Imágenes de página

doing the odd jobs that the "missus" always has about the house. It is upon Saturday night and Sunday that the working man is a politician. The demagogue has no Sunday scruples. Saturday night and Sunday afternoon and evening are his field-days. The working man, enjoying а quiet Sunday

[ocr errors]

saunter in the "London Fields or "Victoria Park," listens to the demagogue in full blast. There is always some drop of quicksilver in the British working man to be to be stirred by militant oratory, however perverse the argument employed. All demagogues know this. The working man, still suspicious, is caught by the suggested brigandage in the formula employed. Nature has made us all dacoits at heart. The demagogue suggests that his arguments are to be found in such and such a newspaper. The working man buys that paper on the following day. He finds that it contains as much racing and football intelligence as did his previous favourite. He then reads what the demagogue said that he would find there. The argument is attractive in its setting. The working man, unlike the middle classes, who judge his intelligence by their own standard of discrimination, cannot separate truth from falsehood, the wheat from the tares. The verity of printed matter will be very real to him. If he wants explanation, the demagogue is on the curbstone every evening and in the park each Sunday

afternoon. But the middleclass Unionist, where is he? If there is no election looming near he is far away. He is probably dividing his time between writing, or reading long scientifically argued speeches and articles on the terrors of Free Trade or the blessings of Tariff Reform, or he is engaged in the pursuit of field sports. These engagements do little to influence the working man's vote.

It is the working man, and not the educated minority, that has been the deciding factor in the 1910 election. Nothing in the life of the writer-a life of wide experience and travelhas impressed him more than the declaration of the poll at Battersea on January 18th last. It was a working man's poll. It returned as a working man's nominee a Cabinet Minister risen from the ranks of the masses. Ten thousand working men's voices acclaimed Mr Burns's success. Why? Surely his opponent should have won. He worked hard on the stereotyped lines adopted in parliamentary canvassing. He had all the attributes of the rich, the beautiful ladies, the smug condescending canvassers, and the multitude of motor-cars. He also had other forces working for him. There was the jealousy occasioned by Mr Burns's success amongst his fellows,—that jealousy which is the complement to their natural suspicion of all men. Mr Burns, nevertheless, had the ear and heart of that great concourse of people. Even



those who had voted against while the middle class dully
him were happy to acclaim clings to obsolete methods
him. But it was not by re-
membering his constituency
only three weeks before the
election, or by flashy posters,
that Mr Burns won the hearts
of the electors at Battersea.

based upon the belief that the feudal tradition still influences the masses. The very condescension of the Unionist canvasser is insulting to intelligences already stimulated by the strong rhetoric of the curbstone.

For the last fifteen years the labour and socialistic demagogues have been pre

hard, and the sentimental affection in which the lower classes have held the upper and middle classes is not yet wholly lost. But a

new generation has arisen in the country, and with it

The writer is doubtful of the influence of the self-same poster. In London every piece of spare hoarding has been utilised. Some of the efforts are serious, some humorous, paring the masses for the most in doubtful taste. It great revolt against class seemed to the writer, how- ascendency. Sentiment dies ever, 88 he wandered past those flaring expressions of party opinion, that the power of the poster must be nearly at an end. It is too grotesque to find such contradictory caricatures within a few feet of each other, and it is an insult a new channel of thought. to the awakening intelligence of the London workman to believe that he is influenced by them. Amused, perhaps, but not convinced. At the best of times he is suspicious of the truth as served up to him for political purposes, consequently he is the last man to be "jockeyed" by extravagances in imaginative pictorial art.

It seems obvious that it should have been the duty of the middle classes to have watched for the awakening of the working man. If they had done so they would have foreseen the coming of the demagogue and forestalled him. But now that the awakening has come, they are content that the demagogue shall order the channel of the working man's mind,

It might be called the Board
School school of thought. It
is devoid of all
of all but the
thirst for individual advance-
ment. It endeavours to con-
ceal its design in an adver-
tisement of altruism. The
advertisement is but a cloak.
Of what value is a profes-
sion of altruism that is not
based on patriotism, that is
devoid of national esprit de
corps, and is totally undis-
ciplined? But the risen
generation of Board School
products has driven deeply
into the working classes the
tenets of this new oreed.
They have driven great wedges
in, and are now preparing to
complete the work of demoli-
tion by sawing through the
trunk of the tree of state. In
this process the Chancellor of
the Exchequer has been the

top sawyer.

Seeing that the

moment was ripe, that the hold of the traditional sentiment had almost slipped from the masses, he brought the Board School influence into the forefront of the parliamentary battle. He carried the role of the curbstone demagogue into the Cabinet. He substituted in his public utterances personal invective for statesmanlike argument. Others of his kidney followed suit, so that

we have seen the electoral campaign of 1910 debauched by a display of unmannerly hyperbole that has no parallel in British politics.

The middle classes even now have not realised the significance of this change in the national mental attitude. They have not troubled to acquaint themselves with the manner in which this nauseating vilification of a single class has been served up to the working man. They have not realised that it has fallen upon soil that street-corner orators have prepared; that it has been sown broadcast by the Board School influence. The nation found the first-fruits of this new social element, that has been so surely entering into its life, in the deliberate and organised endeavour to prevent the British working man from hearing the opposite side during the recent candidatures for the elections. At every meeting at which the writer was present even the old English appeal to "fair play" was unavailing. "Fair play" is the antithesis of the spirit of Board School training.

All this has been a direct and logical, as well as carefully calculated, sequence to the methods introduced by Mr Lloyd-George in his vindication of the late Government's policy. The writer has mingled with the rowdy element that has so handicapped the Unionists in the education of the working classes. The majority were without the suffrage. All were products of the Board Schools,-young devil-may-care lads, who had never come under any of the restraining influences of discipline, nor the refinement produced by graded organisation. They had just sufficient education education between them to become saturated with the clap-trap of the Radical committee-rooms, and to be fired into acts of indiscipline by the indecency of a Cabinet Minister regaling the country with sourrilous personalities in the vein of a Trafalgar Square tub-thumper.

But the influ

ence of these shallow youths has been far-reaching. It has prevented many thousands of simple and honest voters from hearing and understanding the true interpretation of our trade and tariff questions. Consequently these voters have had little opportunity of forming an opinion different from that drummed into them by the argument of the pavement charlatan. The word "Liberal" they all misunderstand. In a vague way it speaks to them of freedom. They connect it with Free Trade and an Englishman's liberty. "Tariff Reform," on the other hand, is

merely a name to many thousands of them. They have, therefore, cast their votes for the word they think they understand. The Unionist papers a few years back took Mr Winston Churchill to task for the alleged statement that a politician should talk down to the level of his audience. It was the assertion of a demagogue; but for the purpose of the practice of party politics, it must be admitted that Mr Churchill had much reason for the statement. He and Mr Lloyd-George by their recent campaign have proved the quality of the


The first duty, therefore, of the Unionist party is not only to educate the middle classes in the various arguments applicable to the Tariff controversy, but to impress upon them, as the issue of immediate importance, a better intercourse between themselves and the working classes. The influence of the Board Schools has unfortunately come to stay; but its worst influences could be counteracted, if only the middle class would realise that they have a duty by the working classes and a very heavy stake in their proper education. You cannot, of course, educate in a day. The working man is slow, suspicious, and conservative. But once the middle class win his confidence, the violence of the demagogue will beat the air. For it must be remembered that it is the middle class and the middle class alone that has forced the working man to


turn to the demagogue for his political education. In many cases he has turned to him against his will, simply because no other means were open to him. This much is certain, that during the past month the writer has heard more unbridled criticism of the middle class in the mouths of London working men than ever shocked his senses before. It was ignorant and gratuitous abuse of the rich simply because they were the rich. Political invective of this nature was never dreamed of in similar circumstances ten years ago. Nor is it only confined to the independent working man.

[ocr errors]

The insidious doctrines of the demagogue have found their way to the ears of the soldier. The want of discipline in the nation is on the road to affect the Army. In public-houses, in tap-rooms, the writer has heard the soldier openly discussing the shortcomings and quality of his officers, and, what is more astounding, presenting to an assenting room the argument that the British Army is incapable of meeting Continental conscripts. In short, the understanding of the working classes has become honeycombed with lies-lies told at the expense of, and with the express purpose of reducing, the influence of the upper and middle classes; and yet, with this pernicious movement actively before his eyes, the average Unionist voter smugly considers that he has fulfilled his duty to his country by registering his solitary vote at a Parliamentary election.


[blocks in formation]


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]


PROFESSOR FIRTH, the most highly distinguished of living historians, has been wisely urging the claim of literature to be heard as a witness in the court of history. We are the better pleased that a Regius Professor should urge this obvious claim, because it is the fashion nowadays to pretend that a perfect inhumanity is the historian's most valuable quality. His material, we are told, should be inscriptions and legal documents, which he should collect with as little intelligence as he can muster, and heap up, like the disconnected bones of the catacombs, in some retired and silent spot. And he himself, if he is to discharge properly the functions proposed for him by the apostles of the new history, should be divested of prejudice, opinion, and imagination. It is a sad ideal, which we do not expect to see realised. Not even an archivist can wholly expel nature from his mind. If he did, she would return resolutely and without warning.

But Professor Firth is not of the pedants. He freely admits that "literature illustrates in a particularly effective way the facts of history." It would be strange if it did not. Genius

lights up the dark places of history, as the sun illumines a sheltered pool. That kind of criticism which would accept as a fact the bill of a cobbler or the word of a lawyer inscribed upon parchment, and would reject the imaginative comment of a poet, suffers from a strange perversity. At the same time there must be sounded a note of warning. The poets must not be accepted as witnesses of fact. They are asked to illustrate, and not to inform. Before their word is taken as the word of truth, they must be subjected to some kind of cross-examination. They must be asked what their prejudices are, and who were the companions of their plastic youth. When these precautions are taken, we shall find in the poets the most brilliant picture of the past. We may, if we choose, look at the great events of history through the eyes of genius. And who is so foolish as to neglect this great opportunity?

One other warning is necessary to avoid misunderstanding. When the poets are called into the witness - box of history, they are not there to answer for their art. It matters not to them as poets

« AnteriorContinuar »