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The Welter Post by :bobbyred02 Category :Essays Author :Maurice Hewlett Date :November 2011 Read :2418

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The Welter

Soused still to the ears in the lees of war, I win a rueful reminder from a stray volume of Hours in a Library. Was the world regenerated between 1848 and 1855? Were English labourers all properly fed, housed and taught? Had the sanctity of domestic life acquired a new charm in the interval, and was the old quarrel between rich and poor definitely settled? Charles Kingsley (of whom the moralist was writing) seems really to have believed it, and attributed the exulting affirmative to--the Crimean War! The Crimean War, after our five years of colossal nightmare, looks to us like a bicker of gnats in a beam; yet perhaps any war will do for a text, since any war will produce some moral upheaval in the generations concerned. Let us suppose, then, that the British were seriously turned to domestic politics in 1855; let us admit that they are so turned to-day, and ask ourselves fairly whether we are now in a better way of reasonable living than history shows those poor devils to have been.

If we are, it will not be the fault of the old agencies, in which Kingsley always believed. Church and State are adrift; organised Christianity has abdicated; the aristocracy no longer governs even itself; Parliament has died of a surfeit of its own rules. If fundamental reform is to come, it will be forced upon us by the working class, and (at the pinch) opposed tooth and nail by the privileged. But is it to come? Is the working class deploying for action? In all the miscellaneous scrapping which we watch to-day is there one strong man with a sense of direction? It doesn't look like it.

Men, having learned to get what they lust after by strife, do not easily forget the lesson. Sporadic war, like a heath fire, breaks out daily in some part of the world; and society is as easily kindled, and as irrationally as nations. A Jew is put out of Hungary and an Archduke takes his place. The working men of Britain, having chosen a Parliament which they don't believe in, and didn't want, set to work, not to get rid of it, but to make any future Parliament impossible. The police do their best for the shoplifters; the engine-drivers, to help the police, prevent them from going home to bed. Sir Edward Carson, a staunch Unionist, makes union out of the question. The bakers, to improve the prospects of their trade, teach people to make their own bread. The colliers--well, the colliers do not yet seem to have found out that unless they provide people with coal, people won't provide them with many things they are in need of.

This doesn't look much like solidarity, it must be owned; and yet I make bold to say that the one abiding good we have got out of the war is the discovery of the solidarity of man. Nationality (mother of war) has been killed since we have learned from the Germans how much alike we are at our worst, and best. Caste is mortally wounded. The land-girl and her ladyship admit their sisterhood; the staff officer and the batman understand each other in the light of common needs and their satisfaction. There's the seed; water it with the dew of common poverty and you may have one Britain instead of a round dozen, and a League of Men to succeed a stillborn League of Nations. Courage, then; Eppur si muove!

Poverty is certainly coming, for Europe is on the edge of bankruptcy. With poverty will come freedom, and it can come in no other way. Nobody is free while he is serf to his own necessities, and the necessities of such a man as I am (to take the first instance that comes to hand) have grown to such a pitch that I am as rogue and peasant slave to them as ever Hamlet was to his. Gentleman born, quotha! Caste and self-indulgence go hand in hand. I must be a great man in the village, therefore live in the great house. Men must touch their hat-brims to me, therefore my hat (not I) must be worth their respect. A village girl must wait upon me, therefore (for my life) I must not wait upon her. That is where I have been ever since I was born, but now I am going to be poor and free. The time is at hand when I must give up my roomy old house in its seven-acre garden and live in the five-roomed cottage now occupied by my gardener. My hat must be as it may, since I shan't buy a new one. If a maid comes to work in my house she can only come in one capacity, which will equally involve my working in hers. She in the kitchen, I in the coalhole or potato patch, 'twill be all one. If she works it will be in our common interest; and for that I too shall work.

If I, still harping on myself, go that way to freedom, shredding off what is tiresome, cumbrous and a hindrance, one is tempted to think we shall all--so life is in a concatenation--lose what is really vicious in our social coil; and if in our social then in our political coil. For if the essence of a sound private life is that a man should be himself, so a public life for its smooth working depends upon the same sincerity. Read my parable of the particular into society at large. If I am to live so, and gain, are not nations? Are we to hire a great navy, a great army, to secure us in things which we have seen to be tiresome, cumbrous and a hindrance? Are we to exact flag-dippings from nations to our flag? Are we to make washpots of the Maltese, Cypriotes, Hindoos, Egyptians, Hottentots, and who not? If we go bankrupt we shall not be able to do it, and if we are not able to do it we shall stand among people as Britons, not as a British Empire, over against French, Germans, Maltese, Cypriotes, standing as their needs involve, and for what worth their virtue can ensure. So men, being men, nations of men will become families of men:

Magnus ab integro sæclorum nascitur ordo.

Two things therefore are clear: men are a family, and the family is to be poor. Almost as clear to me is the coming of the day when we shall slough the ragged skin of empire and become again a small, hardy, fishing and pastoral people. The profiteers will leave us, like rats and their parasites. We shall be able to feed ourselves by our industry. We shall be contented, and as happy as men with inordinate desires and subordinate capacities can ever hope to be. There is no reason to suppose that we need cease to be a nursery of heroes, that our old men will not see visions or our young men dream dreams. Neither vision nor dream will be the worse for having its bottom in truth.


(The end)
Maurice Hewlett's essay: Welter

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