Even the youngest of us can remember the dreary days when it was an accepted canon of English literature that a novel should deal wholly with character-painting, and should never be sullied with incident. All our cleverest writers wrote stories in which nothing ever happened, and we all agreed that this was true art. Nevertheless there is not the slightest doubt that we had a secret hankering for incident, and refrained from acknowledging it only because we had been taught that incident was ‘low,’ and that those nearly obsolete novelists, Fielding, and Marryat, and Cooper, indulged in incident merely because they were incapable of anything higher. When Mr Stevenson wrote Treasure Island, a story overflowing with incidents of the most exciting character, we enjoyed it immensely, but we excused the writer and ourselves on the ground that, after all, the book was only a boy’s book. But then came Dr. Conan Doyle with his Micah Clarke. Here was a novel whose bloody battles, hair-breadth escapes, and all sorts of wild and delicious adventures were strewn with amazing prodigality. No one could deny that it was a novel, for it followed the traditions of Waverley, Roy Roy, and Old Mortality, and even the warmest admirers of the novel in which nothing happened was compelled to admit that Scott was a novelist. Micah Clarke met with such immediate and wide approval that the oppressed novel-reading public mustered courage to rise in insurrection, and demand that henceforth its novels should be novels of incident. Since then the novel that confines itself to the analysis of character, or to the promulgation of religious and moral fads, has been relegated, on this side of the Atlantic at least, to women writers. Our masculine story-writers, Kipling, and Doyle, and Weyman, and Quiller-Couch, and the rest of them, can draw character as skilfully as the best of the men of the analytic school, but they can also invent incidents in limitless profusion; and when we sit down to read their books we know that our cheeks are to be fanned by the strong, fresh breeze of adventure, and not sallowed by the wearisome toil and profitless trouble of the spiritual dissecting room. To Dr. Doyle, more than to any other man, we owe this return to honest story-telling, and in future years, when we have rediscovered Marryat and cooper, and when even women have ceased to write bad theology and to discuss their more obscure emotions, the public will raise a monument to Conan Doyle as the reviver of the British novel.
Mr Stevenson has, consciously or unconsciously, produced a series of composite characters in his Ebb Tide. It is an extremely attenuated story as far as the plot is concerned. Three worthless vagabonds conspire to steal a schooner, and afterwards to steal a small cargo of pearls. One of them is shot in the course of the latter attempt, and thereupon the story ceases rather than ends, for strictly speaking it has neither beginning nor end. Mr Stevenson is said to have called it a ‘brutal’ story. It is certainly a powerful one, perhaps the most powerful story that Mr Stevenson has yet written, but its interest consists almost wholly in the four men, whose characters the author has painted so vividly. Of these, the captain of the schooner is simply ‘Captain Wicks,’ of the Wrecker, superimposed upon ‘Captain Nares’ of the same story , with the result that the outlines are a little blurred. Then again, the mate of the schooner is ‘Carthew,’ the mate of the Wrecker, softened and weakened, doubtless by the use of a different literary ‘developer.’ As for the pearl-fisher, the reader feels that Mr. Stevenson had not quite made up his mind as to the man’s true character, and he is, therefore, somewhat unsatisfactory. It is in the vicious, murderous little cockney, ‘Huish,’ that the author has made his greatest success. Nothing could be stronger, more subtle, and in every way finer than the portrait of this wretch. It may not be an agreeable subject of contemplation, which is probably what Mr. Stevenson had in mind when he said that the story was a brutal one, but of its wonderful power and truth there cannot be the slightest question. The Ebb Tide reads as if it were written before the Wrecker, and thrown aside because there was not enough in it to make a coherent and rounded story. After the success of the Wrecker, Mr Stevenson may have been tempted to finish The Ebb Tide, for which the public will certainly be grateful. In spite of its slightness of construction, I am inclined to think that it will live longer than the Wrecker. Certainly there is nothing in the Wrecker that will compare with the portrait of ‘Huish,’ and we shall remember the little wretch and his death scene long after those adventurous schooners, the ‘Currency Lass’ and the ‘North Creina,’ with their crews, have sailed over the edge of the world into oblivion.
October 25th 1930
The Entrancing Life
I was uplifted – how could it be otherwise? – when I found that my Alma Mater wanted me to come back for another course. But now that the lightnings are upon me I am riven with misgivings. What have I dared. Oh, why left I the eyry of a solitary to go wandering in the great unquiet places. This college of renown – for wherever I find myself today I feel that I am in the old College ; these walls dissolve, it is more like Masson’s lecture room, Campbell-Fraser raises his beard again, I hear Blackie singing – what has my old College been about in remembering me, she who was once so noted for her choice of pilots? All I can say to you in my defence is, yours the wite for having me.
My anxious desire is to follow, very humbly as needs must, in the ways of my illustrious predecessor Lord Balfour. That word has a tang to it that is sweet to the Scottish ear. I once had an argument, across the waters that lie between us and Samoa, with Robert Louis Stevenson about which was the finest-sounding Scottish name. He voted for one who was a kinsman of his, Ramsay Traquair. But I thought, and still think, that Balfour is better. How like our great Chancellor to have the name as well as all the rest. I first saw him here, I mean in the old College, in my student days. He was addressing one of the University Societies on Philosophical Doubt; I cannot now recall with certainly which society, but it was the one I tried to become a member of, and they would not have me. However, I did contrive an entry that night, and the abiding memory is the dazzling presence of him, his charm; though, as Dr. Johnson never said, is there any Scotsman without charm? Lord Balfour’s charm has been talked of by some as if it was the man himself; but oh no, it was only his seductive introduction to us, playing around him, perhaps to guard against our ever getting nearer to ‘the man himself.’ It still played around him when he faced the blasts in his country’s cause. It loved the great adventure. Did you ever notice how much ground he covered with his easy stride? It was so also with the stride of his mind. So many offices did he adorn. I was once speaking to him about some past event, and he said, ‘Yes, I remember that – I was Prime Minister at the time – or was I? – at any rate, I was something of that kind.’
So light apparently his knapsack. I have seen him, towards the end, writing the memoirs of his early days that have just been published. It was in one of the loveliest of English gardens, and he was reclining, under a great tulip tree, on a long chair, swallows sailing round, jotting it down as if the life and times of Arthur Balfour were only another swallow flight. As for myself, I vowed, as the alarming day of the august ceremony drew near, to model my installation address on his: and on sitting down to read it, I found he had never made on. Instead, I see him today smiling charmingly at my predicament.
The University is not now as it was when I matriculated. Even on that day the old College, which perhaps never wore an alluring beam of welcome on her face, seemed so formidable that a famous Edinburgh divine, Dr. Alexander Whyte, had to accompany me to her awful portals and thrust me in. For some time I hoped he would do this every day. I learn from the University of Edinburgh Journal, itself a notable growth, that since ten years after they got rid of me (they did not put it in that way) seventeen new chairs have been added. Many vast academic departments have arisen. The methods of lecturing, of examinations, have been overhauled. This magnificent Hall has sprung up, and all the avenues leading to graduation in it have been made appropriately stiffer and steeper. Unions and Hostels such as, alas, were not in my time, now give Edinburgh students that social atmosphere which seemed in the old days to be the one thing lacking; the absence of them maimed some of us for life. The number of students has increased by over a thousand. Perhaps greatest change of all, Women – yes. ‘Female forms whose gestures beam with mind.’ What a glory to our land has this University been since the first acorn, when one man – but what a man – Principal Rollock, did all its work single-handed near by the site of the Kirk of Field. No wonder that we in gratitude have erected a monument to him and called a chair after him. Or have we? I learn now, for history sleepeth not, that the Kirk of Field is famous for a marital rumbling close by, in which the aim of a husband was to blow up Mary Queen of Scots. That is the new theory. A more fitting one for us would be that some fearful Scot, himself on fire for a degree, made that explosion to clear the ground for a University.
Whoever was responsible, a Queen or a Prince, or Andrew Souter M.A., a fire was lit that will last even longer than the controversy. Since that small beginning, Edinburgh of a daughter, the University has risen nobly to the grapple; she has searched the world for the best everywhere, to incorporate it in her own. How parochial if she had done otherwise. And now so much has been accomplished that one may ask what remains to do. It is easier to cry ‘onward’ than to say whither. We might go onward till we got clean out of Scotland. Many of our students are from across the Border, they come from every civilised land; and it is our proudest compliment, for it means that they think they get something here which is not to be got elsewhere. They are all welcome so long as we can contain them, and so long as they are satisfied that what is best for us is also best for them. But our universities must remain what our forebears conceived with such great travail, men of our smiddies and the plough, the loom and the bothies, as well as scholars, they must remain, first and foremost something to supply the needs of the genius of the Scottish people.
Those needs are that every child born into this country shall as far as possible have an equal chance. The words ‘as far as possible’ tarnish the splendid hope, and they were not in the original dream. Some day we may be able to cast them out. It is by Education, though not merely in the smaller commoner meaning of the word, that the chance is to be got. Since the war various nations have wakened to its being the one way out; they know its value so well that perhaps the only safe boast left to us is that we knew it first. They seem, however, to be setting about the work with ultimate objects that are not ours. Their student from his earliest age is being brought up to absorb the ideas of his political rulers. That is the all of his education, not merely in his academic studies but in all his social life, all his mind, all his relaxations; they are in control from his birth, and he is to emerge into citizenship with rigid convictions which it is trusted will last his lifetime. The systems vary in different lands, but that seems to be their trend, and I tell you they are being carried out with thoroughness. Nothing can depart more from the Scottish idea, which I take to be to educate our men and women primarily not for their country’s good but for their own, not so much to teach them what to think as how to think, not preparing them to give as little trouble as possible in the future but sending them into it in the hope that they will give trouble. There is a small group of the Intelligensia very much afraid of any such creed, because its members are so despondent about their fellow-creatures. They are not little minds, they contain some of the finest brains in the country, but they are as gloomy as if this were their moulting season. They think their land may endure a little longer if they new generations are plied with soporifics. All they ask of us, especially of youth, is a little all-round despair. No more talk about hitching your waggon to that star. Few of us have waggons and there are no stars.
How do you like it, you new graduates? Are those the resilient notions you are carrying away with you in your wallets? Is it Lochaber no more for you? I don’t believe it. The flavour cannot have gone out of the peat. The haggis can still charge uphill. I’ll tell you a secret. Have you an unwonted delicious feeling on the tops of your heads at this moment, as if an angel’s wing had brushed them half an hour or so ago? It did – I speak from memory; and it carried with it a message from your University; ‘All hopelessness abandon, ye who have entered here.’ She trusts your wallets contain, as her parting gift to you ‘those instruments with which high spirits call the future from its cradle.’
She hopes that you are also graduating in the Virtues, in which, being an old hand at granting academic honours she knows better than to expect more than a pass degree. It is quite possible that your time here has done you not good but harm. If it has made you vain, for instance, of your accomplishments, too solemnly serious about their magnitude. I have seen Lord Haldane sitting with his head in his hands because he knew so little. Mr. Einstein has a merry face; he looks at us almost mischievously, and no wonder. Has your learning taught you that Envy is the most corroding of vices and also the greatest power in any land? Are you a little more temperate in mind? Have you more charity? Do you follow a little better, say about as much as the rest of us, the dictates of kindness and truth? You may be very clever, destined for the laurel, and have smiled at the unfortunates who fought for bursaries or to pass in, failed, and had to give up their dear ambitions; but if their failures taught them those lessons, they may have found for themselves a better education than yours.
You may discover in the end that your life is not unlike a play in three acts with the second act omitted. In the neatly constructed play of the stage each act moves smoothly to the next, they explain each other; but it may not be so with yours, it is not so with many of us. In less time than I hope you now think possible, for I would have you gay on your graduation morning, you will be far advanced in the final act. There has been a second, your longest one, but how little record you have probably kept of it. All you know may just be that this man or woman you have become is not what you set out to be in the days of the Firth of Forth. That may not even damp you much, if prosperity has made you gross to some old aspirations. You may not know how or when the thief came in the night, nor that it was you who opened the door to him. But something bad got into you in the middle act, and lay very still in you till it was your familiar. Slowly, furtively it pushed, never stopped pushing slowly, for it never tires, until it had you out and took your place. You may sometimes roam round the earthly tenement that once contained you, trying to get back. Perhaps you will get back. That sometimes happens. We may hope, however, that by the grace of God what entered was something good. All I can assure you is that in the second act, now about to begin, something will get in which is either to make or to destroy you. It has got in already if an uphill road dismays you. Would you care to know my guess at what is the entrancing life? It sums up most of what I have been trying to say today for your guidance. Carlyle held that genius was an infinite capacity for taking pains. I don’t know about genius, but the entrancing life, I think, must be an infinite love of taking pains. You try it.
One word more. The ‘Great War’ has not ended. Don’t think that you have had the luck to miss it. It is for each one of you the war that goes on within ourselves for self-mastery. Those robes you wear today are your Khaki for that war. Your graduation day is your first stripe. Go out and fight. Don’t come back dishonoured as in many ways I do.
Are we not all conscious, fitfully, of a white light that hovers for a moment before our lives? It comes back for us from time to time to the very gasp of our days. Come back for us – to take us where? So quickly fades, as if unequal to its undertaking, like an escaped part of ourselves. Are stars souls? The inaccessible star. If any one of ours has reached his star, it was our Lister. The inaccessible friendly star. If we could follow the white light.
How I have been preaching. It is not usual to me. It is against the ‘stomach of my sense,’ I feel that it has gone to my head. I look around for others to preach to. My eyes fall on the honorary graduates. I refrain with difficulty. For the present it is goodbye. I wish I was a little less unworthy of this gown. I will do my best.
No Revolution ever rises above the intellectual level of those who make it, and little is gained where one false notion supplants another. But we must some day, at last, and forever, cross the line between Nonsense and Common Sense. And on that day we shall pass from Class Paternalism, originally derived from fetish fiction in times of universal ignorance, to human brotherhood in accordance with the nature of things and our growing knowledge of it; from Political Government to Industrial Administration; from Competition in Individualism to Individuality in Co-operation; from War and Despotism, in any form, to Peace and Liberty - THOMAS CARLYLE.
The great series of events which form the First French Revolution are not to be covered by any one formula, although attempts to do so are often made. Politically the Revolution represented the triumph of the Third Estate - the Middle Class.
Economically the Revolution marks the fall of feudalism in France. Morally the Revolution was the tragedy of oligarchic prodigality and inefficiency, of class selfishness, and of mob madness begotten of age-long misgovernment. But it was a great deal more than even all these things. It is easier to say what the Revolution was not. It was neither a folly nor a crime, but, in the existing state of men’s minds, a natural, necessary, and salutary upheaval, of which crimes and follies were the inevitable accompaniment. A people, and especially the most lively people in the world, cannot be baited, robbed, imprisoned without trial or offence committed, cannot be starved, cannot be tortured, outraged, shot at sight, and still preserve through all the virtues of free, enlightened, and self-respecting citizenship.
A Royal Hypnotist.
Under Louis XIV. the tyranny of king and seigneur might be borne. There was that about the Grand Monarque which seemed to hypnotise his people into slavish submission, born of reverential awe. The contemporaries of Louis, for example, thought him tall, while in point of fact he was a little man. Even Voltaire repeatedly refers to Louis’ majestic stature. Cynical, outspoken St. Simon, the least courtly of all Louis’ courtiers, was astounded at the audacity of a statement by the royal Duke of Burgundy that in his opinion ‘kings should exist for the good of the people, and not the people for the good of kings.’ Delighted by the novelty and benevolence of this sentiment, St. Simon was nevertheless terrified by its boldness, and would not, he said, have dared to utter it in the court of the Grand Monarque.
Whilst this submissiveness outwardly continued under Louis XIV., some of the more intolerable privileges of the aristocracy were either legally abated or had fallen into desuetude. For one thing, Charolois, riding by, could no longer sportively snipe at the slater or plumber on the house roof, watching them fall, but must now content him with grouse and partridges. That kind of sport would be forbidden as merely wanton; but the actual Revolutionary period had arrived before Deputy Lapoule proposed the formal abrogation of the incredible law which allowed a seigneur, returning fatigued from the hunt, to kill not more than two serfs and refresh himself by putting his feet in their warm blood and bowels.
These and other preposterous privileges - among them the jus primæ noctis - if they ever really all of them were in operation, had fallen into abeyance by the end of Louis XV.’s reign. But still men and women starved - not here and there, but in millions.
Riding one morning in the Wood of Senart, the old king met a peasant carrying a coffin. Inquiring whose coffin it was, he was told it was for a poor slave his Majesty had noticed toiling in that part. ‘What did he die of ?’ ‘Of hunger!’ was the answer. The King, says Carlyle, ‘gave his horse the spur.’ Arthur Young, too, writing as late as 1788, describes how he overtook a woman who was staggering uphill under a burden too heavy for her famine-pinched, toil-stricken limbs. She looked sixty, but Arthur asking her age, she told him she was twenty-eight. She had seven children, a drudge husband, a cow, and a garron. There were rents and quit-rents ; hens to pay to this seigneur, oat-sacks to that, kings labour, Statute labour, church taxes, taxes enough. She had heard that somewhere, in some manner, something is to be done for the poor. ‘God send it soon,’ she says, ‘for the dues and taxes crush us down’ (nous écrasent). And the vehement, observant, sympathetic Englishman says: ‘The signs of a Grand Seigneur being landlord are wastes, landes, deserts, ling: go to his residence, you will find it in the middle of a forest, peopled with deer, wild boars, and wolves. The fields are scenes of pitiable management, as the houses are of misery. To see so many hands that would be industrious all idle and starving - Oh, if I were legislator of France for one day, I would make these great lords skip again!’
And skip they did, with urgency in the rear. In the Mâconnais and Beaujolais alone seventy-two chateaux were burned when the day of retribution at last arrived.
The Revolution was primarily a rising against hunger. All through the revolutionary period, in the city of Paris especially, the demand was for bread. Women stood for hours in queues at the bakers’ shops, a soldier on duty within to see that bread and flour were sold at no higher than a fixed price. The ragged legionaries of the Republic, officered by men promoted from the ranks, declared that with bread and steel they could go round the world, and on a hundred victorious fields made good the boast. It was hunger that prompted the drum-led march of the women of Paris through the mud and the rain to Versailles - a march in which amazonian market women, smart milliners, and grand dames compelled to dismount from their carriages, all took part. The fourth verse of ‘The Carmagnole’ - more popular than ‘The Marseillaise’ - runs
Que demande un republicain?
Du fer, du plomb, aussi du pain.
Du fer pour travailler,
Du plomb pour se’venger,
Et du pain pour ses frères,
Vive le son, vive le son,
Et du pain pour ses frères,
Vive le son du canon.
Or, as translated with freedom and spirit
O what is it the people need?
They ask for bread and iron and lead,
The iron to win our pay,
The lead our foes to slay,
The bread our friends to feed,
Vive le son, etc.
One of the popular cries was ‘Bread and the Constitution.’ Only people who were starved could have so much to say about the plain staff of life.
The Unteachable Aristocracy.
If we deplore and abhor the September massacres and the guillotinings of three years, do not let us forget the dragonnades, the oubliettes, the breakings on the wheel, the hanging of peaceful petitioners on ‘a new gallows, forty feet high,’ the systematic oppression that for centuries preceded and provoked the revolutionary reprisals. Do not let us forget the constant plotting against the Republic by a convicted and deposed ruling class, the dangers by which it was menaced without and harrassed within. The Bourbons learnt nothing and forgot nothing, and the same might be said of the French aristocracy as a whole. To this day, conspiracies against the Republic still occupy the time of royalists who cannot be reconciled to the idea that rank and privilege should be of no account in France.
Accustomed as the Anglo-Celtic people of Britain and America are to compromise, to give and take, to the acceptance of ‘new things that are good for the world’ even if they may be hurtful to us personally, we are at a loss to understand the inveterate obstinacy of the French aristocracy to receive measures of reform when proposed, or even to be reconciled to long-established salutary changes. The infatuation of the French nobility is without precedent in secular history. We have to go to the Pharaoh whose heart was ten times hardened against recognition of the inevitable.
An Impossible Task.
Turgot, saturated with liberal ideas, but a moderate and practical economist, would have saved the monarchy and averted a catastrophic revolution if anybody could. But his proposal to tax the noblesse and the clergy was received with indignant astonishment by the interested classes, and Turgot had to go. M. de Clugny, who succeeded, could suggest nothing better, and shortly gave way to Necker. That successful banker, who, like Turgot, was one of the Encyclopedists, promptly repeated what Turgot had proposed, and took, also, the practical, immediate step of suppressing over six hundred places about court, to the ‘great tristesse of the Œil-de Boeuf’ (literally, bull’s eye, a window in the palace at Versailles, but used here as a figurative term for the court party). Necker had to go. To him succeeded, for brief periods, Polignac, Coigny, Besenval, in turn. None of these had anything to suggest save that the rich should bear some slight share of the public burdens.
Calonne, polite and resourceful, kept floating for a time by raising loans, spending on the Stock Exchange £50,000 a-day in promoting his schemes of borrowing. But the embarrassment of the finances continuing, what could Calonne do but propose a land tax from which no landlord should be exempt? That was enough.
To Calonne succeeded, in turn, Fourqueux, Villedeuil, and, more notably, Cardinal Loménie de Brienne, Archbishop of Toulouse, sixty years of age and dissolute and worthless, who took the office of Controller-General of Finances, with the title of Prime Minister. Loménie’s first edicts are for creation of Provincial Assemblies to apportion the imposts, for suppression of corvées (or statute labour, as in the maintenance of the highways), and for alleviation of the gabelle (or salt tax).
Beginning of the Revolution.
These were popular concessions, and the placing of the onus of apportioning the imposts upon provincial assemblies was a shrewd method of enabling the Cardinal to escape responsibility for such proposals as had been made by Turgot, Necker, and the other cashiered controllers. Unfortunately for the Cardinal he had occasion presently (16th July, 1787) to ask the Parliament of Paris to register a Stamp Act. The Parliament - a corrupt body chiefly composed of lawyers who bought their places - instead of registering the Stamp Act as a matter of course, want to know what is the state of the expenditure and what reductions are to be made on it. This incident - the first formal refusal by a corporate body to register the behests of the court - may be said to mark the beginning of the Revolution. Its subsequent course is a matter of detail - picturesque, thrilling, sorrowful, but too voluminous for anything but the barest summary here. In the fourteen years 1774 to 1788 there were eleven changes of Premier.
The Treasury Insolvent.
On the 16th of August, 1788, a proclamation announces that Treasury payments shall henceforth be three-fifths in cash, two-fifths in paper, meaning practically that the Treasury is insolvent, Loménie is thereupon dismissed, amid popular rejoicing, and six days later Necker is recalled from Switzerland to resume his impossible task.
Assembly of the States-General.
In the beginning of May the long-wished-for States-General assembles at Versailles, where presently the Third Estate, strong in its own numbers and joined by a section of the nobility and clergy, becomes the National Assembly, entrusted with the duty of making a Constitution.
Fall of the Bastille.
On Sunday, the 12th of July, Necker is once more dismissed, and the Bastille, stormed by an infuriated mob and feebly defended, falls into the hands of the mob, who are assisted by the Gardes Françaises. The Marquis De Launay, governor of the Bastille, was to have blown up the magazine, but the hand which was to fire the magazine is gripped by one of the garrison, and a catastrophe averted. De Launay, borne through a threatening mob, is at last attacked. ‘Oh, friends, kill me fast,’ he says. The last seen of him is ‘his bloody hair-queue borne aloft in a bloody hand.’
With the razing of the Bastille, old secrets came to light, still further to inflame the revolutionists. Among many other papers, a fragment is found, bearing the signature of a prisoner, Quéret-Demery, unknown to history save by his pathetic appeal: ‘If for my consolation,’ wrote the heart-broken man, ‘Monseigneur would grant me for the sake of God and the Most Blessed Trinity, that I could have news of my dear wife, were it only her name on a card to show that she is alive, it were the greatest consolation I could receive; and I should forever bless the greatness of Monseigneur.’ ‘Poor prisoner,’ said Carlyle, ‘she is dead, that dear wife of thine, and thou art dead! ’Tis fifty years since thy breaking heart put this question; to be heard now first, and long heard, in the hearts of men.’
The March of the Menads.
On the 5th of October ‘some 1o,000 women’ march to Versailles, and bring back the Royal Family to Paris. This month the emigration of the nobles and princes of the blood begins.
On the 20th of June, 1791, the King takes flight, with the intention of co-operating with the outside enemies of France, who are preparing an invasion in the interests of reaction. Louis, held up at Varennes, is brought back a captive to Paris, any prestige he had gone from him for ever.
The 24th of July, 1792, witnesses the Prussian Declaration of War; and the Duke of Brunswick’s manifesto threatening France with military execution is dated Coblentz, July 27. On the 29th the Marseillese arrive in Paris, having marched in less than a month from the remote end of France in response to the call of Barbaroux for ‘five hundred men know who how to die.’ (In Felix Gras’ novel ‘The Reds of the Midi’ there is an admirably detailed and graphic description of this unique march, and of some of the notable incidents in Paris in which the Marseillese took part. The tale also gives, in the opening chapters, a striking view of the state of rural France in the immediate pre-Revolution stage.)
By the end of August the Prussians, with the emigrés, have invaded France. Under Dumouriez and Kellerman, the French, so far from flying, as was expected, give a very good account of themselves; and the Prussians, checked at all points, and harassed by rainy weather, dysentery, and famine, are obliged to retreat, the invasion begun with such terrible threats ending in discomfiture for Brunswick and his emigré advisers.
The Reign of Terror Begun.
After a five-days’ trial and two days’ voting on the sentence, Louis is executed on the 21st of January, 1792.
The King is no sooner out of the way than the Revolution begins to devour its own children. The stalwarts of the Mountain have the best of it in the struggle with the gentlemanly Girondins, thirty-two of whom are put under arrest in their own houses, from which they emerge to various adventures, ending at the guillotine, where they sing ‘The Marseillaise’ in chorus on the scaffold.
On the 16th of October, 1793, the hapless Marie Antoinette is executed. The following few months the guillotine is busy, the Reign of Terror having fully set in. The victims include d’Orleans and Madame Roland in November; Anacharsis Clootz in March, ’94; and Danton in April. Danton was probably the most single-minded man in the Revolution, as he was the most merciful in policy.
On the 28th of July, Robespierre, his jaw broken in an unsuccessful attempt at suicide with a pistol, is dragged with his confederates to the place of death. As the tumbril passes, gendarmes point their swords at the wretched figure, with its dirty and blood-stained linen bandages, to show the people the veritable object of their hatred. A woman springs on the low cart, and, waving one hand, exclaims: ‘The death of thee gladdens my indebted heart.’ Robespierre opens his eyes. ‘Scélérat, go down to Hell, with the curses of all wives and mothers!’ says the sibyl. It was the irony of fate. Robespierre was a theocratic (not to say religious) zealot, and but did his duty, as he perversely conceived it, in an impossible tangle of circumstances. His brother Augustin died for him. His poor landlord loved him.
With the death of Robespierre the Reign of Terror ended, and the Revolution rapidly shaded off in the downfall of Sansculottism, the victories of Napoleon, and the recrudescence of luxury, genteel sentiment, the Directory, and finally the First Empire.
But the Revolution was very far from having been abortive. The Frenchman of the towns may live in an insanitary half-flat; but in spite of the double drain of past wars and present militarism, with, of course, the conscription, his standard of comfort is in some respects superior to that of the British workman. He feeds much better. He works in a more leisurely fashion. If he wear a blouse, at least the family linen press would set up a moderate-sized napery establishment.
The Middle-Class View.
Writing in 1853, Richard Cobden said: ‘Tell the eight millions of landed proprietors in France that they shall exchange lots with the English people, where the labourer who cultivates the farm has no more proprietary interest in the soil than the horses he drives, and he will be stricken with horror.’ The French nation, instead of being ashamed of the Revolution, do in fact cling to the work of 1789 with thankfulness and tenacity. Men of the most opposite opinions on every other subject agree that to the Revolution in its normal phases France is indebted for a more rapid advance in civilization, wealth, and happiness than was ever previously made by any community of a similar extent in the same period of time. ‘No people,’ wrote Cobden, ‘have ever clung with more unshaken staunchness to the essential principles and main objects of a revolution than have the French. When you say that their new Emperor [Napoleon III.] is absolute and his will omnipotent, remember there are three things he dare not attempt to do. He dare not attempt to endow with land and tithes one sect as the exclusively paid religion of the State. He could not create a system of primogeniture and entail, and finally he could not impose a tax on succession to personal property and leave real property free. In England we have all three.’
The Actual Position.
Like all countries where capitalism is highly developed, France suffers from great economic inequalities and social contrasts. The Church lands were confiscated in 1789. Lands were surrendered to the State by patriotic seigneurs at the same time, and many patrimonies belonging to nobles guillotined during the Revolution, or of émigrés who died abroad or were killed during the Brunswick invasion, also reverted to the State, but unfortunately were resold. All this tended to break up large properties; and in 1899 no less than 71 per cent of the agricultural holdings in France were the property of the cultivators. But while peasant proprietary thus accounts for about three-fourths of the actual holdings, the nominal owner is often heavily in debt. One half of the three million properties are estimated to be under mortgage, poor men having entered upon them without the requisite capital for their successful working. The rural Frenchman is frugal and industrious, but taxes are still heavy. * The farmer’s wife cannot take a fowl to market without paying octroi duty upon it, and besides the heavy customs duties upon many articles imported, there is a house tax, a rent tax, a window tax, and a licence has to be taken out by all traders and professional men before starting in business. The people who ‘thrive’ in France are not the 8,000,000 engaged in forestry and agriculture, nor the 5,000,000 employed in manufacturing industries, but the comparative handful of coalowners, iron masters, army contractors, and stock-exchange people. There is still plenty of work for the social and economic reformer to do in France.
*British taxation is now much heavier, but more fairly distributed.
PART TWO NEXT MONTH
To many the great bugbear of country life is its peace, which they call dulness. But with population on the ground, the amenities would come as a natural consequence. The aim of well-balanced social development is to have population evenly distributed, with no house out of sight of any other, with church, school, shops, and social centres, such as halls and libraries, within convenient distance. A food-producing population, working on farms and in gardens, needs the subsidiary crafts - blacksmiths, shoemakers, tailors, masons, joiners, even printers; for the country has dances, flower shows, and concerts as well as the town, even as things are.
This distribution of population is still preserved in other countries, and was the rule in this till past the middle of the eighteenth century. In his ‘Tour,’ written in 1725, Daniel Defoe thus describes the country life of the time:-
The land near Halifax was divided into Small Enclosures from two acres to six or seven each, seldom more. Every three or four Pieces of Land had an house belonging to them, . . . hardly an house standing out of speaking-distance from another . . . We could see, at every house a Tenter, and on almost every Tenter a piece of Cloth, or Kersie, or Shalloon.
. . . At every considerable house was a manufactory. . . . Every clothier keeps one horse at least to carry his manufactures to the markets; and everyone generally keeps a cow or two or more for his Family. By this means the small Pieces of enclosed Land about each house are occupied, for they scarce sow corn enough to feed their poultry. The houses are full of lusty fellows, some at the die-vat, some at the looms, others dressing the cloths; the women and children carding and spinning; being all employed from the youngest to the oldest. . . . Not a Beggar to be seen, nor an idle person.
Till long past that time the distribution of the population was 8o per cent. rural and 20 per cent. urban, whereas by the census of 1921 it was almost exactly the reverse, the percentages being: Urban, 79.3; rural, 20.7.
These are the 1921 figures, and that is seven years ago. The diffusion of electricity has already on the continent set up a tendency in the opposite direction. In France, Germany, and especially in Switzerland, electricity for power, light, and heat is everywhere on tap. The de-urbanisation of industry began before the war even in this country, high rents and rates in the large centres helping, while heavy gas and electricity bills for lights burned all day in darksome smoke-bound days were a contributory element. Coal and steam gathered men together. Electricity tends to correct this congestion. The factory in the country, with a receiving office in town connected by telephone, is the natural order, now that distance has been annihilated by improvements in the means of communication and transport. There is now no reason for large centres, and a multitude of arguments against them.
So much in broad social-industrial outline; but what of ourselves and our way of life as individuals.
I have answered that so far already in saying that there is too much of a hungry, questing tendency to migrate and emigrate. I am very far from disapproving of Scotsmen seeing the world. But Sandy does not come back. If he does it is on a visit, not as a rule to settle. In 1905 I printed a volume of poems for an Aberdeenshire man who had made money as a farmer in New Zealand, and had been twice mayor of his town. The poems breathed the most passionate love of Scotland; but this man who had prospered, and who could easily have come home often, was re-visiting his ‘Caledon, the dearly loved,’ as he called it, after an absence of over forty years. He and his old wife were both very Scots as to accent, looks, and mental make-up - hard nuts both of them. The man who is willing to stay away from a land he professes passionately to love and long for would surely have some difficulty in proving that he is not a humbug.
Blarney is supposed to be a specially Irish foible; but the Scot has it even more highly developed, and in a solemn form. Stevenson, one of the most lovable of men and of writers, had been specially racketty as a student, but latterly preached in verse and prose. George MacDonald’s tendency to sermonise in his stories was natural enough in an ex-Congregational minister but other parsons, not Scotsmen, avoid it in their non-theological writing. Harry Lauder is not only very much at home on the Rotarian platform, but preaches even in his patter, as Funny Frame did before him. Frame was a more versatile and ingenious comedian than Lauder; but caution in money matters he carried to the extent of dishonour, as I have personally good cause to remember. I am far from objecting to preaching so long as it is not too flatulently platitudinarian, as with a certain Scots type it rather tends to be. I shall not labour the point, as it is admitted. Mr. C. M. Grieve, one of the protagonists of the Scotish Renaissance movement, excuses it on the ground that the Scots character is specially prone to what has been called antisyzygy, a fizzing word coined by Professor Gregory Smith to indicate the combination in one personality of quite opposite qualities - as saintliness and vice, kindness and cruelty, a tendency to moralise combined with a tendency to play the gay dog. There is room for a treatise on this point alone. Suffice it to say that combinations of zig-zag contradictions in one individual are common to all nationalities. Lord Melbourne, Victoria’s first Premier, a great student of theology, but using ‘Damns’ even in her presence; the French and the Irish, fervent patriots, but so ready to deal with the enemy that during the Great War French country folk were constantly being shot for giving away secrets, while it was said by an Irishman that wherever two of his countrymen plotted, one of them was sure to be a traitor; Rasputin, the Holy Devil; David, the Psalmist, putting Bathsheba’s husband in the forefront of the battle; Abraham passing off Sarah as his sister; and Jacob starting the double shuffle from the hour of his birth, are examples from nations widely separated in space and time. The combination of pietism and materialism is not to be excused by a word. Humbug and hypocrisy are in no way redeemed by calling them antisyzygy.
In any case, Scots blarney is responsible for an abundant lack of social confidence and the enterprise and fair dealing based upon such confidence. I once took part in the discussion following a largely-attended and notable lecture. A typical Scots business man hurried after me at the close of the meeting to ask what I thought of the lecture. In some surprise, I said: ‘You have just heard what I thought of the lecture.’ ‘Ay, ay,’ was the answer; ‘but I mean your private opinion?’ As if having two opposite opinions were a matter of course.
The lack of confidence born of double dealing is deepened by the dilatoriness of parts remote from the centre of things. Locally we are not so very bad in this respect; yet a wall has just been rebuilt after having lain for years as it fell, leaving one side of the parish church enclosure open. In 1918 a balance sheet was published in connection with a fund to build a spire on the parish church. There were £130 in the fund even then. The spire has not materialised yet. £1300 were raised for an ex-service men’s institute, and there is an offer, still standing, of an additional £330 from the ex-service men’s headquarters. But the building lingers. Some years ago, I understand, a bazaar was held to raise money for a playing-field for the children. A sum of £2oo was the result, and it is the only result so far. No one, it appears, knows where the money is. Successful sports were held in the Den, and a concert took place which was largely attended - both under the auspices of an ex-service men’s organization. The proceeds have been lost sight of. At the present moment there are some thirteen masons in Turriff, and only bits of jobbing work for them to do. An additional housing scheme has been under contemplation for months, and would provide work for these men as for the building trades generally. But the Council was so badly used by the building fraternity over its last scheme that dilatoriness has begot dilatoriness, and trade suffers in consequence. So far as the Council is concerned, so soon as it is known that we wish to secure a particular site, up goes the price. We have powers of compulsory purchase; but we hesitate to enforce them, and the housing shortage, which is being so handsomely overtaken elsewhere, becomes worse as time passes with so little done. In one recent year England spent £22,000,000 on subsidised houses. Scotland, with heavier arrears, spent £1,500,000 that year.
Any moderately prosperous community which will build houses at present will attract population by the mere provision of accommodation for it. At every fresh letting of municipal houses we have as many applicants left over as we have been able to serve; and they are usually persons whom it would be altogether desirable to have as tenants and citizens. In Turriff we have built houses, made roads, and this year opened an auxiliary water supply. In spite of all this expenditure, present and prospective, the local rates are substantially down. The valuation of the town has been increased, and as working expenses have not been raised in proportion, the rate per £ has fallen with the greater number of £'s to be rated upon.
We are only at the beginning of municipal housing. Scotland has been, and is, kept back in population, wealth, and civilization by the way in which she has hung back in the matter of housing, English municipalities were building houses as far back as 1857, at low rates of interest, but without any subsidy. The pre-war demand of the Social-Democratic Federation was for houses to be let ‘at rents sufficient to cover cost of construction and maintenance only.’ This Collectivist demand was so little heeded, when all is said, that a succession of Acts became necessary - the Addison, Chamberlain, and Wheatley Acts - under which roughly a third of the rent of each house has to paid by the general public, so that State-aided housing now takes rank alongside State and rate aided schools, roads, libraries, picture-galleries, baths, wash-houses, crèches, scientific research, water-supply, lectures, organ recitals, art galleries, museums, fire brigade, police, army, navy, coastguards, and all the other Socialistic and Communistic services - Socialistic where they are paid for, Communistic where they are given free and put upon the rates.
So that when teachers shudder at the mention of Communism they forget that they are themselves the products and the employees of a communistic institution, the couple who have no children paying for the education of the parents who have ten. This of course is entirely right. Children do not belong to their parents. They belong to the nation. They give the nation the benefit of their education, and will themselves be the nation long after their parents are dead or have otherwise ceased to be responsible for them.
Scotland lags behind in the provision of municipal houses, and loses population to England and the Colonies because of the lack of trade and prosperity which would be immensely stimulated by expenditure on building. This apart altogether from the civilization, health, and happiness to be furthered by transferring the people from slums and mean streets to sunny garden cities, such as the Hilton estate outside of Aberdeen, where over 4000 working folk are accommodated in roomy houses, electrically lit, with gardens back and front.
One reason why municipal housing has hung fire in Scotland is the low housing standard which has always prevailed. To people who have been accustomed to pay twelve, ten, eight, or even as low as three or four pounds for a house, the lowest rent sanctioned by the Ministry of Health seems excessive. Many heads of families insist on living in mean houses, and will rather pay doctor’s bills than pay rent for a better house. In England weekly rents of 15s. for a working class house are quite common in the provinces, and £1 in London. This would be a fifth to a third of the tenant’s income. Whereas the Scots idea is a rental of a 15th to a 2oth of the income. In Iceland, owing to the high price of building materials, which have to be imported, the urban tenant has to pay one-half of his income in rent. If he is able to live on the other half, why not? A house is the place in which a family lives, moves, and has its being.
Our ancestors lived in darksome, smoky abodes, and were accustomed to say that they liked better to hear the lark sing than the mouse cheep, meaning that they preferred out of doors. The same idea must have been in the mind of a mother I once heard say as I passed by, ‘Jist gie them a piece an’ bung them oot!’ She was referring to her children, I take it, and was reflecting the old-fashioned idea that a house is a lair in which to eat and sleep, closely packed. The newer conception of a house is a home, for the enjoyment of reading, social intercourse, and music, provided with books, pictures, a musical instrument or two, and with room enough to afford separation from the discomfort and distraction of cooking, washing, and baking, and give seclusion and quiet to those who wish it.
‘Remote, Unfriended, Melancholy, Slow.’
We are remote; we may be unfriended; but we need not be either melancholy or slow. One of the greatest genial hustlers I know is a local man. He is open-handed, fair-dealing, a good employer, and has in his time given some service to the public, as his father gave much before him. And father, son, and now grandson have their reward in what is probably the largest business of the kind north of Aberdeen. There is no reason except one why from this little town travellers should go over a large part of the county, booking orders in the neighbourhood of larger towns and possessing a monopoly of one important line of supplies. No reason, I say, except one, and that is business aptitude, and especially despatch and diligence.
But one sees men gossip by the hour. I have seen three men with their hands at one windlass raising a bucket out of a hole. I have passed men supposed to be working who morning, mid-day, and afternoon were gossiping and malingering, with a change of abettor each time. If their employer could not afford it they were robbing him. If he could afford it, then he must have been robbing those for whom the work was being done.
The person always a failure at home who succeeds abroad has almost to a certainty changed his ways, and he might have done that without going away. I want to see the economic development go forward; for without population there are amenities of life that cannot be secured. Man is, or should be, an intelligent animal, and bovine mooning is unworthy of the species. But quite often a remark addressed to people in the country is met with ‘?’ or ‘What was that ye said?’ Sir Walter Scott remarked of Scots country folk that the commonest response to a remark or question was the inquiry ‘What’s yer wull?’ I was brought up in a different school. In the newspaper office a question not promptly answered was met with sardonic shouts of ‘Wake up!’ or ‘Take the wax out of your ears!’ A local variant of ‘What’s yer wull?’ is ‘What way?’ Both are in form and substance ungainly interrogations which mean, not that the questioner hasn’t heard, but that he hasn’t understood. Politeness, as George Eliot said, is an air-cushion which eases the jolts of social intercourse; but when I hear a person say ‘Eyh?’ I recall a scene I witnessed from a barrack gate once in Aberdeen. The adjutant of a militia corps addressed a question to one of the men on parade who must have been what is called a raw recruit, for he answered ‘Eyh?’ with a blank and not respectful look. They have summary ways and despotic powers in the army, and at some distance off we could hear the resounding slap in the face which rewarded this supercilious monosyllable.
PART THREE THE FINAL PART DUE NEXT MONTH.
PROFESSOR CAMPBELL FRASER.
Not long ago I was back in the Old University — how well I remember pointing it out as the jail to a stranger, who had asked me to show him round. I was in one of the library ante-rooms, when some one knocked, and I looked up, to see Campbell Fraser framed in the doorway. I had not looked on that venerable figure for half a dozen years. I had forgotten all my metaphysics. Yet it all came back with a rush. I was on my feet, wondering if I existed strictly so called.
Calderwood and Fraser had both their followings. The moral philosophers wore an air of certainty, for they knew that if they stuck to Calderwood he would pull them through. You cannot lose yourself in the back garden. But the metaphysicians had their doubts. Fraser led them into strange places, and said he would meet them there again next day. They wandered to their lodgings, and got into difficulties with their landlady for saying that she was only an aggregate of sense phenomena. Fraser was rather a hazardous cure for weak intellects. Young men whose anchor had been certainty of themselves went into that class floating buoyantly on the sea of facts, and came out all adrift — on the sea of theory — in an open boat — rudderless — one oar — the boat scuttled. How could they think there was any chance for them, when the professor was not even sure of himself? I see him rising in a daze from his chair and putting his hands through his hair. “Do I exist,” he said, thoughtfully, “strictly so called?”
The students (if it was the beginning of the session) looked a little startled. This was a matter that had not previously disturbed them. Still, if the professor was in doubt, there must be something in it. He began to argue it out, and an uncomfortable silence held the room in awe. If he did not exist, the chances were that they did not exist either. It was thus a personal question. The professor glanced round slowly for an illustration.
“Am I a table?” A pained look travelled over the class. Was it just possible that they were all tables? It is no wonder that the students who do not go to the bottom during their first month of metaphysics begin to give themselves airs strictly so called. In the privacy of their room at the top of the house, they pinch themselves to see if they are still there.
He would, I think, be a sorry creature who did not find something to admire in Campbell Fraser. Metaphysics may not trouble you, as it troubles him, but you do not sit under the man without seeing his transparent honesty and feeling that he is genuine. In appearance and in habit of thought he is an ideal philosopher, and his communings with himself have lifted him to a level of serenity that is worth struggling for. Of all the arts professors in Edinburgh, he is probably the most difficult to understand, and students in a hurry have called his lectures childish. If so, it may be all the better for them. For the first half of the hour, they say, he tells you what he is going to do, and for the second half he revises. Certainly he is vastly explanatory, but then he is not so young as they are, and so he has his doubts. They are so cock-sure that they wonder to see him hesitate. Often there is a mist on the mountain when it is all clear in the valley.
Fraser’s great work is his edition of Berkeley, a labour of love that should live after him. He has two Berkeleys, the large one and the little one, and, to do him justice, it was the little one he advised us to consult. I never read the large one myself, which is in a number of monster tomes, but I often had a look at it in the library, and I was proud to think that an Edinburgh professor was the editor. When Glasgow men came through to talk of their professors, we showed them the big Berkeley, and after that they were reasonable. There was one man in my year who really began the large Berkeley, but after a time he was missing, and it is believed that some day he will be found flattened between the pages of the first volume.
The “Selections” was the text-book we used in the class. It is sufficient to prove that Berkeley wrote beautiful English. I am not sure that any one has written such English since. We have our own “stylists,” but how self-conscious they are after Berkeley! It is seven years since I opened my “Selections,” but I see that I was once more of a metaphysician than I have been giving myself credit for. The book is scribbled over with posers in my handwriting about dualism and primary realities. Some of the comments are in short-hand, which I must at one time have been able to read, but all are equally unintelligible now. Here is one of my puzzlers: “Does B here mean impercipient and unperceived subject or conscious and percipient subject?” Observe the friendly B. I dare say further on I shall find myself referring to the professor as F. I wonder if I ever discovered what B meant. I could not now tell what I meant, myself.
As many persons are aware, the “Selections” consist of Berkeley’s text with the professor’s notes thereon. The notes are explanatory of the text, and the student must find them an immense help. Here, for instance, is a note: “Phenomenal or sense dependent existence can be substantiated and caused only by a self-conscious spirit, for otherwise there could be no propositions about it expressive of what is conceivable; on the other hand, to affirm that phenomenal or sense dependent existence, which alone we know, and which alone is conceivable, is, or even represents, an inconceivable non- phenomenal or abstract existence, would be to affirm a contradiction in terms.” There we have it.
As a metaphysician I was something of a disappointment. I began well, standing, if I recollect aright, in the three examinations, first, seventeenth, and seventy-seventh. A man who sat beside me — man was the word we used — gazed at me reverently when I came out first, and I could see by his eye that he was not sure whether I existed properly so called. By the second exam his doubts had gone, and by the third he was surer of me than of himself. He came out fifty-seventh, this being the grand triumph of his college course. He was the same whose key translated cras donaberis hædo “To-morrow you will be presented with a kid,” but who, thinking that a little vulgar, refined it down to “To-morrow you will be presented with a small child.”
In the metaphysics class I was like the fountains in the quadrangle, which ran dry toward the middle of the session. While things were still looking hopeful for me, I had an invitation to breakfast with the professor. If the fates had been so propitious as to forward me that invitation, it is possible that I might be a metaphysician to this day, but I had changed my lodgings, and, when I heard of the affair, all was over. The professor asked me to stay behind one day after the lecture, and told me that he had got his note back with “Left: no address” on it. “However,” he said, “you may keep this,” presenting me with the invitation for the Saturday previously. I mention this to show that even professors have hearts. That letter is preserved with the autographs of three editors, none of which anybody can read.
There was once a medical student who came up to my rooms early in the session, and I proved to him in half an hour that he did not exist. He got quite frightened, and I can still see his white face as he sat staring at me in the gloaming. This shows what metaphysics can do. He has recovered, however, and is sheep-farming now, his examiners never having asked him the right questions.
The last time Fraser ever addressed me was when I was capped. He said, “I congratulate you, Mr. Smith,” and one of the other professors said, “I congratulate you, Mr. Fisher.” My name is neither Smith nor Fisher, but no doubt the thing was kindly meant. It was then, however, that the professor of metaphysics had his revenge on me. I had once spelt Fraser with a “z.”
There’s Sandy Cran on the Station Road,
Wi’ a hail for a’ that passes.
‘Turra and Prose.’
In old people high spirits and lively talk are always irresistible. The actual sayings may be nothing much, but that threescore and ten should, instead of ‘grips and granes,’ have the verve and the social feeling to care for quick retort or voluntary badinage, elicits our own laughing sympathy and makes age and youth affectionate kin.
The name Sandy Cran comes trippingly off the tongue as if it had been coined for its patness; but Alexander Cran was so christened when he began life in the Aberdeenshire burgh of Inverurie in the fifties of last century. A stonecutter by calling, he mostly referred to himself by that modest title; but as his business was that of a monumental mason, he sometimes in unguarded moments indulged in the more ambitious title of ‘sculptor,’ which he called sculpitir.
After spells of work at his trade in Glasgow and then in Ellon, where he opened a yard of his own, he came at length to Turriff. Here he was my landlord and nearest neighbour. He had come to the little sylvan town for the three good reasons that it was a larger centre, there was no one in his line of business there, and it was Mrs. Cran’s native place.
Sandy was wideawake, and had done well enough for himself. Not only had he the local monopoly, but prices of all funereal paraphernalia would appear to be on a liberal scale everywhere. When one spoke of profits of 20 per cent, he said ‘Is that a’?’ His own margin would be broader than that.
Two Flush Times.
Another old friend in a different calling - he printed on paper while Sandy lettered on stone - said ‘There’s twa times when ye can get yer price. Ye can nail them in their joy for weddin’ cairds and in their grief for black-border’t stationery.’ In Sandy’s trade there would be insurance money, perhaps even a legacy to draw upon, and the price would not be grudged. ‘Ye canna haud in at sic a time,’ said a crofter’s wife in ordering wedding cards for her daughter.
There are grand salesmen in Sandy’s line in the Granite City. Of one of them he said: ‘He can drap a sympathetic tear very ready, an’ it gings a lang wye wi’ the weedah. He collars the order.’ There was nothing of the professional mourner about Sandy. He was more likely to tell a kindly story about the departed that would make the widow smile. He did not even attend funerals nearly as often as most of his fellow-townsmen. Jocularity was more in his line than letting ‘the tear doonfa’.’
I saw a great deal of him, for he had the old-fashioned leisurely Scots habit of popping in if he had any news to give or to ask for. His work did not at all absorb his attention. By the time (early in 1916) when I became his tenant for my long ropewalk line of business premises he was well on in years, and when there was a fair amount of lettering to be done he was accustomed to have out a squire of the chisel from the city, he himself doing the setting up of the stones in the surrounding burial, grounds.
There never, surely, could have been anyone who went about such a job as cheerfully as he. He enjoyed life thoroughly, taking part in the games of the district, and never missing a chance of a gossip or a story, but ready to sympathise in trouble as well as to share good news. One night a passer-by had answered his hail rather forlornly, as we judged, though we did not hear what was said; but Sandy’s ‘Come awa owre and tell’s a’ aboot it!’ was so hearty that two of us who heard it looked each other in the face and laughed broadly.
‘That’s a’ richt.’
Our association began, as said, during the war years. He felt keenly the toll that was being taken of life among young and vigorous men whom he knew; but even then his habit of chaff and story-telling was unquenchable. One summer evening he was plying a Dutch hoe on the terrace in front of my premises where there was a slight growth of green. ‘I saw yer mistress in Aiberdeen the day!’ shouted a farmer as he passed up the road in his gig. ‘Was she wi’ a sodger?’ asked Sandy, gently jogging the hoe, and not looking up. ‘Oh, fie, no!’ said the farmer, in a tone of shock. ‘That’s a’ richt,’ said the man with the hoe, still not looking up.
Sandy sometimes had questions to ask in connection with the monumental business. One day he wanted to know what ‘R.I.P.’ meant. When told that ‘Requiescat in pace’ signified ‘Rest in peace’ he said that RIP, without the full stops between the letters, would have suited the departed not amiss.
When the monogram ‘IHS’ was explained as standing for ‘Iesu hominum salvatur’ (Jesus Saviour of men) he said he had always read it as ‘I have shifted.’ When it was pointed out that the letters were inter-twined and that Pat read them in a different order as signifying ‘I am still here,’ he preferred his own reading.
A Chance Missed.
One summer evening he came in and explained that he had been at a meeting for the election of a Parents’ Representative to the School Management Committee, and that a certain leading citizen had been ‘on the ramp. He lookit roon an’ said there were a lot o’ people here who had no standin’. I askit him to tell’s what a guardian was; but he never tell’t’s yet. How would you define a guardian!’
‘Obviously,’ I said, ‘one who guards or has the care of. You ought to have said I stand in loco parentis to two grandchildren whose father sails the high seas ten months out of the twelve.’ ‘(The father was skipper of an ocean liner, the mother and grandchildren staying with her parents.)
‘What did ye ca’t?’ asked Sandy, greatly impressed.
‘In loco parentis - in the place of a parent,’ I explained.
‘My God, that’s a richt ane!’ he said. ‘If I had kent that ane I wad hae paralysed ’im wi’t!’
He came in next day and got me to write it down for him, and a little later in the day I saw him explaining to two citizens out in the roadway the chance he had missed.
He told me later that one of them had said: ‘It was as weel ye didna begin wi’ the Lat’n. They maybe wad hae answer’t ye in Lat’n, and then ye wad hae been flummoxed.’ But Sandy said he had answered: ‘If I had kent that ane I wad hae riskit it!’
And so he would, too. It was said the Duke of Wellington spoke French ‘with courage,’ and the same might have been said of Sandy’s reading of the newspapers. He had his own pronunciations, but never was at a loss on that account, and he had a shrewd enough knowledge of the gist of what he read.
‘A richt thing.’
When Dr. Charles Murray’s splendidly racy poem, ‘Dockens Afore His Peers’ appeared in the morning paper, Sandy came in with the sheet flying. ‘Man, this is a richt thing!’ he said. And I had to read it aloud for him there and then.
Among the new words originated by the war his version of one that did much service was ‘camaflag’; and ‘arraplane’ was his rendering of another.
About the time when the darkening order was first issued locally a handsome policeman, who had nice ruddy hair and complexion, was chivvying some boys for making a slide at Sandy’s corner. When the boys had got to what they thought might be a safe distance one of them shouted to the bobby: ‘Wa’ an’ get a dark green blind owre yer heid!’
The stonecutter enjoyed reporting that one.
When the Peace celebrations came on I prepared a long streamer in blue and red letters for myself. It was from the King’s speech in ‘Henry VI.’:
Thrice is he armed that hath his quarrel just,
And he but naked, though locked up in steel,
Whose conscience with injustice is corrupted.
Sandy was struck with this, and asked would I make one for him. ‘Ay, ane o’ my kin’!’
I provided him with this adaptation of an old post-Waterloo toast:-
Nae mair war, an’ nae mair killin’:
Maybe we’ll shortly get a bob’s worth for a shillin’.
As war-prices still prevailed, the second line proved of some acceptance, and was copied by the Banffshire Journal, while my Shakespearean slogan went unheeded, except by the school children, who recognised it and chanted it solemnly.
On the terrace in front of my premises I had built for myself a high wooden structure intended to hold wastepaper, which the mill would take only in large quantities. When the house was finished, with overhanging roof, and painted in green and white, a passer-by shouted to Sandy one night: ‘What’s that for?’
And the answer came back promptly: ‘A henhoose - to keep deuks in!’
This structure suggested a story of a master mason he had known in Ellon long before. He said that when a workman came and asked the mason how he would do a certain piece of work, the short Excelsior-like slogan was ‘Up, up!’
Sandy had many reminiscences of his Ellon days. He had stood for the Town Council there, and was elected. His election agent, a Highlander, was coming up the main street after the count, when Mrs. Cran came to the door and asked if her man was ‘on,’ meaning had he been elected.
The Highlander had his own meaning for the word ‘on,’ and his answer was: ‘Oh, he’s had a nup or two, but he’s not to call on!’
The first time I stood for the Council Sandy was pleased and excited. He promised to instal a sink and a water-tap in my machine-room; ‘but only if ye get on to the coons’l!’ he added. Be it said, I never got it.
Another Elton story was of a half-wit who usually walked about chewing a whole leaf of a popular weekly journal, while he clutched the rest of the paper, in bulky disorder, below his jacket tail. He was not on good terms with the local inspector of poor, who had two good-looking and stylishly turned out daughters, and when the half-wit met them out of doors his scornful jibe, unfailingly and loudly repeated, was: ‘Par-roch! Par-roch!’
Among Sandy’s friends the word ‘Par-roch’ became a kind of disparaging argot for all manner of things that were gratuitous and perhaps a trifle hungry or cheap; though poor relief is no longer so skimpy as it was.
His youthfulness of spirit was shown by his love of a verbal catch.
I had asked him if he knew the story of the Empty Box, and he chuckled to hear that ‘There was nothing in it.’ He was equally pleased with the short story of the Three Eggs: ‘Two bad.’ And then one evening he came in and gravely announced: ‘That man’s neen the waur that got the machine owre’s heid.’
It was not unnatural to answer that it must have been a strong head, and to tell of the nigger who, getting a brick dropped upon him, looked up to the scaffolding and said, ‘If ya doan’ wan’ yer bricks broke ya’ll better keep ’em offen my head.’
This was not what Sandy wanted, and he tried a variant of the original statement. ‘I was speakin’ to the sairjint, and he said he wasna sair hurtit. . . . It was in Peter Davi’son the barber’s shop that it happen’t!’
PART TWO NEXT MONTH
March is the birth month of William Morris. Born 24th March 1834 in the 180+ years since his birth and the 121 years since his death he has become a perfect example of the commodified artist – known and loved by all and sundry. Can there really be any more to say? Any side unexplored? Well, two new editions by Deveron Press suggest so.
The first official biographer of William Morris was Mackail. Writing the ‘official’ version soon after his death, this has become the standard – but it is, as all ‘official’ accounts, somewhat partial and does not give full credence to Morris the Socialist. Morris’s Socialist convictions were often found embarrassing to his contemporaries and seen as a ‘phase’ or fancy. Without an insight into this part of his later life however, the a rounded picture of the man who has become a myth, cannot be given.
James Leatham can actually claim to have published the first biographical account of Morris since his William Morris, Master of Many Crafts came out before Mackail’s in 1897. It is a slight tome, a personal take on a real man, no myth making, no ‘official’ story and it is all the better for that.
Leatham, does not benefit from the fulsome Wikipedia entry allotted to Morris though he has plenty to add to this description.
Why don’t we find Leatham on Wikipedia? It is always worth remembering that ubiquitous as it seems, Wikipedia is constructed – by people of course – who are able to work out the editing protocols. It’s knowledge Jim, but not as we used to know it. It is broader, looser and a bit more egalitarian than encyclopedias of old, but it does not hold all the useful, interesting or important information in the world.
Nor does Google. Search engines are not there to support socialism after all. Profit is the bottom line. This is somewhat off our topic, but the heads up is that if you want to find out about James Leatham via Google you have to put in James Leatham Socialist to stand any kind of chance. Therefore, some knowledge is required before you can begin. By the same token, instead of just hitting Wikipedia, try William Morris Socialist in Google and it’ll take you to a load of places just typing William Morris won’t.
That’s a good analogy for the Deveron Press republications. They will show you a different side to William Morris (perhaps even a different William Morris) to the official biographers.
James Leatham’s tribute shows a young man looking at an older one. There is an element of hero worship, perhaps even of awe, but Leatham is too grounded to let this vision run away with him. And so in William Morris, Master of Many Crafts we learn a lot about Morris (and in the process a fair amount about the young Leatham)
In the book Leatham says of Morris his ‘memory must be a lifelong inspiration to all who have known him and felt the spirit of his influence.’
It’s easy to experience Morris fatigue, reading modern biographies and critical works about him. He seems less man and more myth, but Leatham, for all his personal take, brings us back to the heart and spirit of the man. Leatham covers Morris’s poetry, Prose, his Arts Craftsmanship (including print/publishing – a topic close to Leatham’s own heart) his Socialism and personal belief system. It is the immediate response of a friend who grieves a loss. It is this freshness, honesty and immediacy which still touches the reader today and offers a unique and different perspective to the Morris we all think we know and love.
Leatham wrote his Morris tribute in his early 30s. But Morris and his ideas would not let him go. Thus nearly quarter of a century later when the opportunity arose for him to publish another biography of Morris – this time by John Bruce Glasier – he took it.
Glasier is another overlooked figure in the early history of Socialism. Who today has heard of him? He does have a brief Wikipedia entry as ‘Scottish Politician.’ Even the Google trick of John Bruce Glasier Socialist doesn’t take you far. So the best way to find out about him is directly from his own writing.
William Morris and the early days of the Socialist Movement was essentially Glasier’s death bed project, written we might feel, to pay proper tribute not just to a friend but to a political comrade. Glasier’s portrait offers a picture of the older Morris as a committed Socialist. Thus contextualised it is possible to make sense of Morris in a way the ‘official’ biographies do not tend either to aim for or achieve.
Mackail’s biography is about ‘praising great men’ whereas Glasier and Leatham’s are about personal friendship and exploring and explaining Morris’s moral commitment – which was not divorced from, but may be seen at times in conflict with his artistic commitment. Both Leatham and Glasier try to resolve this conflict, exploring Morris from the perspective of their own experiences of him. As Glasier writes ‘Morris was a Socialist by reason of his whole intellectual and moral construction, and whatever circumstances eventually led him to realise and proclaim himself a Socialist – and there were doubtless many – his Socialism was none the less a necessary expression of his whole nature.’
It is a very interesting context in which to view Morris – for those happy to step beyond the wallpaper.
Glasier’s volume has an introduction by Morris’s daughter May (after whom Leatham named one of his own daughters) and features a series of letters written between Morris and Glasier. Both books are available in paperback from www.unco.scot.
Leatham Morris comes in at £3.99 (+ £2 p&p)
Glasier Morris is £7.99 (+ £2.80 p&p)
And there’s a special offer. Buy both books and Leatham’s own Socialism and Character and get free UK p&p. (A saving of £5.20) Just enter the coupon code MORRIS at checkout to get the special offer – available during March. The offer applies to UK purchases only.
Make March the time you get to know William Morris – or get to know him all over again, differently.
Marx and Faith.
But the essential difference between Karl Marx and all prophets and the orthodox economists as well, is that he was a Social-Democrat first, and an economist only as a means of making an end of capitalism. The orthodox economists might deprecate the excessive share taken by capital; but they were not concerned with anything beyond the ‘moralisation’ less or more of a relationship which Marx held to be fundamentally immoral and which could be moralised only by extinction. Marx was so much of a moralist that, unlike the commercial economists, he believed the evil thing could be ended.
The commercial economist, moreover, is usually a man of the study; but Marx was a man of action as well. Hunted out of Germany, hunted out of France, resident for a time in Brussels, but, returning to Germany and expelled once more, finally making London his home; dominating the strongest and inspiring some of the best men with whom he came into contact; leader and teacher of the International; watching events and in touch with revolutionists everywhere; opportunist man of affairs; London correspondent of the New York Tribune (at a guinea a week!); friend of trades unionists and of co-operators, Marx was an insurgent politician working for remote but inevitable ends.
Despite the careful analyses in the first volume of the ‘Capital’ – analyses which the historical student will best appreciate as marvels of generalization – Marx, with all his deductiveness, was full of preconceived ideas passionately held and promulgated. He had faith that a system motived on reaping without sowing, to which Adam Smith made placid reference, must end. The expropriators would themselves be expropriated. He had faith that the progress made in the class stuggles of the past would result in the conquest of the means of life by the proletariate and the ending of classes and class struggles alike. The historical process which had seen the end of chattel slavery and of serfdom, why should it not witness the end of wage servitude, under which the proletarian must ‘beg a brother of the earth,’ to give him the means of living upon it?
Marx a Politician.
Unlike some of his doctrinaire followers today, he did not wait for the great change to work itself out, looking for ‘the inevitable to function inevitably.’ He believed that social order could not be secured without social organization by the individual units who desired and required it.
His opportunism was shown by the way in which, in ‘Value, Price and Profit,’ he downed Weston for attacking trades unionism by maintaining that the policy of strikes was, what we know it to be, a see-saw of prices and wages, wages and prices, a chasing by the dog of its own tail. He may have realised that, even so, trades unionism could not, under capitalism, give up its powers to resist and to attack, just as today we cannot give up the idea of the right to strike even if strikes fail oftener than they succeed, and hit the striker and his dependents first and most heavily. The trade union can standardise conditions and preserve a minimum. In periods of expansion it may advance the standard, and resist retrogression in times of slump. Finally, and most hopeful of all, the trade union is a political force even more potent than the employers’ federation, since it controls more votes.
Marx gave the revolt against exploitation a political turn. He said ‘Workers of the world, unite! You have a whole world to win and nothing to lose but your chains.’ He left no definite scheme whereby the expropriators were to be expropriated, and his early followers in all lands looked to barricades and a cataclysmic revolution. It may come to that as a result of the lack of class-consciousness and of political aptitude on the part of the proletariate. The present attempt to make the House of Lords supreme in Britain is the counterpart of Fascism in Italy and dictatorships in Spain, Portugal, Turkey etc. If the gradual socialization of industry and commerce are to be frustrated by the janissaries of the established order, it is possible that there might be fighting in Britain. A few swashbucklers like Galloper Smith and Birkenhead might easily precipitate civil war.
But it should not be, it need not be, and we hope it will not be. Russia had proved, what never was in doubt, that a change of government is one thing and a change of social structure is something very different and a much more prolonged process. Mrs Kingsley rejects Mr Ramsay MacDonald’s theory of gradualism, as based on the slow course of organic transformation. We need not, indeed, make love to gradualism. Quite the reverse. Let us, if anything, make love to speed. But even speed has its laws, and furious driving is apt to end in a smash. In the commandeering of socially-created wealth for public purposes, Britain, with its hundreds of millions of taxation extracted from the rich for education, water-supply, streets and roads, poor relief, unemployment and maternity benefit, art galleries and museums, public libraries, public health, street-lighting, traffic control, and research, is more communistic than Russia is after ten years of Maximalist government. So that gradualism has it as against ‘Mutations’ so far.
Mrs Kingsley, however, believes in miracles, as we have seen, and she would fain shift the onus probandi to those who question the occurrence of miracles. She says it is an ‘example of the loose and unscientific statements so often made by rationalists’ that ‘science on its own data cannot explain miracles, but it does not refute them.’ But the onus of proof rests with those who assert that miracles have happened. Science does not need to refute what it does not believe. The proofs of the universal reign of unbroken law form a categorical refutation of miracles. A miracle requires an abrogation of natural law, and Mrs Kingsley, who pins her faith in a general way to the transcendentalism of Emerson, would do well to recall Emerson’s dictum that ‘Nothing is that errs from law.’
I seem to be emphasising my points of difference with Mrs Kingsley more than my points of agreement; but I hope all my denials have really an affirmative upshot. I should not write of her pamphlet if I did not find it, as I have said, arrestive and tending to make us review the grounds of our beliefs. As a Socialist and a public administrator I am at present busy with schemes of housing and of road-making byt direct labour because in a small community there is little else that one can do that is anything like so important. These schemes are all of the very essence of gradualism, and when a critic comes along and tells us in effect that all this is neither here nor there, and that the Social Revolution is to be carried by a Mutation, one is naturally pulled up sharp and nettled into meeting views that may very well be held by thousands besides this lady. Her pamphlet abounds in the signs of wide reading and she can state her extraordinary case very pointedly.
The Two Materialisms.
Philosophical materialism we accept. The vulgar materialism of ‘wealth, material comfort, and sensuous pleasure’ we reject. That is to say, philosophical materialists mostly reject it. And be it said, also, a great many spiritists, including most conventional Christians, are very much fonder of the fleshpots than are the philosophical materialists. No one could be less of a vulgar materialist than was Heinrich Karl Marx, born to middle-class comfort, but choosing the rugged service of the Social Revolution; grinding microscopic lenses and writing to the press for a living; not unfamiliar with the pawnbroker’s shop, and losing several of his children by death; consecrating his great powers to the service of an event in any case remote from his time – surely none was ever less of a materialist in the vulgar sense. He is but one in a noble company, living and dead, who have seen man’s life conditioned by circumstances over which man himself had potentially real control, with neither gods above nor devils below to prevent his being master of his fate collectively. The one condition was that he should learn the laws of social life, should realise and perform its civic duties, should above all things believe that the strong shall bear rule, and that the great mass of the exploited were in their numbers and the justice of their cause immensely the strongest and socially most important of all.
Sir Thomas Harrison, the amiable old-time author of ‘Oceana’ believed that ‘The highest earthly felicity that people can ask or God can give is an equal and well-ordered commonwealth.’ But to Mrs Kingsley this does not seem enough. ‘No Communist’ she says, ‘can think that by merely getting enough food and clothes and better houses the workers are going to be happy and virtuous; look at the rich!’
But why ‘merely’? Could such a good change come without being accomplished by other good changes? The appeal does not hold. The rich do not work and can have none of the satisfactions discipline, and self-respect of the worker. Those who have no work have no leisure. Robert Burns was a good judge, and he saw the rich as those who ‘By evendown want o’ wark are curst.’ Patmore sang ‘Who pleasure follows pleasure slays.’ And Matthew Arnold saw the idle rich of decadent Rome sated and disgusted with the hell of a life in which there was nothing to enjoy because there was nothing to do. Look at the rich indeed! With their cars and their tennis racquets, their golf clubs and their jazz, their night clubs and revues and bawdy plays, their Blue Train and their attempts to fly from themselves and the boredom of their empty lives, they are indeed a warning rather than an example.
Mrs Kingsley apparently seeks to make out that even lawful pleasure, comfort, and the highest mundane endeavour are not enough. She cites the longing of Morris’s wayfarers for the Earthly Paradise, the Acre of the Undying, and their ‘half-shame at having undertaken the quest and their regret that it has been all in vain.’ The poet’s excuse for their quest is that they ‘Had need of Life, to right the blindness and the wrong.’ But the blindness and the wrong are not to be righted by quitting the field. That was written before Morris had fully learned the great secret of the happy life, which is to be found in service and the immortality of fellowship as pictured by him in the ‘Dream of John Bull’
And the deeds that you do upon the earth, it is for fellowship sake that ye do them, and the life that is in it, that shall live on and on for ever, and each one of you a part of it, while many a man’s life upon the earth from the earth shall wane.
The Craving for Unending.
When he wrote of the old-time traditional quest of ‘a land where death is not’ he was still ‘the idle singer of an empty day,’ content that other people and not he should bear a hand with the slaying of the social monsters. The hatefulness of death as a mere deprivation of life and all its legitimate satisfactions was the most outstanding feature in Morris’s reflective life. The intensest pleasure made him in the last resort, ‘only the more mindful that the sweet days die.’ All this meant that he enjoyed life so much that death would be the greatest imaginable evil. Very evidently it did not mean that he had any hope of a reincarnation. Perhaps, also, Morris had an idea that he would not live long enough to be willing to take the final rest. He was but sixty-two when he was cut off in the full tide of his happy craftsmanship, with the latest of his great experiments, the Kelmscott Press, still in its infancy. In private he dwelt sometimes on the shortness of life and the possibility of lengthening it: but, unlike Shaw, whose thoughts tend the same way, he neither husbanded his great strength nor denied himself ‘pig,’ latakia, nor many cups of tea. Even so, he lasted longer than his father. We mostly do. Every generation extends the span of life by living less unhygenically.
The remedy for the craving for unending life lies, not alone in the great extension of the life-span, but, above all, in the recognition of the quite plain fact that life is not to be reckoned in terms of the individual. The philosophy of Socialism leads in its ultimate interpretation to the frank recognition that man at his best is only a unit in the social scheme, a link in the endless chain of eternal life, not a complete being with a godlike claim to eternal life himself. In times of national stress this unitary character of man is recognised. Man, the lower animals, even ants, give their lives automatically, under stress of strong social feeling, for the good of the nation, herd, or colony. Humble people of socialised instincts risk their lives any day to save a fellow-creature.
The poet Swinburne payed that he might be saved ‘from too much love of living’ and when we hear very ordinary people objecting strenuously to being ‘snuffed out’ as they indignantly say, and see them holding ‘circles’ and prying into the possibilities of a continued life for them on another plane, we cannot help regarding it as a greed of life which no achievement of theirs has ever justified in the past or is likely to justify in such a future as they picture. All that we learn from Spiritualists as to life on the astral plane shows it to be such a dull, stagnant, trivial affair that it would add a new terror to death if we believed that a life of that kind lay beyond.
At one time I worked as a printer on The Two Worlds, the Spiritualist weekly, and saw a good deal of the Spiritualist fraternity at close quarters in that way and otherwise. Of their messages from the other world the general impression is of paltryness, the most outstanding memory being of repeated assurances to ‘take car of yourself’ and to ‘be sure you wear flannels next your skin.’
Carlyle somewhere tells of an old man who spoke to his (Carlyle’s) father in rapturous terms of the joys of heaven. And the old Scots mason retorted: ‘Who wants a stinking of clog like you in heaven? Don’t you think that seventy years of you is enough?’ It was brutal; but Carlyle manifestly tells the story with a chuckle as if he agreed with the rough justice of it. What we think about life on an alleged astral plane will not alter the fact whatever the fact may be; but in the absence of adequate proof it seems an overweening claim that the human mite, marvellous as he is, should seek to live for ever, or otherwise viewed, should, like the idiot Struldbrugs of Gulliver, have sentence of eternal life passed upon him.
The good we do lives after us, and if that is sometimes very little, our claim to continued life on another plane is surely all the less, unless, indeed, we are to be taught there to be less self-centred, to have more of the spirit of comradeship and service.
Already we have more pity than is needed for our own sorrows, more laughter than is warranted by our own joys, even when we know nothing of its cause, and we often worry over the troubles of others more than they do themselves. This altruism, which is by no means overdone, cannot but be greatly strengthened in the more socialised life of the future.
In a letter to me Mrs Kingsley says there are no moral sanctions today. She means, I take it, that the law and the commandments have lost their Divine authority and that no authoritative taboos have taken their place. But there are surely more taboos than ever, while law and public opinion are more strongly operative than ever. Morals are always ahead of theology. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not bear false witness – the public opinion behind these existed long before Moses formulated it as Divine law. All these taboos and many others have more force than ever they had; and they are reinforced by a thousand acquired instincts that are more potent than any old priestly taboo. In spite of a very much extended penal code, with vastly more efficient policing, the prison population is less and less.
In spite of the coarsening effects of war, the increased decency of average social feeling is manifested in various ways. The war itself actually helped. Profiteering was never generally condemned till the word was coined for it, and till, with our backs to the wall it was felt to be the dirty game which it is, whether peace or war. The ‘slacker’ was one who wangled out of his duty as a citizen in time of national danger, but it stands in time of peace, also, for the two million men in Britain who were not ashamed to return themselves to the census-takers as ‘of no occupation.’
Homes for heroes, self-determination, direct labour, direct action, camouflage for that which needs to be disguised, C3 as a deplorable category – all are hopeful, illuminating verbal facets augmenting the vocabulary of a more socialised world.
Mrs Kingsley, quoting Bertrand Russel says: ‘The whole solidity of matter has gone,’ En avent! That does but make it the more plastic and potent. The trouble with the grey matter up to now has been stodginess. That its solidity has gone is good news. It is still material despite its fluidity.
By a natural dialectical tendency, I have dwelt upon the controversial aspects of Mrs Kingsley’s thesis, passing by much of which it is possible heartily to approve. The production of marvels – such as spirit-writing, ‘precipitation’ of letters from the ceiling, and ‘materialisations’ – has been so often shown to be mere trickery that it is depressing to think of fine minds being deflected from open forthright pursuit of the open forthright business of the world to such jugglery. There is no particular mystery about the things that really matter.
Matter, Spirit, and Karl Marx
Is our Science all wrong?
Startling Claims from a Spiritualist Angle
The Rally of an Expelled Communist
(first published July 1927)
‘The history of each of the sciences is a record of the progressive substitution of matter for spirit and law for sponteneity.’ Encyclopedia Britannica.
Recent achievements of applied physical science – such as the gramophone, wireless, telegraphy, and the promised television, with, above all, the new subdivision of matter called the electron – are supposed to have given the philosophical materialist pause, and on this assumption the Spiritists are inclined to be aggressive. When Shakespeare said there were more things between heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy he was making a wise allowance for the extension of the realm of the knowable. We have been extending that realm, and all the legitimate, real extensions of it have been along the lines of simple naturalism. There was a time when spirits pervaded all things. Animism put kelpies in the pools, furies in the winds, fairies on the green, fauns and satyrs in the woods, and ghosts everywhere. ‘Devils’ were exorcised with priestly abracadabra, witches were burnt after they had been forced to confess impossible deeds by the applications of pincers. Even the astronomer Kepler believed there were spirits of the planets, and similarly biology was not yet got rid of ‘final causes.’
An Arrestive Treatise
These reflections are suggested by a pamphlet of an unusually arrestive, and on its human side valuable, kind. The treatise is an answer to the question ‘Is Materialism the Basis of Communism?’ (Henderson, 66 Charing Cross Road, London ,6d). The author, Mrs. Isabel Kingsley makes out an excellent case against the materialist conception of history; and many who see in Collectivism an ideal or ideals which will change, not only the economic basis of society, but will revolutionise the whole of life and human nature itself, will be glad of this excursion into the more attractive realm which lies beyond the politico-economic wrangle.
There are some of us who grudge having to be politicians at all. Decently-minded people want to cultivate their bodies and minds, and enjoy life peacefully in a society where one part of the population does not live by picking the pockets of the majority; and politics represent, broadly, a mere attempt to suppress pocket0picking and to force men like the Duke of Northumberland and the average idle shareholder to do their fair share of the necessary work of the world.
But Mrs Kingsley is not concerned about the wrangle, the immediate thing, such as fighting the Trade Disputes Bill or the attempt to set the House of Lords over both the Commons and the Monarchy. Still less is she concerned with the gradual extension of Municipal and State Collectivism. One of the advantages of keeping free from legislative and administrative entanglements is that one can project one’s mind into the future and get busy over matters that have nothing to do with current issues.
Mrs. Kingsley apparently rejects the philosophy of gradualness. She says the slow course of organic transformation may be ‘rejected on strictly scientific grounds’ and refers to De Vries having shown by verified experiments the abrupt appearance of new vegetable species without any immediate transitional forms. These changes he calls ‘mutations’ and from his observations it is seriously argued that abrupt transformation may well be the rule in evolution.
This is an immensely convenient theory. I have never seen the blue rose that gardeners have long tried to evolve by stages of crossing. I have read of a blue rose and have heard of a black one. But there is such a thing as colour blindness. There is also a thing called throwing the hatchet. When the loganberry was produced by crossing the bramble with the raspberry, gardeners made some noise about it; but if a new variety sprang up like a weed, without being man-planted, and with no known antecedents, there would surely be some shout about the miraculous apparition. The much canvassed problem of priority touching the hen and the egg would have a kindred conundrum. When Topsy said she was not born, but just growed, she did not know that a scientist was to come along and say that it was possible to grow without being born. We have heard an enthusiastic breeder discussing aloud, on the other side of a hedge, and all alone, how, by selection, he could produce something that would carry everything before it in the showyard, beating all he had done before by the same means. To leave it all to ‘mutations’ would, no doubt, have been easier.
Mrs. Kingsley’s view makes short work of all the sciences, including that of healing. She cites from Myers and Richet the case of a rich Belgian workman who had both legs broken. There was:
‘suppuration and no disposition of the bones to unite; the lower part of the leg could be moved in all directions. He refused to have it amputated, and had been on crutches for eight years, when one day, while at prayer at a shrine, he felt himself cured, stood up, put his feet to the ground, and walked without assistance.’
The suppuration, it seems, stopped, the accretions cleared away, the disjointed bones set painlessly and without manipulative pressure! Does Mrs Kingsley, one wonders, have her meals cooked without fire, without cutting vegetables, without any of the adaptation of means to ends that all processes have heretofore been supposed to require?
When we cannot induce the majority to do the easy and obvious, the thing of proved adequacy, it may be right to suggest something unheard of and unlikely. But as it is, we put on poultices to extract a virus, we reduce inflammations and fevers by ointments, fomentations, quinine and other febrifugres. In politics, when private enterprise breaks down, public effort comes to the rescue, as with housing. Is all this kind of thing a mere tinkering with evils that can be met with a general fiat lux and effort of faith?
This is transcendentalism with a vengeance. Unfortunately it leaves us all awash. Nothing is as it seems. All our knowledge simply misleads us. The only people who do not know about things are the people who have given a lifetime’s study to them. The Belgian workman who would not have his gangrened leg amputated was right, and the doctors were wrong. When your waterpipes burse call in the tailor. When your coat is torn take it to the plumber. Science, like Love, ‘smiles but to deceive.’
There are of course, cases where the scientist and the politicians are wrong. By citing instances here and there you may make all the experts look foolish in turn. But argument based upon exceptions is special pleading. Mrs Kingsley spoils her case against Materialism-ridden-to-death by setting up the Supernatural against it. And that is not only unnecessary, but mischievous.
But I have got ahead unduly, thinking of the treatise as a whole. Let me begin more or less at the beginning, only remarking incidentally that it is ‘signifcant of much’ that Mrs. Kingsley belonged to the Communist Party, and has apparently been expelled for heresy!
Our authoress accepts the dictionary definitions of Materialism:
1. Materialism – The denial of the existence in man of an immaterial substance which alone is conscious, distinct, and separable from the body. The reduction of psychical processes to physical is the special thesis of Materialism.
2. Materialism – He who denies spirit in man or in the universe. In the domain of ethics and practical life, Materialism is a term use to denote the temper of mind which sees in the acquisition of wealth, material comfort, and sensuous pleasure the only reasonable objects of human endeavour.
As the antithesis of this the following definition is given –
Idealism – Any theory which maintains the universe to be throughout the work or the embodiment of reason or mind. Any theory which seeks the explanation or ultimate raison d’être of the cosmic evolution in the realisation of reason, self-consciousness, or spirit.
I have one or two objections to make to these definitions. The reference to an ‘immaterial substance’ is an obvious contradiction in terms. If there is one thing that ‘substance’ cannot be it is ‘immaterial.’ Substance must be substantial in greater or lesser degree. Water is less substantial than wood, and wood than iron; but all three are substances. An immaterial materiality is naturally repudiated by Materialists or anyone who wishes to use language with any degree of accuracy.
The Materialist does not deny ‘spirit in man.’ He does not deny spirit even in horses and dogs. He only denies that spirit is ‘distinct and separable from the body.’ He does not deny music; he only denies that music can be produced without physical means – voice, violin, or organ – while at the same time he denies that the music itself is physical. In the Phaedo Plato gives Socrates most of the talk (in a dialogue at which Plato himself was confessedly not present); but he gives Simmias the best of the argument in the following passage:
Anyone might use the same argument with respect to harmony, and a lyre and its chords – that harmony is something invisible and incorporeal, very beautiful and divine in a well modulated lyre; but the lyre and its chords are bodies and of corporeal form, compounded and earthly, and akin to that which is mortal. When anyone, then, has broken or burst the chords, he might maintain, from the same reasoning as yours, that it is necessary that harmony should still exist and not be destroyed. .. Our body being compacted and held together by heat and cold, dryness and moisture, and other such qualities, our soul is the fusion and harmony of these when they are well and duly combined with each other. If, then, the soul is a kind of harmony, it is evident that when our body is unduly relaxed or strained through diseases or other maladies the soul must of necessity immediately perish, although it is most divine, just as other harmonies which subsist in sounds or in the various works of artizans, but that the remains of the body of each person last a long time till they are without being or decayed. Consider, then, what we shall say… if anyone should maintain that the soul, being a fusion of the several qualities in the body, perishes first in that which is called death.’
After this we read (Phaedo, sec 80) that Socrates, awaiting death, looked ‘steadfastly at us,’ and, smiling said, ‘Simmias indeed speaks justly.’
Those who, like the Swedenborgians and the Spiritualists, conceive of spirit as something which can put on clothes, or be hit with a stick, are more materialistic than the Materialists. The Materialist believes that the spirit is spiritual. The Spiritualist believes it is material, and does not laugh when he sees an imposter or impostress walking about performing senseless tricks while professing to be a spirit. to the Materialist, spirit is mettle, vital force, which he derives from his body nourished with food, air, and sleep. When the Materialist speaks of a person having ‘a poor spirit’ he means simply that the person makes a poor show in energy, hopefulness, courage, or initiative. The dependence of spirit on the material body is shown by the fact that poor health means poor spirits. The same dependence is shown by the fact that the same individual is one person when hungry and a very different person when rested. When the Materialist speaks of a ‘spirited’ horse he means a horse that has plenty of energy and action.
PART TWO WILL BE AVAILABLE IN THE FEBRUARY EDITION OF THE NEW GATEWAY
From 'Letters to a young Writer IV' by William Robertson Nicoll in ‘The Bookman’ April 1894.
. . . Could I get you a little reviewing to do? Would the Tomahawk print anything in that way if you sent it ? You have never done anything of the kind, but it seems to be a way literary persons have of beginning their career, and you wouldn't mind trying your hand at it. You have nothing of your own ripe in your head just now, so you may as well concern yourself with other people's things.
Well, about the Tomahawk printing your first attempts I am doubtful, but if you stick to your ambitions you’ll probably have to enter journalism by one or other of its doors to earn your bread and butter while your great works are in the making, so it is none too soon to learn a bit of the trade. And in journalism reviewing comes handiest to anyone of a bookish turn. At the same time criticism is a work for which young untrained writers are highly unsuited, but this again does not prevent my advising early and constant practice in it to all who are ambitious to excel and succeed in literature, but who have not as yet been manifestly called to it. One of the most startling facts regarding the shoals of young writers’ MSS. Which pass through my hands is not their native want of ability, but the evidence they show of indifference to literature. Their contentment with poor models is surprising. Perhaps the writers have been too much at school, and have had little time. At all events, the fact remains so; and reviewing at least sends a reviewer to books. Ideally, reading may be the worst of all preparations for the career of a literary creator; the sky of heaven, the human heart, and human actions should perhaps give all the early experience needful. But I think the history of authors, even great ones, would show that as many have been sent to the closer study of nature and humanity by books, as by the observation of humanity and nature to literature. And if reading does not give the artist his impulse, at least it teaches him his craft.
The reviewer is not born but made. Of course, he must have certain natural gifts, chiefly moral, but these were not exclusively designed by Providence for his calling. It is not altogether a glorious career this; its records have been stained many times with blunders, incapacity, and injustice. They hide, too, a mass of excellent and forgotten work. But, inglorious as it may be, the work, in the present state of things, is in demand by publishers, by authors, perhaps even by readers. It is a way of eking out a more or less honest livelihood, and it is about as good a literary exercise as any young writer could be led to.
It has a past, even among press-hacks, by no means without honour. Men of genius have used it as a way of interpreting themselves as well as the author they set out to write on. It has high traditions as well as ignoble ones, and though it is not a career flattering to the vanity, it is today an eminently respectable one. A little log-rolling and much inaccuracy are nearly the only stains on its present reputation in England. But as there is the higher, so there is, in a literary sense, the lower criticism, that which , according to common belief, is the work of the office-boy. And to save you from this office-boy kind of ‘criticism’ I have suggested some preliminary practice, which many journalists will pooh-pooh, as something impossible and altogether needless. I would only remind such that Herbert Spencer’s ‘Ethics’ once got into the hands of a the wrong man of a newspaper staff, who dismissed it in a line or two, urgin the obscure author to choose a subject more suited to his abilities. This is reported to be one of the few jokes Mr. Spencer ever really enjoyed. Then there is the criticism which an editor finds useful for filling space, which offends people as little – unless they be particularly impatient of stupidity – as it informs or stimulates. It repeats the commonplaces of the world without a blush, and would serve up the multiplication tables if it could only manage to vary the phraseology. Hazlitt knew its author intimately, in social intercourse as well as in the press. ‘’The following list of his opinions may be relied upon: - it is pretty certain that before you have been in the room with him ten minutes he will give you to understand that Shakespeare was a great but irregular genius. Again, he thinks it a question whether any one of his plays, if brought out now, for the first time, would succeed… He wonders that the author of Junius was never found out… He thinks there has been a great improvement in the morals of the higher classes since the reign of Charles II.” And so on. Our stock phrases and stale dicta are other nowadays, but the spirit of the commonplace is always the same. Then there is the review of the book that has never been read, which is generally full of vaguely and guardedly complimentary adjectives, an exercise this not without practice in mental dexterity and in the art of saying nothing gracefully, and guarding your reputation for judgement, but not one likely to commend itself to young writers whose imagination and ambition will instinctively put them in the wronged and disappointed author’s place.
What I mean by training for reviewing is little more than this. While you have leisure, pay the homage of agreement or disagreement with the books that interest you, without a thought whether your manuscript is to be seen by other eyes than your own. Many a one has done this kind of thing in the leisurely days of his youth who never published a line of literary criticism. It matured in his mind and made him into a reader, which today is a much rarer thing than a writer. Even a young literary aspirant should have a past behind him, and did it consist in an acquired habit of literary judgement it would be valuable capital.
There is a style of criticism in vogue just now, particularly attractive to young writers, because it has two fascinating qualities: it is difficult of achievement, and it looks very knowing. Criticism generally resolves itself, in the end, into like and dislike, but these two are ordinary supported by reasons based on laws of style and taste which represent a great weight of tested opinion. But so-called impressionist criticism, in stating its likes and dislikes, omits the reasons, trusting entirely to moods. Now, criticism where the personal equation is large is always interesting and may be valuable. But to be valuable it demands a better stocked mind and memory, a wider experience and tolerance , than most young people generally possess. It presupposes too, judgement that has been in work so long or that is naturally so quick that its motions are almost unconscious and automatic.
The straightforward descriptive style is best of all for beginners, especially if the exercise be looked at with regard to its chief use, to make good readers. Find accurately the purpose of your book, if it has one, or the situation, or point of view, if it is a work of art. Can it be fairly and not too remotely compared with any other? If so, wherein are the two different? Is it to be regarded as an interesting narrative, or as a contribution to information, or as literature? Illustrate your statements by the aptest quotations you can find. They may sound very puerile, these directions, but hints against slipshod work are not often superfluous. Choose by preference books that are not new. Find out the pith and marrow for instance, of ‘Esmond’ or ‘Emma’, ‘Cinq Mars’ or ‘Les Trois Mousquetaires,’ of ‘The Essay in Criticism’ or ‘The Prelude,’ of ‘The Rivals, ‘ or ‘Edward II’ or Burke’s ‘Reflections,’ or Walton’s Lives or Cowper’s Letters – to give a mere haphazard selection.
The argumentative method can be your next step. Here your account of the contents of your book will be stopped every now and again to notice the strong or weak points, the novelties, the superfluities, or the absurdities. Examine, vindicate, and judge; only know something of what you are talking about. Learn to handle reference books skilfully, and to find your place in whatever library is at your disposal. Attack, but hit even a dead author fairly. Be as satirical as you like, when you feel assured you understand. You will be all the bolder that you are writing for yourself and not for a cold-blooded editor, and boldness is a good habit to begin with. But even at this stage, it is well to become used to being generous to a writer who is antipathetic to you.
Side by side with such practice, in this your time of leisure, should run some study of the best criticism, best in style, or in sanity, or in the work put into it. Read Macaulay, whose reputation is for the present a little undeservedly obscured, and recognise the mass of reading and reference he had ready for every review he wrote. Read Lamb, and see how gracefully and gently he carries his weight of out of the way learning. Read Hazlitt, and learn how the criticism of other people’s thoughts may be a vehicle of all that is most brilliant and original in a critic’s own mind. Read Lowell, and catch some of his fervour for the great literature of the world. Read Carlyle, and feel the heat of his moral fervour and understand all he demanded from books. Read Sainte-Beuve and Taine, for you miss a great chance of literary education if you don’t know French. I have named no living writers, it is not out of disparagement to the criticism of today, but because it is well to emphasize the fact that wisdom was not born this morning.
And when you have done this, and your editor gives you a chance, it may be to pronounce judgement on a worthless novel, or to summarise the merits of some work that has won your sympathies in ten brief lines. Such is the discipline journalism sometimes provides for her most high-souled helpers, but you will deserve to be a hack if you think your previous studies and your ambitious attempts were wasted.
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