I sometimes speculate as to what the Archbishop of Canterbury’s butler would think of the Twelve Apostles if they turned up at the palace. Swarthy, hirsute, some of them, like Peter, vehement and forward, all of them doubtless frowsy, as Jews and fishermen tend to be, they would impress the man of the corkscrew much as a deputation of dustmen would do. Yet these were the men who founded a system that curbed kings and made an emperor do penance in his shirt out of doors on a snowy day. They had the faith that moved mountains - a faith that communicated itself to others in endless irradiations outwards.
The original apostles of Socialism in Glasgow partook largely of the character of the twelve disciples, in the lowliness of their lot and the boundlessness of their faith and zeal. But there was one fundamental difference. The pioneers of Christianity had to put the emphasis upon personal sacrosanctity ‘The Kingdom of God is within you’ was their message, and like their leader, they seem to have lived up to it. The tale of their martyrdom is almost monotonous in its brevity and its uniform ending of crucifixion. Even Judas died of remorse. It was the great advantage of Christianity as a movement that it was a spiritual and not a political movement, that its kingdom of heaven came not with observation. Jesus himself imposed searching test – ‘Sell what thou hast and give to the poor… take up the cross and follow me’; but these were individual tests only. Neither he nor his followers had any politics, had anything to say against slavery, war, concubinage, or any of the main social institutions that shape men’s lives and characters more powerfully than anything that is merely within the individual.
The pioneers of Socialism also carried their cross, but it was the comparatively prosaic one of the industrial or commercial bargain with its by-products of poverty, visits to the pawn shop, short commona for the wife and bairns , and in not a few cases a life shortened by suffering and embitterment.
The average man is now more largely represented in the movement than he was in early days. In the eighties and nineties it required men of exceptional parts to be attracted to Socialism and to remain faithful to a movement that had so many ordinary deterrents and so few ordinary attractions.
Of ‘Little Robertson’ the tailor, it is related that one day his wife came up to a crowd of which he and his oratory were the centre. ‘Here’s him on again aboot that damn’t Social Revolution,’ she said. ‘He promised me a new silk goon when it comes aff’; but I’m thinkin’ it’s like royal chairlie, it’s lang o’ comin’.’
I do not know if Roberston was a native of Glasgow; but he worked there and did much public speaking there, and about the effectiveness of his appeal to the populace there could be no manner of question. The little man could talk by the hour, and the very commonness of his range of topics was the secret of his hold upon the crowd. He and his friend Bob Hutchison, a s shoemaker, would go on tour together, and although Hutchison was a much finer speaker, the little tailor won his real admiration by the effective sincerity of his homely speaking. The bigger man stood by listening, and at points would say for all the world to hear, ‘Man, isn’t he grand’!
It was the unfeigned admiration, so often seen, of a bigger man for a smaller as in the case of Burns for Fergusson, or Macaulay for Sir James Mackintosh.
Robert Hutchison, a shoemaker as said, was a native of Stranraer, and I think he retired and died there. In appearance and in some of his habits he was no very attractive missionary of a new evangel. Robert was ‘fond of a dram’ and made no secret of it. He wore a black sourtout coat, the state of which suggested that he had not been its first wearer. He had a blue scar across his biggish nose, and the injury that had left the scar had spoiled the shape of the organ itself. One day as I saw him brush his way into a railway station on a more or less public occasion, I thought he made rather an ugly drunk.
The occasion was the departure of a company of sixteen French delegates, who had come over to see the Glasgow Exhibition of 1888, and had been entertained to dinner by the Corporation first and by the Glasgow Socialists afterwards. Hutchison had made friends with them, as we all did; but the repeated festivities had set Bob on the spree.
Cunninghame-Graham had ridden up on his own horse, a fine figure of a man, had dismounted outside, and had made a speech in French to our visitors, much to their delight; and the public were impressed and pleased by the whole affair, when Bob swaggered in on the platform, sweeping other bystanders on one side. One was pleased to see how little harm the episode seemed to do.
The Frenchmen were all find men and fine-looking men. They had taught us to sing and dance ‘La Carmagnole,’ and we sang it again that day, and the train steamed out amid cheers, a red flag on a little staff with a brass finial to it fluttering out at one of the carriage windows. Someone had presented the visitors with it during their stay.
I was myself less shocked by the episode than I should have been had I not witnessed beforehand the indulgence with which Bob was treated. Bruce Glasier and I had been passing meeting on Glasgow Green one Sunday afternoon at which Bob was making a speech. He was moving along under full sail, with grandiose references to the Barings, the Rothschilds, and the Bank of Egypt, when he suddenly pulled up with a declaration that he was not in form at t the moment; that he was just off a three weeks’ spree, and ‘the whisky is oozing out of me at every pore. But,’ he continued, ‘if you will come along to our rooms tonight, I am to be lecturing on ‘The Ethics of Socialism,’ and I tell you, if the heads of H.M.Hyndman, William Morris, Belfort Bax, and all the rest of them had been put together they couldn’t have composed a better lecture than I shall give tonight. I know it’s a good lecture gentlemen. I wrote it when I was drunk, and I’m always inspired when I’m drunk.’
I was disgusted, but Glasier smiled, and said, ‘We’ll look in just to see what effect a statement like that will have.’
We accordingly did, and there was a good audience, and it was really a good lecture.
The chances are that, even in the state in which Hutchison declared himself to be, he would have had a copy of Shelley’s poems in the tail-pocket of his frock-coat. For he loved the poets and hated economists. When they tried to induce him to study Marx he declared with vehemence, ‘Do I need to read Marx or anyone else in order to learn that I am robbed and how the robbery is done?’
Perhaps it may not be superfluous to explain why Glasier and I only looked in at Hutchison’s meetings. Bob belonged to the Social-Democratic Federation, while we were members of the Scottish Section of the Socialist League. The chief man in the Federation was H.M.Hyndman, who believed in Parliamentary methods. The leading member of the League was William Morris, who somehow expected a sudden change by the modus of a revolutionary upheaval. We in Aberdeen from the outset believed in the policy of the S.D.F, and finally became affiliated with it, regarding it as foolish to expect men to shed their blood at the barricades when they would not shed ink at the ballot box for our candidates. Morris came in time to admit, handsomely, that he was wrong and Hyndman was right.
The Socialist League was introduced into Scotland by Andreas Scheu, a stalwart, handsome, brainy, in every way attractive Austrian, who had been obliged to leave the dominions of Francis Joseph because of his Socialist activity. He was employed as a draughtsman in Edinburgh, but later became a commercial traveller, with his home in London. An intensely electric speaker, he could be graphic, subtle, and delicate as well. He was the author of the very find song beginning ‘Where’er the eye its glance may throw,’ sung to his own tune (see Carpenter’s ‘Chants of Labour’). I have turned aside to mention Scheu because no one who had met him – no one, that is, with ‘an eye for a man’ – could ever forget him. Among his other claims to remembrance, he was the only man in London who could hector Charles Bradlaugh. He used to go to the Hall of Science when Bradlaugh was lecturing against Socialism, and, by sheer personality rather than sound argument, turn Mr Bradlaugh’s audience against him. One cannot help wondering how this attractive, masterful man fared during the war fever, when Teutons were so generally interned.
But the mention of Bradlaugh brings me back to Robert Hutchison. I have said that Scheu was the only man in London who could overbear Bradlaugh. But Bob Hutchison did so once in Glasgow. He also, was the possessor of a formidable indignant manner, and it is related that on one occasion he stormed Badlaugh’s platform, and denounced the self-styled ‘iconoclast’ as one who took away the hope of heaven from mankind, yet was content to offer them nothing in its place. This was not because Bob believed in the evangelical heaven any more than Bradlaugh did, but he rightly held that the Hope of the Ages for some approximation to a heaven on earth, as in Burns’s ‘it’s comin’ yet for a’ that,’ was a legitimate, commendable and comforting aspiration, which only a drab and barren soullessness would ignore, deny or belittle. Under the influence of his angry attack, Bradlaugh, as the story goes, was temporarily demoralised, and gathering up his notes, he hurried off the platform, his lecture having already, of course been delivered. Such is the power of strong feeling strongly expressed.
Hyndman, an excellent judge, gave Hutchison the credit of being in many respects one of the very finest orators he had ever heard. It is, indeed, not at all remarkable that a man of strong natural powers and much reading should speak with all the greater sincerity and force out of the depths of feeling engendered in a life of comparative failure. Who knows what Robert Hutchison might have been in happier surroundings and circumstances? I do not know his sotry. What I do know is that a man with a tithe of his ability and innate benevolence of mind and disposition has ‘succeeded’ and has stood very well in the eyes of the world and in his own eyes.
Bob Hutchison was not ‘good’ in the sacrosanct sense, but he was good for something. Whereas it often happens that the sacrosanct man is good for nothing and nobody but himself. He is so anxious to keep himself ‘unspotted’ that his virtues are chiefly of the negative sort. Bob Hutchison was of the ‘named and nameless’ battlers who put up a fight for the good of the world, present and to come –chiefly to come – and to listen to his pleadings for a better system was to listen, you felt, to one who could speak out of the depths of a bitter experience which the smug Pharisees had not got. The best men are often those most sorely tempted and are not always able to resist the temptation. But such men speak with all the greater authority and power of conviction, since none can be so profoundly convinced as they are themselves.
A very different type from Bob Hutchison the masterful was old McNaughton, the schoolmaster. The old man had kept a private school till it would no longer keep him. His last establishment had no playground attached to it, and on this an inspector duly commented, only to be assured that there was a beautiful playground near by. The story went that he took the inspector to Glasgow Green, and pointed to its vast acerage as representing the ample playfield provided for his scholars.
At a discussion in branch meeting he would sit silent till near the end, and then, getting up to speak, the softness and mildness of his high-set voice at the outset would be in marked contrast to the tones of those who had preceded him. He would say ‘comrades, I have listened with great interest to this discussion on political tactics. It is just possible that by these means we might be able to emancipate the working class. But gentlemen, I have a better method.’
His tone now began to rise.
‘Let us begin with the little children.’ Let us tell them how their fathers have been crushed, and how they will likewise be crushed when they grow up into manhood. And further let us train them to use the rifle and to SHOOT! And then, gentlemen, will their emancipation be sure.’
The finish up was a crescendo of vehemence. Poor old McNaughton! His last job was that of a lamplighter, ‘ the poor old lamplighter,’ as he described himself in accents of hushed and pathetic self-pity. By this time he had absented himself form the meetings, with some sort of idea that he would be looked down upon; and it was only when you fetched him up in the street, perhaps upon his rounds, that he would enter into talk.
It was greatly to his credit that, outshipped by the socialising of education as he was, he nevertheless was a supporter of the better system that had made a misfit of him. By comparison with the pigs and fools who make wars, rob the public, and decimate the human race in the interests of dividends which they do not even know how to spend, such men as the least of those I am sketching are the salt of the earth.
In these papers I am discussing, and propose to discuss, not mere politicians who reap where other men have sown, but men who were politicians only because they were Socialists. What the lightning candidate may be in his innermost mind, heaven only knows. Seats are won, it is feared, by the practice of great economy in the telling of the truth. That the people who vote ‘Labour’ accept the full implications of the party programme is hardly credible. To the extent that the voters do accept the promise of Socialism, their acceptance is due to the work of the unrewarded propagandists who have often lived in penury and grief, albeit with a great hope and conviction as their mainstay. To the climbing candidate the Cooperative Commonwealth is a shadowy thing, of the Ever, ever, and therefore (he may think) of the Never, never.
As I write, the efforts of official Labour seem to be directed towards maintaining the life of Capitalism rather than ushering in instalments of the Co-operative Commonwealth. One drawback of the Labour Party is that its leaders are largely men who have little or no practical acquaintance with business. Ex-secretaries, ex-civil servants, and ex-teachers can hardly be expected to be strong upon the practical construction and reconstruction of industry under public control. Happily there are some business men in the ranks also, and these may be expected to show the same enterprise in the public interest that they have shown in their own. For, as it happens, some of them have been Socialists first, and politicians afterwards. Social organisation is largely a matter of local government anyhow.
The man with whom I deal here have had the great Hope of the Ages as their religion. So far from seeking to minimise the implications in the interests of electoral success, it has been their consolation and delight to see in the Social Revolution a complete change in the whole orientation of human motives and relationships, a universal solvent of all the man-made bugbears, and disabilities of topsy-turvey civilization. The charm of their attitude was its disinterested idealism. They found their happiness by losing themselves in the contemplation of the Delectable State and the Sons and Daughters of Men made perfect. It is the oldest yet the newest religion. Its foundations are in the most sacred aspirations of the human mind, and its basis is the evidence of all the good that has been thought and said and done in the world throughout the ages of man’s long ascent from his ape-like progenitors.
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