Largely Political (originally published 1917)
As the printer and his neighbour the Sculptor were having a little talk in the early morning, an old man, carrying a broadish, strongly-made box strapped across his back, passed down the road towards the railway station. The Printer smiled sympathetically as he watched the old one pad briskly along with the carriage of one who in spite of his beard and threescore and ten years still walked like a boy out for the day. Apart from the sympathy one feels with (not for!) old men, the Printer recalled his first and only meeting with the old pedlar. They had both been waiting the train at Littlefield, and the box, with its American cloth cover nailed down with brass studs, had attracted the printer’s attention. The pedlar stood apart, and as the printer sat down on the long, broad set which held the box he had said with a smile ‘What a nobby box! If ever I take to the road this is just the kind of box I shall have.’ The old man had smiled taking this blarney just as it was meant to be taken, and they had got into lively crack as to the pedlar’s diocese.
As the two neighbours looked out after him today the stonecutter’s face opened in a responsive grin.
‘Ay, that aul’ mannie an’ anither lad had been drinkin’ somewye oot shoor; an’ they had cast oot, an’ the ither lad was gaunt i strick ‘im.’ The aul’ mannie put doon his box on the road, an’ stood up upon’t; an’ says he: ‘Ye widna strick a man in his ain shop, wid ye?’
As they talked there entered a tall, clean-shaven young chemist who had been dispenser in a great London house and had also followed his calling in Italy. He had lately succeeded to his father’s business in St Congan’s, and there being little else to think about in the town, his talk usually turned to business. The subject of artificial teeth cropped up, about which the Sculptor developed views of his own.
Chemist: Ye should get a set o’ false teeth, man, an’ be able to chew yer food properly, an’ nae be troubled wi’ indigestion.
Sculptor: Div ye seel false teeth?
Chemist: Na, na. It’s a pure masonic, philanthropic suggestion.
Sculptor: Och, man. I could easy get a set o’ false teeth for naething. The like o’ me ‘at works aboot graveyairds could easy come be a set o’ false teeth. The aul’ gravediffer got a row for the upper jaw oot o’ Miss Gregory’s aul’ grave, wi’ a lot o’ gold aboot them. Then he got a row for the lower jaw oot o’ aul’ Grassies lair. He offered me the twa sets; but na, na, says I, I’ll jist stick ti the droon’t loaf. Jock Williamson bocht a dandy outfit o’ teeth in Aiberdeen; bit he was fear’t ti pit them in. He fancied ‘imsel’ forgettin’ aboot them, an’ gaunt i bed wi’ them in, an’ them fai’in doon an’ chokin’ ‘im i’ the nicht.
Printer: I knew a man whose teeth used to fall down when he spoke and he was fond of making speeches. And I knew another old man who used to take out his teeth before he started to eat. So that neither of them could have had much use of their teeth. They would have just been ornamental in their case.
Sculptor: Fin Jock Williamson brocht his hame fae Aiberdeen he bung’t them intil a drawer; an’ I suppose they’re there yet.
The Readiness is all.
The Printer was passing along the top of a high bank to his midday meal when he noticed a jolly acquaintance down in the road below.
‘I’ll tak the high road, an ye’ll tak the low road,’ he chanted.
‘Ay, but I’ll be at the Station afore ye!’ came the quick answer.
‘I want you to post the Pelican to…’ and here the lady gave an address in Derbyshire. The Printer took down the name and pocketed the four shillings with a smile. This was the fourth order he had booked that week, and in two of the cases it had been a reader paying for the magazine to go to someone else. This he regarded as a sincere form of compliment.
‘I was a great believer in the Sunday Judge at one time,’ continued the lady; ‘but I got tired of its protectionism, its change of star artistes, and its want of any policy except the policy of purveying novelties and catering all the time for the average man.’
‘Why don’t you include the average woman?’ asked the man behind the desk.
The Lady: ‘Oh there’s nobody to cater for her in decent journalism. I suppose her custom isn’t worth having. Anyhow, why should she be specially catered for? The truth is the truth: the facts are either material or they aren’t. Why should the form of presentment be different? If a paper is a good man’s paper it should be a good woman’s paper.
Printer: You don’t want ‘chiffon’ and fashion news, then?
Lady: No, nor domestic hints, nor a love story about a dark, bearded man of fifty who is in love with a girl of twenty-five.
(She was on the sensible side of forty herself, and a personable, buxom woman, with a suggestion of temper about her quick, dark eyes that would probably be belied on experience. She was still a bacheloress, a busy and capable teacher in a south-country school, and with her plump figure, good looks, and good taste, she had probably been a little difficult to please; perhaps too busy and interested to think much about men.)
Printer: Are you not a suffragist, then, in these days when even a Tory Government accepts Votes for Women?
Lady: Oh, don’t talk about it. I should only be too pleased if I thought women were fit to have the franchise – if I even thought they were likely ever to take a decent interest or share in politics. But – well, I have been a reader of the Pelican for a long time now: and if I had been in any doubt about women suffrage, your articles would have confirmed me on the anti side. By the way, you haven’t been writing anything about it of late.
Printer: No, what’s the use of setting up a flag of negation? They’re to have the last of the franchises, right enough; and here we can but Wait and see. I don’t suppose they’ll really do much harm.
She: But you pointed out that already they do harm. You told us long ago about the reactionary way in which they vote in municipal elections.
He: Yes, but that’s only in the few places where any harm can be done. In most towns there’s so little to choose between one municipal candidate and another. In municipal politics there are no party divisions in Scotland at all, nor need there be: for Liberal and Tory are both non-progressive in municipal politics. In English towns there is no difference either – except where the Socialists come in with their ‘live’ programme, and then there’s something to fight about. In Bradford, Leicester, Manchester, Leeds, Huddersfield there are two sets – Individualists on the one side, who want no more Collectivism; Socialists on the other who believe we are at the beginning, not the end, of the Socialising process. In Yorkshire we used to have elections fought on such questions as Municipal Coal, Milk, Infirmaries, Housing – in short, the gradual extension of the sphere of Colleive control till private enterprise got edged out of the field.
Lady: How interesting and good! And the women voted against things like that?
Printer: Well, they did – in the result. But the pitiful thing is that they did not so much vote consciously against these things, but only against the men who represented them. As a matter of fact, they liked the ideas – cheap coal, pure and cheap milk, good houses and plenty of them, let at fair rents: properly equipped infirmaries maintained out of the rates, with the abominable street and door-to-door cadging abolished once for all, and no shipping of the services – how could they be opposed to all these?
Lady: what was the matter with the men then?
Printer: Well, I heard one woman say: ‘Wot’s good o’ votin’ for t’Labour men – they’ve no money.’ And another said to the canvassers, ‘No, I’m votin’ for Mr Taylor. He came here in his motor-car, and was very nice. So was Mrs. She were wearin’ a lovely set o’ firs – fifty pound if they were a penny. They were both very nice, and I’m sure they’d be good to the poor.’
Lady: Disgusting isn’t it? I remember now. And you told us about some woman who held up her boots to the candidate, and…’
Printer: She said ‘Th’other man says he’ll give me a pair o’ boots: what are tha prepared to do?’
Lady: And what did the canvasser say?
Printer: It was the candidate himself – a man of means who gave his time almost entirely to the poor children. He was secretary to the Cinderella Society, which sent poor children for a spell into the country, which found them clothes and shoes, and gave them occasional treats during the winter – at Christmas for instance. He said; ‘I’m not buying the seat. If you elect me I shall serve you, and you will owe me no more than I shall owe you.’
Lady: Exactly. And Mr Taylor was preferred.
Printer: No, Mr Taylor was in another ward. But it was the boot briber who was returned in this case. In both cases it would be owners of slum property; both sweaters almost to a certainty; and beyond all doubt they would vote against any attempt on the part of the community to extend its control over its own means of life.
Lady: Both Tories?
Printer: One a Tory, the other a Liberal. But nothing to choose between them when it came to real politics. Their idea was just keeping the ring. In that municipality they had actually gone back a generation. In the early eighties they had adopted the Housing Act and had erected a village of houses which belonged to the corporation and were managed by a clerk at the Town Hall. I have met him coming away from collecting the rents on a Monday morning, and he turned up his book showing all the rents regularly paid – weekly, as is the custom with the working-class homes in England. These well built cottages were let to a good class of tenants, and there were always applicants waiting for the first vacancy. The property was kept in excellent repair by the corporation, and in equally good order by the tenants. I have gone over some of these houses, and tenants said they were actually better houses now than they were at first – that improvements had been made.
Lady: Did they pay? There is always a cry that housing schemed don’t pay. Glasgow, for instance –
Printer: Oh the Glasgow housing scheme was saddled with a debt of three million spent on clearing out rotten slums which the actual housing scheme had nothing to do with. The Birmingham schemes all pay. The significant thing about this Huddersfield scheme I speak of is that the corporation kept the rents low and lost some £50 a year over it. But of course they were gradually wiping off the original cost of the scheme, and the time would come when the sinking-fund charge would all be paid off, and the houses would be free both of interest and sinking-fund charges. Anyhow, another sixpence a week on the low rents would have extinguished the loan; but the corporation wanted to be able to say that there was a loan as an excuse for not rapidly developing other housing schemes.
Lady (smiling) Surely not.
Printer: Well, you shall judge. You are to understand, first of all, that Huddersfield is the most Socialist town in Britain. At every Parliamentary election there are three candidates – Liberal, Socialist, Tory. The Liberal always wins; but the Socialist usually polls a small third of the votes, and is in second place; though at last election a strong local Tory climbed for once into the second place. Well, the manufacturers know what Socialism is. They know that the game is up with them if this way of it is allowed to succeed. And so they actually go out of their way to keep Socialism back. The town had Parliamentary powers to wire and fit electric lighting appliances; but they actually divested themselves of this power – abrogated the clause in the Omnibus bill which gave them this power – because it was found that the plumbers objected to corporation servants doing what they claimed was their work. The corporation supplied the current, and carried it into your premises; but then the plumber had to be called in to take up the tale and fit you with wires, switches, and globes.
Lady: And the councillors abolished this power they had. Seems extraordinary.
Printer: You’ll see more of that as the struggle between Socialism and Capitalism develops. From the point of view of the master class – plumbers, farmers, manufacturers – electricity is generated, cattle are fed, and cloth is woven, not that our streets and homes may be lit, the hungry fed, and the naked clothes, but primarily that they may make profits out of their business. Anything that shows how the community can get along very much better without them than with them is a thing to be downed as soon as possible. I could give you incontestable proofs of that from the municipality I speak of, where the class ware is seen in its naked outlines.
Lady: And that is in Yorkshire! I always thought of Yorkshire as being slow-going and canny.
Printer: Well you are wrong so far. Don’t forget that Yorkshire returns a good many Labour members of Parliament. Scotland has only three all told – Barnes, Wilkie, and Adamson. But Yorkshire returns as many from Leeds, Bradford and Attercliffe. And there are others. But that’s the whistle of your Macduff train. ‘Bon voyage!’
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