Full Online Books
BOOK CATEGORIES
Authors Authors Short Stories Short Stories Long Stories Long Stories Funny Stories Funny Stories Love Stories Love Stories Stories For Kids Stories For Kids Poems Poems Essays Essays Nonfictions Nonfictions Plays Plays Folktales Folktales Fairy Tales Fairy Tales Fables Fables Learning Kitchen Learning Kitchen
LINKS
Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Free Classified Website Without Registration Free Classified Website Daniel Company
Twitter Twitter Add book
donate
Full Online Book HomeEssaysProhibition
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
Prohibition Post by :krellum Category :Essays Author :Frank Swinnerton Date :October 2011 Read :1312

Click below to download : Prohibition (Format : PDF)

Prohibition

I shall never forget the shock I received when an American woman, newly arrived in England, gave me her impressions of London. She was distinctly pleased with the town, and when I rather foolishly asked if she had been terrified by our celebrated policemen, she said, "Why, no. I was in a taxicab yesterday, and the driver went right on past the policeman's hand, stealing round where he'd no business to go. And the policeman just said, 'Here, where you going? D'you want the whole of England?' Why, in New York, if he'd done that, he'd have been in prison inside of five minutes!"

I wonder if it will be understood how terrible disillusion on such a scale can be. I had been thinking of the United States for so long as the home of the free and the easy that it was hard to bring myself to the belief that the police there were both peremptory and severe. I had thought them all Irishmen of the humorous, or "darlint" type. It seems I was mistaken. The little--I am now afraid misleading-- paragraphs which from time to time appear in the English papers, saying that there has been a hold-up on Fifth Avenue, or that the Chief of Police in some great city has been found to be the head of a gang of international assassins, that things called Tammany and graft and saloons flourish there without let or hindrance, had attracted me to the United States. I wanted to live in such a country. Here, I said, is a place where every man's hand is for himself, where the revolver plays its true part, and where, with the aid of a humorous Irish policeman, who will find me stunned by a sandbag and take me to his little home in 244th Street and reveal the fact that he is descended from Cuchulain, I can be happy.

At first I thought that my friend must be exaggerating. Not lightly was I prepared to let my dream go. But I am afraid that my confidence in America as the home of freedom needs a tonic. She may have been right, although it seems unbelievable. When I thought the problem out clearly I came to the conclusion that there was a sinister sound about that comment upon our policemen. Were they losing control of us? Apparently not. I had trouble on the road with a policeman over the rear light of my car. There is no doubt that England is efficiently policed. And so my mind stole back to America with a new uneasiness. I recollected tales which I had heard about sumptuary laws regulating the dress of American women, both in and out of the water. I saw the police invading restaurants and snatching cigarettes from the mouths of women. I saw drink being driven underground by Prohibition. I began to question whether I should really like to live in the United States after all. I asked those of my friends who had been to America.

They told me that if I visited America I should be regaled privately with champagne from the huge reserves of private wine-cellars, but that as a resident I should be forbidden to drink anything that enlivened me. It was a great shock. I am not yet recovered from it. I see that I shall after all have to live quietly in England with my pipe and my abstemious bottle of beer. And yet I should like to visit America, for it has suddenly become in my imagining an enormous country of "Don't!" and I want to know what it is like to have "Don't" said by somebody who is not a woman.

I have always hated the word "Don't." I hated it as a child, and I hate it still. It is a nasty word, a chilling word, associated with feelings of resentment, of discipline, of prohibition. Yes, that is it, of course, Prohibition. I find that it is Prohibition which makes my throat so dry. I thought it was a human characteristic, when anybody said, "You're not to do that!" to do it at once in case there should be any misunderstanding. I should be frightened to say "Don't!" to anybody, because I feel sure it would precipitate unpleasantness. Is America so different from the rest of the world that it likes having "Don't!" said to it? I cannot think that. What occurs to me is that America has not yet worked out of its system the strain that the English Puritan fathers brought with them. It is a melancholy thought to me that it is really ancient English repression that is responsible for the present state of affairs. I feel very guilty, particularly as I have seen an article about myself in an English newspaper headed "A Modern Puritan." It is really I, and people like me, who have caused the great drink restrictions in the United States. I bow my head.

The truth is, I suppose, that people in the United States take life more seriously than we do in England. If you read any of the books which have been written in this country during the ages to show what sort of community is the ideal--I refer to such works as "Utopia" and "News from Nowhere"--there is never any difference between them on one point. All the dwellers in these ideal states appear to be thoroughly idle. They have practically no work to do at all. All their time is spent in talk and sylvan wandering, with music and dancing round maypoles. There is no mistaking the fact that the Englishman's idea of life is confirmed and justifiable laziness. He wants what he calls leisure. Charles Lamb, a typically English author, wrote a poem beginning "Who first invented work?" He came to the conclusion that it must have been the Devil. The inference is clear. Observation confirms my view. It is not to be doubted that the average Englishman spends his life in scheming to make somebody else do the work that lies nearest to his hand.

Americans must be different. I believe they really like work. And I will give the Prohibitionists this handsome admission. I also work much better without stimulants. I mean, much harder. But on the other hand, I am less happy. Does an American feel happy in his work? Does the act of work give him a satisfaction which is not felt by an Englishman? I think that must be the explanation. But on the other hand there is this question of Puritanism. We tried it in England, and we had a severe reaction to libertinism. We maintain Puritanism only in our suburban districts, where there is exceedingly close scrutiny of all matters pertaining to conduct; and in our theatres. In the suburbs it does not much matter, although it rather cramps our suburban style; but in the theatre it drives some of us to distraction. I will explain why.

Supposing a man wants to write a play, he at once thinks of getting it produced. An unproduced play is like an unpublished novel: practically speaking it does not exist. The author can read it, of course, and his wife can assure him that it is a great deal better than anything she has seen or read for years; but the author and his wife are both haunted by the fact that there is a masterpiece which is lying--not fallow, but unused and sterile. They grow dissatisfied. The savour of life is lost for them. They develop persecution mania, grow very conceited, and finally come to believe that only they of all the men and women alive truly grasp the essentials of life. They say, if this were the silly muck that most authors write, it would be produced, and then we should have our car and our servants and diamonds and titles and all the paraphernalia of happiness. As it is, we are doomed to silence and poverty, simply because George is too much of an artist to lower himself by writing what the public wants, and what the censor will pass. For I have not been outlining the diseased state of mind of the merely incompetent man who writes something that nobody will look at. I have been giving details of one of those men who have a moral message, and who desire greatly to spread it by means of the stage. He has written, let us say, a play in which the name of God appears, or a play wherein a young woman has a baby and does not wish to have a husband. The censor says that there must be no mention of God in plays performed on the public stage, and that young women who have babies must either have husbands or come to early graves of their own seeking. Very well, what happens? I have described the state of mind of a husband and wife who have a pet child--a play--which is lying heavy on their minds and hearts and hands. They are ripe for any temptation of the devil. And it comes. It always comes.

The devil dresses himself up in the guise of a Sunday play-producing society. The play is surreptitiously performed in a theatre to which admission can be obtained only by members banded together for just such emergencies. It is very badly acted by actors and actresses who have not been able to spare sufficient time from their daily work to learn their parts as well as they should have done. The audience comes full of a smug self-satisfaction at the thought that it is excessively intellectual and select, and that it alone can appreciate blasphemy or the vagaries of neurotic young women. It sits intellectually in the theatre, and watches the play. The author sits intellectually in his box, and intellectually accepts the plaudits of the audience. He lives thereafter in a highly intellectual atmosphere. He is driven to become a member of the secret play-producing society, and to watch other plays of a character not suited to the requirements of the censorship. He is morally a ruined man. He will never any more be a decent member of society, for he has become an intellectual. He has been taught to despise ordinary human beings, for they do not want to be wicked or silly, except in the normal humdrum way, and they have not seen his play and are not members of his play-producing society. He discovers that the censored is the only good art. He is driven to the reading of all sorts of Continental drama. He is made into an anti-English propagandist. He is like the person in the song, who,

"Praises every century but this, and every country but his own."

He has been lost for human kind, and is wedded to intellectualism and a sense of superiority to others for the rest of his miserable life. He institutes a new system of censorship of his own. It takes the form of sneering at and condemning anything that does not conform to his own ideas. He sniffs at all sorts of innocently happy people who are inoffensively pursuing their noisy course through life. He begins to hate noise. He makes a virtue of his abstention from ordinary pleasures. He speaks condescendingly of the "hoi polloi." As I said, he is ruined. He is no longer a man that one can talk to with any comfort, for his sense of superiority is intolerable.

To me there is nothing more terrible than the sense of superiority to others. It arises, not from merit or the consciousness of merit, but from sheer tin-like flimsiness of character. It arises from limited sympathies. The really great man, and the really sagacious man, is one to whom nothing is contemptible. To him, even the follies of his fellow-passengers are manifestations of human nature, revelations of the material from which scholars and politicians no less than drunkards and inconstants are gradually in course of time developed. Somebody described "conceit" to me the other day as egotism in which contempt for others is involved. It was agreed between us that egotism was normal, since happiness is not to be attained without a sense of personal utility to the world, and no objection was urged against it. Vanity was to be tolerated, because it was definitely social--a recognition of the existence and value of the good opinion of others; but never sense of superiority. And the sense of rebellion should be added to this other sense, as equally to be regretted. A young woman whose incredible acts of folly had spoiled half-a-dozen lives, including her own, recently encountered a young man whom she had jilted on the eve of her marriage to another, whom she had also left. The young man, still smarting under his ill-treatment, reproached her. He said, "What you want, my dear, is discipline." "Pooh!" she answered. "I'm above discipline!" The poor young man retired, unequal to the conversation. But the young woman went on her way, defiant and self-infatuated, believing that she really was superior to the opinions of others, the common decencies of conduct, the inevitable give and take of ordinary life. Driven to folly by lack of balance, she was learning to justify her folly by the argument for rebellion. Whether she will ever learn to control her actions I do not know, but rebelliousness from a fueling that one is too good to be governed by normal standards is not only arrogant and unsocial. It is silly. It is, to my mind, a criminal form of silliness. But it is one very widely accepted by the young and the unimaginative. It must therefore be recognized and combated.

It springs, perhaps, from disordered shame, which makes children noisily act in defiance of authority, particularly if there are others present to overhear. No children are worse-behaved than those who are over-controlled. The word "don't" at the breakfast-table produces more acts of violent rebellion than any amount of parental weakness. Unimaginativeness begets unimaginativeness. Rigidity in one person creates a counter-rigidity in the other. There is a thwarting upon both sides, a mutual shackle upon sweetness and understanding. A wildness of action arises, with loss of affection, respect, self-respect. And the vicious part of it is that children (we are all children, for we never grew up in human relations), once they are embarked upon an evil course, are driven by vanity to continue upon that course until they are exhausted, going from defiance to defiance; and ultimately building up a whole sophisticated gospel of axioms whereby rebellion is given warrant and virtue. The gospel of rebellion we know to be specious and without justification; but it is essential to us, as human beings, to maintain self-approval for our acts. If we cannot do this socially, by comparative standards, we do it unsocially, by subversion of those standards. Rebels are only prigs turned upside down or inside out.

The great defect of prohibition is that when it can be enforced by law it makes rebels who think there is something inconceivably clever in doing secretly that which the law forbids. They learn to think there is some subtle merit in evading the law. They encourage others to break the law, and so develop cliques and finally new and silly conventions. Or, prohibition has another effect. It makes a whole class who accept its rulings, and gradually these people, owing to a peculiarity which all gregarious animals seem to have, begin to believe that unless all are of their persuasion and of their number the fault lies with the rebels. First of all they consider themselves superior to the rebels, and despise them. Then, when they find that the rebels think that they are the superior class, in defying the law or the convention, a new set of notions arises, and this set of notions leads to persecution and to war. You cannot introduce any restrictive or prohibitive measure without developing fanatical conceit, narrow-mindedness, and intolerance, both in those who welcome the measure and in those who seek to ignore and even to defy its rulings.

The Puritanical attitude is almost wholly repressive, and naturally invokes force to aid its repressive measures. It did so in England centuries ago in the matter of the theatre, and we are living among all the rotten plays which have been written since, and the theatre is for the most part a place of ignominious diversion. The play-producing societies have nothing to produce that is worth producing, because the atmosphere which causes such plays as are written to be produced privately is not the healthy atmosphere from which masterpieces arise. It is an atmosphere impregnated with priggishness and a sense of superiority. It is an atmosphere, if there can be such a thing, of sterility. The same thing happens in other matters, and I do not feel at all certain that it may not happen with drink. If you say men are not to drink you create two new classes. There is of course the existing class that does not care for drink and is afraid of its effects to the point of wishing to keep it away from those who do like drink. That class already flourishes in most communities, and so I do not place it among any two classes which are created by the prohibition. The two classes are as follows-the class that submits, and gradually develops priggishness and self-satisfaction at being in the majority, and the class that rebels, and gradually develops priggishness and self-satisfaction at being in the minority. Both classes are objectionable, and I do not know which is the worse. They are both inevitable in a world of prohibitions, and if the United States, to which we are all looking as the real hope for intelligent civilization, is going to take away our beer and turn us into supporters of play-producing societies I cannot think what will happen to the world. Better a wicked world than a virtuous one. Better a world in which we can hope that there are people worse than ourselves than a world where we know that there cannot be any better.


(The end)
Frank Swinnerton's essay: Prohibition

If you like this book please share to your friends :
NEXT BOOKS

In Vino Demi-tasse In Vino Demi-tasse

In Vino Demi-tasse
The Young-Old Philosopher and I were sitting in one of the innumerable restaurants in New York where the sanctity of the law is about as much considered as a bicycle ride up Mt. Etna. At the next table--indeed, all around us--rich red wine was being poured into little cups. "The new motto of America should be 'In vino demi-tasse,'" my friend said, smiling. And I quite agreed with him. For it is being done everywhere; in the most exalted circles, and in the lowest. Poor old human nature, which an organized minority are so bent upon changing overnight, cannot be altered;
PREVIOUS BOOKS

The Wowzer In The South Seas The Wowzer In The South Seas

The Wowzer In The South Seas
All over the South Seas the censor has had his day. From New Guinea to Easter Island, he has made his rules and enforced them. Often he wrote glowing pages of prose and poetry about his accomplishments, for reading in Europe and America. He was usually sincere, and determined. He felt that it was up to him to make over the native races to suit his own ideas of what pleased God and himself. When he had the lower hand, he prayed and strove in agony to change the wicked hearts of his flock to Clapham or Andover standards; he suffered
NEXT 10 BOOKS | PREVIOUS 10 BOOKS | RANDOM 10 BOOKS
LEAVE A COMMENT