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Full Online Book HomeLong Stories'that Very Mab' - Chapter VI - JUSTICE AND THE NEW DEMOCRACY
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'that Very Mab' - Chapter VI - JUSTICE AND THE NEW DEMOCRACY Post by :kalin35 Category :Long Stories Author :Andrew Lang Date :August 2011 Read :2845

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'that Very Mab' - Chapter VI - JUSTICE AND THE NEW DEMOCRACY

CHAPTER VI - JUSTICE AND THE NEW DEMOCRACY

'They will soon be here,
They are upon the road,'
John Gilpin.

'I should like,' said Queen Mab one day, 'to go and see the City. Do you think it would be safe?'

'Yes,' said the Owl, 'if you fly out of the way of the smoke and the net of overhead wires, and take care not to be suffocated, and not to go near the Houses of Parliament, nor the Bank, nor St. Paul's, nor the Exchange, nor any great public building. And if you keep clear of all the bridges, and the railway stations, and Victoria Embankment, and go the other way whenever you see a person carrying a black bag.'

'Why?' inquired Queen Mab, a good deal mystified.

'Because all these places,' said the Owl, 'are in danger of being blown up. If you could get a Home Ruler to take you round now; but I'm afraid it wouldn't do, as he might put you into an explosion and leave you there, as likely as not. Besides, I was forgetting, you are immortal, aren't you? You couldn't be blown up? If so, it is all right.'

'I don't suppose I could,' said Queen Mab a little doubtfully, 'but still I shouldn't care to try. What is it like?'

'I don't know,' replied her mentor. 'I have never tried it myself. You had better ask Mr. Bradlaugh, or some eminent popular sciolist Huxley or Spencer would do. They have been exploding or blowing up popular theology for a number of years, and popular theology and Mr. Joseph Cook have been exploding them. As far as I can make out, they both appear to think it very good fun. But I was going to tell you about the black bags, which are filled with dynamite, a very explosive though inexpensive substance indeed, and carried by persons called "dynamiters." These bags are left at large in public buildings, while the dynamitards go away, and as soon as their owners turn the corner the bags explode and blow up the buildings, and anyone who happens to be about.'

'Why do they do it?' exclaimed Queen Mab, breathless.

'Nobody seems to know,' said the Owl. 'It is one of the problems of the nineteenth century. Even the dynamiters themselves don't appear to have gone into the whole logic of it I suppose that they are tired of only blowing things up on paper, and they are people who have a great objection to things in general. They complain that they can't get justice from the universe in its present state of preservation, and therefore they are going to blow as much of it as possible into what they call smithereens , and try to get justice from the smithereens. It is a new scheme they have hit upon, a kind of scientific experiment. The theory appears to be, that justice is the product of Nihilism plus public buildings blown up by dynamite, and that the more public buildings they blow up the more justice they will obtain. I hear that they have also started a company for supplying statesmen, and all public orators except Home Rulers, with nitro-glycerine jujubes to improve the voice. Nitro-glycerine is a kind of condensed dynamite. A City sparrow told me--but perhaps it was only his fun--that they were borrowing the money from the Government, under the pretext of applying it to a fund for presenting three-and-sixpenny copies of Jevons' "Logic" to Members of Parliament who can't afford to buy the book for themselves. It is reported, also, that if the Nihilists can't obtain justice enough by any less extensive measures, they will lower a great many kegs of nitro-glycerine to the molten nucleus of the globe, and then--'

'Then?' said Queen Mab, much excited.

'Then the globe will explode, and all the inhabitants, even the dynamiters themselves; but justice will remain; according to the theory, that is. But it is rather an expensive experiment.'

'How dreadful!' said the fairy. 'Do you think I had better not go to London?'

'I think you might,' replied the Owl thoughtfully. 'There would be a little risk certainly; but you could fly high, and remember that dynamite strikes downwards. You had better take the sparrow, though, for I'm afraid I should attract too much attention. Otherwise I should like to go with you.'

'I will make us both invisible,' said Queen Mab. 'That will be easy.'

'Oh, very well, if you do that! ' And they started.

'After all,' said the Owl an hour later, 'as we are here, and invisible, we may as well rest on the dome of St. Paul's. Dynamite does strike downwards, and I don't see any black bags about,' he added, looking round suspiciously.

'All right,' said the fairy. 'Now you can tell me all about things,' for they had been flying too fast to exchange many remarks. 'What is this building?'

'It is one of St. George's best churches,' said the Owl.

A burst of melancholy music swelled out below them as he spoke, and Queen Mab started with delight.

'That is like Fairyland,' she said promptly. 'What is it?'

'It is the organ and the choristers,' said the Owl. 'If you fly down a moment you can look in; but don't wait long, because of the dynamite. It would be just like them,' he added pensively, 'to blow it up when we are here.'

Queen Mab obeyed, leaving the owl, still a little nervous, seated invisible on the dome.

'I have heard the music,' she said when she flew back, 'and seen the singers, and the great golden pipes the music comes out of. What a beautiful big place it is! We have nothing like that in Polynesia.'

'No, I should think not,' returned the bird. 'Look round you. That street where all the people and the vehicles are rushing up and down is Cheapside.'

'Why do they all go so fast?' said the fairy.

'Oh, for many reasons. Competition, struggle for existence, and all that. They are in a normal condition, in that street, of having trains to catch, and not having any time to catch them in. Besides, they are dragon-worshippers, most of them, and it is part of their religion to walk as fast as they can, not only through Cheapside but through life. The one who can walk fastest, and knock down the greatest number of other people, gets a prize.'

'Who are the big men in black robes who stand at corners, and look as if everything belonged to them? Are they the owners of the City?'

'They are policemen,' said the Owl. 'Products,' he went on learnedly, 'of the higher civilisation, evolved to put the lower civilisation into prisons.'

'What are prisons?'

'A kind of hothouses,' said the Owl, 'for the culture of feeble moral principles that the Struggle for Existtence has been too much for. They are a wonderful system. The weak morality is supplied with bread and water and a cell to develop in, and it is exercised on a treadmill, and allowed to expand and pick oakum, and so it is turned into a beautiful plant of virtue.'

'What do they do with it then?'

'Then they let it run wild, unless it comes across a Home Missionary, or a School Board, or Dr. Barnardo, and gets trained.'

'Oh!' said Queen Mab. 'Are there many of these hothouses?'

'A good many. You see, such a number of the members of the lower portion of the higher civilisation have moral principles that need training. The moral principle is the latest product of evolution, or so the professor says, and evolution has not yet got quite into the way of always turning it out first class. Like everything else, it wants practice. Some moral principles are excellent; but others are really bungles, and require periodical prison culture. At present we need policemen for the transplanting; but it is hoped that, in the course of an era or two, the automatic method will be so much further developed that a member of the higher civilisation who gets very drunk, or steals, will put himself to prison at once, by reflex action. I told you about that: it is a lengthy subject; but the kingfisher and I quite mastered it one day, and I daresay you will. It is much easier than portions of the Thirty-nine Articles.'

'I know what that is,' said Queen Mab; 'the missionaries were talking about it once.'

'I have taken a good deal of trouble,' said the Owl, 'but there were parts of the Thirty-nine Articles I never could make out. They are a kind of tinned theology, and so much tinned that no one appreciates them but the theologians.'

'Why is the theology tinned?' asked the Queen. 'Why don't they have it fresh and fresh?'

'They like it old,' said the Owl. 'They have tried various ways of treating it, for theology does not keep well in a scientific atmosphere. Frozen theology has been experimented with by Archdeacon Farrar and others, and has some vogue. But the popular taste prefers it tinned. And yet it is very tough, in Articles. I am surprised that no one has written a simple explanation of them: "Primer of the Thirty-nine Articles," "The Thirty-nine Articles made Easy," or "Thirty-nine Articles for Beginners;" but no one ever has. It is a book that is very much needed, and if I had any influence with the theologians I would ask them to do it at once. In days like ours, when floods of Nonconformity and Socialism are pouring in on every hand, the very foundations of Church and State are being sapped for want of a plain popular guide ta the Thirty-nine Articles, that a child could understand. A child couldn't expect to find them clear in their present condensed state, could he now? But then, when I come to think of it, perhaps there is no reason why he should.' And the owl fell into a reverie.

After this they departed in search of a more sequestered resting-place, and ultimately alighted in Kensington Gardens. And there they came upon a Democrat and an Aristocrat who was also a landholder, and the Aristocrat was saying:

'What will you do without an aristocracy? What will you look up to?' 'We shall do,' said the Democrat, 'very well indeed. We shall do, in fact, a good deal better; for we shall be an aristocracy in ourselves, and look up to ourselves, and reverence humanity. What, I should like to know, has the British aristocracy done for us?'

'We have set you an example,' replied his companion impressively.

'We have told you what to do and what not to do. We have employed you; we have let you vote for us; we have represented you in Church and State; we have given you a popular education; and a pretty use you have made of it! We have, in short,' he continued, trying hard to remember the popular maxim, 'cherished you like a viper, and you turn again and rend us.'

'All that,' said the Democrat, 'you did because you couldn't help it.' 'We have been,' exclaimed the Aristocrat with deep pathos, 'as lights in a benighted land. We have improved the breed of horses and cultivated the fine arts, and literature, and china, and the fashions, and French cookery--'

'And drinking, and racing, and gambling, and betting, and pigeon-shooting,' put in the Democrat thoughtfully. 'So you have.'

'We have come to church,' continued the Aristocrat unheeding, 'and you have surveyed us from the free seats--when you were there. I regret to say that your attendance at the established places of worship has been far from satisfactory. We have allowed you to pay us the highest rents you could afford, solely to develop in you the sense of competition and a stimulus to progress, and we have daily displayed to you, in our persons and equipments, the advantages of the higher life. Our wives and daughters have played the piano, done crewel work, danced, sung and skated, and painted on plaques for your edification and improvement. We have trained ourselves, physically, mentally, morally, and aesthetically to be a thing of beauty in your eyes and a joy for ever. Alas, you have no vision for the beautiful and intrinsically complete; you can't appreciate an aristocracy when you see one. We have even flung open our parks and grounds for your benefit, and let you admire our mansions, and you knocked down the ornaments, and smudged the tapestry and the antimacassars, and trod on the flower-beds, and pulled up the young trees, and threw orange-peel into the fountains, and ridiculed the statuary. Then you asked us for peasant proprietorship.'

'It wasn't me,' said the Democrat with unusual humility. 'It was the British public.'

'And what are you,' retorted his companion firmly--for he felt that he had scored a point--'but a representative of the British public? Alas, I could weep for your short-sightedness! When the reins of the ship of State--no, the helm of the chariot of Government, is in the hands of a semi-barbarous public, what will it do with it? The old aristocratic ballast once thrown overboard, it will drive that chariot upon the rocks of anarchy, it will overturn it upon the shores of revolution. And you, contemptible tool of an infatuated majority, what will you do then? Ah, then, too late you will cry, "Give me back my aristocracy, the aristocracy I so madly flung away!" When you have the Church and State flying about your ears, you will wish you had minded what we said to you. You will long with remorse unspeakable for the old English gentleman, the bulwark of the land; but the good old English gentleman will be no more. He will have gone to the vaults of his fathers, to the happy hunting-grounds of the noble lord.'

'You are really very eloquent,' said the Democrat, with more politeness than his wont ('I didn't think he had it in him,' he murmured under his breath.) 'But you exaggerate our intentions. We are only democrats: we are not Nihilists. We desire justice.'

'Ah, that is what you all say!' exclaimed the Aristocrat hastily. 'I have heard enough about justice: I wish it had never been invented. Never knew any of your fine-sounding phrases yet that did not end in gunpowder.'

'You mistake,' said the Democrat severely. 'Our requirements are few and simple: Universal suffrage, the abolition of the peers, of entail, and of primogeniture, the overthrow of establishments and armaments equally bloated, the right to marry the deceased wife's sister, the confiscation of landed property by the State--'

'Oh lord, yes!' groaned the Aristocrat 'I thought you were coming to that next. Take our landed property, do--I wish you joy of it! What with all your Communistic legislation and bad harvests, and backing good things that don't come off--like an ass as I was--by Jove, I feel disposed to quit the whole business and compete for a Mandarin's Button in China. It's the only country for a British Aristocracy to live comfortably in and be properly appreciated, and you can't come sneaking about with your red-hot Republicanism, for they are all good Conservatives. Who ever heard of The Chinese Revolution?'

They parted hastily, the common consequence of all lengthy argument, and the aristocrat repaired to his club, smoking a cigar to soothe his ruffled feelings, while the democrat also turned on his heel, and went to address the British public in Hyde Park. Queen Mab, however, had heard enough of social problems for one day, and she did not follow him. The Owl took her, instead, to Westminster Abbey, and offered explanations after the manner of a verger.

'This is our museum of 'dead celebrities,' he said. 'Here lie our great men--poets, soldiers, artists, and statesmen. When the British public feels elevated and sublime it comes here to look at the tombstones, and it says: "These are my great men: they worked for me. I bought them: I paid for them!" And it turns away with tears in its eyes.'

'And while they are alive?' asked Mab.

'That is rather a long subject,' replied the Owl.

'In the first place, they set up a great man, like a target, to shoot at and fight over, and find out whether he is really a great man or only a "lunatic ritualist," like General Gordon, in the view of Thoughtful persons. It takes them some time to decide: sometimes they never do decide till he has gone to his reward, if even then. It is an admirable quality in him, always, not to mind being shot at. But when the British public has really made up its mind that a man is a great man, and that however low they rate him at market value he is sure to be above the average, they sing a psalm of thanksgiving, and they cry, "Where is his coffin? Let us drive nails into the coffin of this great man! Let us show our magnanimity, our respect for the higher life, our reverence for the lofty soul! Give us the hammer." Then they begin. It is an imposing ceremony, and lasts during the lifetime of the great man, whoever he happens to be. He may be a literary great man, a poet, perhaps a Laureate. This type, according to the notions of the British public, requires a great quantity of nails, and every class of society almost brings them to his coffin. The young lady authors come, many troops of them, all conscious of greatness in their own souls, and all having made it the dream of their lives to turn their souls inside out for the benefit of a really great man. Surely, they think, there must be in the heart of him a natural affinity for the details of their inner lives. They give him the details of their inner lives: they also bring with them hammer and nails. There is nerve in those delicate fingers, energy in those sympathetic souls: the number of nails they contrive to hammer in is astonishing.

'Then the theologians come, with a doctrinal hammer and many nails, the lineal descendants of the nail that Jael drove into the head of Sisera because he fought against the Israelites. They have found out that there is a want of sound sectarian teaching in the works of the poet, and they say that in the interests of theology they must drive a nail in. They drive it: they know how to drive nails, some of the theologians. Good sound crushing, rending, comfortable nails of doctrine--none of your airy latitudinarian tin-tacks. Then come the critics: they have been brought up to it. They have all manner of nails--nails with broad heads, and narrow heads, and brass heads, and no heads, but all with points. If a critic ever should drive in a nail without a point he would feel everlastingly disgraced, but he never does: he sharpens them on the premises. He can always find a place for another nail, till by-and-by the coffin is quite covered, and then the great man is thankful to rest in it. Then the British public sings more psalms.

But it seems to afford them solid comfort and happiness to find out, or to think they find out, that a great man was really not so great after all, and that they can look down on him. It is certainly a more piquant sensation to look down on a great man than on an ordinary mortal, and makes one feel happier. There is a melancholy, sweet satisfaction--I have noticed it myself--in pointing out exactly where this or that great man erred, and where we should not have erred if we had been this or that great man. There is a calm, blessed sense of the law of compensation among humans when they murmur over the grave: "Ah! his was a mighty soul; everybody says so; but his umbrella was only gingham, and mine has a silver handle." Or, "Yes, his force of mind was gigantic; but just here he left the beaten track. If I had been in his place at that moment I should have kept it; I always do." Or, "His morality looks elegant, but it hasn't got any fibre to it. Now my morality is all fibre; you never met with such fibrous morality. What did he do with the fibre out of his? Did he pawn it? did he sell it? did he give it away? We should like to know all about it--is it in his autobiography? Did he write an autobiography? If he didn't, why didn't he? We prefer all our great men to write autobiographies. We like to be well up in them, and we think it would throw a great deal of light on the study of psychology, and gratify our sense of reverence, to know the exact details of the daily life of this great man, and at what hour he dined, and whether he wrote with a quill or a J pen. Whether the quality of the pens he used was or was not intimately connected with the quality of his moral fibre, and whether his ethical degeneration could or could not be dated from his ceasing to make two fair copies of his manuscripts. We should also like to be informed whether his studs were gold or gilt, and, if they were gold, whether it was 18-carat gold, or only 15. If they were gilt, whether he wore them gilt on principle, or because he hadn't money enough to buy a better pair; and if, supposing that it was because he hadn't money enough, why he hadn't, and whether he spent the money on cigars. Why he was not an anti-tobacconist. Did anyone ever invite him to join the anti-tobacconists? and if they didn't, why didn't they? Did he approve of the Blue Ribbon movement? Is it true that he once got intoxicated, and smashed a blue china teapot? If he did, was it by way of protest against the demoralising doctrine of Art for Art's sake? Has anybody written his wife's biography?--if not, why not? We should like it at once, and also the biographies of all his second and third cousins, and of his publishers, and of the conductor of the tramcar he once went into town by. Why did he travel by tram that day, and what had the twopence he paid for the tramcar to do with the flow of the hexameters used by him in translating the AEneid? Let us trace the effects of both on the growth of individuality in his writings, and find out, if possible, the influence of the twopence as affecting his views on the opium traffic." But what a long time I have been talking,' said the Owl, suddenly recollecting himself. 'Automatic action again. Dear me!'

'Yes, you have,' said Queen Mab, whose thoughts had been wandering. 'I did not suppose you meant to stop. Is it not time for us to go?'

It was indeed growing late, and the Owl was tired after his long harangue, but though they set out at once on their return journey, the day's experiences were not quite ended. For behold! the mob, returning from Hyde Park, with the Democrat at its head, in search of a Cabinet Minister, a Lord Mayor, a Government, anything administrative and official that they could lay their hands upon, and to whom they could make representations. The mob was half-starved; but that, as the Owl whispered to Queen Mab, was a way it had, and did not amount to much. It was also able-bodied and unemployed but these too were normal characteristics, and did not amount to much either. Fortunately, or unfortunately, it met a Cabinet Minister just at the entrance of Oxford Street, and the Cabinet Minister, who had been walking gaily, and twirling his cane, instantly slackened his pace, and, with inherent fine tact, put on a serious and sympathetic expression. The mob pushed the Democrat forward, and he confronted the Cabinet Minister.

'What are you going to do for these people?' he said abruptly; 'they are starving.'

'No; are they?' said the Cabinet Minister, looking very properly horrified, at which the mob cheered. 'I am very sorry indeed to hear it. Let me see if I can find a sixpence.'

He fumbled in all his pockets, and, finally, with some difficulty, produced a threepenny bit. The mob cheered again.

'I am sorry,' he said, 'that I haven't a sixpence, but perhaps this will be of use?'

'That won't do,' replied the Democrat roughly, as he pocketed the coin. 'Do you suppose that you are going to feed thousands of starving men, women, and children on a threepenny bit?'

'I deeply sympathise,' said the Cabinet Minister, without any distinct impression that he was quoting from 'Alice in Wonderland.' 'In fact, I may say that I weep for you; but what can I do? Am I not with you? Don't I hate criticism, and political economy, and Mr. Goschen?'

'You must act , returned the Democrat impressively. 'You are in the Government; 'and there came from the mob a hoarse, funereal echo, 'You are in the--qualified--Government!'

'Ah, but I am not in that department,' said the Minister, seeing a way of escape. 'My friends--I may say, indeed, my suffering fellow-citizens--be reasonable. Don't be vexed with me . I am only a capitalist, a toiler and spinner. Go for dukes and earls, or better--exercise patience. "The night," says the poet, "is always darkest just before the dawn." I am not in that department.'

'Hang your departments!' said the Democrat. 'If you are not in that department, at least you might be expected to know where it is, and to tell it what to do. Who would give a farthing for departments and officials who can't join hands at a time like this, to help their starving countrymen? We shan't stop to quarrel with you how you do it, if you only lift us out of the mire. Here are these men'--he pointed to the mob, and the mob hurrahed--'willing to work, eager to work, perishing for want of food, and not a soul of your benevolent Governments will lift a finger to set them to work for it. Give them public buildings to erect and to be blown up, canals to make, railways to cut; assist them to emigrate, if you have nothing for them to do at home, but in Heaven's name be sharp about it!'

'It is really very awkward,' said the Cabinet Minister. 'You see I am not in the Railroad Department, nor in the Canal Department, nor in the Emigration Department. I am sure you see that!' he continued hopefully, looking round upon the crowd, who, though they admitted the fact, did not appear to appreciate its deep and intrinsic force. 'But I am quite willing at some future opportunity--indeed, I may say I hope at some opportunity comparatively not distant, to consider the advisability of representing the matter to the heads of certain departments who might be able, in the course of the next but one Septennial Parliament, or' (even more sanguinely) 'I might under favourable circumstances even hope to say, the next Septennial Parliament, to lay the topic before the Government. In the meantime, my friends, consider that such means as you have suggested for alleviating the hardships with which I so profoundly sympathise are not things to be lightly rushed into. You will agree with me doubtless. You will show that fine sense of the propriety of your lots innate in the breast of every Briton, by agreeing with me that canals, for instance, are not things to be lightly rushed into. Emigration, my friends, is not a thing to be lightly rushed into. In the meantime, knowledge, as the good old maxim tells us, never comes amiss, and whatever be the eventual scheme resolved upon by Government for relieving your necessities, you cannot better employ your leisure than in preparatory academic study of the arts of building, railway cutting, and canal-making, and in acquainting yourselves with the principles and methods of emigration, the nature of our different colonial settlements, their situation and productions, during the seven years that must inevitably elapse--'

He would have proceeded, but a howl, long and loud, drowned his utterance, and the mob surged forward, driving him back, in a state of bewildered astonishment, into the premises of a fashionable dealer. Various tokens of regard followed him in the shape of rotten eggs and cabbage leaves, which, as the Owl observed in a thoughtful voice, were doubtless symbolical.

Then the mob broke up and went on its different ways. Mab and the Owl, following one of its scattered detachments, met another procession, with a drum and trumpets and other instruments, all working their hardest at one of Sankey and Moody's hymns, which procession drew up straightway before the remnant of the mob, and began to convert it.

'What is this?' asked Queen Mab. 'Is it British Polynesians going to a war-dance?'

'No,' replied the Owl. 'It is only the Salvation Army, walking backwards into glory.'

'Come away,' said Mab. 'They are very noisy, these British Polynesians, and the mob makes me miserable. Let us go back.'

'I am ready,' said the Owl. 'I don't wonder that London has this effect on you at first. You are not sufficiently automatic, and a non-automatic mind has always much to contend with.'

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