This month we've a fair wheen o' politics for you as we reflect what it means to be political and non political past and present. Russia and Britain are arguing over nerve agents. Gets on my nerves, certainly.
Leatham concludes his 'on being non political' offering us some insight into the European 'troubles'. He laments how in his youth people used to debate, and know how to debate:
In my own young manhood there were literary and debating societies on every hand.
He noticed the change from the 1890s to the 1920s. How much more have politics, culture (and any connection between them) changed since then. In the 1920's he writes:
One has seen men with a passion for music, or for books, or for the theatre, or for wine, or money, or flowers, or horseflesh. We may make shift to do, at a very great pinch, without any or all of these, but we cannot do without politics. Wherever men are gathered together there must be rules of the social road, and these rules are politics. As all are equally oppressed by bad and blessed by good laws, clearly all have an equal right to participate, less or more, as arranged in the making, altering, and administration of the laws.
And the conclusion is still very apposite:
And the inescapable penalty of taking no part in the business of government is that we shall be obnoxiously or even disastrously governed by others.
We have been warned. We were warned. Did we heed the warning? People these days don't value either politics or literature (or culture) much more than as a capitalist venture. We were warned of this too:
As I write, the efforts of official Labour seem to be directed towards maintaining the life of Capitalism rather than ushering in instalments of the Co-operative Commonwealth.
Politics has become a career, every bit as murky as the career of literary critic which was emerging along with men such as Andrew Lang. Orraman gives his own personal opinion on that state of affairs.
Which brings us some might say ironically, onto the lists and 'advice' of writers, editors and critics. Leatham and Lang both fulfilled a critics role in different ways, but reading this month's articles I'm led to conclude that really, as Leatham says:
When all is said, Literature of all subjects is least to be taught by tabloid. A lifetime and a temperament are required for it.
In my research this month I came across the following. And thought it was worth sharing. This was the P&J in 1926, offering a critique of Leatham and Gateway.
Aberdeen Press and Journal July 1926
Mr James Leatham of the Deveron Press, Turriff, has already made quite a name for himself as an essayist, and though often extreme his views have frequently the piquant flavour of originality. He has also the gift of argument and his reasoning is at times quite plausibly convincing.
As editor of ‘The Gateway’ a journal of life and literature, he has found a voice for his theories and opinions, and the mid-July number contains much that is readable. In his article ‘Dog does not eat Dog,’ his criticism of Mr Baldwin’s economic theories is violent, and many will be roused to indignation by his cynical derision of Dean Ingo in ‘Is this A God’s World or Devil’s’, with ‘Jacobus’ in his contribution, ‘Cliches and Solecisms’, wherein he adopts as his slogan, ‘If we can’t men the world, let us mend our speech,’ there will be general agreement.
I wish you all the best this month with casting a critical reading eye over the Gateway past and present and drawing your own conclusions. What you choose to do with it, or learn from it, is up to you.
Aal Geordie walked intae the chaamer at Hogland. The mornin sun wiz warm as it streamed throwe the windae wi it’s lair o cobwebs and styoo and cast a wee bittie o heat ontae his arthritic shooders. He stood an lookit aroon the aal chaamer leanin heavily ontae his walkin stavve. His tired een took in the scene afore him, dust lay thick on the fleer, an odds an eynes o lang redundant bits an bobs lay scattered aboot. It lookit for aa the world that somebody hid jist opened the door an heaved them in as if feart tae enter? Fooivver, even that hid been deen mony a year afore because even they were coated wi dust an dirt an lookit jist as forlorn lyin there as athing else in the room.
The furniture wiz still in place, that is if ye could caa it furniture? Twa bunks een on tap o tither, a chest o drawers and a puckle kists. The chest o drawers hid been time worn fin Queen Victoria hid been a young quine. Nae doot it hid been made by a local vricht. Geordie smiled as he imagined tryin tae sell it tae een o yon funcy antique dealers ye see on tv.
‘Yes sir! This is pure Buchan workmanship! See these saw marks? That’s authentic Jeemy jiner!
Did you know sir that he also made cornkists an meal girnals?’
A strange hissin sound fulled the room, and if there’d been onybody else there they wid’ve seen Geordie laachin tae himsel. Shakin his heed as if tae clear awa the image his attention turned tae the bunks. They were made o sarkin boords the same as used on reefs and lookit for aa the world like giant fish boxes. The mattresses were still in them, cloot pyokes fulled o chaff fae the thrashin mull. He gave een a poke wi his stavve an it wint clean throwe the rotten cloot an intae the muchty chaff. Dust particles rose an flashed as they passed throwe the stream o sunlicht fae the windae. Geordie waved his haan tae pit awa the styoo an is so deein steered up even mair. The waas were lined wi the same sarkin boords that made the bunk an were butted thegither. At the jines dust hid filtered throwe them and some o it clung tae cobwebs that hung aawye. It wiz this Geordie hid disturbed by wavin his haan aboot. Movin awa tae the tither side o the room tae escape the dust he stumbled ower some aal clyse an kitchen utensils an near wint his length ontae the fleer. A bittie fleggit he lookit roon for something tae sit on. He saw in the corner fae the eyne o the bunks a big widden kist. Bit by bit he dragged it ower tae the sunlicht.
The kist wiz o the type used by fairmservants for huddin their goods & chattels. The kist wiz empty but Geordie kent fine fit wid’ve been intae it so many years ago. Great fully he sat doon ontae the kist. He fichered aboot in his jaicket pooch an teen oot his pipe an lit it while mentally tickin aff the list o contents o the kist. He muttered, ‘Sunday suit, gweed sheen, collars, studs, cuffs aboot twa o each, twa’r three pairs o leather thyangs for the beets, a tin o dubbin, maybe some siller an oh aye michtbe a bottle o fusky for medicinal purposes? The hissin sound fulled the room eence mair ‘Medicinal purposes’ - - - - !
Watchin the reek fae his pipe curlin up towards the reef timmers Geordie felt a great sadness come ower him. He kent that he’d been tryin nae tae think ower deeply but the memories o this very same room seemed tae loup oot at him fae ivvery dusty neuk an murmur tae his breest. He’d last been in this room saxty three years afore an sittin there he fairly felt that years. Time hid been relatively kind tae him though, even noo ye could see that he’d been a tall strong man weel used tae hard back brakkin vrocht. The haan that held the pipe wiz big an leathery wi callouses near makkin the haan hardly able tae close richt. Arthritis hid in the past puckle years laid its coorse haan ontae his braid shooders an as Geordie likit tae say aboot it- ‘It fair makks a budy claa fit’s nae yokie!’ Although at aichtythree he’d nae complaints an wid be quick tae tell ye so.
Geordie let his mind wanner back throwe time, warily at first as if feart tae awaken the hame seek feelins in his breest. A feelin that hid plagued him throughoot his life. It wid catch him unawares at the strangest times. Smells and sounds would trigger it, new cut girss, the barkin o a dog in the distance, the clatter o denner dishes bein stackit, ony o that things wid be eneuch tae drag his mind back tae this room. If he alloed the feelins tae persist tears wid smart his een but wi the passin o time he’d learned tae forcibly control his emotions; until now. This time the hissin sound wiz different an the tears flowed. As he sat there solomentin the door swung open and a wee lassie o aboot ten entered and started tae say ‘Grandfath- - - ‘ but stoppit.
‘What’s the matter grandfather, why are you crying?’ She wiz gye concerned an wint tae him.
‘Oh nithing’ Geordie replied, ‘Jist a bittie o styoo got intae ma ee.’
‘Grandfather don’t talk that funny way’ I don’t understand what you are saying!’ She giggled and gave her grandfather a big hug. ‘Mummy says it will soon be time to go and that the taxi is on its way to take you back.’
‘Aye ma wee lamb gyang an tell yer mither I’ll be alang in a fyowe minties’, said Geordie kindly. He saw the bonny wee facie brak intae a grin as she scolded him laughingly for speaking ‘In that funny way!’ and aifter giein her granda anither great big hug she left tae tell her mither.
Geordie wiz left eence mair tae his thochts but instead o the past they were in the here an noo. The taxi wiz comin tae tak him back- ‘Aye tae tak ma back tae the home’ he muttered. He shuddered at the thocht. They were gweed enough tae him there but the fowk jist didna understand him fin he spoke o his youth. This room kent though, it kent his ivvery feelin ivvery memory for this wiz the room that aifter a lang life always creepit intae his thochts. The fowk that hid passed throwe its muchty confines, their hopes, their loves, their fears aa were laid bare tae this room!’
It wiz wantin a fyowe days afore the aal ‘November Term’ as Geordie alloed his mind tae travel back saxty three years. His memory got sharper an sichts an sounds became clearer, the blanket o time slid back an in his mind’s ee he’d returned.
The room wiz cleaner noo. Far wiz the cobwebs? The chaff bed lookit nearly clean. He made tae lift his stavve tae gie it a powk but the door swung open an as he turned tae look for his grandochter’s smilin facie tellin him the taxi’s there a face straacht fae the past met him.
He started an shouted the name o the man faa hid came in makkin sic a din. ‘Gweed sakes is at you Bill Reid? Ye hivna changed a bit min!’ Geordie put oot his haan tae greet the ither man but found himsel completely ignored as the figure wint tae the windae an hunkered doon at a smaa kist Geordie hidna seen. Aifter some raikin aboot he came oot wi a horse brush an closed the kist. He watched Bill staan up an look throwe the windae an shout ower his shooder- ‘It’s still poorin doon oot there Geordie heavier than ivver! The grieve winna be best pleased aboot at!’
As he left the room he continued tae spik in the same loud voice- - ‘We’d better be seein tae the horse afore he takks a blae fit aathegither!’
Geordie wiz mesmerised an muttered ‘That couldna be Bill? He’s but a young loon an onywye he wiz killed in the war!’ Rubbin his een an lookin aboot the room he began tae feel the first steerins o panic.
He thocht tae himsel that this how a budy first becomes dottled in the heed. A lang forgotten smell began tae filter intae the room an for a minty he couldna place it. Fin he did though the hairs on the back o his neck fair birssed up an he exclaimed oot o him- - ‘Horses!’ An in a whisper ‘We’re ower the stable here.’ The musty sweet smell o horses breath brocht a flood o memories that threatened tae overpower him aathegither. He tried tae rise fae the kist but he couldna an he began tae curse the arthritis in gweed pure Doric. As he struggled tae arise anither voice fae the past spoke softly tae him.
‘Tak it easy Geordie min ye’ll nae wun up that wye.’
Fin he lookit up his hert near missed a beat. There standin in aa her radiant beauty stood Kirsteen Blair. She wiz lookin at him wi a saft wistful look in her een.
‘Oh Geordie yer an aal mannie noo!’
She teen teen his haan in hers an he could see the tears gither intae her een. ‘Yer aal an frail wi the mark o pain etched in yer face. An fit’s happened tae yer bonny curly hair?’
Geordie at last managed tae spik an replied in a gye shakky falterin voice - ‘Oh yer as bonny as I mind Kirsteen.’ And in a resigned tone he philosophically continued wi- - ‘I’m fair amazed that as ye growe dottled in mind ye remember details lang forgotten!’
Kirsteen smiled an said ‘But yer nae dottled ava Geordie I’m really stannin here in front o ye. Can ye nae feel ma haans in yours?’
Geordie shook his heed ‘It canna be! Yer still young, an I’m aichtythree we were aboot the same age ye ken!’ She smiled an wipit a tear fae his ee as he repeated ‘It canna be! It canna be!’
He lookit up intae her facie an stared at her for a lang time seein the real beauty o Kirsteen as if for the first time. His aal tired weary een takin in ivvery part o her face as if terrifeart he’d lose the picture o his sweetest memory.
Doubtfully he stood and as if expectin tae touch empty space he reached oot an teen her intae his airms an held her close as sabbs wracked his work worn body. ‘Why did ye nae let ma ken Kirsteen?’ Mair sobs tore throwe him as he continued - ‘If ye’d tellt ma I wid’ve come for ye. Oh we wid’ve been happy thegither. I loed ye dearly quine!’
Kirsteen stood awa fae him an turned as if lookin oot the windae. Fin she spoke it wiz saft an hesitant- - ‘I – I didna ken fit tae dee-- I thocht o writin tae ye in the trenches an tellin ye aboot the bairn.’ She turned at her ain words an said ‘ I wiz gan tae write an tell ye but word came back that ye’d been killed alang wi Bill Reid!’ Aifter that aathing wint wrang for me an the bairn. Geordie waakit ower tae her an teen her tae his bosie as she tellt the rest o her story.
‘The fairmer an his wife were affa gweed tae me an the bairn but they hid tae sell the fairm an move awa. The new fowk that bocht it promised tae keep me on as kitchie but nae lang aifter takkin ower I wiz given my marchin orders. They widna hae a kitchie that wiz a slattern workin aboot the place. Ye see they were affa religious kindo fowk.’ She sabbit intae his bosie- - ‘I tried for ither vrocht but naebody wid tak ma on because o the bairn.’
‘Things got fae bad tae waar an eventually the Cruelty teen oor we laddie awa fae ma. Aifter that my hert wiz completely broken, as lang as I hid him I ayee hid a bit o you, he wiz the spittin image o his faither!’
Through teerin sobs she tellt him the rest o the story. ‘I wandered aboot an finally reached Aiberdeen mair deed than alive. I couldna get a job or even a reef ower ma heed and as illness teen it’s grip I must’ve snappit an threw masel aff the Union Street brig! She stared intae his een ‘Because o my deein that I’ve spent aa the years wanderin aboot this place. But I nivver found oot . Why this place? Why is it my spirit wanders here!’ Her voice wiz raised and as if jist realising it she added tenderly ‘You’re the first person faa’s been intae this room in decades for abody says this place is haunted.’ She gave the shadda o a smile at this an dichted her een wi the corner o her aapron.
Geordie gently teen up the story- ‘I wiz wounded by the same shell that killed peer Bill. I didna mind muckle aifter bein hut, jist bitties here an there. I mind the French nurses dressin my wounds an bein lifted intae an ambulance then ontae a boat. Next thing I wiz in a military hospital in England. It wiz there I began tae fit things thegither an as I got better I fun oot I wiz in a place caad Colchester. They were affa gweed tae us.
I wrote a lot o letter tae ye but they ayee came back wi ‘no one of this name lives here’. Aifter aboot fower months the doctor said I wiz fit enough tae be discharged. The army gave me three weeks hame leave an a travel warrant. I arrived in Aiberdeen aboot fower days later, the trains were jist affa an we were delayed ivvery fyowe miles because o aa the troop trains headin sooth. Fan I got tae Aiberdeen the Reed Cross weemin gave me a meal and an address o a hall that catered for wounded sojers hame on leave. I’d a wander up fae the station haein a look intae the shop windaes an sic like fin an affa commotion set up at the heed o the hill. Being nosy kind I wint tae see fit wiz up. Fin I got there aabody wiz lookin ower the brig. Geordie faltered as if ower painful tae relive- ‘It wiz you Kirsteen! O michty me it wiz you lyin there aa broken on the rails!’ Sobs wracked him as he lookit intae her bonny facie- - ‘I—I’d missed ye by five meenits, five bliddy meenits! He sobbed again an Kirsteen held him close wi the tears fleein fae her ana. Geordie tried tae dicht awa her tears as he said ‘Noo saxty three years hiv wun past an I’ve loved ye for ivvery five meenits in aa that years.’ They were in eenanithers airms again lost tae the past. Aifter a while he cairried on wi his story. ‘I tellt the policeman faa ye were an fae far aboot ye came. Aifter a fyowe days they’d traced doon fit hid happened tae ye an it wiz then I found oot aboot the bairn. I managed tae get ye beeriet in the aal kirkyard yonder wi a Christian beerial. The meenister wiz affa sympathetic fin I tellt him fit hid happened.’
Kirsteen gasped oot ‘So that’s why I’m here?’ said she shakin her heed in understandin. And wi a glance o admiration at Geordie she mummled ‘A Christian beerial!’ He nodded an cairried on. ‘I wint tae see the bairn at the home an wiz promised by the Authorities that if I could provide a hame for him I’d get tae tak him fae their care. I wiz discharged fae the army as unfit for active service, mind you I still dinna ken fit wye because at that time if ye could cairry a gun ye were fit for the slaachter. I didna think I wiz that unfit but I think that maybe my commandin officer hid something tae dee wi it for he gave me a job on his faither’s estate at the Cabrach. I got a hoose wi the job an found an aal woman tae keep hoose for me so I eventually got oor bairn back fae care. Aifter the war my commandin officer gave me the gran job o estate keeper. Oor loon grew up fine an strong an workit alang wi ma till he emigrated tae Australia. He smiled at Kirsteen. ‘He’s deen affa weel for himsel oot there an owns a big sheep fairm. He’s heen twa o a faimily baith lassies an ilka year een o them comes ower tae see their granda.’ Kirsteen speired at him if he’d ivver thought o gyan oot there wi there loon? But na na Geordie wid nivver leave. He ayee wanted tae be close tae her. He said’ I vrocht awa at the Cabrach until I retired a puckle years ago.’
He teen a hud o Kirsteen’s an speired at her if she’d seen the wee lassie that came in?’
Aye she hid seen her and Geordie tearfully tellt her that wiz their great grand dochter hame fae Australia tae see him.
Kirsteen’s een brimmed wi tears as she thocht o the bonny wee lassie, she slowly an somehow knowingly speired her name. ‘Kirsteen’ said Geordie ‘ An she’s as like you as twa peys in a pod.’
The door burst open - ‘Grandfath- - - !’ Geordie swung roon tae see her lookin at the lassie in her granda’s airms.
‘Wh- - - who’s that grandfather? Who’s the pretty lady an why is she crying?’ She looked at him wi puzzlement on her facie. Geordie tried tae explain fin Kirsteen butted in - ‘I’m the lady that cleans here and I must have got dust in my eyes. Your grandfather was trying to take it out for me.’ Would you take a look at it for me because I don’t think your granda can see too well?’ Kirsteen picked the bairn up and wint tae the windae sayin ‘There’ll be more light here. Kirsteen managed tae get tae cuddle her great gran bairn as she lookit intae her een for the dust.’ She couldna see onything sayin ‘Granda must’ve got it all out.’ Kirsteen sighed as she let the bairn go. A lifetime she’d been alloed tae touch for the briefest o moments. She said tae Geordie, ‘The taxi’s coming now grandfather, we’ll take you home.’ ‘Aaricht tell yer mither I’m jist comin.’ he said kindly. Pittin her hands ontae her hips in mock anger she said ‘Grandfather! Don’t talk funny! I jist dinna understan ae wird yer spikkin!’ And wi a giggle she ran oot o the room.
‘She’s learnin the Doric weel fae ye.’ said Kirsteen smilin.
‘Aye’ says Geordie ‘But I’ll bet her great grunny could tell it better!’
Eence mair they were in eenanither’s airms. Michty but Geordie wiz sweered tae let go o her but Kirsteen tellt him they’d be thegither again soon.
The taxi came for Geordie an teen him back tae the home and aifter a special hug fae his gran dochter he said his farewells, but nae afore Kirsteen said she’d seen her grandfather holding a young cleaning lady in his arms. Aabody laached at this because they kent the fairm wiz derelict an hid only teen an aal man tae see far some o his youth hid been spent afore the bulldozers moved in.
Kirsteen knew she’d nivver see her great granda again. She didna ken how she knew but fin she lookit at Geordie she wiz happy for him and ran back for one last cuddle and whispered ‘I love you granda ‘tell the pretty lady to take good care of you!’
You can read more of Pat's work in Sanners Gow's Tales and Folklore of the Buchan. Just go over to the Unco store www.unco.scot and find him in the contemporary Scots section
By all accounts that I’ve read, Lang seemed like something of a difficult man. I certainly found him a difficult man to like. He was a critic - in the days when literary criticism was grappling, some might say trying to hold back the tide of, the inevitable rise of popular literature. During Lang’s lifetime writing changed from being a gentlemanly activity to being a profession. The birth pangs were uneasy. Men like Lang positioned themselves at the centre and critics felt then (as they do now) that simply by being critics they had an authority.
In the latter quarter of the 19th century critics were on the rise. Personal and professional battles were fought out in the periodical press and it’s ‘puffing’ and ‘log rolling’ tactics. Longman’s and Hodder & Stoughton were the Coke and Pepsi of their day, and an awareness, nay understanding, of the workings of both of them is vital to developing any clear picture of what was happening (and what Lang was doing) in the late 19th century.
We never get 2020 vision on the past and I am aware that my own vision of Lang is perhaps partisan, probably biased and definitely without full contextual awareness. That said, my response on reading him thus far that Lang wore his friends like a cloak. He was good at falling out with folk. He was robust in his criticism, which was not uncommon at the time, as within the coterie of up and coming writers there was, it seems to me, an understanding that the work of any writer, friend or foe, was to be distinguished from personal feeling. But of course sometimes the game got too rough and when we read from the benefit of hindsight, we should beware of taking the criticism too much to heart. I suspect Lang was foremost among those who, paid for his opinions, perhaps forgot that this in and of itself did not give him authority above all else.
The monetisation of both critical appraisal and published works set the scene both for an outpouring of hyperbole and some very nasty sniping. We do well to remember ‘the times’ when we read both criticism and praise of writing in the latter part of the 19th century. People were being paid to say things, profit was driving much of the commentary, and power was being contested through the literary arena.
Careers were made and broken. The cult of celebrity brought with it a plague of plagiarism cases and friendships were sometimes broken. Lang was certainly not averse to mixing it – turning friends into foes if it served his purposes.
While some would say otherwise, I warn you that Lang is not the last word on things literary. But he does open some interesting windows into the past. He writes at length on the subject. He gives advice to authors and readers and it all feels just a little bit proscriptive. In ‘How to Fail in Literature’ he attempts to be humorous (it doesn’t carry across the generations well) as well as offering some ‘universal’ truths.
Yet after all the reading of Lang I’ve recently done – it’s been eclectic I admit - the question Lang has me asking is ‘Do you believe in literary criticism.’ And perhaps that’s his strength. Not the answers he gives but the questions he poses (intentionally and unintentionally.)
There are universal truths contained within his writing, things that are still worthy of consideration, of course there are, but they are mediated with his own, somewhat prejudiced, perspective.
Like anyone, he appears wildly contradictory if you read too much (or too out of context?) He is quoted as saying
“In literature, as in love, one can only speak for himself.”
And yet he made a living as a literary critic.
He is well aware of his own gravitas as he says “Young men, especially in America, write to me and ask me to recommend “a course of reading.” Distrust a course of reading! People who really care for books read all of them. There is no other course.” And yet his biographer and friend Edmund Gosse said that Lang was one of the most partisan of reader’s he had ever met. If he didn’t like someone’s work he just completely denied its value and refused to read it.
I am forced to conclude that perhaps he didn’t entirely practice what he preached. But then who of us really does.
So – for me, Lang is valuable as a window into another world. A conduit to further study and exploration about the ins and outs and highs and lows of publishing at a time when commerce became more important even than class in determining a writer’s ability or credibility. If you are cynical about creative success, looking through Lang may help direct you towards developing a deeper understanding of the people at play when profit came calling and when words like ‘talent’ and ‘product’ began to mix in new contexts. Read Lang by all means, but take it all with a pinch of salt. Don’t believe everything you read. Use it all (this included) as a start point for learning something yourself. Suspect us all. We all have our angles.
A list and commentary – Compiled in answer to a reader.
A correspondent writes from Wakefield asking me to supply ‘a list of books recommended’ by me for the ‘study of Literature, History and Economics. The compilation of any such list, if done with real care and judgement, would take some doing. It would require, for one thing, the jealous exclusion of many books which may make a special appeal to the individual fancy of the compiler, but could hardly be expected to rank among books of general value and interest. For example, I am very fond of browsing in Spalding’s ‘History of the Trubles and Memorable Transactions’; as a youth I greatly enjoyed Deidrich Knickerbocker’s ‘History of New York’ (Deidrich is just Washington Irving); and I can still pass a pleasant hour with Johnson’s Dicctionary. But these represent the byways rather than the highways of literature; and while all must walk the highways, each one should choose his own byways.
Among the byways would be local books such as my Spalding’s ‘Trubles.’ The taste in much byway literature will doubtless often depend upon the reader’s turn for dialects. Personally I love all the dialects of English and Scottish speech, which means that I not only have no difficulty with them, but relish peculiarities as different as the Deveonshire ‘thikky’ for ‘this’ the Lancashire ‘gradely’ for ‘proper,’ the Yorkshire ‘gainest’ for ‘quickest’, the Ayrshire ‘bake’ for ‘biscuit,’ and the Aberdeenshire ‘fell kneggam’ for ‘strong smell.’ George MacDonald’s novels and ‘Johnny Gibb of Gushetneuk’ are in different ways, masterpieces, and the former at least has a huge public south of the Tweed, as have also Galt, Miss Ferrier, Crockett and J.M.Barrie. ‘Mannie Wauch’ also is a delightful tale relating to the Lothians. But most of these must be barred from such a list as one has in mind.
Some years ago there was much flourishing of lists in a discussion on ‘The Hundred Best Books,’ stated as ‘The Hundred Best Poems,’ by a New York Journal and taken up by, I think, the London Daily Telegraph. A good deal of what seemed freakishness and a good deal of what was undoubted priggishness found expression at this time. Incidentally, King Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, declared a preference for Dryden, who, he thought, had been slighted in the lists sent in.
Of course a hundred books are neither here nor there. There may very well be a thousand ‘best books.’ Schoolboys who go through Collins’s ‘History of English Literature,’ of Spalding’s, or Logie Robertson’s, will feel that a hundred books would represent but a very small proportion of the front-rank authors they have had to review, from Caedmon’s Persephone to the Irish plays and poems of Yeats and Synge. A man of quite moderate leisure may easily read a hundred average-sized books in a year. This weekend with five or six hours of the Saturday and Sunday spent out of doors, I have, among a good deal of writing and other work, read two books of over 450 pages, besides several newspapers, and I have not burned the midnight oil, nor am I a rapid reader.
The present list omits thousands of books that the compiler has read and enjoyed, but that are not to be included in any ‘select’ or ‘choice’ list. As with human beings, so with friends, we have a few lifelong friends and we have hundreds of acquaintances whom it is pleasant to meet, and there are thousands of people whom we meet only once or twice in a lifetime, though we may thoroughly enjoy the brief intercourse with them while it lasts.
Here, then, is my list, which follows the division of subjects suggested by my Wakefield correspondent.
Shakespeare. ‘Others abide our question; thou art free’ (Arnold)
The Bible ‘A remarkable and venerable anthology of fragments of Semitic literature’ (J.Cotter Morison). ‘Barbarous Greek done into divine English’ (referring to the Greek of Septuagint)
Montaigne’s Essays. Bacon’s Essays, Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress.’
Milton’s ‘Areopagitca’ (prose poetry) and shorter poems.
Selections from The Spectator. Grey’s ‘Elegy,’ Pope. Cowper.
Goldsmith’s Poems and ‘Vicar of Wakefield.’
Boswell’s Life of Johnson.
Burn’s Poems. Life of Burns by J.G.Lockhart.
Coleridge, Keats, Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Hood.
Scott’s Novels, not even excepting ‘Count Robert of Paris,’ his least successful. It deals with the vastly interesting Greek Empire and the Varangian Guard at Constantinople.
Macaulay’s Essays, Lays, and History
Carlyle’s ‘Sartor Resartus,’ ‘Heroes and Hero-worship.’ ‘Past and Present,’ and the essays on Burns, Scott and Boswell’s Johnson.
Charles Lamb’s Essays of Elia
Emerson’s Essays, Lectures and Poems
Most of Dickens Novels
Thackeray’s ‘Four Georges,’ ‘English Junmorists,’ Esmond’ and ‘The Virginians.’
James Thomson’s ‘City of Dreadful Night,’ and ‘In the room,’
Omar Khyyam, Fitzgerald’s Translation
Watt Dunton’s Essay on Poetry, Encyclopedia Britanica.
Swinburne’s ‘Songs Before Sunrise,’ D.G.Rossetti’s poems.
All of Tennyson. Much of Browning
Charles Reade’s ‘Cloister and Hearth.’
Lytton’s ‘My Novel,’ ‘The Caxtons’, ‘Last Days of Pompei.’
Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’ and ‘Descent of Man.’
George Eliot. All her novels except ‘Middlemarch.’
Charles Kingsley’s ‘Westward Ho,’ ‘Hereward the Wake,’ and ‘Notre Dame.’
Renan’s ‘Life of Jesus.’
Dumas ‘Monte Cristo,’ ‘The Black Tulip,’ and ‘The Three Musketeers’ series.
Zola ‘The Dram-shop,’ ‘Nana,’ ‘Money,’ ‘Germinal,’ ‘La Terre,’ ‘Dr Pascal,’ and the trilogy ‘Lourdes, Rome, Paris.’
Ruskin. Practically anything the reader can lay hands and find time for. If anything to be omitted, say ‘The Harbours of England,’ most of ‘Fors Clavingera’ and ‘Time and Tide.’
Matthew Arnold’s ‘Culture and Anarchy,’ and ‘Celtic Literature.’
Hawthorn’s ‘Scarlet Letter’.
Washingon Irving’s ‘A Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon.’
Morris Prose ‘A Dream of John Ball,’ ‘A King’s Lesson,’ ‘The Aims of Art.’ ‘Art and Socialism’ Poetry – Easier to state what may be omitted, such as the shorter and more modern poems, with ‘Sigurd,’ and the translations of Virgil and Homer. Some of the later poems are very fine, among them, ‘the Burgher’s Battle.’
Calverley’s Parodies. Kipling’s Stories (all of them)
Stevenson. Very nearly all of him. ‘Tales and Fantasies,’ and ‘The Merry Men’ are not quite up to his standard.
G.B.Shaw. Never wrote a dull or unimportant sentence. Novels, plays, essays all entirely momentous and readable.
H.G.Wells. Always supremely full of insight, abounding in felicity of phrase. Scientific, constructive, and in the collection of tales entitled ‘The Country of the Blind,’ represents the last word in quasi-scientific ingenuity, fertility and boundless inventiveness.
Neil Munro (Hugh Fowlis) ‘Erchie,’ ‘Para Handy,’ ‘The Vital Spark,’ ‘Jimmy Swan’ and ‘The Daft Days.’ The most nimble and versatile of all Scottish writers in the foregoing books which are in a quite different category from the same writer’s ‘John Splendid,’ Gillian the Dreamer,’ Fancy Farm’ and ‘The New Road.’ These may be omitted.
Irish Literature. J.M.Synge, Lady Gregory and W.B.Yeats.
‘The History of Political Economy’ by J.K.Ingram, Professor of Political Economy in Dublin University. This author (who is a Socialist) contributes the article on Political Economy to the Encyclopedia Brittannica. That article may be read instead of the book, which is now, I believe , scarce.
‘Communal and Commercial Economy,’ by John Carruthers. This book, also scarce, has as summary a pamphlet ‘The Political Economy of Socialism.’
Adam Smith’s ‘Wealth of Nations.’
Mill’s ‘Principles of Political Economy.’
Laurence Grunlund’s ‘Cooperative Commonwealth.’ (has been called the New Testament of Socialism.)
The Student’s Marx. Aveling
Henry George’s ‘Poverty and Progress.’
Sir Leo Chiozza-Money’s ‘Riches and Poverty.’
Ruskin’s ‘Unto this last.’
Spencer’s ‘The Study of Sociology.’
Bellamy’s ‘Looking Backward’ and its sequel ‘Equality.’
Morris’s ‘News from Nowhere.’
Green’s ‘Short History of the English People.’
Scott’s ‘Tales of a Grandfather.’
Torold Rogers ‘Six Centuries of Work and Wages.’
Justin McCarthy’s ‘History of our own Times.’
‘The Rise of the Dutch Empire,’ J.L.Motley.
Carlyle’s ‘French Revolution.’
Plutarch’s Lives. Langhorne’s translation.
The student will probably be struck with the number of omissions – notable omissions he may perhaps think. There is no Chaucer, Rabelais, Racine, Moliere, Plato or Dante, no Rousseau or Balzac, no Goethe or Lewing, or Wincklemann, no Hans Anderson, Grimm, Ibsen, Brandes or St Beuve. But this is not a student’s list – unless, indeed, he is a beginner. General literature is largely represented, and it is largely represented by novelists and poets at that. But if we could see the general reader with these books on his shelves, were in only as passing we should feel we were getting on in the development of intellectual interests.
When all is said, Literature of all subjects is least to be taught by tabloid. A lifetime and a temperament are required for it.
What it means to be non-political I have heard absurdly indicated in the remark of an illiterate printer’s labourer in Manchester long ago. Talk was going on about the visit of Queen Victoria to open the Ship Canal, and this poor man brought upon himself the withering scorn of the intelligent bystanders by declaring ‘She’s allus been a good queen. She’s allus seen that we’ve been at peace wi’ t’ world.’ A shout went up in protest, not only against the idea that we had always been at peace, but still more at the idea that she had anything to do with the matter either way.
And yet what real difference is there between this poor ignorant man’s view and the view of millions of male and female snobs, who, although they have had some education, still buzz around Royalty and meanly worship a mean thing with some sort of idea that it has a really worthy significance in the domain of government?
The cataleptic fatalism of the German mind so far as government is concerned is revealed in many ways, of which we shall cite only two. The one is the extraordinary form of reference to the Kaiser as the All-Highest. The other is the fact that while the Allies have had repeated changes of government and many minor changes of office during the three years of war, Bethmann-Hollweg, in spite of all hostile cabals and much disillusion, loss, suffering and the blackest outlook, is at the moment still in office and in almost solitary power.
If the Germans were an ignorant nation who knew nothing of the political forms of their neighbours and enemies, that would account for their tame subserviency. But they know about our popular elective government only to sneer at it as Parliamentarians, and to declare that it is in no way adapted to them nor do they wish to adopt it. They are, as a matter of fact, fighting and dying, pouring out their blood and treasure, in order to avert the democratisation of their State which other peoples have fought and died to secure, as they are now fighting and dying to defend and preserve it. Surely there was never a clearer illustration of how one nation’s meat is regarded by another nation as poison.
The Benign Necessity.
The value of politics and the necessity of being politicians is of all values and necessities the clearest. A community has to have its streets paved and lit, its traffic regulated, has to be lighted, watered, fed, warmed, policed, educated, and defended, has to be supplied with power and the means of transit and transport. All this means politics, much politics, more and more politics. The alternative to having communal services performed well and cheaply by the efficient, responsible public authority is to have them done badly and expensively by the irresponsible private profiteer.
The necessity of public spirit and enterprise was recognised by the Greeks of the Golden Age of Pericles when they called those men idiotees who took no interest in public affairs. That is to say, the oldest meaning of the word ‘idiot’ is, a non-political person. But many good men hold aloof from politics as necessarily an affair of trickery. Municipal representation tends to go a-begging or to get into the hands of anti-social interests. Corruption and jobbery are by no means confined to the land of tammanyism and it is not enough that tammanyism is lampooned all the time and that the more flagrant jobs are now and again publicly exposed in the reports of commissions or the lawcourts. The sentiment with respect to politics is so perverted that often we hear people boast that they take no stock in politics, and it is not accounted disgraceful that an obituary notice should frequently declare that the subject of it ‘took no part in public affairs.’
One has seen men with a passion for music, or for books, or for the theatre, or for wine, or money, or flowers, or horseflesh. We may make shift to do, at a very great pinch, without any or all of these, but we cannot do without politics. Wherever men are gathered together there must be rules of the social road, and these rules are politics. As all are equally oppressed by bad and blessed by good laws, clearly all have an equal right to participate, less or more, as arranged in the making, altering, and administration of the laws. And the inescapable penalty of taking no part in the business of government is that we shall be obnoxiously or even disastrously governed by others. That is precisely what has happened. Had the young men of Britain (and still more of Germany) known ten years ago that the long arm of the State would seek them out and clutchedthem for drill and dirt and wounds and death, dare we believe that they would still have pretended that politics did not matter to them? When the Government may take your very life, without crime committed on your part, surely nothing can be of greater importance than that you should take a hand in deciding whether or not the Government is to embark upon a policy which means that and nothing less to you. With the great nations social-democratised, war would have been unthinkable.
So much for the literally vital importance of politics. But what of the glamour and absorbing interest of the play of social forces in the world? The dullest newspaper is the most fascinating document of all in proportion to the extent to which, in peace as in war, it reflects the endlessly varied and fiercely pulsing life of the nations. One has known men whose grand obsession was draughts or chess. Just imagine anybody being more interested in the movements, according to rule, of inanimate pieces of black and white wood on black and white squares than in the free and fierce or glad and reluctant moves of the human pawns on the endlessly chequered board of life itself!
What the Politicians can do.
Writing in an age in which the best knew less about politics than comparatively humble men do today, Emerson said:
Republics abound in young civilians who believe that the laws make the city, that grave combination of the policy and modes of living, and employment of the population, that commerce, education, and religion may be voted in or out; and that any measure, though it were absurd, may be imposed upon a people if only you can get sufficient votes to make it a law.
Well, it can be, and historically it has been so. It is not necessary in a despotism to have even a majority of votes in order to carry laws which will make the people poor, or which will change all the social forms. In Germany one man can do it now, as Napoleon did it in France over a century ago. The Protestant Reformation was carried in England by Henry VIII because he wanted unlimited wives and the Pope raised difficulties. The monks were smoked out in Scotland because the rapacious nobles wanted the Church lands. Cromwell altered the entire aspect of life and the status of the nation for the duration of his life. Mr Lloyd George imposed an Insurance Act upon a recalcitrant nation in spite of all opposition. By a stroke of the pen the Kaiser plunged the world in war, as by a word he could depose his Chancellor, depose his chief-of-staff, and reign absolute and alone, with such State servants as he chose to carry out his Imperial will.
So that the young men of Emerson’s day and nation were not far wrong, though he throws cold water on their ideas at one point, and then immediately proceeds to confirm it later on. He says:
‘What the tender, poetic youth dreams, and prays, and palate today, but shame the ridicule of saying outloud, shall presently be the resolutions of public bodies, then shall be carried as grievance and bill of rights through conflict and war, and then shall be triumphant law and establishment for a hundred years, until it gives place, in turn, to new prayers and pictures.
Exactly; but always provided that your community is constitutionally governed – and has the young men who dream and aspire and make mental pictures of the State they desire.
Are there any such in Germany? Are there many such in Britain? There was a time when they were numerous in Britain, and the breed was not unknown in Germany. Karl Blind, Marx, Auguste, Babel, Freiligrach, Leibknecht, Lessner, were in their youth familiar with exile and the inside of prison. But the German youth of immediate pre-war times was only a bigger bounder than ‘Arry or Albert. The whole concern was ‘getting on.’ The German youth took his own case with portentous seriousness. He learned languages, he studied physical science, and he was not insensible to music and literature. But always his concern was for Number One. Even when he joined the Socialist movement there was, apparently, little idealism in his Socialism. He simply wanted a better time for himself, and had at least the sense to see that Socialism stood to give him that.
As it Was.
What influence moved the British young man of the pre-war period I do not pretend to know. In my own young manhood there were literary and debating societies on every hand. At one time I belonged to four. We read and discussed Herbert Spencer’s ‘Study of Sociology’ and ‘Social Statics,’ Henry George’s ‘Progress and Poverty’ and Laurence Grunlunds ‘Co-operative Commonwealth.’ We discussed the views of Bain, Buchner, Darwin, the politics of the hour, and we ranged over the whole field of belle lettres from Shakespeare to John Burroughs. We heckled members of Parliament, wrote to newspapers, served on committees, read ‘papers’ here and there, and proselytised among our associates. Workmen, bank clerks, young solicitors, medicatl students, were all in these four societies. I know nothing of the kind that existed in the immediate pre-war years. There were adult schools where old men lectured to the young men, the young men sitting dumb. There were Socialist branches where discussion did go on, a few young men taking part, more or less. But to most of us the young men of pre-war days, a well groomed lad, fond of tea, learned as to football teams, Cup statistics, cricket and racing form, with a straw hat, turned-up trousers, the deleterious cigarette constantly in his mouth, and he himself on the constant lookout for ‘a lark.’ He ran after girls a little, but fought more and more shy of marriage, that not being a lark. He was fond of music and sometimes played and sang. He preferred ‘the pictures’ or a music hall to the theatre. He was a ‘nice lad’ at home and ‘a good lad’ in the office or shop.
And that was about all there was to him. Do we blame him for being a pleasant, harmless, good-looking, colourless lad? We don’t. But if he does not blame himself by now – if he has learned nothing from the form of hell – we shall, to put it mildly, be very much surprised. Anyhow, there will still be some kick and a world of constructive purpose left in the men who were born in the sixties and earlier – before the world became tame and colourless.
I sometimes speculate as to what the Archbishop of Canterbury’s butler would think of the Twelve Apostles if they turned up at the palace. Swarthy, hirsute, some of them, like Peter, vehement and forward, all of them doubtless frowsy, as Jews and fishermen tend to be, they would impress the man of the corkscrew much as a deputation of dustmen would do. Yet these were the men who founded a system that curbed kings and made an emperor do penance in his shirt out of doors on a snowy day. They had the faith that moved mountains - a faith that communicated itself to others in endless irradiations outwards.
The original apostles of Socialism in Glasgow partook largely of the character of the twelve disciples, in the lowliness of their lot and the boundlessness of their faith and zeal. But there was one fundamental difference. The pioneers of Christianity had to put the emphasis upon personal sacrosanctity ‘The Kingdom of God is within you’ was their message, and like their leader, they seem to have lived up to it. The tale of their martyrdom is almost monotonous in its brevity and its uniform ending of crucifixion. Even Judas died of remorse. It was the great advantage of Christianity as a movement that it was a spiritual and not a political movement, that its kingdom of heaven came not with observation. Jesus himself imposed searching test – ‘Sell what thou hast and give to the poor… take up the cross and follow me’; but these were individual tests only. Neither he nor his followers had any politics, had anything to say against slavery, war, concubinage, or any of the main social institutions that shape men’s lives and characters more powerfully than anything that is merely within the individual.
The pioneers of Socialism also carried their cross, but it was the comparatively prosaic one of the industrial or commercial bargain with its by-products of poverty, visits to the pawn shop, short commona for the wife and bairns , and in not a few cases a life shortened by suffering and embitterment.
The average man is now more largely represented in the movement than he was in early days. In the eighties and nineties it required men of exceptional parts to be attracted to Socialism and to remain faithful to a movement that had so many ordinary deterrents and so few ordinary attractions.
Of ‘Little Robertson’ the tailor, it is related that one day his wife came up to a crowd of which he and his oratory were the centre. ‘Here’s him on again aboot that damn’t Social Revolution,’ she said. ‘He promised me a new silk goon when it comes aff’; but I’m thinkin’ it’s like royal chairlie, it’s lang o’ comin’.’
I do not know if Roberston was a native of Glasgow; but he worked there and did much public speaking there, and about the effectiveness of his appeal to the populace there could be no manner of question. The little man could talk by the hour, and the very commonness of his range of topics was the secret of his hold upon the crowd. He and his friend Bob Hutchison, a s shoemaker, would go on tour together, and although Hutchison was a much finer speaker, the little tailor won his real admiration by the effective sincerity of his homely speaking. The bigger man stood by listening, and at points would say for all the world to hear, ‘Man, isn’t he grand’!
It was the unfeigned admiration, so often seen, of a bigger man for a smaller as in the case of Burns for Fergusson, or Macaulay for Sir James Mackintosh.
Robert Hutchison, a shoemaker as said, was a native of Stranraer, and I think he retired and died there. In appearance and in some of his habits he was no very attractive missionary of a new evangel. Robert was ‘fond of a dram’ and made no secret of it. He wore a black sourtout coat, the state of which suggested that he had not been its first wearer. He had a blue scar across his biggish nose, and the injury that had left the scar had spoiled the shape of the organ itself. One day as I saw him brush his way into a railway station on a more or less public occasion, I thought he made rather an ugly drunk.
The occasion was the departure of a company of sixteen French delegates, who had come over to see the Glasgow Exhibition of 1888, and had been entertained to dinner by the Corporation first and by the Glasgow Socialists afterwards. Hutchison had made friends with them, as we all did; but the repeated festivities had set Bob on the spree.
Cunninghame-Graham had ridden up on his own horse, a fine figure of a man, had dismounted outside, and had made a speech in French to our visitors, much to their delight; and the public were impressed and pleased by the whole affair, when Bob swaggered in on the platform, sweeping other bystanders on one side. One was pleased to see how little harm the episode seemed to do.
The Frenchmen were all find men and fine-looking men. They had taught us to sing and dance ‘La Carmagnole,’ and we sang it again that day, and the train steamed out amid cheers, a red flag on a little staff with a brass finial to it fluttering out at one of the carriage windows. Someone had presented the visitors with it during their stay.
I was myself less shocked by the episode than I should have been had I not witnessed beforehand the indulgence with which Bob was treated. Bruce Glasier and I had been passing meeting on Glasgow Green one Sunday afternoon at which Bob was making a speech. He was moving along under full sail, with grandiose references to the Barings, the Rothschilds, and the Bank of Egypt, when he suddenly pulled up with a declaration that he was not in form at t the moment; that he was just off a three weeks’ spree, and ‘the whisky is oozing out of me at every pore. But,’ he continued, ‘if you will come along to our rooms tonight, I am to be lecturing on ‘The Ethics of Socialism,’ and I tell you, if the heads of H.M.Hyndman, William Morris, Belfort Bax, and all the rest of them had been put together they couldn’t have composed a better lecture than I shall give tonight. I know it’s a good lecture gentlemen. I wrote it when I was drunk, and I’m always inspired when I’m drunk.’
I was disgusted, but Glasier smiled, and said, ‘We’ll look in just to see what effect a statement like that will have.’
We accordingly did, and there was a good audience, and it was really a good lecture.
The chances are that, even in the state in which Hutchison declared himself to be, he would have had a copy of Shelley’s poems in the tail-pocket of his frock-coat. For he loved the poets and hated economists. When they tried to induce him to study Marx he declared with vehemence, ‘Do I need to read Marx or anyone else in order to learn that I am robbed and how the robbery is done?’
Perhaps it may not be superfluous to explain why Glasier and I only looked in at Hutchison’s meetings. Bob belonged to the Social-Democratic Federation, while we were members of the Scottish Section of the Socialist League. The chief man in the Federation was H.M.Hyndman, who believed in Parliamentary methods. The leading member of the League was William Morris, who somehow expected a sudden change by the modus of a revolutionary upheaval. We in Aberdeen from the outset believed in the policy of the S.D.F, and finally became affiliated with it, regarding it as foolish to expect men to shed their blood at the barricades when they would not shed ink at the ballot box for our candidates. Morris came in time to admit, handsomely, that he was wrong and Hyndman was right.
The Socialist League was introduced into Scotland by Andreas Scheu, a stalwart, handsome, brainy, in every way attractive Austrian, who had been obliged to leave the dominions of Francis Joseph because of his Socialist activity. He was employed as a draughtsman in Edinburgh, but later became a commercial traveller, with his home in London. An intensely electric speaker, he could be graphic, subtle, and delicate as well. He was the author of the very find song beginning ‘Where’er the eye its glance may throw,’ sung to his own tune (see Carpenter’s ‘Chants of Labour’). I have turned aside to mention Scheu because no one who had met him – no one, that is, with ‘an eye for a man’ – could ever forget him. Among his other claims to remembrance, he was the only man in London who could hector Charles Bradlaugh. He used to go to the Hall of Science when Bradlaugh was lecturing against Socialism, and, by sheer personality rather than sound argument, turn Mr Bradlaugh’s audience against him. One cannot help wondering how this attractive, masterful man fared during the war fever, when Teutons were so generally interned.
But the mention of Bradlaugh brings me back to Robert Hutchison. I have said that Scheu was the only man in London who could overbear Bradlaugh. But Bob Hutchison did so once in Glasgow. He also, was the possessor of a formidable indignant manner, and it is related that on one occasion he stormed Badlaugh’s platform, and denounced the self-styled ‘iconoclast’ as one who took away the hope of heaven from mankind, yet was content to offer them nothing in its place. This was not because Bob believed in the evangelical heaven any more than Bradlaugh did, but he rightly held that the Hope of the Ages for some approximation to a heaven on earth, as in Burns’s ‘it’s comin’ yet for a’ that,’ was a legitimate, commendable and comforting aspiration, which only a drab and barren soullessness would ignore, deny or belittle. Under the influence of his angry attack, Bradlaugh, as the story goes, was temporarily demoralised, and gathering up his notes, he hurried off the platform, his lecture having already, of course been delivered. Such is the power of strong feeling strongly expressed.
Hyndman, an excellent judge, gave Hutchison the credit of being in many respects one of the very finest orators he had ever heard. It is, indeed, not at all remarkable that a man of strong natural powers and much reading should speak with all the greater sincerity and force out of the depths of feeling engendered in a life of comparative failure. Who knows what Robert Hutchison might have been in happier surroundings and circumstances? I do not know his sotry. What I do know is that a man with a tithe of his ability and innate benevolence of mind and disposition has ‘succeeded’ and has stood very well in the eyes of the world and in his own eyes.
Bob Hutchison was not ‘good’ in the sacrosanct sense, but he was good for something. Whereas it often happens that the sacrosanct man is good for nothing and nobody but himself. He is so anxious to keep himself ‘unspotted’ that his virtues are chiefly of the negative sort. Bob Hutchison was of the ‘named and nameless’ battlers who put up a fight for the good of the world, present and to come –chiefly to come – and to listen to his pleadings for a better system was to listen, you felt, to one who could speak out of the depths of a bitter experience which the smug Pharisees had not got. The best men are often those most sorely tempted and are not always able to resist the temptation. But such men speak with all the greater authority and power of conviction, since none can be so profoundly convinced as they are themselves.
A very different type from Bob Hutchison the masterful was old McNaughton, the schoolmaster. The old man had kept a private school till it would no longer keep him. His last establishment had no playground attached to it, and on this an inspector duly commented, only to be assured that there was a beautiful playground near by. The story went that he took the inspector to Glasgow Green, and pointed to its vast acerage as representing the ample playfield provided for his scholars.
At a discussion in branch meeting he would sit silent till near the end, and then, getting up to speak, the softness and mildness of his high-set voice at the outset would be in marked contrast to the tones of those who had preceded him. He would say ‘comrades, I have listened with great interest to this discussion on political tactics. It is just possible that by these means we might be able to emancipate the working class. But gentlemen, I have a better method.’
His tone now began to rise.
‘Let us begin with the little children.’ Let us tell them how their fathers have been crushed, and how they will likewise be crushed when they grow up into manhood. And further let us train them to use the rifle and to SHOOT! And then, gentlemen, will their emancipation be sure.’
The finish up was a crescendo of vehemence. Poor old McNaughton! His last job was that of a lamplighter, ‘ the poor old lamplighter,’ as he described himself in accents of hushed and pathetic self-pity. By this time he had absented himself form the meetings, with some sort of idea that he would be looked down upon; and it was only when you fetched him up in the street, perhaps upon his rounds, that he would enter into talk.
It was greatly to his credit that, outshipped by the socialising of education as he was, he nevertheless was a supporter of the better system that had made a misfit of him. By comparison with the pigs and fools who make wars, rob the public, and decimate the human race in the interests of dividends which they do not even know how to spend, such men as the least of those I am sketching are the salt of the earth.
In these papers I am discussing, and propose to discuss, not mere politicians who reap where other men have sown, but men who were politicians only because they were Socialists. What the lightning candidate may be in his innermost mind, heaven only knows. Seats are won, it is feared, by the practice of great economy in the telling of the truth. That the people who vote ‘Labour’ accept the full implications of the party programme is hardly credible. To the extent that the voters do accept the promise of Socialism, their acceptance is due to the work of the unrewarded propagandists who have often lived in penury and grief, albeit with a great hope and conviction as their mainstay. To the climbing candidate the Cooperative Commonwealth is a shadowy thing, of the Ever, ever, and therefore (he may think) of the Never, never.
As I write, the efforts of official Labour seem to be directed towards maintaining the life of Capitalism rather than ushering in instalments of the Co-operative Commonwealth. One drawback of the Labour Party is that its leaders are largely men who have little or no practical acquaintance with business. Ex-secretaries, ex-civil servants, and ex-teachers can hardly be expected to be strong upon the practical construction and reconstruction of industry under public control. Happily there are some business men in the ranks also, and these may be expected to show the same enterprise in the public interest that they have shown in their own. For, as it happens, some of them have been Socialists first, and politicians afterwards. Social organisation is largely a matter of local government anyhow.
The man with whom I deal here have had the great Hope of the Ages as their religion. So far from seeking to minimise the implications in the interests of electoral success, it has been their consolation and delight to see in the Social Revolution a complete change in the whole orientation of human motives and relationships, a universal solvent of all the man-made bugbears, and disabilities of topsy-turvey civilization. The charm of their attitude was its disinterested idealism. They found their happiness by losing themselves in the contemplation of the Delectable State and the Sons and Daughters of Men made perfect. It is the oldest yet the newest religion. Its foundations are in the most sacred aspirations of the human mind, and its basis is the evidence of all the good that has been thought and said and done in the world throughout the ages of man’s long ascent from his ape-like progenitors.
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