket on the
ground!" is the song of all pioneers, and if man is to be but a little
lower than the angels, and crowned with glory and honour, the crown will
be made of iron or, perhaps, of thorns.
"THE IMPERIAL RACE"
"The public are particularly requested not to tease the Cannibals." So
ran one of the many flaming notices outside the show. Other notices
proclaimed the unequalled opportunity of beholding "The Dahomey Warriors
of Savage South Africa; a Rare and Peculiar Race of People; all there is
Left of them"--as, indeed, it might well be. Another called on the
public "not to fail to see the Coloured Beauties of the Voluptuous
Harem," no doubt also the product of Savage South Africa. But of all the
gilded placards the most alluring, to my mind, was the request not to
tease the Cannibals. It suggested so appalling a result.
I do not know who the Cannibals were. Those I saw appeared to be
half-caste Jamaicans, but there may have been something more savage
inside, and certainly a Dahomey warrior from South Africa would have to
be ferocious indeed if his fierceness was to equal his rarity. But the
particular race did not matter. The really interesting thing was that
the English crowd was assumed to be as far superior to the African
savage as to a wild beast in a menagerie. The proportion was the same.
The English crowd was expected to extend to the barbarians the same
inquisitive patronage as to jackals and hyenas in a cage, when in front
of the cages it is written, "Do not irritate these animals. They bite."
The facile assumption of superiority recalled a paradoxical remark that
Huxley made about thirty years ago, when that apostle of evolution
suddenly scandalised progressive Liberalism by asserting that a Zulu, if
not a more advanced type than a British working man, was at all events
happier. "I should rather be a Zulu than a British workman," said Huxley
in his trenchant way, and the believers in industrialism were not
pleased. By the continual practice of war, and by generations of
infanticide, under which only the strongest babies survived, the Zulus
had certainly at that time raised themselves to high physical
excellence, traces of which still remain in spite of the degeneracy that
follows foreign subjection. I have known many African tribes between
Dahomey and Zululand too well to idealise them into "the noble savage."
I know how rapidly they are losing both their bodily health and their
native virtues under the deadly contact of European drink, clothing,
disease, and exploitation. Yet, on looking round upon the London crowds
that were particularly requested not to tease the cannibals, my first
thought was that Huxley's paradox remained true.
The crowds that swarmed the Heath were not lovely things to look at.
Newspapers estimated that nearly half a million human beings were
collected on the patch of sand that Macaulay's imagination transfigured
into "Hampstead's swarthy moor." But even if we followed the safe rule
and divided the estimated number by half, a quarter of a million was
quite enough. "Like bugs--the more, the worse," Emerson said of city
crowds, and certainly the most enthusiastic social legislator could
hardly wish to make two such men or women stand where one stood before.
Scarlet and yellow booths, gilded roundabouts, sword-swallowers in
purple fleshings, Amazons in green plush and spangles were gay enough.
Booths, roundabouts, Amazon queens, and the rest are the only chance of
colour the English people have, and no wonder they love them. But in
themselves and in mass the crowds were drab, dingy, and black. Even
"ostridges" and "pearlies," that used to break the monotony like the
exchange of men's and women's hats, are thought to be declining. America
may rival that dulness, but in no other country of Europe, to say
nothing of the East and Africa, could so colourless a crowd be seen--a
mass of people so devoid of character in costume, or of tradition and
pride in ornament.
But it was not merely the absence of colour and beauty in dress, or the
want of national character and distinction--a plainness that would
afflict even a Russian peasant from the Ukraine or a Tartar from the
further Caspian. It was the uncleanliness of the garments themselves
that would most horrify the peoples not reckoned in the foremost ranks
of time. A Hindu thinks it disgusting enough for a Sahib to put on the
same coat and trousers that he wore yesterday without washing them each
morning in the tank, as the Hindu washes his own garment. But that the
enormous majority of the Imperial race should habitually wear second,
third, and fourth-hand clothes that have been sweated through by other
people first, would appear to him incredible. If ever he comes to
England, he finds that he must believe it. It is one of the first shocks
that strike him with horror when he emerges from Charing Cross. "Can
these smudgy, dirty, evil-smelling creatures compose the dominant race?"
is the thought of even the most "loyal" Indian as he moves among the
crowd of English workpeople. And it is only the numbing power of habit
that silences the question in ourselves. Cheap as English clothing is,
second-hand it is cheaper still, and I suppose that out of that
quarter-million people on the Heath every fine Bank Holiday hardly one
per cent. wears clothes that no one has worn before him. Hence the
sickening smell that not only pervades an English crowd but hangs for
two or three days over an open space where the crowd has been. "I can
imagine a man keeping a dirty shirt on," said Nietzsche, "but I cannot
imagine him taking it off and putting it on again." He was speaking in
parables, as a philosopher should; but if he had stood among an English
working crowd, his philosophic imagination would have been terribly
strained by literal fact.
Scrubby coat and trousers, dirty shirt, scarf, and cap, socks more like
anklets for holes, and a pair of split boots; bedraggled hat, frowsy
jacket, blouse and skirt, squashy boots, and perhaps a patchy "pelerine"
or mangy "boa"--such is accepted as the natural costume for the heirs of
all the ages. Prehistoric man, roaming through desert and forest in his
own shaggy pelt, was infinitely better clad. So is the aboriginal
African with a scrap of leopard skin, or a single bead upon a cord. To
judge by clothing, we may wonder to what purpose evolution ever started
upon its long course of groaning and travailing up to now. And more than
half-concealed by that shabby clothing, what shabby forms and heads we
must divine! How stunted, puny, and ill-developed the bodies are! How
narrow-shouldered the men, how flat-breasted the women! And the faces,
how shapeless and anaemic! How deficient in forehead, nose, and jaw!
Compare them with an Afghan's face; it is like comparing a chicken with
an eagle. Writing in the _Standard_ of April 8, 1912, a well-known
clergyman assured us that "when a woman enters the political arena, the
bloom is brushed from the peach, never to be restored." That may seem a
hard saying to Primrose Dames and Liberal Women, but the thousands of
peaches that entered the arena (as peaches will) on Hampstead Heath, had
no bloom left to brush, and no political arena could brush it more.
Deficient in blood and bone, the products of stuffy air, mean food, and
casual or half-hearted parentage, often tainted with hereditary or
acquired disease, the faces are; but, worse than all, how insignificant
and indistinguishable! It is well known that a Chinaman can hardly
distinguish one Englishman from another, just as we can hardly
distinguish the Chinese. But in an English working crowd, even an
Englishman finds it difficult to distinguish face from face. Yet as a
nation we have always been reckoned conspicuous for strong and even
eccentric individuality. Our well-fed upper and middle classes--the
public school, united services, and university classes--reach a high
physical average. Perhaps, on the whole, they are still the best
specimens of civilised physique. Within thirty years the Germans have
made an astonishing advance. They are purging off their beer, and
working down their fat. But, as a rule, the well-fed and carefully
trained class in England still excels in versatility, decision, and
adventure. Unhappily, it is with few--only with a few millions of
well-to-do people, a fraction of the whole English population--and with
a few country-bred people and open-air workers, that we succeed. The
great masses of the English nation are tending to become the
insignificant, indistinguishable, unwholesome, and shabby crowd that
becomes visible at football matches and on Bank Holidays upon the Heath.
It is true that familiarity breeds respect. It is almost impossible for
the average educated man to know anything whatever about the working
classes. The educated and the workpeople move, as it were, in worlds of
different dimensions, incomprehensible to each other. Very few men and
women from our secondary schools and universities, for instance, can
long enjoy solemnly tickling the faces of passing strangers with a bunch
of feathers, or revolving on a wooden horse to a steam organ, or gazing
at a woman advertised as "a Marvel of Flesh, Fat, and Beauty." The
educated seldom appreciate such joys in themselves. If they like trying
them, it is only "in the second intention." They enjoy out of patronage,
or for literary sensation, rather than in grave reality. They are
excluded from the mind to which such things genuinely appeal. But let
not education mock, nor culture smile disdainfully at the short and
simple pleasures of the poor. If by some miracle of revelation culture
could once become familiar from the inside with one of those scrubby and
rather abhorrent families, the insignificance would be transfigured, the
faces would grow distinguishable, and all manner of admired and even
lovable characteristics would be found. How sober people are most days
of the week; how widely charitable; how self-sacrificing in hopes of
saving the pence for margarine or melted fat upon the children's bread!
They are shabby, but they have paid for every scrap of old clothing with
their toil; they are dirty, but they try to wash, and would be clean if
they could afford the horrible expense of cleanliness; they are
ignorant, but within twenty years how enormously their manners to each
other have improved! And then consider their Christian thoughtlessness
for the morrow, how superb and spiritual it is! How different from the
things after which the Gentiles of the commercial classes seek! On a
Bank Holiday I have known a mother and a daughter, hanging over the very
abyss of penury, to spend two shillings in having their fortunes told.
Could the lilies of the field or Solomon in all his glory have shown a
finer indifference to worldly cares?
Mankind, as we know, in the lump is bad, but that it is not worse
remains the everlasting wonder. It is not the squalor of such a crowd
that should astonish; it is the marvel that they are not more squalid.
For, after all, what is the root cause of all this dirt and ignorance
and shabbiness and disease? It is not drink, nor thriftlessness, nor
immorality, as the philanthropists do vainly talk; still less is it
crime. It is the "inequality" of which Canon Barnett has often
written--the inequality that Matthew Arnold said made a high
civilisation impossible. But such inequality is only another name for
poverty, and from poverty we have yet to discover the saviour who will
THE GREAT UNKNOWN
There are strange regions where the monotony of ignoble streets is
broken only by an occasional church, a Board School, or a public-house.
From the city's cathedral to every point of the compass, except the
west, they stretch almost without limit till they reach the bedraggled
fields maturing for development. They form by far the larger part of an
Empire's capital. Each of them is, in fact, a vast town, great enough,
as far as numbers go, to make the Metropolis of a powerful State. Out of
half a dozen of them, such as Islington, Bethnal Green, or Bermondsey,
the County Council could build half a score of Italian republics like
the Florence or Pisa of old days, if only it had the mind. Each
possesses a character, a peculiar flavour, or, at the worst, a separate
smell. Many of them are traversed every day by thousands of rich and
well-educated people, passing underground or overhead. Yet to nearly all
of us they remain strange and almost untrodden. We do not think of them
when we think of London. Them no pleasure-seeker counts among his
opportunities, no foreigner visits as essential for his study of the
English soul. Not even our literary men and Civil Servants, who talk so
much about architecture, discuss their architecture in the clubs. Not
one in a thousand of us has ever known a human soul among their
inhabitants. To the comfortable classes the Libyan desert is more
At elections, even politicians remember their existence. From time to
time a philanthropist goes down there to share God's good gifts with his
poorer brethren, or to elevate the masses with tinkling sounds or
painted boards. From time to time an adventurous novelist is led round
the opium-shops, dancing-saloons, and docks, returning with copy for
tales of lust and murder that might just as well be laid in Siberia or
Timbuctoo. When we scent an East End story on its way, do we not
patiently await the battered head, the floating corpse, the dynamiter's
den, or a woman crying over her ill-begotten babe? Do we not always get
one or other of the lot? To read our story-tellers from Mr. Kipling
downward, one might suppose the East End to be inhabited by bastards
engaged in mutual murder, and the marvel is that anyone is left alive to
be the subject of a tale. You may not bring an indictment against a
whole nation, but no sensational writer hesitates to libel three million
of our fellow-citizens. Put it in Whitechapel, and you may tell what
filthy lie you please.
About once in a generation some "Bitter Cry" pierces through custom, and
the lives of "the poor" become a subject for polite conversation and
amateur solicitude. For three months, or even for six, that subject
appears as the intellectual "_roti_" at dinner-tables; then it is found
a little heavy, and cultured interest returns to its natural courses of
plays, pictures, politics, a dancing woman, and the memorials of Kings.
It is almost time now that the poor came up again, for a quarter of a
century has gone since they were last in fashion, and men's collars and
women's skirts have run their full orbit since. Excellent books have
appeared, written with intimate knowledge of working life--books such as
Charles Booth's _London_ or Mr. Richard Free's _Seven Years Hard_, to
mention only two; but either the public mind was preoccupied with other
amusements, or it had not recovered from the lassitude of the last
philanthropic debauch. Nothing has roused that fury of charitable
curiosity which accompanies a true social revival, and leaves its
victims gasping for the next excitement. The time was, perhaps, ripe,
but no startling success awaited Mr. Alexander Paterson's book, _Across
the Bridges_. Excellent though it was, its excellence excluded it from
fashion. For it was written with the restraint of knowledge, and
contained no touch of melodrama from beginning to end. Not by knowledge
or restraint are the insensate sensations of fashion reached.
Mr. Paterson's experience lay on the south side of the river, and the
district possesses peculiarities of its own. On the whole, I think, the
riverside streets there are rather more unhealthy than those in the East
End. Many houses stand below water-level, and in digging foundations I
have sometimes seen the black sludge of old marshes squirting up through
the holes, and even bringing with it embedded reeds that perhaps were
growing when Shakespeare acted there. The population is more distinctly
English than on the north side. Where the poverty is extreme it is more
helpless. Work as a whole is rather steadier, but not so good. The smell
is different and very characteristic, partly owing to the hop-markets.
Life seems to me rather sadder and more depressing there, with less of
gaiety and independence; but that may be because I am more intimate with
the East End, and intimacy with working people nearly always improves
their aspect. It is, indeed, fortunate for our sensational novelists
that they remain so ignorant of their theme, for otherwise murders,
monsters, and mysteries would disappear from their pages, and goodness
knows how they would make a living then!
It is not crime and savagery that characterise the unknown lands where
the working classes of London chiefly live. Matthew Arnold said our
lower classes were brutalised, and he was right, but not if by brutality
he meant cruelty, violence, or active sin. What characterises them and
their streets is poverty. Poverty and her twins, unhappiness and waste.
Under unhappiness, we may include the outward conditions of
discomfort--the crowded rooms, the foul air, the pervading dirt, the
perpetual stench of the poor. In winter the five or six children in a
bed grow practised in turning over all at the same time while still
asleep, so as not to disturb each other. In a hot summer the bugs drive
the families out of the rooms to sleep on the doorstep. Cleanliness is
an expensive luxury almost as far beyond poverty's reach as diamonds.
The foul skin, the unwashed clothes, the layer of greasy smuts, the
boots that once fitted someone, and are now held on by string, the
scraps of food bought by the pennyworth, the tea, condensed milk, fried
fish, bread and "strawberry flavour," the coal bought by the
"half-hundred," the unceasing noise, the absence of peace or rest, the
misery of sickness in a crowd--all such things may be counted among the
outward conditions of unhappiness, and only people who have never known
them would call them trivial. But by the unhappiness that springs from
poverty I mean far worse than these.
The definition of happiness as "an energy of the soul along the lines
of excellence, in a fully developed life" is ancient now, but I have
never found a better. From happiness so defined, poverty excludes our
working-classes in the lump, almost without exception. For them an
energy of the soul along the lines of excellence is almost unknown, and
a fully developed life impossible. In both these respects their
condition has probably become worse within the last century. If there is
a word of truth in what historians tell us, a working-man must certainly
have had a better chance of exercising an energy of his soul before the
development of factories and machinery. What energy of the personal soul
is exercised in a mill-hand, a tea-packer, a slop-tailor, or the watcher
of a thread in a machine? How can a man or woman engaged in such labour
for ten hours a day at subsistence wage enjoy a fully developed life? It
seems likely that the old-fashioned workman who made things chiefly with
his own hands and had some opportunity of personal interest in the work,
stood a better chance of the happiness arising from an energy of the
soul. His life was also more fully developed by the variety and interest
of his working material and surroundings. This is the point to which our
prophets who pour their lamentations over advancing civilisation should
direct their main attack, as, indeed, the best of them have done. For
certainly it is an unendurable result if the enormous majority of
civilised mankind are for ever to be debarred from the highest possible
The second offspring of poverty in these working regions of our city is
waste. And I have called waste the twin brother of unhappiness because
the two are very much alike. By waste I do not here mean the death-rate
of infants, though that stands at one in four. No one, except an
exploiter of labour, would desire a mere increase in the workpeople's
number without considering the quality of the increase. But by waste I
mean the multitudes of boys and girls who never get a chance of
fulfilling their inborn capacities. The country's greatest shame and
disaster arise from the custom which makes the line between the educated
and the uneducated follow the line between the rich and the poor, almost
without deviation. That a nature capable of high development should be
precluded by poverty from all development is the deepest of personal and
national disasters, though it happen, as it does happen, several
thousand times a year. Physical waste is bad enough--the waste of
strength and health that could easily be retained by fresh air, open
spaces, and decent food, and is so retained among well-to-do children.
This physical waste has already created such a broad distinction that
foreigners coming among us detect two species of the English people. But
the mental waste is worse. It is a subject that Mr. Paterson dwells
upon, and he speaks with authority, as one who has taught in the Board
Schools and knows the life of the people across the bridges from the
banana-box to the grave.
"Boys who might become classical scholars," he writes,
"stick labels on to parcels for ten years, others who have
literary gifts clear out a brewer's vat. Real thinkers work as
porters in metal warehouses, and after shouldering iron fittings
for eleven hours a day, find it difficult to set their minds in
order.... With even the average boy there is a marked waste
of mental capital between the ages of ten and thirty, and the
aggregate loss to the country is heavy indeed."
At fourteen, just when the "education" of well-to-do boys is beginning,
the working boy's education stops. For ten or eleven years he has been
happy at school. He has looked upon school as a place of enjoyment--of
interest, kindliness, warmth, cleanliness, and even quiet of a kind. The
school methods of education may not be the best. Mr. Paterson points out
all that is implied in the distinction between the "teachers" of the
Board Schools and the "masters" of the public schools. Too much is put
in, not enough drawn out from the child's own mind. The teacher cannot
think much of individual natures, when faced with a class of sixty. Yet
it would be difficult to overrate the service of the Board Schools as
training grounds for manners, and anyone who has known the change in our
army within twenty-five years will understand what I mean. At fourteen
the boy has often reached his highest mental and spiritual development.
When he leaves school, shades of the prison-house begin to close upon
him. He jumps at any odd job that will bring in a few shillings to the
family fund. He becomes beer-boy, barber's boy, van-boy, paper-boy, and
in a year or two he is cut out by the younger generation knocking at the
door. He has learnt nothing; he falls out of work; he wanders from place
to place. By the time he is twenty-two, just when the well-to-do are
"finishing their education," his mind is dulled, his hope and interest
gone, his only ambition is to get a bit of work and keep it. At the best
he develops into the average working-man of the regions I have called
unknown. Mr. Paterson thus describes the class:
"These are the steady bulk of the community, insuring the
peace of the district by their habits and opinions far more
effectively than any vigilance of police or government. Yet,
if they are indeed satisfactory, how low are the civic standards
of England, how fallen the ideals and beauties of Christianity!
No man that has dreams can rest content because the English
worker has reached his high level of regular work and rare
One does not rest content; far from it. But the perpetual wonder is, not
that "the lower classes are brutalised," but that this brutality is so
tempered with generosity and sweetness. It is not their crime that
surprises, but their virtue; not their turbulence or discontent, but
their inexplicable acquiescence. And yet there are still people who
sneer at "the mob," "the vulgar herd," "the great unwashed," as though
principles, gentility, and soap were privileges in reward of merit, and
not the accidental luck of money's chaotic distribution.
THE WORTH OF A PENNY
A year or two ago, some wondered why strike had arisen out of strike;
why the whole world of British labour had suddenly and all at once begun
to heave restlessly as though with earthquake; why the streams of
workpeople had in quick succession left the grooves along which they
usually ran from childhood to the grave. "It is entirely ridiculous,"
said the _Times_, with the sneer of educated scorn, "it is entirely
ridiculous to suppose that the whole industrial community has been
patiently enduring real grievances which are simultaneously discovered
to be intolerable." But to all outside the circle of the _Times_, the
only ridiculous part of the situation was that the industrial community
should patiently have endured their grievances so long.
That working people should simultaneously discover them to be
intolerable, is nothing strange. It is all very well to lie in gaol,
from which there seems no chance of escape. Treadmill, oakum, skilly,
and the rest--one may as well go through with them quietly, for fear of
something worse. But if word goes round that one or two prisoners have
crept out of gaol, who would not burn to follow? Would not grievances
then be simultaneously discovered to be intolerable? The seamen were but
a feeble lot; their union was poor, their combination loose. They were
cooped up within the walls of a great Employers' Federation, which
laughed at their efforts to scramble out. Yet they escaped; the walls
were found to be not so very high and strong; in one place or another
they crumbled away, and the prisoners escaped. They gained what they
wanted; their grievances were no longer intolerable. What working man or
woman on hearing of it did not burn to follow, and did not feel the
grievances of life harder to be tolerated than before? If that feeble
lot could win their pennyworth of freedom, who might not expect
deliverance? People talk of "strike fever" as though it were an
infection; and so it is. It is the infection of a sudden hope.
After the sneer, the _Times_ proceeded to attribute the strikes to a
natural desire for idleness during the hot weather. Seldom has so base
an accusation been brought against our country, even by her worst
enemies. The country consists almost entirely of working people, the
other classes being a nearly negligible fraction in point of numbers.
The restlessness and discontent were felt far and wide among nearly all
the working people, and to suggest that hundreds of thousands
contemplated all the risks and miseries of stopping work because they
wanted to be idle in the shade displayed the ignorance our educated
classes often display in speaking of the poor. For I suppose the thing
was too cruel for a joke.
Hardly less pitiable than such ignorance was the nonchalant excuse of
those who pleaded: "We have our grievances too. We all want something
that we haven't got. We should all like our incomes raised. But we don't
go about striking and rioting." It reminds one of Lord Rosebery's
contention, some fifteen years ago, that in point of pleasure all men
are fairly equal, and the rich no happier than the poor. It sounds very
pretty and philosophic, but those who know what poverty is know it to be
absolutely untrue. If Lord Rosebery had ever tried poverty, he would
have known it was untrue. All the working people know it, and they know
that the grievances in which one can talk about income are never to be
compared with the grievances which hang on the turn of a penny, or the
chance of a shilling more or a shilling less per week.
To a man receiving L20 a week the difference of L2 one way or other is
important, but it is not vital. If his income drops to L18 a week he and
his family have just as much to eat and drink and wear; probably they
live in the same house as before; the only change is a different place
for the summer holiday, and, perhaps, the dress-circle instead of the
stalls at a theatre. To a man with L200 a week the loss of L20 a week
hardly makes any difference at all. He may grumble; he may drop a motor,
or a yacht, but in his ordinary daily life he feels no change. To a
docker making twenty shillings a week the difference of two shillings is
not merely important, it is vital. The addition of it may mean three
rooms for the family instead of two; it may mean nine shillings a week
instead of seven to feed five mouths; it may mean meat twice a week, or
half as much more bread and margarine than before, or a saving for
second-hand clothes, and perhaps threepenn'orth of pleasure. In full
work a docker at the old 7d. an hour would make more than twenty
shillings a week; but the full weeks are rare, and about eighteen
shillings would be all he could get on an average. The extra penny an
hour for three days' work might bring him in about half a crown. To him
and to his wife and children the difference was not merely important, it
Or take the case of the 15,000 women who struck for a rise in South
London, and got it. We may put their average wage at nine shillings a
week. In the accounts of a woman who is keeping a family of three,
including herself, on that wage, a third of the money goes to the rent
of one room. Two shillings of the rest go for light, fuel, and soda.
That leaves four shillings a week to feed and clothe three people. Even
Lord Rosebery could hardly maintain that the opportunities for pleasure
on that amount were equal to his own. But the women jam-makers won an
advance of two shillings by their strike; the box-makers from 1_s_.
3_d_. to three shillings; even the glue and size workers got a shilling
rise. It was hardly up to Lord Rosebery's standard yet. It did not
represent the _Times_ paradise of sitting idle in the shade. But think
what it means when week by week you have jealously watched nine solid
pennies going in bread, nine more in meat, and another six in tea! Or
think what such an addition means to those working-women from the North,
who at the same time protested in Trafalgar Square against the
compulsory insurance because the payment of threepence a week would lose
them two of their dinners--twice the penn'orth of bread and ha'porth of
cheese that they always enjoyed for dinner!
When I was assisting in an inquiry into wages and expenditure some years
ago, one head of a family added as a note at the foot of his budget: "I
see that we always spend more than we earn, but as we are never in debt
I attribute this result to the thriftiness of my wife." Behind that
sentence a history of grievances patiently endured is written, but only
the _Times_ would wonder that such grievances are discovered to be
intolerable the moment a gleam of hope appears. When the _Times_, in the
same article, went on to protest that if the railwaymen struck, they
would be kicking not only against the Companies but "against the nature
of things," I have no clear idea of the meaning. The nature of things is
no doubt very terrible and strong, but for working people the most
terrible and strongest part of it is poverty. All else is sophisticated;
here is the thing itself. One remembers two sentences in Mr. Shaw's
preface to _Major Barbara_:
"The crying need of the nation is not for better morals,
cheaper bread, temperance, liberty, culture, redemption of
fallen sisters and erring brothers, nor the grace, love, and
fellowship of the Trinity, but simply for enough money. And
the evil to be attacked is not sin, suffering, greed, priestcraft,
kingcraft, demagogy, monopoly, ignorance, drink, war, pestilence,
nor any other of the scapegoats which reformers sacrifice,
but simply poverty."
Strikes are the children of Poverty by Hope. For a long time past the
wealth of the country has rapidly increased. Gold has poured into it
from South Africa, dividends from all the world; trade has boomed, great
fortunes have been made; luxury has redoubled; the standard of living
among the rich has risen high. The working people know all this; they
can see it with their eyes, and they refuse to be satisfied with the
rich man's blessing on the poor. What concerns them more than the
increase in the quantity of gold is the natural result in the shrinkage
of the penny. It is no good getting sevenpence an hour for your work if
it does not buy so much as the "full, round orb of the docker's
tanner," which Mr. John Burns saw rising over the dock gates more than
twenty years ago, when he stood side by side with Ben Tillett and Tom
Mann, and when Sir H. Llewellyn Smith and Mr. Vaughan Nash wrote the
story of the contest. If prosperity has increased, so have prices, and
what cost a tanner then costs eightpence now, or more than that. To keep
pace with such a change is well worth a strike, since nothing but
strikes can avail. So vital is the worth of a penny; so natural is it to
kick against the nature of things, when their nature takes the form of
steady poverty amid expanding wealth. That is the simultaneous discovery
which raised the ridicule of the _Times_--that, and the further
discovery that, in Carlyle's phrase, "the Empire of old Mammon is
everywhere breaking up." The intangible walls that resisted so
obstinately are fading away. The power of wealth is suspected. Strike
after strike secures its triumphant penny, and no return of Peterloo, or
baton charges on the Liverpool St. George's Hall, driving the silent
crowd over the edge of its steep basis "as rapidly and continually as
water down a steep rock," as was seen during the strikes of August 1911,
can now check the infection of such a hope. It was an old saying of the
men who won our political liberties that the redress of grievances must
precede supply. The working people are standing now for a different
phase of liberty, but their work is their supply, and having
simultaneously discovered their grievances to be intolerable, they are
making the same old use of the ancient precept.
"Oh, que j'aime le militaire!" sighed the old French song, no doubt with
a touch of frivolity; but the sentiment moves us all. Sages have thought
the army worth preserving for a dash of scarlet and a roll of the
kettledrum; in every State procession it is the implements of death and
the men of blood that we parade; and not to nursemaids only is the
soldier irresistible. The glamour of romance hangs round him. Terrible
with knife and spike and pellet he stalks through this puddle of a
world, disdainful of drab mankind. Multitudes may toil at keeping alive,
drudging through their scanty years for no hope but living and giving
life; he shares with very few the function of inflicting death, and
moves gaily clad and light of heart. "No doubt, some civilian
occupations are very useful," said the author of an old drill-book; I
think it was Lord Wolseley, and it was a large admission for any officer
to have made. It was certainly Lord Wolseley who wrote in his _Soldier's
Pocket-Book_ that the soldier "must believe his duties are the noblest
that fall to man's lot":
"He must be taught to despise all those of civil life. Soldiers,
like missionaries, must be fanatics. An army thoroughly imbued
with fanaticism can be killed, but never suffer disgrace;
Napoleon, in speaking of it, said, 'Il en faut pour se faire tuer.'"
And not only to get himself killed, but to kill must the soldier be
imbued with this fanaticism and self-glory. In the same spirit Mr.
Kipling and Mr. Fletcher have told us in their _History of England_ that
there is only one better trade than being a soldier, and that is being a
"To serve King and country in the army is the second best
profession for Englishmen of all classes; to serve in the navy,
I suppose we all admit, is the best."
As we all admit it, certainly it does seem very hard on all classes that
there should be anything else to do in the world besides soldiering and
sailoring. It is most deplorable that, in Lord Wolseley's words, some
civilian occupations are very useful; for, if they were not, we might
all have a fine time playing at soldiers--real soldiers, with
guns!--from a tumultuous cradle to a bloody grave. If only we could
abolish the civilian and his ignoble toil, what a rollicking life we
should all enjoy upon this earthly field of glory!
Such was the fond dream of many an innocent heart, when in August of
1911 we saw the soldiers distributed among the city stations or posted
at peaceful junctions where suburb had met suburb for years in the
morning, and parted at evening without a blow. There the sentry stood,
let us say, at a gate of Euston station. There he stood, embodying
glory, enjoying the second best profession for Englishmen of all
classes. He was dressed in clean khaki and shiny boots. On his head he
bore a huge dome of fluffy bearskin, just the thing for a fashionable
muff; oppressive in the heat, no doubt, but imparting additional
grandeur to his mien. There he stood, emblematic of splendour, and on
each side of him were encamped distressful little families, grasping
spades and buckets and seated on their corded luggage, unable to move
because of the railway strike, while behind him flared a huge
advertisement that said, "The Sea is Calling you." Along the kerbstone a
few yards in front were ranged the children of the district, row upon
row, uncombed, in rags, filthy from head to foot, but silent with joy
and admiration as they gazed upon the face of war. For many a gentle
girl and boy that Friday and Saturday were the days of all their
lives--the days on which the pretty soldiers came.
Nor was it only the charm of nice clothes and personal appearance that
attracted them. Horror added its tremulous delight. There the sentry
stood, ready to kill people at a word. His right knee was slightly bent,
and against his right foot he propped the long wooden instrument that he
killed with. In little pouches round his belt he carried the pointed
bits of metal that the instrument shoots out quicker than arrows. It was
whispered that some of them were placed already inside the gun itself,
and could be fired as fast as a teacher could count, and each would kill
a man. And at the end of the gun gleamed a knife, about as long as a
butcher's carving-knife. It would go through a fattish person's body as
through butter, and the point would stick a little way through the
clothes at his back. Down each side of the knife ran a groove to let the
blood out, so that the man might die quicker. It was a pleasure to look
at such a thing. It was better than watching the sheep and oxen driven
into the Aldgate slaughter-houses. It was almost as good as the glimpse
of the executioner driving up to Pentonville in his dog-cart the evening
before an execution.
Few have given the Home Office credit for the amount of interesting and
cheap amusement it then afforded by parcelling out the country among the
military authorities. In a period of general lassitude and holiday, it
supplied the populace with a spectacle more widely distributed than the
Coronation, and equally encouraging to loyalty. For it is not only
pleasure that the sight of the soldiers in their midst provides: it
gives every man and woman and child an opportunity of realising the
significance of uniforms. Here are soldiers, men sprung from the working
classes, speaking the same language, and having the same thoughts; men
who have been brought up in poor homes, have known hunger, and have
nearly all joined the army because they were out of work. And now that
they are dressed in a particular way, they stand there with guns and
those beautiful gleaming knives, ready, at a word, to kill people--to
kill their own class, their own friends and relations, if it so happens.
The word of command from an officer is alone required, and they would do
it. People talk about the reading of the Riot Act and the sounding of
the bugles in warning before the shooting begins; but no such warning is
necessary. Lord Mansfield laid it down in 1780 that the Riot Act was but
"a step in terrorism and of gentleness." There is no need for such
gentleness. At an officer's bare word, a man in uniform must shoot. And
all for a shilling a day, with food and lodging! To the inexperienced
intelligence of men and women, the thing seems incredible, and the
country owes a debt of gratitude to the Home Office for showing the
whole working population that it is true. Certainly, the soldiers
themselves strongly object to being put to this use. Their Red Book of
instructions insists that the primary duty of keeping order rests with
the civil power. It lays it down that soldiers should never be required
to act except in cases where the riot cannot reasonably be expected to
be quelled without resorting to the risk of inflicting death. But the
Home Office, in requiring soldiers to act throughout the whole country
at points where no riot at all was reasonably expected, gave us all
during that railway strike an object-lesson in the meaning of uniform
more impressive than the pictures on a Board School wall. Mr. Brailsford
has well said, "the discovery of tyrants is that, for a soldier's
motive, a uniform will serve as well as an idea."
Not a century has passed since the days when, as the noblest mind of
those times wrote, a million of hungry operative men rose all up, came
all out into the streets, and--stood there. "Who shall compute," he
"Who shall compute the waste and loss, the destruction of
every sort, that was produced in the Manchester region by
Peterloo alone! Some thirteen unarmed men and women cut
down--the number of the slain and maimed is very countable;
but the treasury of rage, burning, hidden or visible, in all hearts
ever since, more or less perverting the effort and aim of all
hearts ever since, is of unknown extent. 'How came ye among
us, in your cruel armed blindness, ye unspeakable County
Yeomanry, sabres flourishing, hoofs prancing, and slashed us
down at your brute pleasure; deaf, blind to all _our_ claims and
woes and wrongs; of quick sight and sense to your own claims
only! There lie poor, sallow, work-worn weavers, and complain
no more now; women themselves are slashed and sabred;
howling terror fills the air; and ye ride prosperous, very
victorious--ye unspeakable: give _us_ sabres too, and then come
on a little!' Such are Peterloos."
The parallel, if not exact, is close enough. During popular movements
in Germany and Russia, the party of freedom has sometimes hoped that the
troops would come over to their side--would "fraternise," as the
expression goes. The soldiers in those countries are even more closely
connected with the people than our own, for about one in three of the
young men pass into the army, whether they like it or not, and in two or
three years return to ordinary life. Yet the hope of "fraternisation"
has nearly always been in vain. Half a dozen here and there may stand
out to defend their brothers and their homes. But the risk is too great,
the bonds of uniform and habit too strong. Hitherto in England, we have
jealously preserved our civil liberties from the dragooning of military
districts, and the few Peterloos of our history, compared with the
suppressions in other countries, prove how justified our jealousy has
been. It may be true--we wish it were always true, that, as Carlyle
says, "if your Woolwich grapeshot be but eclipsing Divine Justice, and
the God's radiance itself gleam recognisable athwart such grapeshot,
then, yes, then, is the time coming for fighting and attacking." We all
wish that were always true, and that the people of every country would
always act upon it. But for the moment, we are grateful for the reminder
that, whether it eclipses Divine Justice or not, the grapeshot is still
there, and that a man in uniform, at a word of command, will shoot his
"OUR FATHERS HAVE TOLD US"
We have forgotten, else it would be impossible they should try to befool
us. We have forgotten the terrible years when England lay cold and
starving under the clutch of the landlords and their taxes on food.
Terror is soon forgotten, for otherwise life could not endure. Not
seventy years have gone since that clutch was loosened, but the iron
which entered into the souls of our fathers is no more remembered. How
many old labourers, old operatives, or miners are now left to recall the
wretchedness of that toiling and starving childhood before the corn-tax
was removed? Few are remaining now, and they speak little and will soon
be gone. The horror of it is scattered like the night, and we think no
more of it, nor imagine its reality. It seems very long ago, like
Waterloo or the coach to York--so long ago that we can almost hope it
was not true.
And yet our fathers have told us of it. They and their fathers lived
through it at its worst. Only six years have passed since Mrs. Cobden
Unwin collected the evidence of aged labourers up and down the country,
and issued their piteous memories in the book called _The Hungry
'Forties_. Ill-spelt, full of mistakes, the letters are stronger
documents than the historian's eloquence. In every detail of misery, one
letter agrees with the other. In one after another we read of the
quartern loaf ranging from 7_d_. to 11-1/2_d_., and heavy, sticky,
stringy bread at that; or we read of the bean porridge or grated potato
that was their chief food; or, if they were rather better off, they told
of oatmeal and a dash of red herring--one red herring among three people
was thought a luxury. And then there was the tea--sixpence an ounce, and
one ounce to last a family for a week, eked out with the scrapings of
burnt crusts to give the water a colour. One man told how his parents
went to eat raw snails in the fields. Another said the look of a
butcher's shop was all the meat they ever got. "A ungry belly makes a
man desprit," wrote one, but for poaching a pheasant the hungry man was
imprisoned fourteen years. Seven shillings to nine shillings a week was
the farm labourer's wage, and it took twenty-six shillings then to buy
the food that seven would buy now. What a vivid and heartrending picture
of cottage life under the landlord's tax is given in one old man's
memory of his childish hunger and his mother's pitiful self-denial! "We
was not allowed free speech," he writes, "so I would just pull mother's
face when at meals, and then she would say, 'Boy, I can't eat this
crust,' and O! the joy it would bring my little heart."
We have forgotten it. Wretched as is the daily life of a large part of
our working people--the only people who really count in a country's
prosperity--we can no longer realise what it was when wages were so low
and food so dear that the struggle with starvation never ceased. But in
those days there were men who saw and realised it. The poor die and
leave no record. Their labour is consumed, their bodies rot unnamed, and
their habitations are swept away. They do not tell their public secret,
and at the most their existence is recorded in the registers of the
parish, the workhouse, or the gaol. But from time to time men have
arisen with the heart to see and the gift of speech, and in the years
when the oppression of the landlords was at its worst a few such men
arose. We do not listen to them now, for no one cares to hear of misery.
And we do not listen, because most of them wrote in verse, and verse is
not liked unless it tells of love or beauty or the sticky pathos of
drawing-room songs. But it so happens that two of the first who saw and
spoke also sang of love and beauty with a power and sweetness that
compel us to listen still. And so, in turning their well-known pages, we
suddenly come upon things called "The Masque of Anarchy" or "The Age of
Bronze," and, with a moment's wonder what they are all about, we pass on
to "The Sensitive Plant," or "When We Two Parted." As we pass, we may
just glance at the verses and read:
"What is Freedom?--ye can tell
That which slavery is, too well--
For its very name has grown
To an echo of your own.
'Tis to work and have such pay
As just keeps life from day to day
In your limbs....
'Tis to see your children weak
With their mothers pine and peak,
When the winter winds are bleak--
They are dying whilst I speak."
Or, turning on, perhaps, in search of the "Ode to the West Wind," we
casually notice the song beginning:
"Men of England, wherefore plough
For the lords who lay you low?
Wherefore weave with toil and care
The rich robes your tyrants wear?
Wherefore feed, and clothe, and save,
From the cradle to the grave,
Those ungrateful drones who would
Drain your sweat--nay, drink your blood?"
And so to the conclusion:
"With plough and spade, and hoe and loom,
Trace your grave, and build your tomb,
And weave your winding-sheet, till fair
England be your sepulchre."
Or else, in looking once more for that exquisite scene between Haidee
and Don Juan on the beach, we fall unawares upon these lines:
"Year after year they voted cent. per cent.,
Blood, sweat, and tear-wrung millions--why? for rent!
They roared, they dined, they drank, they swore they meant
To die for England--why then live?--for rent!
* * * * *
And will they not repay the treasures lent?
No; down with everything, and up with rent!
Their good, ill, health, wealth, joy, or discontent,
Being, end, aim, religion--rent, rent, rent!"
The men who uttered such lines were driven from their class, their
homes, and their country. They were despised and hated, like all who
protest against oppression and remind the smug world of uncomfortable
things. But they were great poets. One of them was our sweetest singer,
the other was, when he wrote, the most conspicuous figure in Europe, and
the most shattering force. Even England, which cares so little for her
greatest inheritance of passionate intellect, cannot yet forget them.
But others who sang the same terrible theme she has long forgotten, or
she keeps them only on the shelves of curious and dusty investigators.
Such men, I mean, as Ebenezer Elliot, Ebenezer Jones, Ernest Jones,
Thomas Cooper, William James Linton, and Gerald Massey, who so lately
They were not high-born, nor were they shining poets like the twin stars
of freedom whom I have quoted. Little scholarship was theirs, little
perfection of song. Some had taught themselves their letters at the
forge, some in the depths of the mine, some sang their most daring lines
in prison cells where they were not allowed even to write down the
words. Nearly all knew poverty and hunger at first hand; nearly all were
persecuted for righteousness' sake. For maintaining the cause of the
poor and the helpless they were mocked and reviled; scorn was their
reward. The governing classes whose comfort they disturbed wished them
dead; so did the self-righteous classes whose conscience they ruffled.
That is the common fate of any man or woman who probes a loathsome evil,
too long skimmed over. The peculiarity of these men was that, when they
were driven to speak, they spoke in lines that flew on wings through the
country. Indignation made their verse, and the burning memory of the
wrongs they had seen gave it a power beyond its own expression. Which
shall we recall of those ghostly poems, once so quick with flame? Still,
at moments of deep distress or public wrong-doing, we may hear the echo
of the Corn-law Rhymer's anthem:
"When wilt thou save the people?
O God of mercy! when?
Not kings and lords, but nations!
Not thrones and crowns, but men!"
Or if we read his first little book of rhymes, that may be had for
twopence now, we shall find the pictures of the life that was lived
under Protection--the sort of life the landlords and their theorists
invite us to enact again. From his "Black Hole of Calcutta" we take the
"Bread-tax'd weaver, all can see
What that tax hath done for thee,
And thy children, vilely led,
Singing hymns for shameful bread,
Till the stones of every street
Know their little naked feet."
Or let us take one verse from the lines, "O Lord, how long?"
"Child, what hast thou with sleep to do?
Awake, and dry thine eyes!
Thy tiny hands must labour too;
Our bread is tax'd--arise!
Arise, and toil long hours twice seven,
For pennies two or three;
Thy woes make angels weep in Heaven--
But England still is free."
Or we might recall "The Coming Cry," by Ebenezer Jones, with its great
"Perhaps it's better than starvation,--once we'll pray, and then
We'll all go building workhouses, million, million men!"
Or we might recall Ernest Jones and his "Song of the 'Lower Classes,'"
where the first verse runs:
"We plow and sow, we're so very, very low,
That we delve in the dirty clay;
Till we bless the plain with the golden grain
And the vale with the fragrant hay.
Our place we know, we're so very, very low,
'Tis down at the landlord's feet;
We're not too low the grain to grow,
But too low the bread to eat."
Or shall we take one verse from the terrible "Easter Hymn," written by
the same true-hearted prisoner for freedom:
"Like royal robes on the King of Jews,
We're mocked with rights that we may not use;
'Tis the people so long have been crucified,
But the thieves are still wanting on either side.
_Chorus_--Mary and Magdalen, Peter and John,
Swell the sad burden, and bear it on."
The iteration of the idea throughout the poem is tremendous in effect,
and the idea comes close to Swinburne's ode, "Before a Crucifix":
"O sacred head, O desecrate,
O labour-wounded feet and hands,
O blood poured forth in pledge to fate
Of nameless lives in divers lands,
O slain and spent and sacrificed
People, the grey-grown speechless Christ."
Time would fail to tell of Linton's "Torch-Dance of Liberty," or of
Massey's "Men of Forty-eight," and there are many more--the utterance of
men who spoke from the heart, knowing in their own lives what suffering
was. But let us rather turn for a moment to the prose of a man who, also
reared in hardship's school, had learnt to succour misery. Speaking at
the time when Protection was biting and clawing the ground in the last
death-struggle, as all men but the landlords hoped, Carlyle asked this
question of the people:
"From much loud controversy, and Corn-law debating, there
rises, loud though inarticulate, once more in these years, this
very question among others, Who made the Land of England?
Who made it, this respectable English Land, wheat-growing,
metalliferous, carboniferous, which will let readily, hand over
hand, for seventy millions or upwards, as it here lies: who did
make it? 'We,' answer the much-consuming Aristocracy;
'We!' as they ride in, moist with the sweat of Melton Mowbray:
'It is we that made it, or are the heirs, assigns and representatives
of those who did!'--My brothers, You? Everlasting honour
to you, then; and Corn-laws many as you will, till your own
deep stomachs cry Enough, or some voice of Human pity for
our famine bids you Hold!"
So our fathers have told us, and we have forgotten. It is all very long
ago, and the Protectionist says that times have changed. Certainly times
have changed, and it was deliverance from Protection that changed them
most. But if landowners have changed, if they are now more alien from
the people, and richer from other sources than land, we have no reason
to suppose them less greedy or more pitiful; nor can a nation live on
the off-chance of pity. Seventy years ago the net encompassed the land.
We have seen how the people suffered under its entanglement. In the
sight of all, landowners and speculators are now trying to spread that
net again. Are we to suppose the English people have not the hereditary
instinct of sparrows to keep them outside its meshes?
THE GRAND JURY
When Mr. Clarkson, of the Education Office, received a summons to attend
the Grand Jury, or to answer the contrary at his peril, he was glad.
"For now," he thought, "I shall share in the duties of democracy and be
brought face to face with the realities of life."
"Mrs. Wilson," he said to the landlady, as she brought in his breakfast,
"what does this summons mean by describing the Court as being in the
suburbs of the City of London? Is there a Brixton Branch?"
"O Lordy me!" cried the landlady, "I do hope, sir, as you've not got
yourself mixed up with no such things; but the Court's nigh against St.
Paul's, as I know from going there just before my poor nephew passed
into retirement, as done him no good."
"The summons," Mr. Clarkson went on, "the summons says I'm to inquire,
present, do, and execute all and singular things with which I may be
then and there enjoined. Why should only the law talk like that?"
"Begging your pardon, sir," replied the landlady, "I sometimes do think
it comes of their dressing so old-fashioned. But I'd ask it of you not
to read me no more of such like, if you'd be so obliging. For it do make
me come over all of a tremble."
"I wonder if her terror arises from the hideousness of the legal style
or from association of ideas?" thought Mr. Clarkson as he opened a
Milton, of which he always read a few lines every morning to dignify the
On the appointed date, he set out eastward with an exhilarating sense of
change, and thoroughly enjoyed the drive down Holborn among the crowd of
City men. "It's rather strangely like going to the seaside," he remarked
to the man next him on the motor-'bus. The man asked him if he had come
from New Zealand to see the decorations, and arrived late. "Oh no," said
Mr. Clarkson, "I seldom think the Colonies interesting, and I distrust
decoration in every form."
It was unfortunate, but the moment he mounted the Court stairs, the
decoration struck him. There were the expected scenes, historic and
emblematic of Roman law, blindfold Justice, the Balance, the Sword, and
other encouraging symbols. But in one semicircle he especially noticed a
group of men, women, and children, dancing to the tabor's sound in naked
freedom. "Please, could you tell me," he asked of a stationary
policeman, "whether that scene symbolises the Age of Innocence, before
Law was needed, or the Age of Anarchy, when Law will be needed no
"Couldn't rightly say," answered the policeman, looking up sideways;
"but I do wish they'd cover them people over more decent. They're a
houtrage on respectable witnesses."
"All art--" Mr. Clarkson was beginning, when the policeman said "Grand
Jury?" and pushed him through a door into a large court. A vision of
middle-age was there gathering, and a murmur of complaint filled the
room--the hurried breakfast, the heat, the interrupted business, the
reported large number of prisoners, likely to occupy two days, or even
Silence was called, and four or five elderly gentlemen in
black-and-scarlet robes--"wise in their wigs, and flamboyant as
flamingoes," as a daily paper said of the judges at the Coronation--some
also decorated with gilded chains and deep fur collars, in spite of the
heat, entered from a side door and took their seats upon a raised
platform. Each carried in his hand a nosegay of flowers, screwed up
tight in a paper frill with lace-work round the edges, like the bouquets
that enthusiasts or the management throw to actresses.
"Are those flowers to cheer the prisoners?" Mr. Clarkson whispered, "or
are they the rudimentary survivals of the incense that used to
counteract the smell and infection of gaol-fever?"
"Covent Garden," was the reply, and the list of jurors was called. The
first twenty-three were sent into another room to select their foreman,
and, though Mr. Clarkson had not the slightest desire to be chosen, he
observed that the other jurors did not even look in his direction.
Finally, a foreman was elected, no one knew for what reasons, and all
went back to the Court to be "charged." A gentleman in black-and-scarlet
made an hour's speech, reviewing the principal cases with as much
solemnity as if the Grand Jury's decisions would affect the Last
Judgment, and Mr. Clarkson began to realise his responsibility so
seriously that when the jurors were dismissed to their duties, he took
his seat before a folio of paper, a pink blotting-pad, and two clean
quill pens, with a resolve to maintain the cause of justice, whatever
"Page eight, number twenty-one," shouted the black-robed usher, who
guided the jurors as a dog guides sheep, and wore the cheerful air of
congenial labour successfully performed. Turning up the reference in the
book of cases presented to each juror, Mr. Clarkson found: "Charles
Jones, 35, clerk; forging and uttering, knowing the same to be forged, a
receipt for money, to wit, a receipt for fees on a plaint note of the
Fulham County Court, with intent to defraud."
"This threatens to be a very abstruse case," he remarked to a red-faced
juror on his right.
"A half of bitter would elucidate it wonderful to my mind," was the
But already a policeman had been sworn, and given his evidence with the
decisiveness of a gramophone.
"Any questions?" said the foreman, looking round the table. No one
"Signify, gentlemen, signify!" cried the genial usher, and all but Mr.
Clarkson held up a hand.
"Two, four, six, eight, ten, twelve," counted the usher, totting up the
hands till he reached a majority. "True Bill, True Bill! Next case. Page
eleven, number fifty-two."
"Do you mean to tell me that is all?" asked Mr. Clarkson, turning to his
"Say no more, and I'll make it a quart," replied the red-faced man,
ticking off the last case and turning up the new one, in which a doctor
was already giving his evidence against a woman charged with the wilful
murder of her newly-born male child.
"Signify, gentlemen, signify!" cried the usher. "Two, four, six, eight,
ten, twelve. True Bill, True Bill! Next case. Page fourteen, number
"Stop a moment," stammered Mr. Clarkson, half rising; "if you please,
stop one moment. I wish to ask if we are justified in rushing through
questions of life and death in this manner. What do we know of this
woman, for instance--her history, her distress, her state of mind?"
"Sit down!" cried some. "Oh, shut it!" cried others. All looked at him
with the amused curiosity of people in a tramcar looking at a talkative
child. The usher bustled across the room, and said in a loud and
reassuring whisper: "All them things has got nothing to do with you,
sir. Those is questions for the Judge and Petty Jury upstairs. The
magistrates have sat on all these cases already and committed them for
trial; so all you've got to do is to find a True Bill, and you can't go
"If we can't go wrong, there's no merit in going right," protested Mr.
"Next case. Page fourteen, number seventy-two," shouted the usher again,
and as the witness was a Jew, his hat was sent for. "There's a lot of
history behind that hat," said Mr. Clarkson, wishing to propitiate
"Wish that was all there was behind it," said the juror on his left. The
Jew finished his evidence and went away. The foreman glanced round, and
the usher had already got as far as "Signify," when a venerable juror,
prompted by Mr. Clarkson's example, interposed.
"I should like to ask that witness one further question," he said in a
fine Scottish accent, and after considerable shouting, the Jew was
"I should like to ask you, my man," said the venerable juror, "how you
spell your name?" The name was spelt, the juror carefully inscribed it
on a blank space opposite the charge, sighed with relief, and looked
round. "Signify, gentlemen, signify!" cried the usher. "Two, four, six,
eight, ten, twelve. True Bill, True Bill! Next case. Page six, number
Number eleven was a genuine murder case, and sensation pervaded the room
when the murdered man's wife was brought in, weeping. She sobbed out the
oath, and the foreman, wishing to be kind, said, encouragingly, "State
briefly what you know of this case."
She sobbed out her story, and was led away. The foreman glanced round
"I think we ought to hear the doctor," said the red-faced man. The
doctor was called and described a deep incised wound, severing certain
"I think we ought to hear the constable," said the red-faced man, and
there was a murmur of agreement. A policeman came in, carrying a brown
paper parcel. Having described the arrest, he unwrapped a long knife,
which was handed round the tables for inspection. When it reached the
red-faced juror, he regarded the blade closely up and down, with
gloating satisfaction. "Are those stains blood?" he asked the policeman.
"Yes, sir; them there is the poor feller's blood."
The red-faced man looked again, and suddenly turning upon Mr. Clarkson,
went through a pantomime of plunging the knife into his throat. At Mr.
Clarkson's horrified recoil he laughed himself purple.
"Well said the Preacher you may know a man by his laughter," Mr.
Clarkson murmured, while the red-faced man patted him amicably on the
"No offence, I hope; no offence!" he said. "Come and have some lunch. I
always must, and I always do eat a substantial lunch. Nice, juicy cut
from the joint, and a little dry sherry? What do you say?"
"Thank you very much indeed," said Mr. Clarkson, instantly benign. "You
are most kind, but I always have coffee and a roll and butter."
"O my God!" exclaimed the red-faced man, and speaking across Mr.
Clarkson to another substantial juror, he entered into discussion on the
comparative merits of dry sherry and champagne-and-bitters.
Soon after two they both returned in the comfortable state of mind
produced by the solution of doubt. But Mr. Clarkson's doubts had not
been solved, and his state of mind was far from comfortable. All through
the lunch hour he had been tortured by uncertainty. A plain duty
confronted him, but how could he face it? He hated a scene. He abhorred
publicity as he abhorred the glaring advertisements in the streets. He
had never suffered so much since the hour before he had spoken at the
Oxford Union on the question whether the sense for beauty can be
imparted by instruction. He closed his eyes. He felt the sweat standing
on his forehead. And still the cases went on. "Two, four, six, eight,
ten, twelve. True Bill. True Bill. Two, four, six, eight...."
"Now then, sleepy!" cried the red-faced man in his ear, giving him a
genial dig with his elbow. Mr. Clarkson quivered at the touch, but he
"Gentlemen," he began, "I wish to protest against the continuation of
The jury became suddenly alert, and his voice was drowned in chaos.
"Order, order! Chair, chair!" they shouted. "Everybody's doing it!" sang
"I call that gentleman to order," said the foreman, rising with
dignity. "He has previously interrupted and delayed our proceedings,
without bringing fresh light to bear upon our investigations. After the
luncheon interval, I was pleased to observe that for one cause or
another--I repeat, for one cause or another--he was distinctly--shall I
say somnolent, gentlemen? Yes, I will say somnolent. And I wish to
inform him that the more somnolent he remains, the better we shall all
"Hear, hear! Quite true!" shouted the jury.
"Does it appear to you, sir, fitting to sit here wasting time?" Mr.
Clarkson continued, with diminishing timidity. "Does it seem to you a
proper task for twenty-three apparently rational beings--"
"Twenty-two! Twenty-two!" cried the red-faced man, adding up the jurors
with the end of a pen, and ostentatiously omitting Mr. Clarkson.
The jurors shook with laughter. They wiped tears from their eyes. They
rolled their heads on the pink blotting-paper in their joy. When quiet
was restored, the foreman proceeded:
"I have already ruled that gentleman out of order, and I warn him that
if he perseveres in his contumacious disregard of common decency and the
chair, I shall proceed to extremities as the law directs. We are here,
gentlemen, to fulfil a public duty as honourable British citizens, and
here we will remain until that duty is fulfilled, or we will know the
He glanced defiantly round, assuming an aspect worthy of the last stand
at Maiwand. Looking at Mr. Clarkson as turkeys might look at a stray
canary, the jurors expressed their applause.
But the genial usher took pity, and whispered across the table to him,
"It'll all come right, sir; it'll all come right. You wait a bit. The
Grand Jury always rejects one case before it's done; sometimes two."
And sure enough, next morning, while Mr. Clarkson was reading Burke's
speeches which he had brought with him, one of the jurors objected to
the evidence in the eighty-seventh case. "We cannot be too cautious,
gentlemen," he said, "in arriving at a decision in these delicate
matters. The apprehension of blackmail in relation to females hangs over
every living man in this country."
"Delicate matters; blackmail; relation to females; great apprehension of
blackmail in these delicate matters," murmured the jury, shaking their
heads, and they threw out the Bill with the consciousness of an
independent and righteous deed.
Soon after midday, the last of the cases was finished, and having
signified a True Bill for nearly the hundredth time, the jurors were
conducted into the Court where a prisoner was standing in the dock for
his real trial. As though they had saved a tottering State, the Judge
thanked them graciously for their services, and they were discharged.
"Just a drop of something to show there's no ill-feeling?" said the
red-faced man as they passed into the street.
"Thank you very much," replied Mr. Clarkson warmly. "I assure you I have
not the slightest ill-feeling of any kind. But I seldom drink."
"Bless my soul!" said the red-faced man. "Then, what _do_ you do?"
A NEW CONSCRIPTION
When the Territorial exclaims that, for his part, he would refuse to
inhabit a planet on which there was no hope of war, the peaceful
listener shudderingly charges the inventor of Territorials with
promoting a bloodthirsty mind. After all the prayers for peace in our
time--prayers in which even Territorials are expected to join on church
parade--it appears an impious folly to appraise war as a necessity for
human happiness. Or if indeed it be a blessing, however much in
disguise, why not boldly pray to have the full benefit of it in our
time, instead of passing it on, like unearned increment, for the
advantage of posterity? Such a thing is unimaginable. A prayer for war
would make people jump; it would empty a church quicker than the
collection. Nevertheless, it is probable that the great majority of
every congregation does in its heart share the Territorial's opinion,
and, if there were no possibility of war ever again anywhere in the
world, they would find life upon this planet a trifle flat.
The impulse to hostilities arises not merely from the delight in scenes
of blood enjoyed at a distance, though that is the commonest form of
military ardour, and in many a bloody battle the finest fruits of
victory are reaped over newspapers and cigars at the bar or in the back
garden. There is no such courage as glows in the citizen's bosom when he
peruses the telegrams of slaughter, just as there is no such ferocity as
he imbibes from the details of a dripping murder. "War! War! Bloody war!
North, South, East, or West!" cries the soldier in one of Mr. Kipling's
pretty tales; but in real life that cry arises rather from the
music-halls than from the soldier, and many a high-souled patriot at
home would think himself wronged if perpetual peace deprived him of his
one opportunity of displaying valour to his friends, his readers, or his
family. All these imaginative people, whose bravery may be none the less
genuine for being vicarious, must be reckoned as the natural supporters
of war, and, indeed, one can hardly conceive any form of distant
conflict for which they would not stand prepared.
But still, the widespread dislike of peace is not entirely derived from
their prowess; nor does it spring entirely from the nursemaid's love of
the red coat and martial gait, though this is on a far nobler plane, and
comes much nearer to the heart of things. The gleam of uniforms in a
drab world, the upright bearing, the rattle of a kettledrum, the boom of
a salute, the murmur of the "Dead March," the goodnight of the "Last
Post" sounding over the home-faring traffic and the quiet cradles--one
does not know by what substitutes eternal peace could exactly replace
them. For they are symbols of a spiritual protest against the
degradation of security. They perpetually re-assert the claim of a
beauty and a passion that have no concern with material advantages. They
sound defiance in the dull ears of comfort, and proclaim woe unto them
that are at ease in the city of life. Dimly the nursemaid is aware of
the protest; most people are dimly aware of it; and the few who
seriously labour for an unending reign of peace must take it into
It is useless to allure mankind by promises of a pig's paradise. Much
has been rightly written about the horrors of war. Everyone knows them
to be sudden, hideous, and overwhelming; those who have seen them can
speak also of the squalor, the filthiness, the murderous swindling, and
the inconceivable absurdity of the whole monstrous performance. But the
horrors of peace, if not so obvious, come nearer to our daily life, and
we are naturally terrified at its softness, its monotony, and its
enfeebling relaxation. Of all people in the world the wealthy classes of
England and America are probably the furthest removed from danger, and
no one admires them in the least; no one in the least envies their
treadmill of successive pleasures. The most unwarlike of men are haunted
by the fear that perpetual peace would induce a general degeneration of
soul and body such as they now behold amid the rich man's sheltered
comforts. They dread the growth of a population slack of nerve, soft of
body, cruel through fear of pain, and incapable of endurance or high
endeavour. They dread the entire disappearance of that clear
decisiveness, that disregard of pleasure, that quiet devotion of self in
the face of instant death, which are to be found, now and again, in the
course of every war. Even peace, they say, may be bought too dear, and
what shall it profit a people if it gain a swill-tub of comforts and
lose its own soul?
The same argument is chosen by those who would persuade the whole
population to submit to military training, whether it is needful for the
country's defence or not. Under such training, they suppose, the
virtues that peace imperils would be maintained; a sense of equality and
comradeship would pervade all classes, and for two or three years of
life the wealthy would enjoy the realities of labour and discomfort. It
is a tempting vision, and if this were the only means of escape from
such a danger as is represented, the wealthy would surely be the first
to embrace it for their own salvation. But is there no other means?
asked Professor William James, and his answer to the question was that
distinguished psychologist's last service. What we are looking for, he
rightly said, is a moral equivalent for war, and he suddenly found it in
a conscription, not for fighting, but for work. After showing that the
life of many is nothing else but toil and pain, while others "get no
taste of this campaigning life at all," he continued:
"If now--and this is my idea--there were, instead of military
conscription, a conscription of the whole youthful population
to form for a certain number of years a part of the army enlisted
against _nature_, the injustice would tend to be evened out, and
numerous other benefits to the commonwealth would follow.
The military ideals of hardihood and discipline would be wrought
into the growing fibre of the people; no one would remain
blind, as the luxurious classes now are blind, to man's real
relations to the globe he lives on, and to the permanently solid
and hard foundations of his higher life. To coal and iron mines,
to freight trains, to fishing fleets in December, to dish-washing,
clothes-washing, and window-washing, to road-building and
tunnel-making, to foundries and stoke-holes, and to the frames
of skyscrapers, would our gilded youths be drafted off, according
to their choice, to get the childishness knocked out of them, and
to come back into society with healthier sympathies and soberer
Here, indeed, is a vision more tempting than ever conscription was. To
be sure, it is not new, for Ruskin had a glimpse of it, and that was why
he induced the Oxford undergraduates to vary their comfortable Greek
studies and games at ball with a little honest work upon the Hinksey
road. But the vision is irresistible. There cannot be the smallest doubt
it will be realised, and when the young dukes, landed proprietors,
financiers, motorists, officers in the Guards, barristers, and curates
are marched off in gangs to their apportioned labour in the stoke-holes,
coal-mines, and December fishing fleets, how the workmen will laugh, how
Nor let it be supposed that the conscription would subject even the most
luxurious conscripts to any unendurable hardship. So hateful is idleness
to man that the toil of the poor is continually being adopted by the
rich as sport. To climb a mountain was once the irksome duty of the
shepherd and wandering hawker; now it is the privilege of wealth to hang
by the finger-nails over an abyss. Once it was the penalty of slaves to
pull the galleys; now it is only the well-to-do who labour day by day at
the purposeless oar, and rack their bodies with a toil that brings home
neither fish nor merchandise. Once it fell to the thin bowman and
despised butcher to provide the table with flesh and fowl; now, at
enormous expense, the rich man plays the poulterer for himself, and
statesmen seek the strenuous life in the slaughter of a scarcely edible
rhinoceros. Let the conscripts of comfort take heart. They will run more
risks in the galleries of the mines than on the mountain precipice, and
one night's trawl upon the Dogger Bank would provide more weight of fish
than if they whipped the Tay from spring to winter.
Under this great conscription, a New Model would, indeed, be initiated,
as far superior to the conscript armies as Cromwell's Ironsides were to
the mercenaries of their time. The whole nation from prince to beggar
would by this means be transformed, labour would cease to be despised or
riches to be worshipped, the reproach of effeminacy would be removed,
the horrors of peace mitigated, and the moral equivalent of war
discovered. For the first time a true comradeship between class and
class would arise, for, as Goethe said, work makes the comrade, and
democracy might have a chance of becoming a reality instead of a party
phrase. After three years' service down the sewers or at the smelting
works, our men of leisure would no longer raise their wail over national
degeneracy or the need of maintaining the standard of hardihood by
barrack-square drill. As things are now, it is themselves who chiefly
need the drill. "Those who live at ease," said Professor James, "are an
island on a stormy ocean." In the summing up of the nation they, in
their security, would hardly count, were they not so vocal; but the
molten iron, the flaming mine, the whirling machine, the engulfing sea,
and hunger always at the door take care that, for all but a very few
among the people, the discipline of danger and perpetual effort shall
not be wanting. You do not find the pitman, the dustman, or the bargee
puling for bayonet exercise to make them hard, and if our nervous
gentlemen were all serving the State in those capacities, they might
even approach their addition sums in "Dreadnoughts" without a tremor.
Besides, as Professor James added for a final inducement, the women
would value them more highly.
THE LAST OF THE RUNNYMEDES
The high debate was over, and Lord Runnymede issued from the House,
proud in his melancholy, like a garrison withdrawing from a fortress
with colours flying and all the honours of war. He had sent a messenger
(he called him an "orderly") for his carriage. He might have telephoned,
but he disliked the Board-School voice that said "Number, please!" and
he still more disliked the idea of a coachman speaking down a tube (as
he imagined it) into his ear. Not that he was opposed to inventions, or
the advance of science as such. He recognised the necessity of progress,
and had not openly reproached his own sister when she instituted a motor
in place of her carriage. But for himself the two dark bays were
waiting--heads erect, feet firmly planted on the solid earth. For he
loved horses, and the Runnymede stables maintained the blood of King
Charles's importations from Arabian chivalry. Besides, what manners,
what sense, could be expected of a chauffeur, occupied with oily wheels
and engines, instead of living things and corn?
Some of the small crowd standing about the gate recognised him as he
came out, and one called his name and said "What ho!" For his appearance
was fairly well known through political caricatures, which usually
represented him in plate-armour, holding a spear, and wearing a
coat-of-arms. He had once instructed his secretary to write privately to
an editor pointing out that the caricaturist had committed a gross error
in heraldry; but in his heart he rather enjoyed the pictures, and it was
the duty of one of his maids to stick them into a scrap-book, inscribed
with the proper dates, for the instruction and entertainment of his
descendants. In fact, he had lately been found showing the book to a boy
of three, who picked out his figure by its long nose, and said "Granpa!"
with unerring decision.
But what was the good of son or grandchild now? He had nothing to hand
down to them but the barren title, the old estate, and wealth safely
invested in urban land and financial enterprises which his stockbroker
recommended. Titles, estates, and wealth were but shadows without the
vitalising breath of power. Cotton-spinners, boot-finishers, purveyors
of food at popular prices could now possess such things, and they
appeared to enjoy them. There were people, he believed, satisfied with
comfort, amusements, rounds of visits, social ambitions, and domestic or
luxurious joys. But for a Runnymede thus to decline would be worse than
For six centuries the Runnymedes had served their country. Edward I had
summoned one of them to his "model Parliament," and the present lord
could still spell out a word or two of the ancient writ that hung framed
in the hall at Stennynge, with the royal seal attached. Two of his
ancestors had died by public violence (one killed in battle, fighting
for the Yorkists, who Lord Runnymede inclined to think represented the
Legitimist side; the other executed under Elizabeth, apparently by
mistake), and regretting there were not more, he had searched the
records of the Civil Wars and the 'Forty-five in vain. But never had a
Runnymede failed in Parliament, or the Council of the King, as he
preferred to call it; and their name had frequently appeared among the
holders of subordinate but dignified offices, such as the Mastership of
the Buckhounds, to which special knowledge gave an honourable claim.
Trained from his first pony in political tradition, and encouraged by
every gamekeeper to follow the footsteps of his ancestors, Lord
Runnymede had inevitably taken "Noblesse oblige" as his private motto.
But of what service was nobility if its obligations were abolished? He
sometimes pictured with a shudder the fate of the surviving French
nobility--retaining their titles by courtesy, and compelled to fritter
away their lives upon chateaux, travelling, aeroplanes, or amatory
intrigues, instead of directing their wisdom and influence to the right
government of the State. The guillotine was better. He could not imagine
his descendants without a House of Lords to sit in. Without the Lords,
he was indeed the last of the Runnymedes, and upon the scaffold he might
at least die worthy of his name.
Compromise he despised as the artifice of lawyers and upstart
politicians. It had been a dagger in his heart to hear his leader
speaking of some readjustment between the two Houses as inevitable. He
denied the necessity, unless the readjustment augmented the power of the
Lords. Planting himself on Edward I's statute, he had vehemently
maintained the right of the Lords to control finance, though he was
willing to allow the commercial gentlemen in the Commons the privilege
of working out the figures of national income and expenditure. He now
regarded the threatened creation of Peers as a gross insult to public
decency. Properly speaking, he protested, Peers cannot be created. You
might as well put terriers into kennels and call them foxhounds. Now and
then a distinguished soldier or even a statesman could be ennobled
without much harm; and he supposed there was something to be said for a
learned man, and a writer or two, though he preferred them to be
childless. He had once published a book himself, with the Runnymede arms
on the cover. But the thought of making Lords by batches vulgarised the
King's majesty, and reversed the order of nature. "Are we worse than
Chinamen," he asked, "that we seek to confer nobility on fellows sprung
from unknown forefathers?" The Archbishop of Canterbury had appealed to
the House to approach the question with mutual consideration and
respect, high public spirit and common sense. But on such a question
consideration was dangerous, and common sense fatal. He wished the
Bishops had stuck to their own Convocation from Plantagenet times,
instead of intruding their inharmonious white sleeves where they were
not wanted. He was sorry he had subscribed so handsomely to the
restoration of Stennynge Church. He ought to have ear-marked his
contribution for the Runnymede aisle.
Worse still, the Archbishop had mentioned "the average voter in tramcar
or railway train," and the words had called up a haunting vision of
disgust. He often said that he had no objection to the working classes
as such. He rather liked them. He found them intelligent and
unpretentious. He could converse with them without effort, and they
always had the interest of sport in common. He felt no depression in
passing through the working quarters of the city, and at Stennynge he
was well acquainted with all the cottagers and farmers alike. In one
family he had put out a puppy at walk; in another he had let off a man
who had poached a pheasant when his wife was ill; in a third he had
stood godfather to the baby when the father was killed falling from a
stack. He felt a kind of warmth towards the poor whenever he saw them
upon his own estate.
But of the average voter, such as the Archbishop described, he could not
think without pain and apprehension. Coming to London from any part of
the country, he always closed his eyes as the train entered the suburbs.
Those long rows of monotonous little houses--so decent, so uneventful,
so temporary--oppressed him like a physical disease. If he contemplated
them, they induced violent dyspepsia, such as he had once incurred by
visiting the Crystal Palace. The consciousness that they were there,
even as he passed through tunnels, lowered his vitality until he reached
his town house or club in the centre of things. Not even the
considerable income he derived from land on the outskirts of a large
manufacturing town consoled him for the horror of the town's extension.
In those uniform houses--in their railings, their Venetian blinds,
indiarubber plants, and stained-glass panels to the doors--he beheld the
coming degradation of his country. He saw them, like great armies of
white or red ants, creeping over the land, devouring all that was
beautiful in it, or ancient, or redolent of grandeur. Bit by bit, street
by street, the ignoble, the tidy, the pettiness of the parlour, was
gaining upon splendour and renown, and the anticipation of the change
cast a foreboding sadness over the beauty of his own ancestral home. It
tainted even his unuttered pride in his son, who had been at Eton
without expulsion, and served two years in the Foot Guards without
discredit. And now, there was his grandson.
What future could be theirs? Should a Runnymede sit in a House shorn of
its prerogatives, bound to impotence, reduced to a mere echo of popular
caprice, with hardly the delaying power of a chaperon at a ball? Or
should a son of his trot round from door to door, seeking the suffrages
of those distressing suburbs at the polls--a son whose ancestry had
known the favour of princes, and withstood foes and traitors upon the
field? Lord Runnymede himself had never thought of election, even before
the House of Lords received him. Yet if you wanted representatives, who
was more truly representative of his own estates and the interests of
every soul upon it--interests identical with his own? Who was more fit
to control the country than a man who had breathed the atmosphere of
State from childhood, and learnt history from the breast-plates, the
swords, the cloaks, the wigs, and the side-whisker portraits of men
whose very blood beat in his heart?
As the carriage went down Piccadilly, he was overwhelmed with the
darkness of the prospect. He saw an ancient country staggering from side
to side on its road to ruin, while the hands which had directed and
steadied it for centuries lay bound or idle. He saw coverts and meadows
and cornfields eaten away by desirable residences, angular garden
cities, and Socialist communities. He saw his own Stennynge advertised
for plots, and its relics catalogued for a museum, while factories
spouted smoke from its lawns and shrubberies, and if a Runnymede
survived, he lived in a rough-cast villa, like an eagle in a cage at
the Zoo. The soul of all his ancestors rose within him. Never should it
happen while he had a sword to draw. At least he could display the
courage of the fine old stock. If he submitted to the degradation, he
would feel himself a coward, unfit for the position he and his fathers
had occupied. Let the enemy do their worst; they should find him steady
at his post. Before him lay one solemn duty still to be performed for
God and country. The spirit of noble sacrifice was not dead. The
populace should see how an aristocrat still could die. Come what might,
he would vote against the third reading of the Bill!
Dismounting from his carriage, he approached the entrance-porch of his
house with so proud and resolute a bearing that three hatless
working-girls passing by, in white frocks, with arms interlaced, all
cried out "Percy!" as their ironic manner is.
CHILDREN OF THE STATE
Mrs. Reeve was an average widow with encumbrances. Ten years before she
had married a steady-going man--a cabinet-maker during working hours,
and something of a Dissenter and a Radical in the evenings and on
Sundays. His wages had touched thirty shillings, and they had lived in
three rooms, first floor, in a quiet neighbourhood, keeping themselves
to themselves, as they boasted without undue pride. In their living-room
was a flowery tablecloth; a glass shade stood on the mantelpiece; there
were a few books in a cupboard. They had thoughts of buying a live
indiarubber plant to stand by the window, when unexpectedly the man
He had followed the advice of economists. He had practised thrift.
During his brief illness his society had supplied a doctor, and it
provided a comfortable funeral. His widow was left with a small sum in
hand to start her new life upon, and she increased it by at once pawning
the superfluous furniture and the books. She lost no time hanging about
the old home. Within a week she had dried her eyes, washed out her
handkerchiefs, made a hatchment of her little girl's frock with
quarterings of crape, piled the few necessities of existence on a
barrow and settled in a single room in the poorest street of the
It was not much of a place, and it cost her half a crown a week, but in
six months she had come to think of it as a home. She had brushed the
ceiling and walls, and scrubbed the boards, the children helping. She
had added the touch of art with advertisements and picture almanacs. A
bed for the three children stood in one corner--a big green iron bed,
once her own. On the floor was laid a mattress for herself and the baby.
Round it she hung her shawl and petticoats as a screen over some lengths
of cords. Right across the room ran a line for the family's bits of
washing. A tiny looking-glass threw mysterious rays on to the ceiling at
night. On the whole, it really was not so bad, she thought, as she
looked round the room one evening. Only unfortunately her capital had
been slipping away shilling by shilling, and the first notice to quit
had been served that day. She was what she called "upset" about it.
"Now, Alfred," she said to her eldest boy, "it's time I got to my work,
and it won't do for you to start gettin' 'ungry again after yer teas. So
you put yerself and Lizzie to bed, and I'll make a race of it with Hen
and the baby."
"There now," she said when the race was over, "that's what's called a
dead 'eat, and that's a way of winnin' as saves the expense of givin' a
With complete disregard for the theorising of science, she then stuck
the poker up in front of the bars to keep the fire bright.
"Now, Alfred," she said, "you mind out for baby cryin', and if she
should 'appen to want for anythink, just give a call to Mrs. Thomas
through the next door."
"Right you are," said Alfred, feeling as important as a 'bus conductor.
Mrs. Reeve hurried towards the City to her work. Office cleaning was the
first thing that had offered itself, and she could arrange the hours so
as to look after the children between whiles. Late at night and again
early in the morning she was in the offices, and she earned a fraction
over twopence an hour.
"You're not seemin' exackly saloobrious to-night, my dear," said the old
woman who had lately come to the same staircase, as they began to scour
the stone with whitening. "I do 'ope 'e ain't been layin' 'is 'and on
"My 'usband didn't 'appen to be one of them sort, thankin' yer kindly,"
said Mrs. Reeve.
"Oh, a widder, and beggin' yer pardon. And you'll 'ave children, of
"Four," said Mrs. Reeve, and she thought of them asleep in the
The old woman--a mere bundle with a pair of eyes in it--looked at her
for a moment, and pretending out of delicacy to be talking to herself,
she muttered loud enough to be heard: "Oh, that's where it is, is it?
There's four, same as I've buried. And a deal too many to bring up
decent on ten shillin' a week. Why, I'd sooner let the Poor Law 'ave
'em, though me and the old man 'ad to go into the 'Ouse for it. And
that's what I said to Mrs. Green when Mrs. Turner was left with six. And
Mrs. Turner she went and done it. An uncommon sensible woman, was Mrs.
Turner, not like some as don't care what comes to their children, so
long as they're 'appy theirselves."
In the woman's words Mrs. Reeve heard the voice of mankind condemning
her. She knew it was all true. The thought had haunted her for days,
and that she might not hear more, she drowned the words by sousing about
the dirty water under the hiss of the scouring brush.
But when she reached home just before midnight, her mind was made up.
Her husband had always insisted that the children should be well fed and
healthy. He had spoken with a countryman's contempt of the meagre
Cockney bodies around them. One at least should go. She lit the candle,
and stood listening to their sleep. Suddenly the further question
came--which of the four? Should it be Alfred, the child of her girlhood,
already so like his father, though he was only just nine? She couldn't
get on without him, he was so helpful, could be trusted to light the
lire, sweep the room and wash up. It could not possibly be Alfred.
Should it be Lizzie, her little girl of five, so pretty and nice to
dress in the old days when even her father would look up from his book
with a grunt of satisfaction at her bits of finery on Sundays? But a
girl must always need the mother's care. It couldn't possibly be Lizzie.
Or should it be little Ben, lying there with eyes sunk deep in his head,
and one arm outside the counterpane? Why, Ben was only three. A few
months ago he had been the baby. It couldn't possibly be little Ben. And
then there was the baby herself--well, of course, it couldn't be the
So the debate went on, in a kind of all-night sitting. At half-past five
she started for the offices again, sleepless and undecided.
That afternoon she went to the relieving officer at the workhouse. Two
days later she was waiting among other "cases" in a passage there, under
an illuminated text: "I have not seen the righteous forsaken." In her
turn she was ushered into the presence of the Board from behind a black
screen. A few questions were put with all the delicacy which time and
custom allowed. There was a brief discussion.
"Quite a simple case," said the chairman. "My good woman, the Guardians
will undertake to relieve you of two children to prevent the whole lot
of you coming on the rates. Send the two eldest to the House at once,
and they will be drafted into our school in due course. Good morning to
you. Next case, please."
She could do nothing but obey. Alfred and Lizzie were duly delivered at
the gate. Bewildered and terrified, hoping every hour to be taken home,
they hung about the workhouse, and became acquainted with the flabby
pallor and desperate sameness of the pauper face. After two days they
were whirled away, they knew not where, in something between a brougham
and an ambulance cart.
"You lay, Liz, they're goin' to make us Lord Mayors of London, same as
Whittington, and we'll all ride in a coach together," said Alfred,
excited by the drive, and amazed at the two men on the box. Then they
both laughed with the cheerful irony of London children.
It was an afternoon in early October, the day after Alfred and Lizzie
had been removed from the workhouse. They were now in the probation ward
of one of the great district schools. Lizzie was sitting in the girls'
room, whimpering quietly to herself, and every now and then saying, "I
want my mother." To which the female officer replied, "Oh, you'll soon
get over that."
Alfred was standing on the outside of a little group of boys gathered
in idleness round a stove in a large whitewashed room on the opposite
side of the building. Nearest the warmth stood Clem Bowler, conscious of
the dignity which experience gives. For Clem had a reputation to
maintain. He was a redoubtable "in and out." Four times already within a
year his parents had entrusted themselves and him to the care of the
State, and four times, overcome by individualistic considerations, they
had recalled him to their own protection. His was not an unusual case.
The superintendent boasted that his "turn-over" ran to more than five
hundred children a year. But there was distinction about Clem, and
people remembered him.
"You 'ear, now," he said, looking round with a veteran's contempt upon
the squad of recruits in pauperism, "if none on yer don't break out with
somethink before the week's over, I'll flay the lot. I'm not pertikler
for what it is. Last time it was measles first, and then ringworm. Nigh
on seven weeks I stopt 'ere with nothink to do only eat, and never got
so much as a smell of the school. What's them teachers got to learn
_me_, I'd like to know?"
He paused with rhetorical defiance, but as no one answered he proceeded
to express the teachers and officers in terms of unmentionable
quantities. Suddenly he turned upon a big, vacant-looking boy at his
"What's yer name, fat-'ead?" he asked.
The boy backed away a pace or two, and stood gently moving his head
about, and staring with his large pale eyes, as a calf stares at a dog.
"Speak, you dyin' oyster!" said Clem, kicking his shins.
"Ernest," said the boy, with a sudden gasp, turning fiery red and
twisting his fingers into knots.
"Ernest what?" said Clem. "But it don't matter, for your sort always
belongs to the fine old family of Looney. You're a deal too good for the
likes of us. Why, you ought to 'ave a private asylum all to yerself. Hi,
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