I am the printing Press
Two Styles of it
I am the printing press, born of the mother earth. My heart is of steel, my limbs are of iron, and my fingers are of brass.
I sing the songs of the world, the orations of history, the symphonies of all time.
I am the voice of today, the herald of tomorrow. I weave into the warp of the past the woof of the future. I tell the stories of peace and war alike.
I make the human heart beat with passion of tenderness. I stir the pulse of nations, and make brave men do braver deeds, and soldiers die.
I inspire the midnight toiler, weary at his loom, to lift his head again and gaze with fearlessness into the vast beyond, seeking the consolation of a hope eternal.
When I speak a myriad people listen to my voice. The Anglo-Saxon, the Celt, the Hun, the Slav, the Hindu, all comprehend me.
I am the tireless clarion of the news. I cry your joys and sorrows every hour. I fill the dullard’s mind with thoughts of uplifting. I am light, knowledge and power. I epitomise the conquests of mind over nature.
I am the record of all things mankind has achieved. My offspring comes to you in the candle’s glow, amid the dim lamps of poverty, the splendour of riches; at sunrise, at high noon, and in the waning evening.
I am the laughter and tears of the world, and I shall never die until all things return to the immutable dust.
I am the printing-press.
(From Dixon’s Paper Circular) Ref: Dixon's paper circular and mems for printers. A trade journal?
The Other Fitte
I am the printing press, a great potential agency for good but sadly perverted to base uses. Originally the winged power that diffused ancient knowledge and modern wit, I was the scholar’s joy, the craftsman’s pride, the pioneer’s weapon, the reformer’s hope. Now I have become an unwieldy thing beyond the reach of the craftsman, my work carried on in a hot and acrid-smelling foundry of whining pulley flying belts, and clattering arms, a noisy and noisesome thing that makes conversation a shout and forbids the quiet amenities and leisurely minutiae of taste and scholarship.
I have become a mechanic aid to commerce and finance, prostituted to the production of bakers’ bags, butchers’ grease-proof, grocers’ bottle-wraps and shoemakers’ parcel-paper. The company promoter, the vendors of pills, ointments and cocoa claim me for their won.
The jazz-merchants exploit me for pleasures that make the young men forget the duties and studies, and scorn the enthusiastic hopes, that the world has always needed to keep it fresh and young.
I have become so big that rich men control me, and I am daily and hourly devoted to the dissemination of economic falsity, anti-social prejudice, political perversity, and hate between the nations.
When I was small I gave the world literature – ‘Hamlet’ ‘Paradise Lost,’ ‘The Spectator,’ now that I am bloated I afflict the public with the Daily Yell and the sloppy spawn of the bounders and boomsters of the fiction market.
Before I fell from grace I was used, even in remote provinces to beget books of verses, sermons, chronicles, or were it only the chap books that delighted the commonalty. Now the provincial printer sends out a traveller to bring him orders for manilla tags, envelopes printed on the flat, gum labels, yea, cardboard boxes, upon which my types are bashed and ground by replicas of tens of thousands at a run. For I have become a mechanic process pursued by mechanics for the profit of profiteers.
In the golden days of my youth the Elzevirs, Aldus Manutius and William Caxton used me to transmit the ancient learning, in which they were scholars and translators as well as being great typographers. The modern controller of me is a print merchant employing machine-men who do not even know how to place a page upon the paper – whose margins are always wrong.
For the trail of commerce is over me, and I am no longer an art of which the requisites are skill, taste and a tincture of letters, but a factory process in which the requisites are money and bagmen to scour the country for little jobs.
Yet am I still the printing press, capable of diffusing new knowledge that is good for the world, new hopes, new desires, new and boundless ambitions whose fulfilment would transform the face of the earth and the lives and personalities of all the men and women who live upon it. This is what the mighty printing press might be and might do if those who need me most and use me least would press me into their service also.
While the Sixth Commandment Still Holds
PROVOST LEATHAM ON THE POST OFFICE
Presenting medal-bars and certificates to members of Turriff Post Office staff for a year’s immunity from car or cycle accidents, Provost Leatham, speaking in the sorting hall on 20th May, said that was the fourth time he had come there on the same errand, and he had great pleasure in coming, first because of the occasion itself, and secondly, because of the admiration he had for the Post Office as an institution.
They received these decorations for obeying in the course of their work the Sixth Commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ There were thousands of death on the roads in a year, but nobody had had to put on mourning or even be taken to hospital for any act of omission of theirs. This was the very opposite reason for which a military decoration was given. Most of them were ex-Service men who had been trained in the bayonet exercise, and they knew that when instruction was given, the Sixth Commandment was not in the picture except in reverse. In war, evil became good and good evil; but to Post Office motormen and cyclists the old rule still held good, and they had once again been successful in complying with it. To save life and property was a natural instinct, and, necessary as it might be to ‘straddle a ship with a stick of bombs and leave it in a sinking condition,’ it was against human nature. Thomas Carlyle had added to the Eighth Commandment, ‘Thou shalt not steal, the natural corollary, ‘Thou shalt not be stolen from.’ A similar addendum was necessary in the Sixth Commandment. It would be ‘Thou shalt not be killed.’ The breach of the commandment lay with the aggressor.
There was great complaint as to the hold-ups practised by bureaucrats, Government officials who interfered in other people’s business; but the Post Office had its own workmen, and the surveyors who came around were practical men, servants of the Department, who knew what was wanted, not outside inspectors all of them with different views. Eighty-one years ago William Ewart Gladstone had started the only State Bank we had, the Post Office Banks, which now had over £400.000,000 of accumulated assets, and not a penny of it went in directors fees or dividends to share-holders. Those were the lines on which he wished to see all business conducted.
There were complaints also about the rise in postal rates. But they evidently hadn’t yet been raised in proportion to the rise in working costs, for the annual surplus used to be £12 ¾ million, but now it was down to £10,000,000. It was still the cheapest service in the community, with no overlapping duplication, competition, advertising or commercial travellers.
Provost Leatham was presented with a smoker’s outfit – pipes, tobacco, and matches – the local postmaster, Mr J.B.Clark, handing over the gift in name of the staff.
The question under discussion is whether being a Provost and Publisher presented a conflict of interests for James Leatham.
Leatham always maintained that his publishing has a propagandistic element to it – his thoughts about the press and publishing are well documented in his writings, especially in his autobiography ‘Sixty Years of World-Mending.’
His ‘propaganda’ is really just a claim that his writing is political and that he is not ashamed of his political viewpoint – Socialist.
Even today it surprises people that Turriff had a Socialist Provost, and Leatham was the first. How did it come about?
We can ask ourselves whether such a thing was so unusual and what circumstances brought it about.
I can think of two obvious suggestions
1) Local apathy. No one else wanted the job and so he snuck in there. Easy enough to do, even today.
2) He was well respected enough for his ongoing work for the community in the nearly 20 years he’d lived in Turriff, that his ‘politics’ wasn’t the biggest issue for the voters, it was his commitment to Turriff.
The ‘talk’ hasn’t taken place as I post this article so I can’t give detail on the discussion or conclusions drawn. Instead I will point you towards two pieces of Leatham’s writing which I will be focussing on.
Firstly a piece on The Post Office. Appropriate because our talks have taken place in the Auld Post Office Museum. Click HERE to read it
Secondly a piece on ‘The Printing Press’ which clearly shows Leatham’s views on publishing. Click HERE to read it.
The Orraman continues his exploration of our Edinburgh Boys...
Scott, Stevenson and Crockett
Everyone has heard of Walter Scott. He’s such a great Scottish writer that he’s even taught in English Literature Courses. (pause for ironic laughter) He has the mother of all monuments built to him in Edinburgh. He is well known as the author of the Waverley Novels (despite the supposed craving for anonymity at the time of publication) and he’s probably the least read bestseller of all times.
For the century after his death he was still widely read. All of our other Edinburgh Boys owe a debt to Scott. Stevenson and Crockett were brought up on Scott; both record reading him avidly for pleasure in their boyhood. Buchan still had plenty of good things to say about Scott. Leatham waxed lyrical about him as you can see here. I’ve already written about why his star waned and why I think no one reads him any more. See HERE
In terms of the blight of the bestseller, nearly all Scott’s works were bestsellers in their day, perhaps making it all the more remarkable that while he is still written about extensively, he is much less widely read. He’s become the icon of Scottish literature – ironically, because that means we pay greatest homage to a writer we rarely read and what does that tell us about the state of Scottish attitudes to literature? (Note I am not talking about the state of Scottish literature -and/or fiction – which is vibrant. I am talking about attitudes to reading, which are often if not always quite at variance with output from native writers.) I blame the concept of the literary canon, but that’s another story.
At the very least we can conclude that times change and with them both literary styles and reading ‘fashions.’ I’m revealing no secrets when I say that early 18th century style of writing with its somewhat cardboard characters and overlong descriptive passages, has fallen strictly out of favour with the modern reader. It is certainly an acquired taste, and one that many people do not fancy acquiring – not simply for the style but for the content. That’s certainly my excuse.
Scott represents a world that I have nothing in common with, and want to have nothing in common with. His perspective is that of the landed gentry and however well it is claimed he writes his ‘common’ people, he is definitely writing out of his class when he does so. He sees Scotland as North Britain. He is a Tory. Today he would definitely be Better Together. And all of this shines through in his writing. That’s my main reason for not reading him – ideological and cultural incompatibility. I doubt most people put this much thought into it. He’s just ‘boring’ is probably enough. It’s a salutatory lesson that writing which was considered edgy and exciting beyond compare even in the mid 19th century, is now completely old hat. There is much to be learned from Scott it’s true, but not that much to be ‘enjoyed’ in terms of fiction. We learn, to paraphrase Shakespeare (that ultimate literary ‘icon’) you can paint your fame and status an inch this but to this (nothing) you’ll come. There is no guarantee of immortality in literature. And the bestseller is as much of a writer’s blight as obscurity. It’s just a different canker.
Our next Edinburgh boy blighted by the bestseller, Robert Louis Stevenson is, I believe, a Scottish writer whose star is currently on the rise at least in the fashion of iconising and expanding the canon. He has certainly taken long enough to have risen from his obscurity. Forty years ago he was considered a children’s writer, (usually said with disparaging tone) and certainly not purveyor of ‘proper literature.’ Canons aside, his renaissance has been slow but steady. A lot of it depends on building and then keeping a reputation alive. The work of the Stevenson Society has been central to this. Stevenson’s blight is slightly different to Scott’s. With him we experience the Rise, Fall and Resurgence of a reputation.
While it’s arguable which of three of his ‘bestsellers’ is the one which casts the biggest blight, I suggest it is Treasure Island. You may disagree and offer up Kidnapped or Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. What all three have in common is that most of us will have encountered (and possibly firstly encountered) one or all of these in forms other than the original. Treasure Island is best known as a film and cartoon, Kidnapped and Dr Jekyll have both been filmed and Dr Jekyll was doing the rounds as a stage play from the 1880’s What all of these have in common is that none of the adaptations is particularly faithful to the original story. So the question is, did the films kill the books? Does familiarity breed contempt? Or are we just preternaturally lazy when it comes to reading ‘originals.’ Do we unwittingly subscribe to the ‘Never mind the quality feel the width’ cliché.
I have recently re-read all of these Stevenson works and they all surprised me. Treasure Island seems singularly inappropriate as children’s fiction and Kidnapped is much more than the ‘snippets’ I remembered of it. I still contend that the scene where David Balfour is sent up the ruined stairs in the dead of night by his wicked uncle is one of the most powerful and horrific scenes in fiction – leaving at least as deep a psychological effect on the reader as anything in the more obviously psychologically inspired Jekyll and Hyde. But beyond that I had vague memories of the flight in the heather, the fight in Round House, and little more. If you want to revisit Stevenson, I would recommend reading Kidnapped immediately followed by Catriona. It puts many things in perspective, including the role of Alan Breck Stewart. Reading them as a continuous narrative gives a completely different perspective to the story of both.
Treasure Island and Kidnapped are both set in the 18th century but they are worlds away from Scott’s 18th century. Perspectives on history change with time and how Scott saw the relatively recent past is vastly different from how Stevenson (and in his turn Crockett) saw the same period. In turn these offer (at least for me) a more interesting perspective on that period – one which holds its values up to question – though I suspect that for many 21st century readers the joy of viewing a 19th century perspective of the 18th century is rather too rarified a pleasure.
Jekyll and Hyde is set more contemporary for Stevenson, and I like it for that. It fits nicely into the contemporary fiction of a kind of post Gothic psychological drama, but once again reading the book (or re-reading it) is likely to offer the reader quite a different experience from the sort of created iconic collective memory we may have developed of it. Placing it in context with other works of the period is also a useful and interesting experience.
The ‘real’ Stevenson as writer is blighted by Treasure Island, and to a lesser extent by the other two mentioned works, and the blight is that people do not explore further. And there is so much more. From Master Of Ballantrae to his non-fictional writings, from A Child’s Garden of Verses to his journalistic writing Stevenson is one Scots writer who is definitely worth investing time in reading. And (no insult intended to children’s fiction) he definitely deserves more than being dismissed as purely a children’s writer.
As Scott influenced Stevenson, so in his turn Stevenson influenced Crockett. Each man picks up the baton and carries on the Romantic tradition in Scots fiction – a tradition horribly overlooked. Romanticism is seen as an English, primarily poetic tradition, but it lingered (and developed) long in Scottish fiction.
It may seem strange that Crockett – termed on the centenary of his death in 2014 as ‘Scotland’s forgotten bestseller’ is considered thus blighted. He is, after all, forgotten. Like Scott, he is little read, but for completely different reasons. Crockett writes history adventure romance stories (often all three genres in one novel) which clearly owe much to the Romantic tradition established by Scott and Stevenson, but also to the realist tradition of Galt and the super-natural Romance of Hogg. Yet he is unique in his own style and it is the kind of style that has today morphed into Outlander. He could out Poldark Poldark and his tales feature smugglers, gypsies, and most importantly ordinary rural folk whose experiences show us that there are no ‘little’ people in history it’s just that the little people are too often overlooked in a culture obsessed with royalty, celebrity and status. Crockett’s writing turns all this on its head.
Of the reasons why he is a blighted bestseller I could write for hours. Perhaps the two most obviously significant are that he came from a completely different class than Scott and Stevenson. Crockett was of the working class and was propelled into celebrity status as mass market publishing took over. He trained as a minister but he was no ‘gentleman.’ Like the Galloway he wrote about, the rough edges of Crockett were never fully rubbed away. And his writing is all the better for that. Crockett is in nowise aspirational in his tales. He rails against hypocrisy wherever he finds it – and he finds it everywhere. This minister turned novelist, born the illegitimate son of a dairy maid was the Dickens of his day. But unlike Dickens, he never took control of the means of his own production. He wrote for and edited journals but he never owned them. He turned to A.P.Watt, the inventor of the literary agency, to manage his business affairs, and he just kept writing. He died at an inappropriate time (just before the start of the First World War) and had no ‘champion’ to keep his memory alive. So his work went out of print. Beyond Galloway he was quickly forgotten – the blight of the bestseller culture. You are only as good as your last chart hit! Bestsellers are by their very nature usually time-limited. Longevity is more about continual promotion and marketing – keeping the writer in the public consciousness – rather than anything to do with the quality of the writing.
Which brings me to the other way in which Crockett was blighted by the accolade ‘bestseller.’ He was a victim of the very promotional hype which pushed him to stardom. His first ‘bestseller’ was a collection of ‘sketches’ from magazines entitled The Stickit Minister. Stevenson loved it and wrote an introduction to the second edition. Off the strength of this, in 1894 (ironically the year Stevenson died and the mantle was just waiting to be picked up) Crockett burst onto the scene with no fewer than four publications. All of them bestsellers. The two full length novels The Raiders (which bears some comparison to Kidnapped) and The Lilac Sunbonnet (bearing some comparison to Barrie’s The Little Minister) sold in their droves. The Raiders especially has remained the one Crockett novel everyone who has ever heard of him, has heard of. But it is no more representative of his prodigious output (some 67 published works) than Timon of Athens is of Shakespeare’s. If it’s all you read of Crockett it won’t give you a fair picture. Yet for years it was just about the only Crockett novel in print and certainly the only one anyone ever wrote or talked about or referred to.
I would not that comparisons often suggest derivativeness, but Crockett is not derivative. He is unique. He learns and draws from a wide range of Scottish fiction before him, but he has been ‘pigeonholed’ too easily and victim of what was frankly no more than a smear campaign by the Scottish Renaissance ‘Modernists’ who claimed his work was Kailyard without properly defining that – and, I suggest, without properly reading his oeuvre. It’s easy to give a dog a bad name in publishing and mud sticks. Like condemning Stevenson to be seen as a children’s writer.
It is time for a mature reflection on our Edinburgh boys – taking context into account – acknowledging the bestseller blight that has developed – and returning to primary texts with an open mind and a willingness to view from a less jaded perspective.
Next month I will have a look at our other three Edinburgh boys - J.M.Barrie, Arthur Conan Doyle and John Buchan – and see how they too were blighted by the bestseller.
The art of Writing, like every other art, may be divided into two parts: one which cannot be taught, and one which can.
You cannot teach the Writer to feel life in a manner such as to make it worthwhile that his feelings be communicated to others. But you can teach the Writer to communicate such feelings as he has, whether worthy or not of communication, by the skilful manipulation of the Reader's mind. For the craft of Writing is based upon the psychological fact that, to an extent unknown in other arts, the literary work of art is dependent on two persons, the one who speaks and the one who listens, the one who explains and the one who understands, the Writer and the Reader; a fact which resolves itself into the still more fundamental fact, that the words which are the Writer’s materials for expression are but the symbol of the ideas already existing in the mind of the Reader; and that, in reality, the Reader's mind is the Writer's palette. The Writer's materials are words, and those groupings, larger and smaller, of words which we call sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and other groupings for which we have no name, but which contain such groupings as, say, parenthetical passages, explanations, retrospects, and so forth; and it is by arranging these that he copies, so to speak, his own feelings and ideas. But these words, are in reality merely signals which call up the various items -visual, audible, tactile, emotional, and of a hundred different other sorts -which have been deposited by chance in the mind of the Reader. The words are what the Writer manipulates in the first instance, as the pianist manipulates in the first instance the keys of his instrument. But behind the keyboard of the piano is an arrangement of hammers and strings; and behind the words are the contents of the Reader's consciousness; and what makes the melody, the harmony, is the vibration of the strings, the awakening of the impressions in the consciousness.
The Writer is really playing upon the contents of the Reader's mind, as the pianist, although his fingers touch only the keyboard, is really playing on the strings. And the response to the manipulation is due, in both cases, to the quality of what is at first not visible: the Reader's conscious ness, the living, vibrating string.
The efficacy of any word or class of words depends upon the particular nature and experience of the individual reader or class of reader. It is evident, for instance, that a man born blind will not respond to words intended to awaken visual images; and that a man in possession of his sight, but employing it only so far as indispensable for his convenience, will feel the efficacy of visual nouns and adjectives only in a negative way. Moreover, the experiences of each individual Reader will have given some kinds of stored-up impressions a greater tendency to reappear in his mind than others; we all know how different people will single out different passages of the same book as having impressed them. A soldier, for instance, will be more impressed by those words and sentences in a story by Mr. Kipling which evoke, or can evoke, images and feelings connected with barrack life; while a painter, no doubt, will scarcely notice those words and sentences, but will feel very keenly the passages, the adjectives and metaphors evoking aspects of sky and water and moving outlines of figures.
Words will be efficacious in many ways, and through two reasons; their familiarity on the one hand, and their unfamiliarity on the other. A word which is very frequently employed and in a very great variety of circumstances, will tend to become very wide in meaning and very massive, as psychologists express it, in the kind of feeling it awakens; each successive use of the word, implying, as it does, a state of mind, a way of thinking or feeling, leaves clinging to that word something of that state of mind, of that way of thinking and feeling.
And in this way the word becomes exceedingly composite, something like a composite photograph; through the accumulation of different meanings which have been connected it will widen out its general meaning, and widen also, to the extent sometimes of obliterating all special quality, the feeling attached to it. Think of such a word as Sea. It awakens in our mind an incredible number of possible visual, audible, sensible, and emotional impressions: wide, deep, wet, green, blue, briny, stormy, serene, a thing to swim or drown in, connecting or severing countries; moreover, a word which may awaken in our mind, because it has been accompanied with so many different ones, feelings of gladness or terror or sorrow. Thus, the word Sea is one of those which suggest most, but also most confusedly; and it is a word, also, which we probably none of us hear without a degree of emotion, infinitely more emotion than, say, a word like Bay or Gulf-but an emotion so compounded of different emotions as to be quite un classifiable, and perceptible only as a very vague, faint general excitement. These images and states of mind, which a word brings up because they have accompanied it, are what I should wish every Writer to analyse as a deliberate exercise, unless he is already extremely aware of their peculiarities; and those are what I mean by the commutations of words.
I have now come to the point where I want to direct your attention to the most important question in all literary craft, the question, if I may call it so for greater briefness, of the Adjective. I believe that you will find in dictionaries and grammars that the Adjective is the word which serves to qualify a noun. I am taking it in a much wider sense, and as including, besides the kind of word grammatically licensed to qualify nouns, and the other kind of word, namely, the adverb, grammatically licensed to qualify verbs, every kind of word of whatsoever category which serves to qualify another word; and also, every form of speech, comparison, metaphor, or even descriptive or narrative fragment, which does duty to qualify other parts of speech or fragments of statements. For all writing consists in two processes, very distinctly separate: a process of awakening ideas which are already existing, ready for combination in the mind of the Reader; and a process of qualifying those ideas by the suggestion of other ideas, in order that the principal ideas or sets of ideas be not only matched as closely as possible with the ideas or sets of ideas occupying the mind of the Writer, but that these principal ideas or sets of ideas should lead more irresistibly or easily to the other ideas or sets of ideas which are to follow. For we must remember always that the business of writing is not with effects co-existent like the obvious effects of painting, but rather successive, existing essentially in time, like the obvious effects of music. I have been pointing out to you that a word taken separately, for instance any noun, awakens an image in the mind which is apt to be complex and vague, and self contradictory, because every time that the word has been used it has been used in slightly varying circumstances, a deposit of each of which has been left, more or less faintly, in the mind. Nearly every word has meant, turn about, so many different main calls on our attention; the word Sea, for instance, has meant, turn about or simultaneously, an impression of sight, colour, sound, smell, breath, and so forth, and what is more, a different kind of impression of each of these kinds, so that in order to awaken the particular impression we want, we have to cut off the possibility of some or all the others being revived. We have to shut the doors to impressions we do not want and to concentrate, in a way to canalise, in a particular direction those which we do want.
That which thus acts as a door to exclude irrelevancies, as an embankment to concentrate impressions, and again, as a signpost (forgive this confusion of metaphors) to indicate the direction of future impression, nay, as a window through which to catch glimpses of the impressions we are heading for, -this qualifier, adjective, adverb, or adjectively- or adverbially-employed metaphor, simile, or bare fact, is the chief instrument by which the Writer can rearrange the thoughts and feelings of the Reader in such a way as to mirror his own. Hence one might take it as one of the first precepts of writing that no adjective, by which I mean no qualifier, is ever without a result. You may, perhaps, merely waste principal items, facts, nouns, and verbs which are not acting as qualifiers; but you cannot merely waste an adjective or qualifier: an adjective, if it does not help you, goes against you.
Adjectives are usually imagined to add something to nouns, and this slovenly notion is perhaps responsible for some amount of bad writing. A noun is almost always the representation of reiterated experiences of a similar kind, and it is always the representative of a simultaneous combination of many kinds of impression: it represents different modes of perception or emotion, even if it does not represent different occasions on which these different modes of perception or emotion have been united. This being the case, it is most improbable that the Writer will ever want to revive at once all the impressions grouped simultaneously under the heading of this noun, and I think I may boldly say that it is impossible he can ever want to revive at once all the impressions which, on successive occasions, have become stored up as a part and parcel of this noun. Consequently, one principal use of the adjective will be to direct the Reader's attention to the particular portions of the noun which are to be revived; the adjective will limit the noun; as, for instance, when we speak of the stormy sea, or the blue sea, we are not adding to the impressions conveyed by the word sea, but, on the contrary, diminishing them .
It is probably the increasing richness of connotation of nouns, a richness due to the constant addition made by every human being's experience, which accounts for the increasing use of adjectives. The very early ancients, the northern writers of the Middle Ages, did not require to use adjectives as much as we do, because their nouns were poor in significance, had, so to speak, few aspects, and they were, therefore, not obliged to limit the significance, to select the aspect; similarly, as regards all visual impressions, with the writers of the eighteenth century: they did not care for the visible aspects of things, and words, therefore, suggested to them but very few visible aspects among which to select-a hill was a hill, not a rounded hill or a peaky hill, so it was quite enough to say hill, or at most to say that it was a horrid hill; since to those comfortable, sedentary people there existed only two kinds of hill-the hill easy to climb and with a bench on the top, and the hill without a bench, and, owing to its difficulty of climbing, practically without a top.
The strings of the piano, whose vibrations the pianist selects and groups into patterns, have been arranged to suit the necessities of piano playing. They represent the convenience of generations of pianists. Moreover, the strings of the piano stay quiet when they are not struck by the hammer which the pianist's finger brings down on them by touching the keys; and a note does not suddenly ring out, and then another note, quite unexpectedly, because some other note has been struck with which they had some affinity unknown to the player. But the instrument played upon by the Writer, namely, the mind of his Reader, has not been arranged for the purpose of thus being played upon, and its strings do not wait to vibrate in obedience to the Writer's touch, but are for ever sounding and jangling on their own account. The impressions, the ideas, and emotions stored up in the mind 0f the Reader, and which it is the business of the Writer to awaken in such combinations and successions as answer to his own thoughts and moods-these, which you must allow me to call, in psychologist' s jargon, "Units of Consciousness," have been deposited where they are by the random hand of circumstance, by the accident of temperament and vicissitudes, and in heaps or layers which represent merely the caprice or necessity of individual experience. They are a chaos; but-what is worse for the Writer who wishes to rearrange them to suit his thought or mood-they are chaos of living, moving things. For the contents of our mind, the deposit of our life, obey a law on which depends all the success and all the failure of writing: the law of the Association of Ideas; that is to say, the necessity, whose reason is one of the great problems of mental science, of starting into activity, in the order in which they were originally stored up, the various items united in our real experience tending to awaken one another in our memory. But, besides this storage of the Reader's thoughts and feelings (or their rudiments) in layers answering to the accident of life, there is another typical kind of such storage which will give the Writer, in his attempts to rearrange the Reader's mind, an equal amount of trouble, I mean the storage by the process of rough and ready practical classification, which comes as the result of life also. Let me explain myself : a certain shape of house, a certain tone of voice, a certain philosophical view, a certain sensation of warmth, a smell of wet earth or warm fir trees have been stored up together accidentally; but the operation of constantly comparing and sorting one's own impressions-which the very fact of living, of ordering our conduct, is constantly forcing on us, and which goes on for ever in the individual and the race-may have rearranged these impressions in its abstract pigeon holes; that particular shape of house will have been thrust unconsciously into the same heap with other shapes of houses; the tone of voice, the contralto notes, say, will have been bundled together with other tones of voice, other contraltos, and probably with tenors and basses and trebles; the philosophical opinion will have been thrown on to the other philosophical opinions, and the sensations of warmth, the smell of wet earth or warm fir trees, will be somewhere in the same box as other sensations of temperature and other smells. Hence, there is as much possibility of any of these items of consciousness, if touched by the Writer, if made to vibrate under the pressure of the signalling word, there is as much probability of any of these items of consciousness evoking its neighbours in the dull, abstract order of work-a-day classification, as in the vivid emotional order of actual individual experience.
And out of this accidental chaos, out of this rough and ready classification, out of twenty different possibilities of storage and neighbourhood, the Writer must summon up such items of the Reader's consciousness as he wants for his particular purposes; the Writer must select, for the formation of his particular pattern of thought or fact or mood, such as be requires among these living molecules of memory, such and such only as he wants - not one other, on pain of spoiling his pattern- and for this he has to make use of that very fact of association of ideas which seems so much against him, finding the secret of wakening ideas by other ideas-the secret of putting ideas to sleep also.
It is by this selection and arrangement of the essential virtues (if I may use the expression) of words that we communicate not merely the facts of life, but, so to say, the quality of those facts; that we make the Reader feel that these are facts, not merely of life in general, but of the life of one particular kind of temperament and not of another.
There are words which, owing to their extreme precision-a precision demanding time for thorough realisation, or to their excessive philosophical generality, causing the mind to lose time in long divagations-there are words which make the Reader think and feel, in a way live, slowly; and there are other words which make the Reader think, feel, and live quickly, and quickly and smoothly, or quickly and jerkily, as the case may be. Above all, there are arrangements of words combinations of action and reaction of word upon word, which, by opening up vistas or closing them, make the Reader's mind dawdle, hurry, or labour busily along. Now, by a law of our mental constitution, whatever kind of movement a picture, a piece of music, or a page of writing sets up in us, that particular kind of movement do we attribute to the objects represented or suggested by the picture, the music, or the writing; it is no idle affectation, no mere conventional desire to make things match, which makes us hate the lengthy telling of a brief moment, the jerky description of a solemn fact. We dislike it because two contrary kinds of action are being set up in our mind; because the fact related is forcing us to one sort of pace, to what is even more important, one sort of rhythm, and the words relating that fact are forcing us to another pace, to another rhythm. Some of the most extraordinary effects in literature are due to the accidental, unconscious meeting of a subject and a selection of words which reinforce one another too much. Neither the fact nor the wording is in itself overwhelming, but the joint action of the two overwhelm s one. Thus Flaubert, by his enormous abundance of precise visual adjectives, by his obvious elaboration and finish, turns passing effects into unchanging pictures. There is probably twice as much adventure, hairbreadth escape, intrigue, and so forth, in "Salambo " as in the "Master of Ballantrae"; yet while the personages in Stevenson's story affect us as in perpetual agitation, the people in Flaubert's great novel seem never to be doing anything ; to be posing in tableaux vivants, or, at the utmost, moving rhythmically for the display of costumes and attributes, like figures in a grand ballet.
On the other hand, George Eliot, with her passion for abstract scientific terms and scientifically logical exposition, often sacrifices entirely that evanescent, nay sometimes futile, quality without a degree of which life would wear us out in six months. And for this reason she conveys a wrong impression of characters whom, considered analytically, she understood thoroughly. Thus, Hetty Sorrel, whom we ought to think of as a poor little piece of cheap millinery, remains for our feelings, for our nerves, a solid piece of carpentering (please note by the way how the everlasting reference to carpentering weighs down, ruler-marks, and compass-measures the whole novel)-a Hetty dovetailed and glued, nailed and screwed, and warranted never to give way! This scientific dreariness of vocabulary and manner of exposition explains very largely why George Eliot's professed charmeurs and charmeuses Tito, Rosamond Viney, Stephen Guest, are so utterly the reverse of charming. They are correctly thought out, as mere analyses, and never do anything psychologically false or irrelevant; but they are wrongly expressed, although, as I am more and more convinced, and as I hope some day to prove to you, such wrong expression is due, in the last resort, to imperfect or wrong emotional conception, as distinguished from intellectual, analytical comprehension. George Eliot has another mannerism which alternates with this to create an impression different from the one she is aiming at; for she has also a little dry, neat, ironical, essay style (imitated from Fielding and the Essayists) which creates an impression of the excessive trumperiness of human struggles and woes (which, Heaven knows, she never felt to be trumpery); while at the same time she is making the limited feelings of obscure individuals into matters of state of the Cosmos by the use of terminology usually devoted to the eternal phenomena of the universe.
These peculiarities in the selection of words and their arrangement, like the even more important peculiarities in modes of exposition of the whole subject, are, I think, largely matters of inborn tendency; they express the Writer's way of seeing, feeling, living much more than we think. So that the art of the Writer consists less in adapting his style to the subject, than his subject to his style. George Eliot although not one of her books is, from the artistic standpoint, a great book-had still, no doubt, a side on which she was a great writer. The happy passages in her books, for instance the analytic auto biographical chapters (not unlike Rousseau's) in the " Mill on the Floss," seem to indicate what her real field of artistic supremacy might have been; as it is, the bulk of her work leaves a sense of wearisome conflict-conflict between what she has determined to say and the manner in which she is able to say it, and this because she disregarded her inherent peculiarities of style when choosing a subject. Stevenson and Pater, on the contrary, seem to me to show, in two totally different kinds of work, the most perfect fusion of style and subject. In Mr. Pater's "School of Giorgione," for instance, and in the Bass Rock episodes of "Catriona," it is quite impossible to say where style begins and subject ends. One forgets utterly the existence of either, one is merely impressed, moved, as by the perfectly welded influences of outer nature, as by the fusion of a hundred things which constitute a fine day or a stormy night.
Instead of summing up these remarks on the selection of words, on the action and reaction which their connotations provoke, I will merely say that one does not want to open up side vistas in a narrative which is intended to speed through time; and that one does not want narrowing down adjectives or definite and highly active verbs, in the description of a mood: it must float, wave, and give the notion of impalpable transitoriness.
You will have noticed that, in what I have just been saying, I have gradually, almost unconsciously, slid into speaking of something much more considerable than the choice of words. I have even used the expression "exposition of the subject.” These two merge; while still speaking of construction in the narrower sense, I am obliged to forestall the treatment of construction in the wider. For it is all construction, whether we be manipulating what I called single units of consciousness, and the Words which bid them start forward; or whether we deal with the whole trains of thought, the whole states of feeling into which these units of consciousness have been united, and which larger fragments of intellectual building material are themselves ordered about in groups of sentences, paragraphs, or chapters. Whatever we are doing, so long as we are writing, we are manipulating the consciousness of the Reader. But why, one asks oneself, why should this rearrangement of the ideas and feelings of the Reader be such a difficult matter, since all we are aiming at is, after all, to awaken in the Reader the trains of thought and the moods which already exist in the Writer ? Why all this manipulation and manoeuvring? Why not photograph, so to speak, the contents of the mind of the Writer on to the mind of the Reader? Simply because the mind of the reader is not a blank, inert plate, but a living crowd of thoughts and feelings, which are existing on their own account and in a manner wholly different from that other living crowd of thoughts and feelings, the mind of the Writer. We are obliged to transmit our thoughts and feelings to others in an order different from the one in which they have come to ourselves for one very important reason-that they are our thoughts. Being our thoughts means that they are connected with our life, habits, circumstances, born of them; it means that they are so familiar that we recognise them whether they come out head foremost or tail foremost, and into however many and various fragments they may be broken. To the Reader, on the contrary, they are unfamiliar, since they are not his; and the habits and circumstances of the Reader, so far from helping him to grasp them, distract him by sending up other thoughts and feelings, which are his own. Add to this that the mere fact of original feeling and thinking, the fact of creation in ourselves, puts weigh on in a manner which no amount of merely receptive attention can replace. All writing, therefore, is a struggle between the thinking and feeling of the Writer and of the Reader.
These are a few of the facts of literary construction, of the craft of manipulating the stored up contents of other folks' minds, in the arrangement of words and sentences, of paragraphs and passages. But all the rest is construction also, however far we go, although the construction of a whole book stands to the construction of a single sentence as the greatest complexities of counterpoint and orchestration stand to the relations of the vibrations constituting a single just note. It is always, in small matters and in large, the old question of what movements we can produce in the Reader's mind ; and what other movements we must prevent or neutralise in order that those we desire should have free play.
[VERNON LEE was the pseudonym for Violet Paget.]
Autumn on Deveronside.
A HOMELY LAY ON A HOMELY THEME.
The bonnie sheaves they a’ day lead -
Kind Nature’s golden treasure!
There’s ne’er a year but brings its breid,
And this gies heapit measure.
Oor ain bit Haugh was early cleared -
The first in a’ the pairish -
And though wi’ aits sae aften eared,
Again the yield was fairish.*
Already girss is grouin’ green
Faur lately waved the yellow,
And snod and loesome lies the scene,
While autumn still is mellow.
The trees yet keep their leafy dress,
The burn rins low and clearly,
The daylight oors weir less and less,
And frosts are late and early.
The fishers haunt the waterside,
And tempt the troot fu’ eydent
Faur darklin’ waters slowly glide,
And banks gie shade to hide in’t.
The reaper’s birr comes owre the hill,
Though cairts are likewise leadin’,
And though the dronin’ thrashin’-mill
Keeps tenty hands a-feedin’.
Trig, lythe, yet airy stands oor toon
On Deveronside rale jaunty,
Wi’ trees, and knowes, and streams aroun’,
And fowk and bields fu’ canty.
The vale ’twixt here and Hatton’s towers
Lies level as ’tis spacious,
An emeralt strath and emeralt bowers,
A prospect wide and gracious.
* The Haugh lands belonging to the Town of Turiff were reaped, cleared, and the crop threshed by the last Saturday in August, and the oats fetched 22s. a quarter, the weight being 45½ lbs. to the bushel, or 3½ lbs. above the standard, though it was the third corn crop in succession on cold and wet land. The work was directed by the Burgh Surveyor, who has no regular staff, but simply hired casual labour. The neighbouring farmers are still struggling with the harvest in the second week of October, and the price of oats has fallen in the interim to 18s. to 2os. This is presumably another illustration of how inefficient public enterprise is as compared with private enterprise!
To a’ that till the earth, and drive
A bargain hard wi’ Natur,
We gie the wish, Lang may ye thrive,
Ilk man an’ mither’s cratur!
The fowk in ceeties get their keep
In mony a curious set o’t,
And if ye tak them in the heap,
They’re maybe in oor debt o’t,
‘Tis true they send us ferlies grand -
News, music, books, and fashions,
But ’tis the country-workin’ band
That hands them gaun in rashuns.
Meal, mutton, eggs, and pork and beef,
The steens to bigg their dwallins,
Wi’ sticks to cover fleer and reef,
An’ furnish forth their hallans.
The ’00 that cleeds their backs, the lint
For bed and table linens,
Cheese, butter, milk (wi’ fushion in’t!),
And vegetable trimmins.
Fruit, nits, and flooers, the feathered race,
The salmon fae the rivers,
The coal that lichts and warms a place,
And likewise cooks your vivers.
They’re a’ the products o’ the lan’,
An’ got by folk deservin’;
The miner, quarrier, husbandman
Stand first at life-preservin’.
’Tis for the labourer himsel’
To see he’s richt rewardit;
They that would live, and live full well,
Their standard they maun guard it.
If fashions cheenge and meal gaes oot,
And corn an’ bear’s less wantit,
We jist maun turn oorsels aboot,
Refusin’ to be dauntit.
If grain comes in fae foreign pairts
At figures past the beatin’,
And aye the price for yowes and mairts
Suggests that some fowk’s cheatin’,
We’re free to buy and sell direct
In sound Co-operation.
Lat interaistit fowk object -
The middleman’s ruination.
We hae the pooer the law to set,
That, spite o’ a’, the boddom
Is nae ca’d oot o’ Scotland yet
If we’ll but show some smeddum.
Nae vexin’ tariffs we would seek
To hamper naitral tradin’,
And fill the pooches o’ a clique
Gie public servants full Control
O’ import beef and grain stock,
And free’t at prices that would thole
A livin’ to oor ain folk.
The profits made would be for a’
Instead o’ for the feow, man,
And agriculture far awa
Would thrive as weel, I trow, man.
For husbandry the warld owre
Fares in but poorish wyes, man,
And time it is we harled owre
The system, reet and rise, man.
There’s plenty still for willin’ hands
That would fulfil the Scriptur,
And, cultivatin’ gratefu’ lands,
Enjoy the honest raptur
O’ cleedin’ honest backs wi’ ’oo,
And feedin’ still the hungry;
For plenty follows still the ploo -
To doot o’t maks me angry.
There’s beet for sugar, hens for eggs,
And swine for ham and bacon;
If corn’s less nott for feedin’ naigs,
By pigs and hens it’s taken.
And so I say, enjoy this time
When hairst is led and thackit;
In every land, in every clime
We’ll still be fed and happit.
And if the produce o’ the rigs
Can nae be sell’t for cash, man,
We still can weir and eat it. Fegs,
Oor thooms we needna fash, man!
Though stocks and shares and foreign trade
Had a’ gane helter-skelter,
We’d still be fed and warmed and claid,
And still hae fun and shelter.
Whatever serves man’s lawfu’ need
Is wealth withoot financin’
The fowk that haud the contrar’ creed,
It’s they that are romancin’.
The willin’ lan’, the eydent sun
Reward our due endeavour,
And while the world its course shall run
We’ll still enjoy this favour.
Turriff, Sept., 1926.
Principles and Palliatives.
I doubt if the conferences between Ben Turner and Lord Melchett will make very much difference when Capital is bent upon a wage-cut, as it probably will be, more and more, with world-prices falling as they are bound to do in the staple industries. But these harmless and quite sensible conversations have had an extraordinary outcome in the alleged ‘revolt’ of Messrs. Maxton and Cook. There have been gingering revolts before. Lansbury led one; and it had for sole tangible result the founding of a Ginger Bookshop. Lansbury did not have a press for his effort, The Maxton-Cook-Wheatley banner of revolt has, however, been raised in what is for the press the Silly or Dead Season. Politics are in the doldrums. There has been nothing more sensational on the Parliamentary tapis than the discussions over the Prayer-Book, and the country regards that sort of controversy as not belonging to the Twentieth Century at all. It is a mediæval squabble. So the Maxton revolt has been featured with scareheads day after day, and those who would like to see a ‘split’ say there is one. Yet there is, to the view of any serious sociologist, next to nothing in it.
A man may be a good Socialist and also a good Trade Unionist, just as he may be a good Socialist and a good carpenter as well. Trade Unionism exists primarily and originally for the defence of the employee under capitalist conditions. Socialism exists to make an end of capitalism. But while the Socialist would like the Co-operative Commonwealth now, he knows that he must wait (and work) till he gets it. Two things may be different without being mutually hostile.
It is right to try to keep the peace in industry. We have to live through the days that are till we come to the days that will be; and till the working class make up their minds that the organization of production and distribution is a public concern with which the shareholder has no more to do than he has with any other public service, it is necessary and desirable that the peace should be kept, were it only for the reason that a breach of the peace always costs the working class more than it does the rentiers. When the worker stops work he stops earning, but the interest-mill goes on all the same. The interest-monger charges, not by the piece, but by all the time. He never loses a quarter. His is not a season trade; it is independent of weather, climate, flood, fire, earthquake, or barratry of the king’s enemies. ‘I think I hear a noise in the shop,’ said Rachel to Ikey as they lay in bed. ‘It’s only the segurities accumulatin’ interest, ma tear,’ said Ikey, after he had listened and heard nothing. There is only one way of stopping accumulation on the securities, and that is by the nation being its own security.
Although the Peace-in-Industry movement is not reckoning with that, it is not necessarily a wrong movement for Socialists to have to do with. We are living under capitalism, and must accept the conditions more or less so long as we are. Ben Turner, though one of the oldest Socialists in Britain, is a trade union official, and he can no more say that he will not take any part in capitalistic arrangements than the rest of us can say that we will not eat bread, wear clothes, or live in houses provided all three of them by capitalist arrangements.
Like myself, Ben is, I think, an old S.D.F.er. The S.D.F. programme declared that nothing else and nothing less than Social-Democracy would solve our social problems. It nevertheless had a list of palliatives of capitalism, its executive realising that while we lived and worked with the ideal before us, it was necessary to make current conditions as little onerous as they could be made by minor adjustments under capitalism. Peace under capitalism - in any case an avoidance of strikes - is a palliative.
But - and here arises the danger - if the leaders of the Labour Party became widely identified with a policy of this kind, if it in any way came to be regarded as the aim, or even one of the important objects, of the Labour Party, such a view would tend to beget a highly undesirable mental confusion in the electorate. The average man is no politician, still less the average woman, The Labour Party is a Socialist Party, and Socialism does not mean a working arrangement with the Monds which will secure them in complete immunity to go on taking Something for Nothing indefinitely. Socialism means Stopping Their Game, gradually of necessity, but as rapidly as possible.
Socialism in Our Time.
As to Socialism in Our Time, certainly let us have as much more of that as possible. We have got a lot of Socialism already - even of Communism. The man who has no children pays for the education of the man who has ten. That is neither Socialism nor Individualism. It is Communism. Communism means every man according to his needs; Socialism every man according to his deeds. We shall doubtless have more of both even within the lifetime of Ben Turner and myself, who are both of us considerably older than Mr. Maxton or Mr. Cook.
By all means let us get on with the work, already well begun, of transferring the business of the community from wasteful, incompetent, irresponsible Capitalism, with its touts and its advertising, its duplication of officials and premises and clerks, and the army of inspectors required to watch it and tax it and regulate it, to the organised community with its large-scale efficiency, its economy, its abolition of the swarms of officials in small private businesses, its matter-of-course honesty and integrity.
But complete Socialism in our time - all land, capital, machinery, and raw material in the hands of the State, the Municipalities, and the County Councils - that is a boyish conception, boyish even if we had the Labour Party in a permanent majority, as the Soviets are in Russia. I am not saying it could not be. I believe it could be done, if - but what an If is there! - we could get the majority of the people converted to desire it.
Doubtless Messrs. Maxton and Cook believe that the majority of the nation would fall into line at the behest of a Socialist Government, and they may argue that there would have to be a Socialist majority in the country before there would be a Socialist majority in Parliament. But it does not at all follow. It has not followed in Russia, great as are the powers of the Dictatorship there, and relatively simple as is the problem in an undeveloped homogeneous agricultural country.
A Socialist Government in this country would be a pacific government. Woolwich, Deptford, Chatham, Enfield, Portsmouth, Gosport, all the armament, garrison, and naval depot and dockyard towns, would have to turn to other ways of getting a living, and would have to recast their whole outlook upon and attitude to life. I do not say they could not do it. Krupp’s works and the people of Essen have had to do it, under external compulsion. But how could external compulsion do it for Woolwich and the rest? Gradual disarmament if you like; imperceptible denudation of these places. But would the electors vote for candidates who were to take away their means of livelihood? I know that Harry Snell, a good Socialist for many years, represents Woolwich, and I should very much like to know the lines upon which he fought his elections. Probably on the plea that armament work should not be given out to private firms - a sound enough plea from present-day standpoints, but not the standpoint of more or less complete disarmament.
Let us assume, however, that Woolwich could be persuaded that the Arsenal works could be and would be turned over to peace production. What displacement this would cause elsewhere - say in Sheffield, Birmingham, Lancashire, Durham, and Glasgow; and what problems of readjustment would be caused all round, taking time and pains to solve!
Agriculture and Crafts.
Britain is an exporting country. Textiles, machinery, hardware, clothing, coal - all are export industries, and all are in a bad way, which must become worse. Other countries already supply and will more and more supply their own requirements as manufactured in the great machine industries. The fall of exports means a fall in shipping, so that Clyde, Tyne, Mersey, Wear, Tees, and Thames are all to be hit.
With the foreign markets largely lost, agriculture has to be re-organised so that we shall grow the bulk of our own food once more. And this will be the most stupendous problem of all. For the rural worker does not like his work or his life, and the town worker would like them still less. Address a city audience, even of professed Socialists, and see how they receive the propaganda of back to the land. Last month I cited the case of a rich man of goodwill who set up a number of unemployed city slummites in a poultry farm, leaving them freely to work out their own social salvation. They not only did not make good, but one of them committed suicide, believing that he was doomed to a life of hopeless degradation, a view with which the survivors on the farm seem largely to have agreed.
I do not say this ridiculous outlook cannot be got over. Necessity is a grand persuader. But I do claim that the necessary adjustments - individual as well as social - will take a long time.
This is not making love to the inevitableness of gradualness. To accept the inevitable is not making love to it. But at least let us not blind ourselves to the great obstacles. The chief of these for the moment is to get our urban Labour friends to see that the problem is not to socialise all industry as it is, but to help to secure industries - agriculture, horticulture, fisheries, and crafts - that would be worth socialising. The export industries are doomed. They can survive only if those employed are prepared to compete with the sweated labour of the world.
If, with a Labour Government in power, we socialised one industry a month, would it not be tremendously good going? But there are hundreds of industries, and thousands of towns, in which the adjustments would have to be carried out - obsolete plant scrapped, unsuitable premises closed, new premises built, office staffs abolished, endless consolidations effected slowly and carefully, tens of thousands of small concerns being left alone as not worth socialising. The mines would probably be rapidly closed down, white coal for power, light, and heat being substituted. What would Mr. Cook propose to do with the miners enfranchised from the deadly slavery of the pit? Put them to navvying, road-making, and agricultural work of course; but think of the labour and time required for that sort of adjustment! It can all be done and will be done; but the improvisations effected in war-time all took time, and everybody was willing for them then, because the upset was regarded as only temporary.
Then there is, of course, the contingency of a change of Government, with a reversal of policy.
Ignoring the Pioneers.
One is amused to see Mr. Maxton date the Socialist movement from thirty years ago, and his invocation of the memory of Keir Hardie. Hardie was dour and staunch, and he was the first representative of independent Labour in Parliament. But there were brave and wise and cultured men before Agamemnon. Has Mr. Maxton forgotten Marx and Morris and Bebel and Liebknecht and Bellamy and Gronlund and Hyndman and Champion and Cunninghame-Graham - the latter two the advisers and inspirers of Hardie, whom I knew in 1888 as by no means free of Liberal attachments. During his candidature for Mid-Lanark he came to Aberdeen along with Cunninghame-Graham and spoke under the auspices of the Junior Liberal Association, with Professor Minto in the chair. His utterances that night were so little Socialist and so little Independent Labour that Peter Esslemont, the Liberal M.P. for East Aberdeenshire, who spoke from the same platform, said to Hardie, ‘See that you win the seat.’ I was there, and have not forgotten.
The Class Antagonism in History and in Fact.
There never was anything clean-cut about Hardie. He repudiated the Class Antagonism, but himself fought with a dour class bitterness never shown by earlier Socialists, who accepted the antagonism as a matter of fact and therefore of logic, but themselves often belonged to the well-to-do class, and had the urbanity of their class. The fact of Class Antagonism is historically so clear that to gainsay it is to put oneself out of court as lacking either in perception or in sincerity. If two men build a boat and three men claim it, there is a clear antagonism of interest between these two and the third claimant. One of the two may be a simple fellow who, hocussed by soft white hands and pleasant speech, is good-naturedly prepared to let the plausible idler go shares in the boat and its earnings, even to give the lion’s share to the onlooker who has hypnotised him. But if the other boatbuilder says ‘Hands off! you have no claim,’ he may be in the minority, but is he not right? Multiply those three into classes, and we have society as it is,
Plato stated the Class Antagonism in words of trenchant clearness. So did Sir Thomas More. So did Montaigne. The very constitution of Parliament as an assembly of ‘estates,’ or conditions in life, each class being directly represented as such, showed that the idea of a conflict of interests between classes was inherent in the minds of those* who framed the basis of representation seven centuries ago.
*Simon de Montfort, ‘the Great Earl’ (of Leicester), as the chief of those who fought King John and his son Henry III., and secured Magna Charta and the Mother of Parliaments. See ‘The Evolution of the Fourth Estate’ (5th edition), and ‘The Class War’ (8th edition), published from the office of THE GATEWAY. Why has no one written a book doing honour to ‘Simon the Righteous,’ far-sighted statesman and hero?
That there is no antagonism of interest between those who live by labour and those who live upon it, as the mistletoe upon the oak, is a claim as preposterous as would be the claim that there is no antagonism between the slave and the master, the hunted and the hunter, the killer and his victim, the buyer who wishes to buy cheaply and the seller who seeks to sell dearly. Workmen who are not Socialists have always recognised the Class Antagonism, and the meetings of trades unions have been barred to members of the employing class. It is true that workers forget their antagonism on polling day, and vote for the employer they fight through their union; but that is an anomaly which the other side will not imitate: they will not vote Labour.
No ‘Faction Fight.’
Mr. Hardie said that the theory of the Class Antagonism lowered Socialism to the level of a faction fight. But the 19½ millions ‘gainfully occupied,’ with their wives, sisters, mothers, and daughters usefully ‘occupied’ with house-work to the number of many millions more, are not a faction. They are the nation. That they should take measures to compel the minority of hangers-on to do their share of the nation’s work does not constitute a faction fight. It is the nation protecting itself against parasitism.
Messrs. Maxton, Cook, and Wheatley do right to emphasise the abolition of capitalism as being the policy of Labour. But Ben Turner is equally right to do all he can to stop the strike, which, even when ‘successful,’ represents the dog trying to catch his tail, in Mr. Smillie’s true figure. So that there is certainly no conflict between Turner’s Tactics and Maxton’s Manifesto. It is said the employers associated with Lord Melchett are not comprehensively representative. There is a Conciliation Board already, and it does not seem to function to much purpose. There is probably no danger of a large-scale strike for a long time to come. The fatality of 1926 cast unforgettable discredit upon the strike as a weapon. Even so, the withdrawal of labour can never be finally abandoned under capitalism. It would still remain to the individual worker even if it were forbidden to or abandoned by the group,
A Field Providing Legitimate ‘Sensations.’
That there should be restlessness in the Labour camp is not unnatural, human nature loving stir and sensations as it does. Labour is not in office. The politics of the hour are devoid of interest. But politics can be made interesting in a quite legitimate way, either in Parliament or out of doors, without dissensions in the ranks, or any appearance of turning our guns upon one another,
Homework for Labour M.P.s.
If Mr. Maxton wants to get on with any specific political job of work, it can be done without raising any standard of general revolt. If he will unearth some of the many scandals, as Mr. Tom Johnston does, and ventilate them in the House, as Messrs, Johnston, Kenworthy, and John Beckett do, he is on the very ground to do it. Somerset House is close by St. Stephen’s Hall. If, on the other hand, he wants to carry the evangel into the dark places of the land, there is abundance of room for that, and it can be done at week-ends and in the off-season when Parliament is not sitting. The North of Scotland is a neglected area. The migrants are pouring out of it into Aberdeen and the South, as well as across the seas. We need somebody to come here and tell the people to sit tight and to set their own house in order so that men shall not be driven from home if they wish to stay. Mr. Tom Johnston has given much attention to the scandals of the West Highlands, the landless crofters, the men of Erribol, the hold-up practised by the McBraynes with their extortionate freight rates and the killing tolls extorted for the use of their private bridges.
If Mr. Maxton wants to be useful, there is plenty of work to be done in the small northern places. Somebody is needed to correct the over awing influence of Maharajahs, Millionaires, and Colonels in the Highlands, and a member of Parliament could do more than any citizen without a handle to his name.
There are millions of people in county constituencies who have never heard a Labour speaker. In the little town where I write we have had no public Labour meeting for months, and no meeting addressed by a Labour M.P. has been held for years. The press assures its readers that British farming is the best in the world. There is no Maxton or other to supplement what I have told them again and again that the originally poor soil of Flanders produces £20 worth of crops to the acre as compared with an average of £4 per acre in Britain,
On all this and much more there is the greatest need for propaganda. To run candidates without years of steady preparation is to seek to reap where we have not sown. And the northern counties of Scotland form one of the neglected areas.
The annual report just issued by the Scottish Board of Agriculture gives figures which are typical of the rural areas in England as well.
In 1927 another 237,838 acres went out of arable cultivation. And although this land would revert to grass, there was nevertheless a fall in the production of meat of nearly a million cwt., as compared with the previous year. It is not surprising that there was a further heavy decrease in the number of agricultural workers, fully double that of the preceding year in fact.
If agriculture shows these figures, need we be surprised if the statistics of Poor Law relief should be equally eloquent of the failure of capitalism? In Scotland in 1878, with no old age pensions, no widows’ pensions, and no ‘dole,’ there were 26 persons per 1000 of population in receipt of Poor Law relief. Last year, with all the latter-day relieving agencies, there were 49 persons per 1000 in receipt of Poor relief. So that we may put the amount of indigence at fully double what it was half-a-century ago. In 1927 the number of unemployed persons was 10.1 per cent. of the insured population.
In spite of all assurances received as to the improvement in trade and the diminution in unemployment, the Ministry of Health reports that ‘The expenditure incurred during 1927 by about 100 Parish Councils was £1,636,400, as compared with an expenditure in 1925 of £725,373 and in 1926 of £1,346,300. Examination of the figures for the various parishes shows that the improvement [of trade] was almost wholly confined to the parishes in the Clyde area, and is probably due to the improved position in the shipbuiding industry.’
The Sleepy Hollows.
Is there not still plenty to do in the way of carrying the war into the enemy’s territory - that is to say, the constituencies? Labour M.P.s go where they get the biggest meetings. They ought to do the reverse. It is the sleepy hollows that keep Labour out of power, and setting up flags of negation against party leadership would seem to be the last thing that is needed.
Let us get on with the nationalization and municipalization which Socialism stands and has always stood for - the advocacy of them in detail now and the carrying of them whenever and wherever we have the power to do so. The Labour Party has just issued a programme of 22,000 words, which, while it re-affirms the nationalization of land, coal, transport, motive power, and life insurance, is mainly concerned with re-adjustments of, or restrictions upon, Individualism, such as control of banking, increased taxation of the rich and relief to the smaller payers of income tax, pensions, credits to farmers, publicity given to business accounts, hours and wages of agricultural workers, and so on, some of them slightly questionable and debatable perhaps.
No Fashions in Socialism.
This multiplicity of detail is necessary in progressive political electioneering, though a reactionary party needs nothing of the kind. These minor items, however, give rise to an idea that we have abated, or at any rate indefinitely deferred, the indispensable demand for Public Ownership of all Public Utilities. They also give rise to the idea that there are fashions in Socialism. Thus a Labour M.P., probably with these programmes of palliatives in mind, writes of my advocacy of the Socialism that was current ‘twenty years ago,’ and a Bootle correspondent, who is a magistrate and an old campaigner, told me that his son regarded his and my Socialism as old-fashioned.
But there are no fashions in Social-Democracy. There can be no Socialist substitute for collective ownership and administration of the means of production and service. Many professed Socialists hang back from the application of their principles, and propound ‘novelties’ such as the Minimum Wage, which is simply the Law of Maximum and Minimum refurbished 130 years after it was tried (and failed) in Revolutionary France. Danton, the most constructive genius of the Revolution, not only aimed at fixing a minimum wage, but also saw that its necessary complement was the fixing of maximum prices. The complex combination broke down, as said, for a variety of reasons, not difficult to estimate.
The Doubts of Professed Disciples.
On the other hand, the believers in the minimum wage are doubting Thomases as regards Socialism. They say they do not want to socialise the railways, because they are not paying, and are threatened by other means of transport, Gasworks, because electricity is the illuminant of the future, Tramways, because they are being crippled by motor buses, Coal, because the mines are a losing enterprise, and water for the generation of electricity is the motive power of the future.
These Socialist opponents of Socialism do not see that our industries are being killed by capitalism and that Socialism would save such of them as are worth saving. They do not see that Control is the grand power which is needed for social functions as it is for the individual. Over-production, over-capitalization, over-competition, with under-remuneration, are the great causes why our staple industries and services are so rapidly tending towards bankruptcy. Socialism and Socialism alone would cure all these forms of reciprocal excess and shortage.
There may be changes in the productions and the services we need to socialise; but that modern society can go on much longer without social organization is incredible as it is undesirable. Is it not enough that the State and the Municipality can do what the capitalist cannot do and knows better than to attempt? Is it not enough that public authorities do what the capitalist once did, and does it infinitely better, cheaper, and more efficiently than he did?
Collectivism in Operation.
I have just returned from a visitation of the quarries, plant, and road work in process under the District Committee of the County Council of which I am a member. As one watched the powerful machinery, the diligent workers, and the way in which stretches of road were covered with tar-mixed metal, grouting, blinding, and rolling going on with ideal rapidity, and then turned to the makeshift buildings and the ill-fenced fields, yellow with weeds where they had not returned to grass, and thought of the difference between the wages, hours, and housing conditions of the farm labourers as compared with those of the road workers, how could anyone fear the soundness and workability of the Socialist principle?
‘In the Meantime.’
I have stressed the difference between principles and palliatives because too many people fail to distinguish between an ideal to be kept in view as a standard, on the one hand, and temporary expedients or instalments of the ideal, on the other. Control of banking is, for instance, a step towards the national ownership of banks.
The press alleges that the Labour Programme is adapted from the Liberal Yellow Book. But the question of priority is easily settled where proposals tending towards public ownership are concerned. The Liberal Party has always till now regarded public ownership as at best a necessary evil, to be adopted only when nothing else will serve, whereas the Labour Party has all along been avowedly Socialist. The Liberal Party still repudiates Socialism, yet as to all main problems - Coal, Power, Land, Labour - has only diluted Socialism to offer, the dilutions intended to save capitalism. The Labour Party adapts its Socialism only to existing conditions, with the ending of capitalism always in view. The Liberal Party has a rich man for leader, and a war-chest provided by the sale of titles to rich men, and its outstanding members live, and want to continue to live, upon dividends. The Labour Party is a party of workers with hand and brain, whose published balance sheets show an income derived from the regular contributions of wage and salary earners. Which party is most likely to have a programme of the strongest Socialist tendency and to be sincere in its desire to carry it?
This month we are still none the wiser as to what Brexit means. We are still none the wiser as to who the leader of the Labour Party will be (though that WILL be resolved in a week or so - or will it?) As the silly season draws to a close we have to wonder what will come next.
This month we have an eclectic mix of items for you - Principles and Palliatives is a good example of Leatham's own position of Socialism and perhaps will make you think that the party/movement issue has been around a lot longer than you might care to admit - indeed maybe the idea of 'labour' as united in any respect is just a pipe dream. Leatham is a lot less worried about Labour and a lot more concerned about Socialism. These days everything seems to have aligned with the 'c' word (Capitalism) and true socialism has become something of an outmoded concept - at least in this country. If Corbyn wins again will that change?
While we're waiting for political answers, and the weather starts to turn autumnal, we reveal Leatham in his various hats - politician, publisher and poet.
And the Orraman keeps us amused a while longer speculating on the blight of the bestseller. Dare one say it's that ugly 'c' word again which has the biggest impact on immortality - or even whether a writer is remembered or not. It's something to think about.
To find past articles please use monthly archives.