Nobody will pretend that these effects would be completely produced by so low an educational qualification as reading, writing, and arithmetic; but it would be a considerable step towards them. The very novelty of the requirement—the excitement and discussion which it would produce in the class chiefly affected by it—would be the best sort of education; would make an opening in their minds that would let in light—would set them thinking in a perfectly new manner respecting political rights and responsibilities. That all should be admitted to the franchise who can fulfil these simple requirements, is not to be expected, nor even desired, unless means were also taken to give to the higher grades of instruction additional or more influential votes.
Without such a provision, the educational test adapted for permanency would require to be much more stringent.
What should now be pressed on the consideration of practical statesmen is, that any lowering of the pecuniary qualification for the purpose of giving the franchise to a greater number of the working classes, should be combined with the further condition of an educational test. It would not be indispensable to disfranchise, on this ground, any electors already registered; but upon all new applicants the test should be imperative. It would be a most substantial improvement in the existing representative system, if all householders, or even all five-pound householders, without distinction of sex—for why should the vote-collector make a distinction where the tax-gatherer makes none?
This, then, is one important principle which the expected Reform Bill, without going to any length in innovation which need alarm anybody, may inaugurate. Another principle, only second to this in value, which might also on the present occasion be admitted into the Constitution, is the representation of minorities. I am inclined to think that the prejudice which undoubtedly exists in the minds of democrats against this principle, arises only from their not having sufficiently considered its mode of operation.
It is an eminently democratic Edition: current; Page: [ ] principle. The elementary propositions of the democratic creed imply it as an inevitable corollary. Even the government of mere numbers requires that every number should tell in proportion to its amount.
What is anti-democratic is, that the minority should be allowed to outweigh the majority; but the principle of universal suffrage requires that, as far as is consistent with practicability, every minority in the constituency should be represented by a minority in the representative body; and a mode of voting which does not keep this object in view, is contrary to popular government; it does not sum up the opinion of the community correctly.
There is no true popular representation if three-fifths of the people return the whole House of Commons, and the remaining two-fifths have no representatives. Not only is this not government by the people, it is not even government by a majority of the people: since the government will be practically in the hands of a majority of the majority.
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A Parliament may be obtained by universal suffrage, which may represent the opinions of a bare majority of the people; and again, when this Parliament proceeds to legislate, it may pass laws by a bare majority of itself. The governing body, reduced by this double process of elimination, may represent the opinions or wishes of little more than a fourth of the population.
If numbers are to be the rule, a third of the people ought not indeed to have two-thirds of the representation, but every third of the people is entitled to a third of the representation; and though there is no possibility of securing this with any degree of precision, it is better to make some approach to it than to ignore minorities altogether. If the House of Commons were elected by the entire population in a single list, every one would see that the mode of voting would entirely disfranchise the minority. The party which was numerically strongest would rule without opposition, until by its abuse of power it had provoked a change of public sentiment; and then the whole party would be turned out at once, and the same unrestrained rule would pass into the hands of its opponents.
People do not fear any similar inconvenience in the present case, because they reckon that the party which is in the minority in some places will have the majority in others, and that the local minorities will be virtually represented by the nominees of majorities of their own way of thinking elsewhere.
And doubtless this is to a considerable extent the fact; and it generally will be so in the case of those great sections of opinion which pervade all classes, and divide society nearly equally. But it will not be so with others. In France, for example, it is probable that the Protestants do not form the numerical majority of any constituency. If the politics, therefore, of the moment were to turn on any question specially interesting them as Protestants, they would be entirely unrepresented. It might happen, therefore, that every single member of the Legislature would represent the opinions and feelings of manual labourers alone.
To enable minorities to be represented without placing them on an equality with majorities, it would be necessary that every constituency should return at least three members; and I venture to suggest that this is a sufficient number, and that no electoral body ought to return more. When men vote for a long list, they usually adopt entire that which is presented to them by some knot of politicians who assume the management of elections.
They have no personal knowledge or preference in the case of so large a number, and they consequently elect, as a matter of course, whoever are held forth to them as the candidates of their party. Assuming, then, that each constituency elects three representatives, two modes have been proposed, in either of which a minority, amounting to a third of the constituency, may, by acting in concert, and determining to aim at no more, return one of the members. One plan is that each elector should only be allowed to vote for two, or even for one, although three are to be elected.
The other leaves to the elector his three votes, but allows him to give all of them to one candidate. James Garth Marshall. And I am prepared to maintain that the permission of cumulative votes, that is, of giving either one, two, or three votes to a single candidate, is in itself, even independently of its effect in giving a representation to minorities, the mode of voting which gives the most faithful expression of the wishes of the elector.
On the existing plan, an elector who votes for three, can give his vote for the three candidates whom he prefers to their competitors; but among those three he may desire the success of one, immeasurably more than that of the other two, and may be willing to relinquish them entirely for an increased chance of attaining the greater object. This portion of his wishes he has now no means of expressing by his vote. He may sacrifice two of his votes altogether, but in no case can he give more than a single vote to the object of his preference. Why should the mere fact of preference be alone considered, and no account whatever be taken of the degree of it?
The power to give several votes to a single candidate would be eminently favourable to those whose claims to be chosen are derived from personal qualities, and not from their being the mere symbols of an opinion. For if the voter gives his suffrage to a candidate Edition: current; Page: [ ] in consideration of pledges, or because the candidate is of the same party with himself, he will not desire the success of that individual more than of any other who will take the same pledges, or e who e belongs to the same party.
When he is especially concerned for the election of some one candidate, it is on account of something which personally distinguishes that candidate from others on the same side. Where there is no overruling local influence in favour of an individual, those who would be benefited as candidates by the cumulative vote, would generally be the persons of greatest real or reputed virtue or talents.
In the preceding review of the essentials of a new Parliamentary Reform, no mention has been made of the Ballot. I hope to show sufficient reasons why this should be included, not among the things which ought, but among those which ought not, to form part of a measure for reforming the representation. It appears to me that secret suffrage, a very right and justifiable demand when originally made, would at present, and still more in time to come, produce far greater evil than good. The operation of the Ballot is, that it enables the voter to give full effect to his own private preferences, whether selfish or disinterested, under no inducement to defer to the opinions or wishes of others, except as these may influence his own.
It follows, and the friends of the ballot have always said, that secrecy is desirable, in cases in which the motives acting on the voter through the will of others are likely to mislead him, while, if left to his own preferences, he would vote as he ought. It is for this reason that no one, either Conservative or Reformer, approves of vote by ballot in Parliament itself. A member of Parliament, however g secure g against misleading influences from without, would often promote his private interest by voting wrong; and the chief security against this violation of his trust, is the publicity of his vote, and the effect on his mind of the opinion which will be formed of his conduct by other people.
Thirty years ago it was still true that in the election of members of Parliament, the main evil to be guarded against was that which the ballot would exclude—coercion by landlords, employers, and customers. At present, I conceive, a much greater source of evil is the selfishness, or the selfish partialities, of the voter himself. In times not long gone by, the higher and richer classes were in complete possession of the government.
Their power was the master grievance of the country. The habit of voting at the bidding of an employer, or of a landlord, was so firmly established, that hardly anything was capable of shaking it but a strong popular enthusiasm, seldom known to exist but in a good cause. A vote given in opposition to these influences was therefore, in general, an honest, a public-spirited vote: but in any case, and by whatever motive Edition: current; Page: [ ] dictated, it was almost sure to be a good vote, for it was a vote against the monster evil—the overruling influence of oligarchy.
Could the voter at that time have been enabled, with safety to himself, to exercise his privilege freely, even though neither honestly nor intelligently, it would have been a great gain to reform; for it would have broken the yoke of the then ruling power in the country—the power which had created and which maintained all that was bad in the institutions and the administration of the State—the power of landlords and boroughmongers.
The ballot was not adopted; but the progress of circumstances has done and is doing more and more, in this respect, the work of the ballot. Both the political and the social state of the country, as they affect this question, have greatly changed, and are changing every day. The higher classes are not now masters of the country.
A person must be blind to all the signs of the times, who could think that the middle classes are as subservient to the higher, or the working classes as dependent on the higher and middle, as they were a quarter of a century ago. The events of that quarter of a century have not only taught each class to know its own collective strength, but have put the individuals of a lower class in a condition to show a much bolder front to those of a higher. In a majority of cases, the vote of the electors, whether in opposition to or in accordance with the wishes of their superiors, is now not the effect of coercion, which there are no longer the same means of applying, but the expression of their own personal or political partialities.
The very vices of the present electoral system are a proof of this. The growth of bribery, so loudly complained of previous to the late Act, and the spread of the contagion to places formerly free from it, are evidence that the local influences are no longer paramount; that the electors now vote to please themselves, and not other people.
There is, no doubt, in counties and in the smaller boroughs, a large amount of servile dependence still remaining; but the temper of the times is adverse to it, and the force of events is constantly tending to diminish it. A good tenant can now feel that he is as valuable to his landlord as his landlord is to him; a prosperous tradesman can afford to feel independent of any particular customer.
It is their minds, far more than their personal circumstances, that now require to be emancipated. The electors themselves are becoming the oligarchy. Exactly in proportion as the vote of the elector is determined by his own will, and not by that of somebody who is his master, his position is similar to that of a member of Parliament, and publicity is indispensable.
So long as any portion of the community are unrepresented, the argument of the Chartists against ballot in conjunction with a restricted suffrage, is unassailable. Edition: current; Page: [ ] The present electors, and the bulk of those whom any probable Reform Bill would add to the number, are the middle class; and have as much a class interest, distinct from the working classes, as landlords or great manufacturers. Were the suffrage extended to all skilled labourers, even these would, or might, still have a class interest distinct from the unskilled. Suppose it extended to all men—suppose that what was formerly called by the misapplied name of universal suffrage, and now by the silly and insulting title of manhood suffrage, became the law—the voters would still have a class interest, as distinguished from women.
It will of course be objected, that these arguments derive all their weight from the supposition of an unjust state of the h suffrage: That h if the opinion of the non-electors is likely to make the elector vote more honestly, or more beneficially, than he would vote if left to himself, they are more fit to be electors than he is, and ought to have the i franchise: That i whoever is fit to influence electors, is fit to be an j elector: That j those to whom voters ought to be responsible, should be themselves voters; and, being such, should have the safeguard of the ballot, to shield them from the undue influence of powerful individuals or classes to whom they ought not to be responsible.
This argument is specious, and I once thought it conclusive. It now appears to me fallacious. All who are fit to influence electors are not, for that reason, fit to be themselves electors. This last is a much greater power than the former, and those may be ripe for the minor political function who could not as yet be safely trusted with the superior. The opinions and wishes of the poorest and rudest class of labourers may be very useful as one influence among others on the minds of the voters, as well as on those of the Legislature; and yet it might be highly mischievous to give them the preponderant influence, by admitting them, in their present state of morals and intelligence, to the full exercise of the suffrage.
It is precisely this indirect influence of those who have not the suffrage over those who have, which, by its progressive growth, softens the transition to every fresh extension of the franchise, Edition: current; Page: [ ] and is the means by which, when the time is ripe, the extension is peacefully brought about. But there is also another and a still deeper consideration, which should never be left out of the account in political speculations.
The notion is itself unfounded, that publicity, and the sense of being answerable to the public, are of no use unless the public are qualified to form a sound judgment. It is a very superficial view of the utility of public opinion, to suppose that it does good, only when it succeeds in enforcing a servile conformity to itself. To be under the eyes of others—to have to defend oneself to others—is never more important than to those who act in opposition to the opinion of others, for it obliges them to have sure ground of their own.
Nothing has so steadying an influence, as working against pressure. Unless when under the temporary sway of passionate excitement, no one will do that which he expects to be greatly blamed for, unless from a preconceived and fixed purpose of his own; which is always evidence of a thoughtful and deliberate character, and, except in radically bad men, generally proceeds from sincere and strong personal convictions.
Even the bare fact of having to give an account of their conduct, is a powerful inducement to adhere to conduct of which, at least, some decent account can be given. If any one thinks that the mere obligation of preserving decency is not a very considerable check on the abuse of power, he has never had his attention called to the conduct of those who do not feel under the necessity of observing that restraint. Publicity is inappreciable, even when it does no more than prevent that which can by no possibility be plausibly defended—than compel deliberation, and force every one to determine, before he acts, what he shall say if called to account for his actions.
But if not now it may be said , at least hereafter, when all are fit to have votes, and when all men and women are admitted to vote, in virtue of their fitness,— then there can no longer be danger of class legislation; then the electors, being the nation, can have no interest apart from the general interest: even if individuals still vote according to private or class inducements, the majority will have no such inducement; and as there will then be no nonelectors to whom they ought to be responsible, the effect of the ballot, excluding none but the sinister influences, will be wholly beneficial.
Even in this I do not agree. I cannot think that even if the people were fit for, and had obtained, universal suffrage, the ballot would be desirable. First, because it could not, in such circumstances, be supposed to be needful. Let us only conceive the state of things which the hypothesis implies: a people universally educated, and every grown-up human being possessed of a vote.
If, even when only a small proportion are electors, and the majority of the population almost uneducated, public opinion is already, as every one now sees that it is, the ruling power in the last resort; it is a chimera to suppose that over a community who all read, and who all have votes, any power could Edition: current; Page: [ ] be exercised by landlords and rich people against their own inclination, which it would be at all difficult for them to throw off.
But though the protection of secrecy would then be needless, the control of publicity would be as needful as ever. The universal observation of mankind has been very fallacious, if the mere fact of being one of the community, and not being in a position of pronounced contrariety of interest to the public at large, is enough to ensure the performance of a public duty, without either the stimulus or the restraint derived from the opinion of our fellow-creatures. Neither can it be admitted that even if all had votes, they would give their votes as honestly in secret as in public.
The proposition that the electors, when they compose the whole of the community, cannot have an interest in voting against the interest of the community, will be found on examination to have more sound than meaning in it. Though the community as a whole can have as the terms imply no other interest than its collective interest, any or every individual in it may.
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Everybody has as many different interests as he has feelings; likings or dislikings, either of a selfish or of a better kind. A man who is a tyrant at home will be apt to sympathize with tyranny when not exercised over himself : he will be almost certain not to sympathize with resistance to tyranny. An envious man will vote against Aristides because he is called the Just. A selfish man will prefer even a trifling individual benefit, above his share of the advantage which his country would derive from a good law; because interests peculiar to himself are those which the habits of his mind both dispose him to dwell on, and make him best able to estimate.
A great number of the electors will have two sets of preferences, those on private, and those on public grounds. The last are the only ones which the elector would like to avow. The best side of their character is that which people are anxious to show, even to those who are no better than themselves.
People will give dishonest or mean votes from lucre, from malice, from pique, from personal rivalry, from the interests or prejudices of class or sect, far more readily in secret than in public. And cases exist—they may come to be very frequent—in which almost the only restraint upon a majority of knaves, consists in their involuntary respect for the opinion of an honest minority.
In such a case as that of the repudiating States of North America, is there not some check to the unprincipled voter in the shame of looking an honest man in the face? Since all this good would be sacrificed by the ballot, even in the circumstances most favourable to it—circumstances Edition: current; Page: [ ] not likely to be seen realized by any one now alive—a much stronger case is requisite than can now be made out for its necessity and the case is continually becoming still weaker , to make its adoption desirable, or even tolerable.
For it must be borne in mind that the ballot cannot be, and has not been, defended otherwise than as a necessary evil. Necessary it might have been, but an evil it could never fail to be. The moral sentiment of mankind, in all periods of tolerably enlightened morality, has condemned concealment, unless when required by some overpowering motive; and if it be one of the paramount objects of national education to foster courage and public spirit, it is high time now that people should be taught the duty of asserting and acting openly on their opinions.
Disguise in all its forms is a badge of slavery. No one will require from slaves the virtues of freemen, nor will scan nicely the means by which slaves effect their emancipation. And there is truth in what has always been urged by the enemies of the ballot—that, even supposing it necessary, it could only produce its effect at the price of much lying. The friends of the ballot have indulged a faint hope that it would put an end to canvassing. If it really held out this prospect, the force of the objection to it would be considerably weakened; but such a result is not in the nature of man and of things.
The voter might, on the plea of public principle, refuse to give any answer; but, unless he was otherwise known to be a man of unusually high principle, the refusal would justly be considered a sufficient proof that a true answer would disclose what it is his interest to conceal. Supporters of the ballot have argued that the voter might resort to those evasive answers which integrity permits in the case of an impertinent question; but an evasive answer to a first question only succeeds when made to an equal, who does not consider himself at liberty to ask a second: and besides, the majority of electors have neither address nor readiness for such evasions; and when they really feel themselves in the power of the questioner, a downright lie, enforced by asseveration if doubted, would be their only resource.
Reformers may once have been disposed to wink at this evil, in order to prevent the still greater one of bad government; but it is in itself no small item in the account. It would perhaps be a greater Edition: current; Page: [ ] evil in this country than in any other. There are but few points in which the English, as a people, are entitled to the moral pre-eminence with which they are accustomed to compliment themselves at the expense of other nations: but, of these points, perhaps the one of greatest importance is, that the higher classes do not lie, and the lower, though mostly habitual liars, are ashamed of lying.
To run any risk of weakening this feeling, a difficult one to create, or, when once gone, to restore, would be a permanent evil too great to be incurred for so very temporary a benefit as the ballot would confer, even on the most exaggerated estimate of its necessity.
There is a suggestion of another kind, respecting the mode of voting, which has found a favourable reception from some of the supporters and from some of the opponents of the ballot. It is that of collecting the votes of the electors at their own homes, a voting paper being left at the door, like the memorandum of a tax-collector, and filled up by the voter without the trouble of going to the poll.
This expedient has been recommended, both on the score of saving expense, and on that of obtaining the votes of many electors who otherwise would not vote, and who are regarded by the advocates of the plan as a particularly desirable class of voters. The scheme has been carried into practice in the election of poor-law guardians, and its success in that instance is appealed to in favour of adopting it in the more important case of voting for a member of the Legislature. But the two cases appear to me to differ in the point on which the benefits of the expedient depend. In a local election for a special kind of administrative business, which consists mainly in the dispensation of a public fund, it is an object to prevent the choice from being exclusively in the hands of those who actively concern themselves about it; for the public interest which attaches to the election being of a limited kind, and in most cases not very great in degree, the disposition to make themselves busy in the matter is apt to be in a great measure confined to persons who hope to turn their activity to their own private advantage; and it may be very desirable to render the intervention of other people as little onerous to them as possible, if only for the purpose of swamping these private interests.
But when the matter in hand is the great business of national government, in which every one must take an interest who cares for anything out of himself, or who cares even for himself intelligently, it is much rather an object to prevent those from voting who are indifferent to the subject, than to induce them to vote by any other means than that of awakening their dormant minds.
The voter who does not care enough about the election to go to the poll, is the very man who, if he can vote without that small trouble, will give his vote to the first person who asks for it, or on the most trifling or frivolous inducement. A man who does not care whether he votes, is not likely to care much which way he votes; and Edition: current; Page: [ ] he who is in that state of mind has no moral right to vote at all; since if he does so, a vote which is not the expression of a conviction, counts for as much, and goes as far in determining the result, as one which perhaps represents the thoughts and purposes of a life.
For comments on the composition of the work, see the Textual Introduction, lxxxiv-lxxxv above. There is a natural connexion between the two characteristics. During the storm which preceded and accompanied the Reform discussions of and , no voice was raised, because none would have been audible, save those which shouted for or against the one thing which the public so loudly cried for.
But the present demand for Parliamentary Reform, being in an unusual degree the product of calm reason, leaves room to hope that any appeal to reason may be listened to, and encourages the superior intellects to bring forward any thoughts they possess which seem to them to have a useful bearing upon the questions at issue. From the publications of more or less mark which have been called forth by the prospect of another Parliamentary reform, we select three, among the most distinguished by their thoughtful character, and by the mental qualities of the writers.
Their objects, their doctrines, their practical conclusions, are widely different, but they are the productions of highly-instructed and disciplined minds; they all deserve and will repay meditation, and one of them we hold to be the most important work ever written on the practical part of the subject. Before attempting an analysis of Mr. Of the three writers, Mr. Austin alone is opposed to any further Parliamentary reform; the two others are strong reformers, each according to his particular mode of thought.
Austin has claims to an attentive hearing which cannot be lightly estimated. Whoever is acquainted either with Edition: current; Page: [ ] these or with the writings attributed to Mr. Austin which have been published anonymously, regrets that a mind so fitted by capacity and acquirements for untying the hard knots which the philosophy of law is full of, and which are the great impediment to simplicity and intelligibility in its practice, should have accomplished only a small part of the work to which his peculiar combination of endowments especially called him.
We shall rejoice that he has resumed the pen, even on a question on which we differ with him, if it authorizes us to hope that we may yet see the completion of his great book. The worth, to us, of his present performance, does not lie in his conclusions, but in some of his premises. We receive it as an exposition of what, in the opinion of probably the most intellectual man who is an enemy to further reform, are the specific evils to be apprehended from it. Whoever points out the rocks and shoals with which our course is beset, does us a service which may be all the greater because we are not terrified thereby into renouncing the voyage.
Austin is perhaps no unlikely person to over-estimate some dangers, but he is not a man to conjure up any which are entirely chimerical; and it may readily be admitted that every plan of reform ought to stand his test; ought to show, either that it does not tend to produce the evils dreaded by him, or that its tendency to do so can be counteracted. The first half of Mr. In his estimate of these, few Englishmen will disagree with him: but when he connects them pre-eminently with those elements in the distribution of political power which further reform may be expected to weaken, several of his observations seem questionable.
Thus he enlarges, with reason, on the necessity to the successful working of a free, or even of any constitution, of a spirit of compromise. If any one of the three powers in the British constitution exerted the whole of its legal rights, and pressed every difference of opinion to the utmost, the action of the government would be paralyzed, and its energies absorbed, by internal contests, which would induce an ultimate disruption of the whole fabric.
It is equally true that this habitual willingness on the part of every constituted authority to acquiesce cheerfully in the necessary conditions of stable government, has been found very difficult to introduce where it did not previously exist: and eminent political thinkers have founded their systems on the belief that this conscientious or prudent self-restraint was too difficult to be ever really practised, and that the co-ordinate powers in a balanced constitution will always struggle with each other, until one of them has completely subordinated Edition: current; Page: [ ] the others to itself.
On all this we entirely agree with Mr. Austin; but not in the passage which follows:. But though this talent for compromise is one of the conditions of happy political society, few nations have possessed it in a high degree; and none but the people of England have ever possessed the degree of it which is one of the principal conditions of enduring free government. The long duration of a system so difficult to work. This habitual reverence for the constitutional rights of others, and this habitual moderation in Parliamentary battle and victory, have mainly arisen from the breeding of the men who have formed the great majority of the Lower House.
If the composition of the House should in this respect deteriorate, the spirit of compromise will be enfeebled, and the difficulty of working the system will be vastly aggravated. With submission, we think there is a mistake here. The English are not the only people who have shown an eminent degree of what Mr.
The only questions on which the Union has been agitated by important differences of opinion are the tariff and the slavery questions; and whenever either of these quarrels has reached a height which threatened seriously to interfere with the working of the national institutions, it has been closed up for the moment by a legislative compromise.
The whole history of each is a series of such compromises: and if none of these have been of long duration, it is because, as most Englishmen will now admit, the questions are such as in their nature cannot and ought not to be the subjects of permanent compromise. These facts indicate that Mr.
The compromising temper which English and American politicians have in common, and the want of which is one cause of the repeated failures of liberal institutions elsewhere, is sometimes ascribed to the less inflammable character of their northern blood; but may more rationally be attributed to their greater political experience, and longer possession of free government. They are content to exercise a limited power, because they have never felt or been subject to any power which was Edition: current; Page: [ ] not obviously limited.
We think Mr. Austin would have been nearer the truth, while even his own argument would not have suffered, if he had attributed this quality in the English and Americans to the complicated and balanced character of their political institutions. Democratic as the American government is, the powers of every magistrate and of every assembly composing it, are narrowly hemmed in by those of other functionaries and public bodies. No American assembly is encouraged by the constitution to believe that its will is law.
We agree with those who think that the spirit of conciliation and compromise could with difficulty establish itself in any government which consisted of one sovereign assembly, whether accompanied or not by an hereditary president under a royal title. The interests and opinions, [he says,] of the entire population of the country and not only those of the sovereign body , are habitually consulted by the Legislature and by the executive Government.
In the United States, the large slave population are excluded from political power, and almost from legal rights; whilst their interests and feelings are set at naught by the Governments, and are scorned or slighted by the great majority of the public. The American Government is here stated to be practically less democratic than the English, because it disregards the interests and feelings of a portion of the people quoad whom the American Government is not a democracy at all, but the closest, hardest, and most exclusive of aristocracies.
To have any bearing on the merits of democratic institutions, the comparison should not have been made with the American Federation, but with the free Northern States, which alone have any pretension to be democracies. As well might any one tell us that Europe is a great slave country, meaning by Europe, Russia.
Austin expatiates on the advantage we derive from the fact that, while the electors are a democratic body, the elected are mostly, in the personal and social meaning of the term, aristocratic. He says:. The art of statesmanship, like other high and difficult arts, can only be acquired by those who make it their principal business. The aristocracy in question, being men of independent means, can afford to devote themselves to public life; whilst men whose time and thoughts are absorbed by their private affairs, cannot give themselves thoroughly to the concerns of the nation.
From the possession of an Edition: current; Page: [ ] aristocratical body specially affected to practical politics, the nation derives the well-known advantages which arise from the division of labour. A larger proportion of competent statesmen will naturally be furnished by a body comparatively skilled, than by the bodies far more numerous whose attention to public business is necessarily intermittent, and whose knowledge of those interests is therefore necessarily superficial.
To this it must be added that, in consequence of the high and undisputed positions occupied socially by the aristocracy in question, they naturally acquire a cool self-possession, a quick insight into men, and a skill in dealing with men, which are specially necessary to statesmen in a free and a parliamentary a country. From their high social positions, and the peculiar influences acting upon them from the cradle, they are naturally restrained in a more than common degree by the sentiment of gentlemanly honour.
As filling those high positions, and as being permanently occupied with public life, they are more obvious to the public eye, and are more restrained by public opinion, than men whose social positions are comparatively humble, and whose public lives are comparatively intermittent and obscure. On account of their independence in respect of pecuniary means.
Surely this is a large superstructure on a small basis of reality. The classes spoken of have it in their power to be all that Mr. Austin has described, but how many of them actually are so? Since public opinion began to require some amount of appropriate knowledge and training in the members of an Administration, it has never been possible to find a sufficient number of such men to form a Cabinet, much less a Legislature. Is it not a speaking fact that, at this critical moment, not a man can be thought of as fit to lead the great Liberal party, except one or the other of two noblemen advanced in years?
We have no desire to see a Parliament of rich elderly manufacturers, but we certainly prefer them to the young fribbles of family who formerly did us the honour to legislate for us. We, too, maintain that statesmanship of any high quality can only be looked for in persons who devote themselves to it as an art. There have been aristocratic governments which were carried on by such persons—the open aristocracy of Rome for example, and the close aristocracy of Venice; and we acknowledge that the influences of unbalanced Edition: current; Page: [ ] democracy have a tendency to prevent the formation of such a class.
But it answers no good purpose to argue as if we at present enjoyed a benefit which we neither have nor ever had, and are as little likely to have under the existing mixed government as under a republic. The objections to Parliamentary reform which compose the latter half of Mr. Of those which bear against reform in general, the principal one is this: that all practical evils which admit of legislative correction are as likely to be remedied under the present constitution of the Legislature as under any other: that the undiscerning conservatism called into existence by the French Revolution has disappeared, and all parties in Parliament are well disposed towards legal and administrative reforms, which are now impeded by no serious difficulties but those inherent in their subjects, and we must add by the private interests, not indeed of the rulers, but of those whom the rulers trust, and by the spirit of routine and obstruction, which is not peculiar to any set of institutions, but common to all established systems.
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With this modification, we agree to some extent with Mr. There is a spirit of improvement, common to all parties, in many of the details of government; and it may perhaps be true that there is hardly any beneficial change, demanded by a mature public opinion, which, after a moderate interval, would not have a good chance of being carried, under our present political institutions. For what practical end, then, do we desire a more popular basis for those institutions?
Mainly for that of maturing and enlightening public opinion itself. Parliament has another function besides that of making laws. The House of Commons is not only the most powerful branch of the Legislature; it is also the great council of the nation; the place where the opinions which divide the public on great subjects of national interest, meet in a common arena, do battle, and are victorious or vanquished.
This latter function the House of Commons does not fulfil, if the most numerous class, and that which is least favoured by fortune, after it has once begun to have and to express opinions, remains without direct representation there. Besides being an instrument of government, Parliament is a grand institution of national education, having for one of its valuable offices to create and correct that public opinion whose mandates it is required to obey. That which Acts of Parliament and votes of money can do for the political instruction of the people, falls short of what might be done by the discussions in Parliament itself, if those who most need instruction were there in the persons of their representatives, saying their best for their opinions; counted among those whose reason a minister or an orator must appeal to; when they were wrong, some one taking pains to answer them, and to make the answer understood by them: not left, as now, under the gloomy persuasion that their Edition: current; Page: [ ] interests are dealt with in their absence, and unheard—that Parliament occupies itself with everything rather than with the burthen which is weighing on their hearts, and even when it busies itself about the same questions, never for an instant looks at them from their point of view.
There is a further practical consideration appropriate to the present time. The non-represented classes, as a body, are just now, to all appearance, peaceful and acquiescent. But they were not always so; we are not far from the days of Chartist insurrections, and monster petitions signed by millions of men. But if the cause be lassitude, or despair of success, or that they are at present tolerably prosperous, such times as we have seen not many years ago we shall see again; and concessions which, made at the present calm season, can be accompanied by proper safeguards, may then be wrung from Parliament without any safeguards at all, under the same imminent dangers which prevailed in Prudence and foresight, therefore, combine with principle in recommending that the present favourable opportunity be made use of for placing our representative system on a footing which can be defended on intelligible principles of justice, and such that the greatest number of persons, consistent with safety, shall have evident cause to be well affected towards it.
Austin proceeds to set forth the evils which he would anticipate, either from universal suffrage, or from any such reform as would vest the predominant power in the lower portion of the middle class. A House of Commons returned by universal suffrage which he always supposes unguarded by provisions that would give a share of influence to any but the numerical majority , though it would not, he says, attempt to carry out Socialist theories—. Would ruin our finances, and destroy our economical prosperity, by insensate interferences with the natural arrangements of society, which would not be the less pernicious for not being inspired by theory.
No man, looking attentively at the realities around him, can doubt that a great majority of the working classes are imbued with principles essentially socialist; that their very natural opinions on political and commercial subjects are partial applications of the premises which are the groundwork of the socialist theories. They believe, for example, very generally, that the rate of wages depends upon the will of the employers; that the prices of provisions and other articles of general consumption, depend Edition: current; Page: [ ] upon the will of the sellers; that the wealth of the richer classes is somehow subtracted from their own; and that capital is not an adminicle, but an antagonist of labour.
We might, therefore, expect from a House of Commons representing the prejudices of the non-proprietary class, a minimum rate of wages, a maximum price of provisions and other necessaries of life, with numberless other restrictions on the actual freedom of contracting. Austin has put his estimate of what might be the practical result of a Parliament elected by equal and universal suffrage, at the very worst possible; far worse than we consider at all probable. But might, in a case of this importance, is as conclusive as would; and those who look the most hopefully to universal suffrage, seldom propose to introduce it otherwise than gradually and tentatively, with the power of stopping short wherever a tendency begins to manifest itself towards making legislation subservient to the misunderstood class interests of labourers and artisans.
But while no rational person would entrust the preponderant power in the State to persons aiming at the objects which Mr. Austin describes, there is no reason why even these should not be represented as one class among others—why they, like so many other classes having sinister interests or absurd opinions, should not have their spokesmen in Parliament, to ventilate their nonsense, and secure attention to their sense and to the facts of their position.
Until this is the case, the working classes, with however good intentions on the part of the Legislature, will never obtain complete justice though they may receive mischievous courtship , and if they did, would never believe that they had obtained it. We will go a step further. We are completely at issue with those who are unable to see that there is a true side to many of the crudest notions of the working classes, and that there is something, and even much, which can be rationally done for them in the direction of what seem their wildest aberrations.
From the cast of his mind, we should have thought Mr. Austin is no less opposed; partly because, as he thinks, any such measure would be a step to universal suffrage, and partly for the following reasons:. From what is known of the constituencies in which these classes actually predominate, we may infer that the majority of the reformed assembly would probably be composed in no small measure of men endowed with no higher faculties Edition: current; Page: [ ] than glibness of tongue and adroitness in managing elections; and ready, moreover, to court their constituents at the cost of the public interests, by bowing to their prejudices and even to their momentary caprices.
The aristocracies of birth and social position, and still more the aristocracy of mind, would be generally distasteful to the constituencies. On finance and political economy, on law and the administration of justice, on the education of the lower and superior classes, on the relations of the country to other independent states, and on almost all the subjects of our domestic and foreign policy, the constituencies would think like men who have not considered such subjects, or have considered them slightly, and through the medium of popular prejudices.
Sound financiers and political economists, profound theoretical and practical lawyers, men eminent in science and letters, distinguished journalists and philosophical statesmen such, for example, as Mr. Burke , would not be appreciated by the reformed constituencies, or would even be objects of their positive dislike. According to the true theory of the British constitution, the powers residing in the electoral body of the Commons are completely delegated to the Commons House, insomuch that the members of that assembly are not severally representatives of their respective constituencies, but are representatives of the entire kingdom.
If this theory were generally disregarded in practice. Now it has been shown by frequent experience that the conceptions of Parliamentary Government commonly entertained by the lower middle classes are inconsistent with this necessary theory. In the event of a reform giving to those classes an unchecked ascendancy in the House of Commons, the constituencies would dictate to their representatives their votes on particular questions, and owing to their servile deference to the prejudices and caprices of their constituents, the representatives would pledge themselves very generally to follow their imperative instructions.
There is a mischievous and growing tendency in the House of Commons to encroach upon the functions of the Executive Government. The functions thus usurped by the House of Commons are transferred from experienced and responsible to inexperienced and irresponsible hands, while the House, by attending to business for which its constitution unfits it, performs its legislative functions with diminished care, and neglects its important office of supervising and checking the Executive. In the event of a reform such as we are now contemplating, this mischievous and growing tendency would be greatly strengthened.
Many of the representatives would be notable vestrymen, or men of the like character—men of limited views, of considerable capacity for details, of untiring activity and of restless and intrusive ambition. Meddling with administrative details would suit their capacity and taste; and by wrenching the business of the Executive from the ministers of the Crown, they would exalt themselves in the eyes of the country, or at least in those of their several localities.
The respective functions of the several branches of the Parliament would be imperfectly apprehended by the reformed constituencies, and as they would naturally sympathize with the aggressive ambition of their representatives, they would back their encroachments on the province of the Crown. Yet it is important that real evils should not be exaggerated, Edition: current; Page: [ ] The shopocracy, like other powers of darkness, is not so black as it is painted. If the metropolitan districts, to which mainly it owes its bad reputation, do not return many distinguished men, let it be remembered that distinguished men seldom offer themselves for those districts.
Men who wish to give their time to other matters than local business, do not like to live in the midst of a numerous and exigeant constituency. When candidates of any eminence have presented themselves, they have generally been elected. In the second rank of politicians, Sir Benjamin Hawes, Sir William Clay, and others, who sat many years for metropolitan districts, are surely much superior to average members for small boroughs; nor is it any ordinary member of the House of Commons that is entitled to look down on Mr.
Ayrton, who often says a useful word in Parliament when there is no one else to say it. We think it a mistake also to suppose that middle class constituencies prefer to be represented by persons like themselves. And at that he changed his tune immediately. I saw that I had awakened the pew-renter who sleeps in every English workman. Though he had been famished, along with the rest, he at once saw reasons why the food should have been thrown away rather than given to the tramps.
He admonished me quite severely. It's only the bad food as keeps all that scum away. These tramps are too lazy to work, that's all that's wrong with them. You don't want to go encouraging of them. They're scum. You don't want to judge them by the same standards as men like you and me. They're scum, just scum. It was interesting to see how subtly he disassociated himself from his fellow tramps. He has been on the road six months, but in the sight of God, he seemed to imply, he was not a tramp. His body might be in the spike, but his spirit soared far away, in the pure aether of the middle classes.
The clock's hands crept round with excruciating slowness. We were too bored even to talk now, the only sound was of oaths and reverberating yawns. One would force his eyes away from the clock for what seemed an age, and then look back again to see that the hands had advanced three minutes. Ennui clogged our souls like cold mutton fat. Our bones ached because of it. The clock's hands stood at four, and supper was not till six, and there was nothing left remarkable beneath the visiting moon. At last six o'clock did come, and the Tramp Major and his assistant arrived with supper. The yawning tramps brisked up like lions at feeding-time.
But the meal was a dismal disappointment. The bread, bad enough in the morning, was now positively uneatable; it was so hard that even the strongest jaws could make little impression on it. The older men went almost supperless, and not a man could finish his portion, hungry though most of us were.
When we had finished, the blankets were served out immediately, and we were hustled off once more to the bare, chilly cells. Thirteen hours went by. At seven we were awakened, and rushed forth to squabble over the water in the bathroom, and bolt our ration of bread and tea. Our time in the spike was up, but we could riot go until the doctor had examined us again, for the authorities have a terror of smallpox and its distribution by tramps. The doctor kept us waiting two hours this time, and it was ten o'clock before we finally escaped. At last it was time to go, and we were let out into the yard.
How bright everything looked, and how sweet the winds did blow, after the gloomy, reeking spike! The Tramp Major handed each man his bundle of confiscated possessions, and a hunk of bread and cheese for midday dinner, and then we took the road, hastening to get out of sight of the spike and its discipline, This was our interim of freedom. After a day and two nights of wasted time we had eight hours or so to take our recreation, to scour the roads for cigarette ends, to beg, and to look for work.
Also, we had to make our ten, fifteen, or it might be twenty miles to the next spike, where the game would begin anew. I disinterred my eightpence and took the road with Nobby, a respectable, downhearted tramp who carried a spare pair of boots and visited all the Labour Exchanges. Our late companions were scattering north, south, cast and west, like bugs into a mattress. Only the imbecile loitered at the spike gates, until the Tramp Major had to chase him away.
Nobby and I set out for Croydon. It was a quiet road, there were no cars passing, the blossom covered the chestnut trees like great wax candles. Everything was so quiet and smelt so clean, it was hard to realize that only a few minutes ago we had been packed with that band of prisoners in a stench of drains and soft soap. The others had all disappeared; we two seemed to be the only tramps on the road.
Then I heard a hurried step behind me, and felt a tap on my arm. It was little Scotty, who had run panting after us. He pulled a rusty tin box from his pocket. He wore a friendly smile, like a man who is repaying an obligation. You stood me a smoke yesterday. The Tramp Major give me back my box of fag ends when we come out this morning. One good turn deserves another—here y'are. It was in Burma, a sodden morning of the rains. A sickly light, like yellow tinfoil, was slanting over the high walls into the jail yard. We were waiting outside the condemned cells, a row of sheds fronted with double bars, like small animal cages.
Each cell measured about ten feet by ten and was quite bare within except for a plank bed and a pot of drinking water. In some of them brown silent men were squatting at the inner bars, with their blankets draped round them. These were the condemned men, due to be hanged within the next week or two.
One prisoner had been brought out of his cell. He was a Hindu, a puny wisp of a man, with a shaven head and vague liquid eyes. He had a thick, sprouting moustache, absurdly too big for his body, rather like the moustache of a comic man on the films. Six tall Indian warders were guarding him and getting him ready for the gallows. Two of them stood by with rifles and fixed bayonets, while the others handcuffed him, passed a chain through his handcuffs and fixed it to their belts, and lashed his arms tight to his sides.
They crowded very close about him, with their hands always on him in a careful, caressing grip, as though all the while feeling him to make sure he was there. It was like men handling a fish which is still alive and may jump back into the water. But he stood quite unresisting, yielding his arms limply to the ropes, as though he hardly noticed what was happening. Eight o'clock struck and a bugle call, desolately thin in the wet air, floated from the distant barracks.
The superintendent of the jail, who was standing apart from the rest of us, moodily prodding the gravel with his stick, raised his head at the sound. He was an army doctor, with a grey toothbrush moustache and a gruff voice. Aren't you ready yet? Francis, the head jailer, a fat Dravidian in a white drill suit and gold spectacles, waved his black hand. The hangman iss waiting. We shall proceed. We set out for the gallows. Two warders marched on either side of the prisoner, with their rifles at the slope; two others marched close against him, gripping him by arm and shoulder, as though at once pushing and supporting him.
The rest of us, magistrates and the like, followed behind. Suddenly, when we had gone ten yards, the procession stopped short without any order or warning. A dreadful thing had happened—a dog, come goodness knows whence, had appeared in the yard. It came bounding among us with a loud volley of barks, and leapt round us wagging its whole body, wild with glee at finding so many human beings together.
It was a large woolly dog, half Airedale, half pariah. For a moment it pranced round us, and then, before anyone could stop it, it had made a dash for the prisoner, and jumping up tried to lick his face. Everyone stood aghast, too taken aback even to grab at the dog. A warder, detached from the escort, charged clumsily after the dog, but it danced and gambolled just out of his reach, taking everything as part of the game.
A young Eurasian jailer picked up a handful of gravel and tried to stone the dog away, but it dodged the stones and came after us again. Its yaps echoed from the jail wails. The prisoner, in the grasp of the two warders, looked on incuriously, as though this was another formality of the hanging. It was several minutes before someone managed to catch the dog.
Then we put my handkerchief through its collar and moved off once more, with the dog still straining and whimpering. It was about forty yards to the gallows. I watched the bare brown back of the prisoner marching in front of me. He walked clumsily with his bound arms, but quite steadily, with that bobbing gait of the Indian who never straightens his knees. At each step his muscles slid neatly into place, the lock of hair on his scalp danced up and down, his feet printed themselves on the wet gravel. And once, in spite of the men who gripped him by each shoulder, he stepped slightly aside to avoid a puddle on the path.
It is curious, but till that moment I had never realized what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man. When I saw the prisoner step aside to avoid the puddle, I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is in full tide. This man was not dying, he was alive just as we were alive.
All the organs of his body were working—bowels digesting food, skin renewing itself, nails growing, tissues forming—all toiling away in solemn foolery. His nails would still be growing when he stood on the drop, when he was falling through the air with a tenth of a second to live. His eyes saw the yellow gravel and the grey walls, and his brain still remembered, foresaw, reasoned—reasoned even about puddles. He and we were a party of men walking together, seeing, hearing, feeling, understanding the same world; and in two minutes, with a sudden snap, one of us would be gone—one mind less, one world less.
The gallows stood in a small yard, separate from the main grounds of the prison, and overgrown with tall prickly weeds. It was a brick erection like three sides of a shed, with planking on top, and above that two beams and a crossbar with the rope dangling. The hangman, a grey-haired convict in the white uniform of the prison, was waiting beside his machine. He greeted us with a servile crouch as we entered. At a word from Francis the two warders, gripping the prisoner more closely than ever, half led, half pushed him to the gallows and helped him clumsily up the ladder.
Then the hangman climbed up and fixed the rope round the prisoner's neck. We stood waiting, five yards away. The warders had formed in a rough circle round the gallows. And then, when the noose was fixed, the prisoner began crying out on his god. It was a high, reiterated cry of "Ram! The dog answered the sound with a whine. The hangman, still standing on the gallows, produced a small cotton bag like a flour bag and drew it down over the prisoner's face. But the sound, muffled by the cloth, still persisted, over and over again: "Ram! The hangman climbed down and stood ready, holding the lever.
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Minutes seemed to pass. The steady, muffled crying from the prisoner went on and on, "Ram! The superintendent, his head on his chest, was slowly poking the ground with his stick; perhaps he was counting the cries, allowing the prisoner a fixed number—fifty, perhaps, or a hundred. Everyone had changed colour. The Indians had gone grey like bad coffee, and one or two of the bayonets were wavering.
We looked at the lashed, hooded man on the drop, and listened to his cries—each cry another second of life; the same thought was in all our minds: oh, kill him quickly, get it over, stop that abominable noise! Suddenly the superintendent made up his mind. Throwing up his head he made a swift motion with his stick. There was a clanking noise, and then dead silence. The prisoner had vanished, and the rope was twisting on itself. I let go of the dog, and it galloped immediately to the back of the gallows; but when it got there it stopped short, barked, and then retreated into a corner of the yard, where it stood among the weeds, looking timorously out at us.
We went round the gallows to inspect the prisoner's body. He was dangling with his toes pointed straight downwards, very slowly revolving, as dead as a stone. The superintendent reached out with his stick and poked the bare body; it oscillated, slightly. He backed out from under the gallows, and blew out a deep breath. The moody look had gone out of his face quite suddenly.
He glanced at his wrist-watch. Well, that's all for this morning, thank God. The warders unfixed bayonets and marched away. The dog, sobered and conscious of having misbehaved itself, slipped after them. We walked out of the gallows yard, past the condemned cells with their waiting prisoners, into the big central yard of the prison. The convicts, under the command of warders armed with lathis, were already receiving their breakfast. They squatted in long rows, each man holding a tin pannikin, while two warders with buckets marched round ladling out rice; it seemed quite a homely, jolly scene, after the hanging.
An enormous relief had come upon us now that the job was done. One felt an impulse to sing, to break into a run, to snigger. All at once everyone began chattering gaily. The Eurasian boy walking beside me nodded towards the way we had come, with a knowing smile: "Do you know, sir, our friend he meant the dead man , when he heard his appeal had been dismissed, he pissed on the floor of his cell. From fright. Do you not admire my new silver case, sir? From the boxwallah, two rupees eight annas. Classy European style. Francis was walking by the superintendent, talking garrulously.
It wass all finished—flick! It iss not always so—oah, no! I have known cases where the doctor wass obliged to go beneath the gallows and pull the prisoner's legs to ensure decease. Most disagreeable! One man, I recall, clung to the bars of hiss cage when we went to take him out. You will scarcely credit, sir, that it took six warders to dislodge him, three pulling at each leg. We reasoned with him. Ach, he wass very troublesome! I found that I was laughing quite loudly.
Everyone was laughing. Even the superintendent grinned in a tolerant way. We could do with it. We went through the big double gates of the prison, into the road. We all began laughing again. At that moment Francis's anecdote seemed extraordinarily funny. We all had a drink together, native and European alike, quite amicably. The dead man was a hundred yards away. When I worked in a second-hand bookshop—so easily pictured, if you don't work in one, as a kind of paradise where charming old gentlemen browse eternally among calf-bound folios—the thing that chiefly struck me was the rarity of really bookish people.
Our shop had an exceptionally interesting stock, yet I doubt whether ten per cent of our customers knew a good book from a bad one. First edition snobs were much commoner than lovers of literature, but oriental students haggling over cheap textbooks were commoner still, and vague-minded women looking for birthday presents for their nephews were commonest of all.
Many of the people who came to us were of the kind who would be a nuisance anywhere but have special opportunities in a bookshop. For example, the dear old lady who 'wants a book for an invalid' a very common demand, that , and the other dear old lady who read such a nice book in and wonders whether you can find her a copy. Unfortunately she doesn't remember the title or the author's name or what the book was about, but she does remember that it had a red cover.
But apart from these there are two well-known types of pest by whom every second-hand bookshop is haunted. One is the decayed person smelling of old bread-crusts who comes every day, sometimes several times a day, and tries to sell you worthless books. The other is the person who orders large quantities of books for which he has not the smallest intention of paying.
In our shop we sold nothing on credit, but we would put books aside, or order them if necessary, for people who arranged to fetch them away later. Scarcely half the people who ordered books from us ever came back. It used to puzzle me at first. What made them do it? They would come in and demand some rare and expensive book, would make us promise over and over again to keep it for them, and then would vanish never to return.
But many of them, of course, were unmistakable paranoiacs. They used to talk in a grandiose manner about themselves and tell the most ingenious stories to explain how they had happened to come out of doors without any money—stories which, in many cases, I am sure they themselves believed. In a town like London there are always plenty of not quite certifiable lunatics walking the streets, and they tend to gravitate towards bookshops, because a bookshop is one of the few places where you can hang about for a long time without spending any money.
In the end one gets to know these people almost at a glance. For all their big talk there is something moth-eaten and aimless about them. Very often, when we were dealing with an obvious paranoiac, we would put aside the books he asked for and then put them back on the shelves the moment he had gone. None of them, I noticed, ever attempted to take books away without paying for them; merely to order them was enough—it gave them, I suppose, the illusion that they were spending real money.
Like most second-hand bookshops we had various sidelines. We sold second-hand typewriters, for instance, and also stamps—used stamps, I mean. Stamp-collectors are a strange, silent, fish-like breed, of all ages, but only of the male sex; women, apparently, fail to see the peculiar charm of gumming bits of coloured paper into albums. We also sold sixpenny horoscopes compiled by somebody who claimed to have foretold the Japanese earthquake. They were in sealed envelopes and I never opened one of them myself, but the people who bought them often came back and told us how 'true' their horoscopes had been.
Doubtless any horoscope seems 'true' if it tells you that you are highly attractive to the opposite sex and your worst fault is generosity. We did a good deal of business in children's books, chiefly 'remainders'. Modern books for children are rather horrible things, especially when you see them in the mass. Personally I would sooner give a child a copy of Petronius Arbiter than Peter Pan , but even Barrie seems manly and wholesome compared with some of his later imitators. At Christmas time we spent a feverish ten days struggling with Christmas cards and calendars, which are tiresome things to sell but good business while the season lasts.
It used to interest me to see the brutal cynicism with which Christian sentiment is exploited. The touts from the Christmas card firms used to come round with their catalogues as early as June. A phrase from one of their invoices sticks in my memory. It was: '2 doz. Infant Jesus with rabbits'. But our principal sideline was a lending library—the usual 'twopenny no-deposit' library of five or six hundred volumes, all fiction.
How the book thieves must love those libraries! It is the easiest crime in the world to borrow a book at one shop for twopence, remove the label and sell it at another shop for a shilling. Nevertheless booksellers generally find that it pays them better to have a certain number of books stolen we used to lose about a dozen a month than to frighten customers away by demanding a deposit. Our shop stood exactly on the frontier between Hampstead and Camden Town, and we were frequented by all types from baronets to bus-conductors.
Probably our library subscribers were a fair cross-section of London's reading public. It is therefore worth noting that of all the authors in our library the one who 'went out' the best was—Priestley? No, Ethel M. Dell's novels, of course, are read solely by women, but by women of all kinds and ages and not, as one might expect, merely by wistful spinsters and the fat wives of tobacconists. It is not true that men don't read novels, but it is true that there are whole branches of fiction that they avoid.
Roughly speaking, what one might call the average novel—the ordinary, good-bad, Galsworthy-and-water stuff which is the norm of the English novel—seems to exist only for women. Men read either the novels it is possible to respect, or detective stories. But their consumption of detective stories is terrific. One of our subscribers to my knowledge read four or five detective stories every week for over a year, besides others which he got from another library. What chiefly surprised me was that he never read the same book twice. Apparently the whole of that frightful torrent of trash the pages read every year would, I calculated, cover nearly three quarters of an acre was stored for ever in his memory.
He took no notice of titles or author's names, but he could tell by merely glancing into a book whether be had 'had it already'. In a lending library you see people's real tastes, not their pretended ones, and one thing that strikes you is how completely the 'classical' English novelists have dropped out of favour. At the mere sight of a nineteenth-century novel people say, 'Oh, but that's old!
Yet it is always fairly easy to sell Dickens, just as it is always easy to sell Shakespeare. Dickens is one of those authors whom people are 'always meaning to' read, and, like the Bible, he is widely known at second hand. People know by hearsay that Bill Sikes was a burglar and that Mr Micawber had a bald head, just as they know by hearsay that Moses was found in a basket of bulrushes and saw the 'back parts' of the Lord.
Another thing that is very noticeable is the growing unpopularity of American books. And another—the publishers get into a stew about this every two or three years—is the unpopularity of short stories. The kind of person who asks the librarian to choose a book for him nearly always starts by saying 'I don't want short stories', or 'I do not desire little stories', as a German customer of ours used to put it. If you ask them why, they sometimes explain that it is too much fag to get used to a new set of characters with every story; they like to 'get into' a novel which demands no further thought after the first chapter.
I believe, though, that the writers are more to blame here than the readers. Most modern short stories, English and American, are utterly lifeless and worthless, far more so than most novels. The short stories which are stories are popular enough, vide D. Lawrence, whose short stories are as popular as his novels. On the whole—in spite of my employer's kindness to me, and some happy days I spent in the shop—no.
Given a good pitch and the right amount of capital, any educated person ought to be able to make a small secure living out of a bookshop. Unless one goes in for 'rare' books it is not a difficult trade to learn, and you start at a great advantage if you know anything about the insides of books. Most booksellers don't. You can get their measure by having a look at the trade papers where they advertise their wants. If you don't see an ad. Also it is a humane trade which is not capable of being vulgarized beyond a certain point.
The combines can never squeeze the small independent bookseller out of existence as they have squeezed the grocer and the milkman. But the hours of work are very long—I was only a part-time employee, but my employer put in a seventy-hour week, apart from constant expeditions out of hours to buy books—and it is an unhealthy life. As a rule a bookshop is horribly cold in winter, because if it is too warm the windows get misted over, and a bookseller lives on his windows.
And books give off more and nastier dust than any other class of objects yet invented, and the top of a book is the place where every bluebottle prefers to die. But the real reason why I should not like to be in the book trade for life is that while I was in it I lost my love of books. A bookseller has to tell lies about books, and that gives him a distaste for them; still worse is the fact that he is constantly dusting them and hauling them to and fro.
There was a time when I really did love books—loved the sight and smell and feel of them, I mean, at least if they were fifty or more years old. Nothing pleased me quite so much as to buy a job lot of them for a shilling at a country auction. There is a peculiar flavour about the battered unexpected books you pick up in that kind of collection: minor eighteenth-century poets, out-of-date gazeteers, odd volumes of forgotten novels, bound numbers of ladies' magazines of the sixties.
For casual reading—in your bath, for instance, or late at night when you are too tired to go to bed, or in the odd quarter of an hour before lunch—there is nothing to touch a back number of the Girl's Own Paper. But as soon as I went to work in the bookshop I stopped buying books. Seen in the mass, five or ten thousand at a time, books were boring and even slightly sickening. Nowadays I do buy one occasionally, but only if it is a book that I want to read and can't borrow, and I never buy junk. The sweet smell of decaying paper appeals to me no longer.
It is too closely associated in my mind with paranoiac customers and dead bluebottles. In Moulmein, in lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people—the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me. I was sub-divisional police officer of the town, and in an aimless, petty kind of way anti-European feeling was very bitter. No one had the guts to raise a riot, but if a European woman went through the bazaars alone somebody would probably spit betel juice over her dress.
As a police officer I was an obvious target and was baited whenever it seemed safe to do so. When a nimble Burman tripped me up on the football field and the referee another Burman looked the other way, the crowd yelled with hideous laughter. This happened more than once. In the end the sneering yellow faces of young men that met me everywhere, the insults hooted after me when I was at a safe distance, got badly on my nerves.
The young Buddhist priests were the worst of all. There were several thousands of them in the town and none of them seemed to have anything to do except stand on street corners and jeer at Europeans. All this was perplexing and upsetting. For at that time I had already made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing and the sooner I chucked up my job and got out of it the better. Theoretically—and secretly, of course—I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British. As for the job I was doing, I hated it more bitterly than I can perhaps make clear.
In a job like that you see the dirty work of Empire at close quarters. The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces of the long-term convicts, the scarred buttocks of the men who had been Bogged with bamboos—all these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt. But I could get nothing into perspective. I was young and ill-educated and I had had to think out my problems in the utter silence that is imposed on every Englishman in the East.
I did not even know that the British Empire is dying, still less did I know that it is a great deal better than the younger empires that are going to supplant it. All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible. With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down, in saecula saeculorum , upon the will of prostrate peoples; with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest's guts.
Feelings like these are the normal by-products of imperialism; ask any Anglo-Indian official, if you can catch him off duty. One day something happened which in a roundabout way was enlightening. It was a tiny incident in itself, but it gave me a better glimpse than I had had before of the real nature of imperialism—the real motives for which despotic governments act.
Early one morning the sub-inspector at a police station the other end of the town rang me up on the phone and said that an elephant was ravaging the bazaar. Would I please come and do something about it? I did not know what I could do, but I wanted to see what was happening and I got on to a pony and started out. I took my rifle, an old. Various Burmans stopped me on the way and told me about the elephant's doings.
It was not, of course, a wild elephant, but a tame one which had gone "must. Its mahout, the only person who could manage it when it was in that state, had set out in pursuit, but had taken the wrong direction and was now twelve hours' journey away, and in the morning the elephant had suddenly reappeared in the town. The Burmese population had no weapons and were quite helpless against it. It had already destroyed somebody's bamboo hut, killed a cow and raided some fruit-stalls and devoured the stock; also it had met the municipal rubbish van and, when the driver jumped out and took to his heels, had turned the van over and inflicted violences upon it.
The Burmese sub-inspector and some Indian constables were waiting for me in the quarter where the elephant had been seen. It was a very poor quarter, a labyrinth of squalid bamboo huts, thatched with palm-leaf, winding all over a steep hillside. I remember that it was a cloudy, stuffy morning at the beginning of the rains. We began questioning the people as to where the elephant had gone and, as usual, failed to get any definite information. That is invariably the case in the East; a story always sounds clear enough at a distance, but the nearer you get to the scene of events the vaguer it becomes.
Some of the people said that the elephant had gone in one direction, some said that he had gone in another, some professed not even to have heard of any elephant. I had almost made up my mind that the whole story was a pack of lies, when we heard yells a little distance away. There was a loud, scandalized cry of "Go away, child!
Go away this instant!
Endemic - Essays in Contagion Theory | Megan Nixon | Palgrave Macmillan
Some more women followed, clicking their tongues and exclaiming; evidently there was something that the children ought not to have seen. I rounded the hut and saw a man's dead body sprawling in the mud. He was an Indian, a black Dravidian coolie, almost naked, and he could not have been dead many minutes. The people said that the elephant had come suddenly upon him round the corner of the hut, caught him with its trunk, put its foot on his back and ground him into the earth. This was the rainy season and the ground was soft, and his face had scored a trench a foot deep and a couple of yards long.
He was lying on his belly with arms crucified and head sharply twisted to one side. His face was coated with mud, the eyes wide open, the teeth bared and grinning with an expression of unendurable agony. Never tell me, by the way, that the dead look peaceful.
Most of the corpses I have seen looked devilish. The friction of the great beast's foot had stripped the skin from his back as neatly as one skins a rabbit. As soon as I saw the dead man I sent an orderly to a friend's house nearby to borrow an elephant rifle. I had already sent back the pony, not wanting it to go mad with fright and throw me if it smelt the elephant.
The orderly came back in a few minutes with a rifle and five cartridges, and meanwhile some Burmans had arrived and told us that the elephant was in the paddy fields below, only a few hundred yards away. As I started forward practically the whole population of the quarter flocked out of the houses and followed me. They had seen the rifle and were all shouting excitedly that I was going to shoot the elephant. They had not shown much interest in the elephant when he was merely ravaging their homes, but it was different now that he was going to be shot.
It was a bit of fun to them, as it would be to an English crowd; besides they wanted the meat. It made me vaguely uneasy. I had no intention of shooting the elephant—I had merely sent for the rifle to defend myself if necessary—and it is always unnerving to have a crowd following you. I marched down the hill, looking and feeling a fool, with the rifle over my shoulder and an ever-growing army of people jostling at my heels. At the bottom, when you got away from the huts, there was a metalled road and beyond that a miry waste of paddy fields a thousand yards across, not yet ploughed but soggy from the first rains and dotted with coarse grass.
The elephant was standing eight yards from the road, his left side towards us. He took not the slightest notice of the crowd's approach. He was tearing up bunches of grass, beating them against his knees to clean them and stuffing them into his mouth. I had halted on the road. As soon as I saw the elephant I knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him. It is a serious matter to shoot a working elephant—it is comparable to destroying a huge and costly piece of machinery—and obviously one ought not to do it if it can possibly be avoided.
And at that distance, peacefully eating, the elephant looked no more dangerous than a cow. I thought then and I think now that his attack of "must" was already passing off; in which case he would merely wander harmlessly about until the mahout came back and caught him. Moreover, I did not in the least want to shoot him. I decided that I would watch him for a little while to make sure that he did not turn savage again, and then go home. But at that moment I glanced round at the crowd that had followed me. It was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every minute.
It blocked the road for a long distance on either side. I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes-faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be shot. They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick. They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly.
And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man's dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd—seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind.
I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the "natives," and so in every crisis he has got to do what the "natives" expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant.
I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things. To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing—no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man's life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at. But I did not want to shoot the elephant. I watched him beating his bunch of grass against his knees, with that preoccupied grandmotherly air that elephants have.
It seemed to me that it would be murder to shoot him. At that age I was not squeamish about killing animals, but I had never shot an elephant and never wanted to. Somehow it always seems worse to kill a large animal. Besides, there was the beast's owner to be considered. Alive, the elephant was worth at least a hundred pounds; dead, he would only be worth the value of his tusks, five pounds, possibly. But I had got to act quickly. I turned to some experienced-looking Burmans who had been there when we arrived, and asked them how the elephant had been behaving.
They all said the same thing: he took no notice of you if you left him alone, but he might charge if you went too close to him. It was perfectly clear to me what I ought to do. I ought to walk up to within, say, twenty-five yards of the elephant and test his behavior. If he charged, I could shoot; if he took no notice of me, it would be safe to leave him until the mahout came back. But also I knew that I was going to do no such thing. I was a poor shot with a rifle and the ground was soft mud into which one would sink at every step.
If the elephant charged and I missed him, I should have about as much chance as a toad under a steam-roller. But even then I was not thinking particularly of my own skin, only of the watchful yellow faces behind. For at that moment, with the crowd watching me, I was not afraid in the ordinary sense, as I would have been if I had been alone. A white man mustn't be frightened in front of "natives"; and so, in general, he isn't frightened. The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning corpse like that Indian up the hill.
And if that happened it was quite probable that some of them would laugh. That would never do. There was only one alternative. I shoved the cartridges into the magazine and lay down on the road to get a better aim. The crowd grew very still, and a deep, low, happy sigh, as of people who see the theatre curtain go up at last, breathed from innumerable throats. They were going to have their bit of fun after all. The rifle was a beautiful German thing with cross-hair sights.
I did not then know that in shooting an elephant one would shoot to cut an imaginary bar running from ear-hole to ear-hole. I ought, therefore, as the elephant was sideways on, to have aimed straight at his ear-hole, actually I aimed several inches in front of this, thinking the brain would be further forward. When I pulled the trigger I did not hear the bang or feel the kick—one never does when a shot goes home—but I heard the devilish roar of glee that went up from the crowd. In that instant, in too short a time, one would have thought, even for the bullet to get there, a mysterious, terrible change had come over the elephant.
He neither stirred nor fell, but every line of his body had altered. He looked suddenly stricken, shrunken, immensely old, as though the frightful impact of the bullet had paralysed him without knocking him down. At last, after what seemed a long time—it might have been five seconds, I dare say—he sagged flabbily to his knees. His mouth slobbered. An enormous senility seemed to have settled upon him. One could have imagined him thousands of years old. I fired again into the same spot. At the second shot he did not collapse but climbed with desperate slowness to his feet and stood weakly upright, with legs sagging and head drooping.
I fired a third time. That was the shot that did for him. You could see the agony of it jolt his whole body and knock the last remnant of strength from his legs. But in falling he seemed for a moment to rise, for as his hind legs collapsed beneath him he seemed to tower upward like a huge rock toppling, his trunk reaching skyward like a tree. He trumpeted, for the first and only time. And then down he came, his belly towards me, with a crash that seemed to shake the ground even where I lay.
I got up. The Burmans were already racing past me across the mud. It was obvious that the elephant would never rise again, but he was not dead. He was breathing very rhythmically with long rattling gasps, his great mound of a side painfully rising and falling. His mouth was wide open—I could see far down into caverns of pale pink throat. I waited a long time for him to die, but his breathing did not weaken. Finally I fired my two remaining shots into the spot where I thought his heart must be.
The thick blood welled out of him like red velvet, but still he did not die. His body did not even jerk when the shots hit him, the tortured breathing continued without a pause. He was dying, very slowly and in great agony, but in some world remote from me where not even a bullet could damage him further. I felt that I had got to put an end to that dreadful noise. It seemed dreadful to see the great beast Lying there, powerless to move and yet powerless to die, and not even to be able to finish him.
I sent back for my small rifle and poured shot after shot into his heart and down his throat. They seemed to make no impression. The tortured gasps continued as steadily as the ticking of a clock. In the end I could not stand it any longer and went away. I heard later that it took him half an hour to die. Burmans were bringing dahs and baskets even before I left, and I was told they had stripped his body almost to the bones by the afternoon.
Afterwards, of course, there were endless discussions about the shooting of the elephant. The owner was furious, but he was only an Indian and could do nothing. Besides, legally I had done the right thing, for a mad elephant has to be killed, like a mad dog, if its owner fails to control it. Among the Europeans opinion was divided. The older men said I was right, the younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie, because an elephant was worth more than any damn Coringhee coolie.
And afterwards I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant. I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool. Our civilization, pace Chesterton, is founded on coal, more completely than one realizes until one stops to think about it. The machines that keep us alive, and the machines that make machines, are all directly or indirectly dependent upon coal.
In the metabolism of the Western world the coal-miner is second in importance only to the man who ploughs the soil. He is a sort of caryatid upon whose shoulders nearly everything that is not grimy is supported. For this reason the actual process by which coal is extracted is well worth watching, if you get the chance and are willing to take the trouble. When you go down a coal-mine it is important to try and get to the coal face when the 'fillers' are at work. This is not easy, because when the mine is working visitors are a nuisance and are not encouraged, but if you go at any other time, it is possible to come away with a totally wrong impression.
On a Sunday, for instance, a mine seems almost peaceful. The time to go there is when the machines are roaring and the air is black with coal dust, and when you can actually see what the miners have to do. At those times the place is like hell, or at any rate like my own mental picture of hell. Most of the things one imagines in hell are if there—heat, noise, confusion, darkness, foul air, and, above all, unbearably cramped space. Everything except the fire, for there is no fire down there except the feeble beams of Davy lamps and electric torches which scarcely penetrate the clouds of coal dust.
When you have finally got there—and getting there is a in itself: I will explain that in a moment—you crawl through the last line of pit props and see opposite you a shiny black wall three or four feet high. This is the coal face. Overhead is the smooth ceiling made by the rock from which the coal has been cut; underneath is the rock again, so that the gallery you are in is only as high as the ledge of coal itself, probably not much more than a yard.
The first impression of all, overmastering everything else for a while, is the frightful, deafening din from the conveyor belt which carries the coal away. You cannot see very far, because the fog of coal dust throws back the beam of your lamp, but you can see on either side of you the line of half-naked kneeling men, one to every four or five yards, driving their shovels under the fallen coal and flinging it swiftly over their left shoulders. They are feeding it on to the conveyor belt, a moving rubber, belt a couple of feet wide which runs a yard or two behind them.
Down this belt a glittering river of coal races constantly. In a big mine it is carrying away several tons of coal every minute. It bears it off to some place in the main roads where it is shot into tubs holding half a tun, and thence dragged to the cages and hoisted to the outer air. It is impossible to watch the 'fillers' at work without feeling a pang of envy for their toughness. It is a dreadful job that they do, an almost superhuman job by the standard of an ordinary person. For they are not only shifting monstrous quantities of coal, they are also doing, it in a position that doubles or trebles the work.
They have got to remain kneeling all the while—they could hardly rise from their knees without hitting the ceiling—and you can easily see by trying it what a tremendous effort this means. Shovelling is comparatively easy when you are standing up, because you can use your knee and thigh to drive the shovel along; kneeling down, the whole of the strain is thrown upon your arm and belly muscles.
And the other conditions do not exactly make things easier. There is the heat—it varies, but in some mines it is suffocating—and the coal dust that stuffs up your throat and nostrils and collects along your eyelids, and the unending rattle of the conveyor belt, which in that confined space is rather like the rattle of a machine gun. But the fillers look and work as though they were made of iron.
They really do look like iron hammered iron statues—under the smooth coat of coal dust which clings to them from head to foot.
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