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Another Sheaf
by John Galsworthy
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What are those measures?

II

WHEAT

The measure which underlies all else is the ploughing up of permanent grass—the reconversion of land which was once arable, the addition to arable of land which has never been arable, so as to secure the only possible basis of success—the wheat basis.

I have before me a Report on the Breaking up of Grass Land in fifty-five counties for the winter of 1916-1917, which shows four successes for every failure. The Report says: "It has been argued during the past few months that it is hopeless to attempt to plough out old grass land in the expectation of adding to the nation's food. The experience of 1917 does not support this contention. It shows not only that the successes far outnumber the failures, but that the latter are to some extent preventable."

The Government's 1918 tillage programme for England and Wales was to increase (as compared with 1916), (1) the area under corn by 2,600,000 acres, (2) the area under potatoes and mangolds by 400,000 acres, (3) the arable land by 2,000,000 acres. I have it on the best authority that the Government hopes to better this in the forth-coming harvest. That shows what our farmers can do with their backs to the wall. It sometimes happens in this world that we act virtuously without in any way believing that virtue is its own reward. Most of our farmers are hoeing their rows in this crisis in the full belief that they are serving the country to the hurt of their own interests; they will not, I imagine, realise that they are laying the foundations of a future prosperity beyond their happiest dreams until the crisis is long past. All the more credit to them for a great effort. They by no means grasp at present the fact that with every acre they add to arable, with each additional acre of wheat, they increase their own importance and stability, and set the snowball of permanent prosperity in their industry rolling anew. Pasture was a policy adopted by men who felt defeat in their bones, saw bankruptcy round every corner. Those who best know seem agreed that after the war the price of wheat will not come down with a run. The world shortage of food and shipping will be very great, and the "new world's" surplus will be small. Let our farmers take their courage in their hands, play a bold game, and back their own horse for the next four or five seasons, and they will, if supported by the country, be in a position once more to defy competition. Let them have faith and go for the gloves and they will end by living without fear of the new worlds. "There is a tide in the affairs of men." This is the British farmer's tide, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. But only if the British farmer intends that Britain shall feed herself; only if he farms the land of Britain so that acre by acre it yields the maximum of food. A hundred acres under potatoes feeds 420 persons; a hundred acres under wheat feeds 200 persons; a hundred acres of grass feeds fifteen persons. It requires no expert to see that the last is the losing horse; for increase of arable means also increase of winter food, and in the long run increase, not decrease, of live stock. In Denmark (1912) arable was to permanent grass as about 4 to 5; in the United Kingdom it was only as about 5 to 7. Yet in Denmark there were five cattle to every eight acres of grass, and in the United Kingdom only four cattle to every nine acres.

Let me quote Professor Biffen on the prospects of wheat: "In the United States the amount exported tends to fall. The results are so marked that we find American agricultural experts seriously considering the possibility of the United States having to become a wheat importing country in order to feed the rapidly growing population." When she does, that wheat will come from Canada; and "there are several other facts which lead one to question the statement so frequently made that Canada will shortly be the Empire's granary...." He thinks that the Argentine (which trebles her population every forty years) is an uncertain source; that Russia, where the population also increases with extreme rapidity, is still more uncertain; that neither India nor Australia are dependable fields of supply. "The world's crop continues to increase slowly, and concurrently the number of wheat consumers increases.... Prices have tended to rise of late years, a fact which may indicate that the world's consumption is increasing faster than its rate of production. There are now no vast areas of land comparable with those of North and South America awaiting the pioneer wheat growers, and consequently there is no likelihood of any repetition of the over-production characteristic of the period of 1874-1894....

"If as there is every reason to hope the problem of breeding satisfactory strong wheats" (for this country) "has been solved, then their cultivation should add about 1 to the value of the produce of every acre of wheat in the country....

"At a rough estimate the careful use of artificials might increase the average yield of the acre from four quarters up to five....

"England is one of the best, if not the very best wheat-growing country in the world."

That, shortly, is the wheat position for this country in the view of our most brilliant practical expert. I commend it to the notice of those who are faint-hearted about the future of wheat in Britain.

With these prospects and possibilities before him, and a fair price for wheat guaranteed him, is the British farmer going to let down the land to grass again when the war is over? The fair price for wheat will be the point on which his decision will turn. When things have settled down after the war, the fair price will be that at which the average farmer can profitably grow wheat, and such a price must be maintained—by bounty, if necessary. It never can be too often urged on politicians and electorate that they, who thwart a policy which makes wheat-growing firm and profitable, are knocking nails in the coffin of their country. We are no longer, and never shall again be, an island. The air is henceforth as simple an avenue of approach as Piccadilly is to Leicester Square. If we are ever attacked there will be no time to get our second wind, unless we can feed ourselves. And since we are constitutionally liable to be caught napping, we shall infallibly be brought to the German heel next time, if we are not self-supporting. But if we are, there will be no next time. An attempt on us will not be worth the cost. Further, we are running to seed physically from too much town-life and the failure of country stocks; we shall never stem that rot unless we re-establish agriculture on a large scale. To do that, in the view of nearly all who have thought this matter out, we must found our farming on wheat; grow four-fifths instead of one-fifth of our supply, and all else will follow.

In England and Wales 11,246,106 acres were arable land in 1917, and 15,835,375 permanent grass land. To reverse these figures, at least, is the condition of security, perhaps even of existence in the present and the only guarantee of a decent and safe future.

III

HOLDINGS

One expert pins faith to large farms; another to small holdings. How agreeable to think that both are right. We cannot afford to neglect any type of holding; all must be developed and supported, for all serve vital purposes. For instance, the great development of small holdings in Germany is mainly responsible for the plentiful supply of labour on the land there; "until measures can be devised for greatly increasing the area under holdings of less than 100 acres in Britain we are not likely to breed and maintain in the country a sufficient number of that class of worker which will be required if we are greatly to extend our arable land": Mr. T. H. Middleton, Assistant Secretary to the Board of Agriculture. But I am not going into the pros and cons of the holdings question. I desire rather to point out here that a moment is approaching, which will never come again, for the resettling of the land.

A rough census taken in 1916 among our soldiers gave the astounding figure of 750,000 desirous of going on the land. That figure will shrink to a mere skeleton unless on demobilisation the Government is ready with a comprehensive plan. The men fall roughly into two classes: those who were already on the land; those who were not. The first will want to go back to their own districts, but not to the cottages and wages they had before the war. For them, it is essential to provide new cottages with larger gardens, otherwise they will go to the Dominions, to America, or to the towns. A fresh census should be taken and kept up to date, the wants of each man noted, and a definite attempt made now to earmark sites and material for building, to provide the garden plots, and plan the best and prettiest type of cottage. For lack of labour and material no substantial progress can be made with housing while the war is on, but if a man can see his cottage and his ground ready, in the air, he will wait; if he cannot, he will be off, and we shall have lost him. Wages are not to fall again below twenty-five shillings, and will probably stay at a considerably higher level. The cottage and the garden ground for these men will be the determining factor, and that garden ground should be at least an acre. A larger class by far will be men who were not on the land, but having tasted open-air life, think they wish to continue it. A fresh census of this class and their wants should be taken also. It will subdivide them into men who want the life of independent medium and small holders, with from 100 to 20 acres of land, and men who with 5 or 10 acres of their own are willing to supplement their living by seasonal work on the large farms. For all a cut-and-dried scheme providing land and homes is absolutely essential. If they cannot be assured of having these within a few months of their return to civil life, they will go either to the Dominions or back to the towns. One of them, I am told, thus forecasts their future wants: "When we're free we shall have a big spree in the town; we shall then take the first job that comes along; if it's an indoor job we shan't be able to stick it and shall want to get on the land." I am pretty sure he's wrong. He will want his spree, of course; but if he is allowed to go back to a town job he is not at all likely to leave it again. Men so soon get used to things, and the towns have a fierce grip. For this second class, no less than the first, it is vital to have the land ready, and the cottages estimated for. I think men of both these classes, when free, should be set at once to the building of their own homes and the preparation of their land. I think huts ought to be ready for them and their wives till their homes are habitable. A man who takes a hand in the building of his house, and the first work on his new holding, is far less likely to abandon his idea of settling on the land than a man who is simply dumped into a ready-made concern. That is human nature. Let him begin at the beginning, and while his house is going up be assisted and instructed. Frankly, I am afraid that in the difficulty of fixing on an ideal scheme and ideal ways of working it, we shall forget that the moment of demobilisation is unique. Any scheme, however rough and ready, which will fix men or their intention of settling on the land in Britain at the moment of demobilisation will be worth a hundred better-laid plans which have waited for perfection till that one precious moment is overpast. While doctors quarrel, or lay their heads together, the patient dies.

The Government, I understand, have adopted a scheme by which they can secure land. If they have not ascertained from these men what land they will want, and secured that land by the time the men are ready, that scheme will be of little use to them.

The Government, I gather, have decided on a huge scheme for urban and rural housing. About that I have this to say. The rural housing ought to take precedence of the urban, not because it is more intrinsically necessary, but because if the moment of demobilisation is let slip for want of rural cottages, we shall lose our very life blood, our future safety, perhaps our existence as a nation. We must seize on this one precious chance of restoring the land and guaranteeing our future. The towns can wait a little for their housing, the country cannot. It is a sort of test question for our leaders in every Party. Surely they will rise to the vital necessity of grasping this chance! If, when the danger of starvation has been staring us hourly in the face for years on end, and we have for once men in hundreds of thousands waiting and hoping to be settled on the land, to give us the safety of the future—if, in such circumstances, we cannot agree to make the most of that chance, it will show such lack of vision that I really feel we may as well throw up the sponge. If jealousy by towns of country can so blind public opinion to our danger and our chance, so that no precedence can be given to rural needs, well, then, frankly we are not fit to live as a nation.

I am told that Germany has seen to this matter. She does not mean to be starved in the future; she intends to keep the backbone of her country sound. She, who already grew 80 per cent. of her food, will grow it all. She, who already appreciated the dangers of a rampant industrialism, will take no further risks with the physique of her population. We who did not grow one-half of our food, and whose riotous industrialism has made far greater inroads on our physique; we who, though we have not yet suffered the privations of Germany, have been in far more real danger—we shall talk about it, say how grave the situation is, how "profoundly" we are impressed by the need to feed ourselves—and we shall act, I am very much afraid, too late.

There are times when the proverb: "Act in haste and repent at leisure" should be written "Unless you act in haste you will repent at leisure." This is such a time. We can take, of course, the right steps or the wrong steps to settle our soldiers on the land; but no wrong step we can take will be so utterly wrong as to let the moment of demobilisation slip. We have a good and zealous Minister of Agriculture, we have good men alive to the necessity, working on this job. If we miss the chance it will be because "interests" purblind, selfish and perverse, and a lethargic public opinion, do not back them; because we want to talk it out; because trade and industry think themselves of superior importance to the land. Henceforth trade and industry are of secondary importance in this country. There is only one thing of absolutely vital importance, and that is agriculture.

IV

INSTRUCTION

I who have lived most of my time on a farm for many years, in daily contact with farmer and labourer, do really appreciate what variety and depth of knowledge is wanted for good farming. It is a lesson to the armchair reformer to watch a farmer walking across the "home meadow" whence he can see a good way over his land. One can feel the slow wisdom working in his head. A halt, a look this way and that, a whistle, the call of some instruction so vernacular that only a native could understand; the contemplation of sheep, beasts, sky, crops; always something being noted, and shrewd deductions made therefrom. It is a great art, and, like all art, to be learned only with the sweat of the brow and a long, minute attention to innumerable details. You cannot play at farming, and you cannot "mug it up." One understands the contempt of the farmer born and bred for the book-skilled gentleman who tries to instruct his grandmother in the sucking of eggs. The farmer's knowledge, acquired through years of dumb wrestling with Nature, in his own particular corner, is his strength and—his weakness. Vision of the land at large, of its potentialities, and its needs is almost of necessity excluded. The practical farmers of our generation might well be likened unto sailing-ship seamen in an age when it has suddenly become needful to carry commerce by steam. They are pupils of the stern taskmaster bankruptcy; the children of the years from 1874-1897, when the nation had turned its thumb down on British farmers, and left them to fight, unaided, against extinction. They have been brought up to carry on against contrary winds and save themselves as best they could. Well, they have done it; and now they are being asked to reverse their processes in the interests of a country which left them in the lurch. Naturally they are not yet persuaded that the country will not leave them in the lurch again.

Instruction of the British farmer begins with the fortification of his will by confidence. When you ask him to plough up grass land, to revise the rotation of his crops, to grow wheat, to use new brands of corn, to plough with tractors, and to co-operate, you are asking a man deeply and deservedly cynical about your intentions and your knowledge. He has seen wheat fail all his life, he has seen grass succeed. Grass has saved him, and now he is asked to turn his back on it. Little wonder that he curses you for a meddling fool. "Prove it!" he says—and you cannot. You could if you had it in your power to show him that your guarantee of a fair price for wheat was "good as the Bank." Thus, the first item of instruction to the farmer consists in the definite alteration of public opinion towards the land by adoption of the sine qu non that in future we will feed ourselves. The majority of our farmers do not think their interests are being served by the present revolution of farming. Patriotic fear for the country, and dread of D.O.R.A.—not quite the same thing—are driving them on. Besides, it is the townsmen of Britain, not the farmers, who are in danger of starvation, not merely now, but henceforth for evermore until we feed ourselves. If starvation really knocked at our doors, the only houses it would not enter would be the houses of those who grow food. The farmers in Germany are all right; they would be all right here. The townsmen of this country were entirely responsible for our present condition, and the very least they can do is to support their own salvation. But while with one corner of their mouths the towns are now shouting: "Grow food! Feed us, please!" with the other they are still inclined to add: "You pampered industry!" Alas! we cannot have it both ways.

The second point I want to make about instruction is the importance of youth. In America, where they contemplate a labour shortage of 2,000,000 men on their farms, they are using boys from sixteen to twenty-one, when their military age begins. Can we not do the same here? Most of our boys from fifteen to eighteen are now on other work. But the work they are doing could surely be done by girls or women. If we could put even a couple of hundred thousand boys of that age on the land it would be the solution of our present agricultural labour shortage, and the very best thing that could happen for the future of farming. The boys would learn at first hand; they would learn slowly and thoroughly; and many of them would stay on the land. They might be given specialised schooling in agriculture, the most important schooling we can give our rising generation, while all of them would gain physically. By employing women on the land, where we can employ boys of from fifteen to eighteen, we are blind-alleying. Women will not stay on the land in any numbers; few will wish that they should. Boys will, and every one would wish that they may.

The third point I want to make concerns the model farm. If we are to have resettlement on any large scale and base our farming on crops in future, the accessibility of the best practical advice is an absolute essential.

Till reformed education begins to take effect, the advice and aid of "model" farmers should be available in every district. Some recognised diploma might with advantage be given to farmers for outstanding merit and enterprise. No instruction provided from our advisory agricultural councils or colleges can have as much prestige and use in any district as the advice of the leading farmer who had been crowned as a successful expert. It is ever well in this country to take advantage of the competitive spirit which lies deep in the bones of our race. To give the best farmers a position and prestige to which other farmers can aspire would speed up effort everywhere. We want more competition in actual husbandry and less competition in matters of purchase and sale. And that brings us to the vital question of co-operation.

V

CO-OPERATION (SMALL HOLDINGS)

"The most important economic question for all nations in the past has been, and in the future will be, the question of a sufficient food supply, independent of imports.

"It is doubtful whether the replacement of German agriculture on a sound basis in the last ten years is to be ascribed in a greater measure to technical advance in agricultural methods, or to the development of the co-operative system. Perhaps it would be right to say that for the large farms it is due to the first, and for the smaller farms (three quarters of the arable land in Germany) to the second. For it is only through co-operation that the advantages of farming on a large scale are made possible for smaller farmers. The more important of those advantages are the regulated purchase of all raw materials and half-finished products (artificial manures, feeding stuffs, seeds, etc.), better prices for products, facilities for making use, in moderation, of personal credit at a cheap rate of interest, together with the possibility of saving and putting aside small sums of interest; all these advantages of the large farmer have been placed within the reach of the small farmers by local co-operative societies for buying, selling, and farming co-operatively, as well as by saving and other banks, all connected to central associations and central co-operative societies.

"Over two million small farmers are organised in Germany on co-operative lines."[E]

Nearly two million small farmers co-operated in Germany; and here-how many? The Registrar returns the numbers for 1916 at 1,427 small holders.

In the view of all authorities co-operation is essential for the success of small farmers and small holders; but it needs no brilliant intellect, nor any sweep of the imagination to see a truth plainer than the nose on a man's face.

"There is some reason to hope," says Mr. Middleton, "that after the war agriculturalists will show a greater disposition to co-operate; but we cannot expect co-operation to do as much for British agriculture as it has done for the Germans, who so readily join societies and support co-operative efforts."

So much the worse for us!

The Agricultural Organisation Society, the officially recognised agency for fostering the co-operative principle, has recently formed an Agricultural Wholesale Society with a large subscribed capital, for the purchase of all farming requirements, and the marketing of produce, to be at the disposal of all co-operated farmers, small holders, and allotment holders, whose societies are affiliated to the Agricultural Organisation. Society. This is a step of infinite promise. The drawing together of these three classes of workers on the land is in itself a matter of great importance. One of the chief complaints of small holders in the past has been that large holders regard them askance. The same, perhaps, applies to the attitude of the small holder to the allotment holder. That is all bad. Men and women on the land should be one big family, with interests, and sympathies in common and a neighbourly feeling.

A leaflet of the Agricultural Organisation Society thus describes a certain co-operative small holdings' society with seventeen members renting ninety acres. "It owns a team of horses, cart, horse-hoe, plough, ridger, harrow, Cambridge roller, marker; and hires other implements as required; it insures, buys, and sells co-operatively. This year (for patriotic reasons) wheat and potatoes form the chief crop, with sufficient oats, barley, beans and mangolds to feed the horses and the pigs, of which there are many. The society last year marketed more fat pigs than the rest of the village and adjoining farms put together.

"The land, on the whole, is undoubtedly better cultivated and cropped, and supports a far larger head of population per acre than the neighbouring large farms." Even allowing that the first statement may be disputed, the last is beyond dispute, and is the important thing to bear in mind about small holdings from the national point of view; for every extra man and woman on the land is a credit item in the bank book of the nation's future.

"In addition," says the leaflet, "there is a friendly spirit prevalent among the members, who are always willing to help each other, and at harvest time combine to gather in the crops."

With more land, not only some, but all the members of this little society could support themselves entirely on their holdings. "The members value their independence and freedom, but recognise the value of combined action and new ideas."

Now this is exactly what we want. For instance, these members have found out that the profit on potatoes when home-grown farmyard manure alone was used was only 14s. 6d. per acre; and that a suitable combination of artificial manures gave a profit of 14 12s. 6d. an acre, with double the yield. Mutual help and the spread of knowledge; more men and women on the land—this is the value of the agricultural co-operative movement, whose importance to this country it is impossible to over-estimate.

From letters of small holders I take the following remarks:—

"Of course it's absolutely necessary that the prospective small holder should have a thorough knowledge of farming."

"In regard to implements, you need as many of some sorts on a small holding as you do on a large farm. A small man can't afford to buy all, so he has to work at a disadvantage.... Then as to seeds, why not buy them wholesale, and sell them to the small holder, also manures, and many other things which the small holder has to pay through the nose for."

"Men with no actual knowledge of land work would rarely succeed whatever financial backing they might receive."

"About here small holdings are usually let to men who have been tradesmen or pitmen, and they of course cannot be expected to make the most of them."

"When you restrict a farmer to 50 acres he ought to be provided with ample and proper buildings for every kind of stock he wishes to keep."

These few remarks, which might be supplemented ad libitum, illustrate the difficulties and dangers which beset any large scheme of land settlement by our returning soldiers and others. Such a scheme is bound to fail unless it is based most firmly on co-operation, for, without that, the two absolute essentials—knowledge, with the benefit of practical advice and help; and assistance by way of co-operative finance, and co-operatively-owned implements, will be lacking.

Set the returning soldier down on the land to work it on his own and, whatever his good-will, you present the countryside with failure. Place at his back pooled labour, monetary help and knowledge, and, above all, the spirit of mutual aid, and you may, and I believe will, triumph over difficulties, which are admittedly very great.

VI

CO-OPERATION (ALLOTMENTS)

The growth of allotment gardens is a striking feature of our agricultural development under stimulus of the war. They say a million and a half allotment gardens are now being worked on. That is, no doubt, a papery figure; nor is it so much the number, as what is being done on them, that matters. Romance may have "brought up the nine-fifteen," but it will not bring up potatoes. Still, these new allotments without doubt add very greatly to our food supply, give hosts of our town population healthy work in the open air, and revive in them that "earth instinct" which was in danger of being utterly lost. The spade is a grand corrective of nerve strain, and the more town and factory workers take up allotment gardens, the better for each individual, and for us all as a race.

They say nearly all the ground available round our towns has already been utilised. But DORA, in her wild career, may yet wring out another hundred thousand acres. I wish her well in this particular activity. And the Government she serves with such devotion will betray her if, when DORA is in her grave—consummation devoutly to be wished—her work on allotment gardens is not continued. There is always a ring of land round a town, like a halo round the moon. As the town's girth increases, so should that halo; and even in time of peace, larger and larger, not less and less, should grow the number of town dwellers raising vegetables, fruit and flowers, resting their nerves and expanding lungs and muscles with healthy outdoor work.

"In no direction is the co-operative principle more adaptable or more useful than in the matter of Allotment Associations."

There are now allotment associations in many parts of the country. One at Winchester has over 1,000 tenant members. And round the great manufacturing towns many others have been formed.

To illustrate the advantages of such co-operation, let me quote a little from the Hon. Secretary of the Urmston Allotments Association, near Manchester: "Though the Urmston men had foremost in their mind the aim of producing payable crops ... they determined that their allotments should be convenient and comfortable to work, and pleasing to look upon.... It is a delusion often found among novices that ordinary ground takes a long time to get into decent order; and is an expensive business. But enlightened and energetic men working together can do wonderful things. They did them at Urmston. The ground was only broken up in March, 1916, but in the same season splendid crops of peas, potatoes and other vegetables were raised by the holders, the majority of whom had little or no previous experience of gardening.... So as to deal with the main needs of the members co-operatively in the most effective manner a Trading Committee was appointed to advise and make contracts.... Manure, lime, salt, and artificial manures have been ordered collectively; and seeds and other gardening requisites arranged for at liberal discounts."

Besides all this the association has fought the potato wart disease; had its soil analyzed; educated its members through literature and lectures; made roads and fences; looked after the appearance of its plots, and encouraged flower-growing. Finally, a neighbourly feeling of friendly emulation has grown up among its members. And this is their conclusion: "The advantages of co-operation are not confined to economy in time and money, for the common interest that binds all members to seek the success of the Association, also provides the means of developing and utilising the individual talents of the members for communal and national purposes."

They speak, indeed, like a book, and every word is true—which is not always the same thing.

The Agricultural Organization Society gives every assistance in forming these associations; and the more there are of them the greater will be the output of food, the strength and knowledge of the individual plot-holder, the stability of his tenure, and the advantage of the nation.

Mistrust and reserve between workers on the land, be they large farmers, small farmers, or plotholders is the result of combining husbandry with the habits and qualities of the salesman. If a man's business is to get the better of his neighbours on market days, it will be his pleasure to doubt them on all other days.

The co-operative system, by conducting purchase and sale impersonally, removes half the reason and excuse for curmudgeonery, besides securing better prices both at sale and purchase. To the disgust of the cynic, moral and material advantage here go hand in hand. Throughout agriculture co-operation will do more than anything else to restore spirit and economy to an industry which had long become dejected, suspicious and wasteful; and it will help to remove jealousy and distrust between townsmen and countrymen. The allotment holder, if encouraged and given fixity of tenure, or at all events the power of getting fresh ground if he must give up what he has—a vital matter—will become the necessary link between town and country, with mind open to the influence of both. The more he is brought into working contact with the small holder and the large farmer the better he will appreciate his own importance to the country and ensure theirs. But this contact can only be established through some central body, and by use of a wholesale society for trading and other purposes, such as has just been set up for all classes of co-operated agriculturalists.

Addressing a recent meeting of its members, the Chairman of the Agricultural Organisation Society, Mr. Leslie Scott, spoke thus:—"We have to cover the country" (with co-operative societies), "and we have got to get all the farmers in! If we can carry out any such scheme as this, which will rope in all the farmers of the country, what a magnificent position we shall be in! You will have your great trading organisation with its central wholesale society! You will have your organisation side with the Agricultural Organisation Society at the centre.... You will be able to use that side for all the ancillary purposes connected with farming; and do a great deal in the way of expert assistance. And through your electing the Board of Governors of the Agricultural Organisation Society, with the provincial branch Committees, you will have what is in effect a central Parliament in London.... You will be able to put before the country, both locally and here in London, the views of the farming community, and, those views will get from Government Departments an attention which the farming industry in the past has failed to get. You will command a power in the country."

And in a letter to Mr. Scott, read at the same meeting, the present Minister of Agriculture had this to say about co-operation:

"Farming is a business in which as in every other industry union is strength.... Every farmer should belong to a co-operative society.... Small societies like small farmers, must" (in their turn) "co-operate.... The word 'farmers' is intended to include all those who cultivate the land. In this sense allotment holders are farmers, and I trust that the union of all cultivators of the land in this sense will help to bridge the gap between town and country."

That townsman and countryman should feel their interests to be at bottom the same goes to the root of any land revival.

VII

VALEDICTORY

"There are many who contend that the nation will never again allow its rural industry to be neglected and discouraged as it was in the past; that the war has taught a lesson which will not soon be forgotten. This view of the national temperament is considered by others to be too confident. It is the firm conviction of this school that the consumer will speedily return to his old habit of indifference to national stability in the matter of food, and that Parliament acting at his bidding, will manifest equal apathy."

These words, taken from a leader in The Times of February 11th, 1918, bring me back to the starting point of these ragged reflections. There will be no permanent stablishing of our agriculture, no lasting advance towards safety and health, if we have not vision and a fixed ideal. The ruts of the past were deep, and our habit is to walk along without looking to left or right. A Liberalism worthy of the word should lift its head and see new paths. The Liberalism of the past, bent on the improvement of the people and the growth of good-will between nations, forgot in that absorption to take in the whole truth. Fixing its eyes on measures which should redeem the evils of the day, it did not see that those evils were growing faster than all possible remedy, because we had forgotten that a great community bountifully blessed by Nature has no business to exist parasitically on the earth produce of other communities; and because our position under pure free trade, and pure industrialism, was making us a tempting bait for aggression, and retarding the very good-will between nations which it desired so earnestly.

The human animal perishes if not fed. We have gone so far with our happy-go-lucky scheme of existence that it has become necessary to remind ourselves of that. So long as we had money we thought we could continue to exist. Not so. Henceforth till we feed ourselves again, we live on sufferance, and dangle before all eyes the apple of discord. A self-supporting Britain, free from this carking fear, would become once more a liberalising power. A Britain fed from overseas can only be an Imperialistic Junker, armed to the teeth, jealous and doubtful of each move by any foreigner; prizing quantity not quality; indifferent about the condition of his heart. Such a Britain dare not be liberal if it will.

The greatest obstacle to a true League of Nations, with the exception of the condition of Russia, will be the condition of Britain, till she can feed herself.

I believe in the principle of free trade, because it forces man to put his best leg foremost. But all is a question of degree in this world. It is no use starting a donkey, in the Derby, and bawling in its ear: "A fair field and no favour!" especially if all your money is on the donkey. All our money is henceforth on our agriculture till we have brought it into its own. And that can only be done at present with the help of bounty.

The other day a Canadian free trader said: "It all depends on what sort of peace we secure; if we have a crushing victory, I see no reason why Britain should not go on importing her food."

Fallacy—politically and biologically! The worst thing that could happen to us after the war would be a sense of perfect security, in which to continue to neglect our agriculture and increase our towns. Does any man think that a momentary exhaustion of our enemy is going to prevent that huge and vigorous nation from becoming strong again? Does he believe that we can trust a League of Nations—a noble project, for which we must all work—to prevent war till we have seen it successful for at least a generation? Does he consider that our national physique will stand another fifty years of rampant industrialism without fresh country stocks to breed from? Does he suppose that the use of the air and the underparts of the sea is more than just beginning?

Politically, our independence in the matter of food is essential to good will between the nations. Biologically, more country life is essential to British health. The improvement of town and factory conditions may do something to arrest degeneration, but in my firm conviction it cannot hope to do enough in a land where towns have been allowed to absorb seven-ninths of the population, and—such crowded, grimy towns!

Even from the economic point of view it will be far cheaper to restore the countryside and re-establish agriculture on a paying basis than to demolish and rebuild our towns till they become health resorts. And behind it all there is this: Are we satisfied with the trend of our modern civilisation? Are we easy in our consciences? Have not machines, and the demands of industry run away with our sense of proportion? Grant for a moment that this age marks the highest water so far of British advance. Are we content with that high-water mark? In health, happiness, taste, beauty, we are surely far from the ideal. I do not say that restoration of the land will work a miracle; but I do say that nothing we can do will benefit us so potently as the redress of balance between town and country life.

We are at the parting of the ways. The war has brought us realisation and opportunity. We can close our eyes again and drift, or we can move forward under the star of a new ideal. The principle which alone preserves the sanity of nations is the principle of balance. Not even the most enraged defender of our present condition will dare maintain that we have followed out that principle. The scales are loaded in favour of the towns, till they almost touch earth; unless our eyes are cleared to see that, unless our will is moved to set it right, we shall bump the ground before another two decades have slipped away, and in the mud shall stay, an invitation to any trampling heel.

I have tried to indicate general measures and considerations vital to the resettlement of the land, conscious that some of my readers will have forgotten more than I know, and that what could be said would fill volumes. But the thought which, of all others, I have wished to convey is this: Without vision we perish. Without apprehension of danger and ardour for salvation in the great body of this people there is no hope of anything save a momentary spurt, which will die away, and leave us plodding down the hill. There are two essentials. The farmer—and that means every cultivator of the land—must have faith in the vital importance of his work and in the possibility of success; the townsman must see and believe that the future of the country, and with it his own prosperity, is involved in the revival of our agriculture and bound up with our independence of oversea supply. Without that vision and belief in the townsman the farmer will never regain faith, and without that faith of the farmer agriculture will not revive.

Statesmen may contrive, reformers plan, farmers struggle on, but if there be not conviction in the body politic, it will be no use.

Resettlement of the land, and independence of outside food supply, is the only hope of welfare and safety for this country. Fervently believing that, I have set down these poor words.

1918.

[E] From an essay by the President of the German Agricultural Council, quoted by Mr. T. H. Middleton, of the Board of Agriculture, in his report on the recent development of German agriculture.



GROTESQUES

[Greek: Kundon]

I

The Angel thereal, on his official visit to the Earth in 1947, paused between the Bank and the Stock Exchange to smoke a cigarette and scrutinise the passers-by.

"How they swarm," he said, "and with what seeming energy—in such an atmosphere! Of what can they be made?"

"Of money, sir," replied his dragoman; "in the past, the present, or the future. Stocks are booming. The barometer of joy stands very high. Nothing like it has been known for thirty years; not, indeed, since the days of the Great Skirmish."

"There is, then, a connection between joy and money?" remarked the Angel, letting smoke dribble through his chiselled nostrils.

"Such is the common belief; though to prove it might take time. I will, however, endeavour to do this if you desire it, sir."

"I certainly do," said the Angel; "for a less joyous-looking crowd I have seldom seen. Between every pair of brows there is a furrow, and no one whistles."

"You do not understand," returned his dragoman; "nor indeed is it surprising, for it is not so much the money as the thought that some day you need no longer make it which causes joy."

"If that day is coming to all," asked the Angel, "why do they not look joyful?"

"It is not so simple as that, sir. To the majority of these persons that day will never come, and many of them know it—these are called clerks; to some amongst the others, even, it will not come—these will be called bankrupts; to the rest it will come, and they will live at Wimblehurst and other islands of the blessed, when they have become so accustomed to making money that to cease making it will be equivalent to boredom, if not torture, or when they are so old that they can but spend it in trying to modify the disabilities of age."

"What price joy, then?" said the Angel, raising his eyebrows. "For that, I fancy, is the expression you use?"

"I perceive, sir," answered his dragoman, "that you have not yet regained your understanding of the human being, and especially of the breed which inhabits this country. Illusion is what we are after. Without our illusions we might just as well be angels or Frenchmen, who pursue at all events to some extent the sordid reality known as 'le plaisir,' or enjoyment of life. In pursuit of illusion we go on making money and furrows in our brows, for the process is wearing. I speak, of course, of the bourgeoisie or Patriotic classes; for the practice of the Laborious is different, though their illusions are the same."

"How?" asked the Angel briefly.

"Why, sir, both hold the illusion that they will one day be joyful through the possession of money; but whereas the Patriotic expect to make it through the labour of the Laborious, the Laborious expect to make it through the labour of the Patriotic."

"Ha, ha!" said the Angel.

"Angels may laugh," replied his dragoman, "but it is a matter to make men weep."

"You know your own business best," said the Angel, "I suppose."

"Ah! sir, if we did, how pleasant it would be. It is frequently my fate to study the countenances and figures of the population, and I find the joy which the pursuit of illusion brings them is insufficient to counteract the confined, monotonous and worried character of their lives."

"They are certainly very plain," said the Angel.

"They are," sighed his dragoman, "and getting plainer every day. Take for instance that one," and he pointed to a gentleman going up the steps. "Mark how he is built. The top of his grizzled head is narrow, the bottom of it broad. His body is short and thick and square; his legs even thicker, and his feet turn out too much; the general effect is almost pyramidal. Again, take this one," and he indicated a gentleman coming down the steps, "you could thread his legs and body through a needle's eye, but his head would defy you. Mark his boiled eyes, his flashing spectacles, and the absence of all hair. Disproportion, sir, has become endemic."

"Can this not be corrected?" asked the Angel.

"To correct a thing," answered his dragoman, "you must first be aware of it, and these are not; no more than they are aware that it is disproportionate to spend six days out of every seven in a counting-house or factory. Man, sir, is the creature of habit, and when his habits are bad, man is worse."

"I have a headache," said the Angel; "the noise is more deafening than it was when I was here in 1910."

"Yes, sir; since then we have had the Great Skirmish, an event which furiously intensified money-making. We, like every other people, have ever since been obliged to cultivate the art of getting five out of two-and-two. The progress of civilisation has been considerably speeded up thereby, and everything but man has benefited; even horses, for they are no longer overloaded and overdriven up Tower Hill or any other."

"How is that," asked the Angel, "if the pressure of work is greater?"

"Because they are extinct," said his dragoman; "entirely superseded by electric and air traction, as you see."

"You appear to be inimical to money," the Angel interjected, with a penetrating look. "Tell me, would you really rather own one shilling than five and sixpence?"

"Sir," replied his dragoman, "you are putting the candidate before the caucus, as the saying is. For money is nothing but the power to purchase what one wants. You should rather be inquiring what I want."

"Well, what do you?" said the Angel.

"To my thinking," answered his dragoman, "instead of endeavouring to increase money when we found ourselves so very bankrupt, we should have endeavoured to decrease our wants. The path of real progress, sir, is the simplification of life and desire till we have dispensed even with trousers and wear a single clean garment reaching to the knees; till we are content with exercising our own limbs on the solid earth; the eating of simple food we have grown ourselves; the hearing of our own voices, and tunes on oaten straws; the feel on our faces of the sun and rain and wind; the scent of the fields and woods; the homely roof, and the comely wife unspoiled by heels, pearls, and powder; the domestic animals at play, wild birds singing, and children brought up to colder water than their fathers. It should have been our business to pursue health till we no longer needed the interior of the chemist's shop, the optician's store, the hairdresser's, the corset-maker's, the thousand and one emporiums which patch and prink us, promoting our fancies and disguising the ravages which modern life makes in our figures. Our ambition should have been to need so little that, with our present scientific knowledge, we should have been able to produce it very easily and quickly, and have had abundant leisure and sound nerves and bodies wherewith to enjoy nature, art, and the domestic affections. The tragedy of man, sir, is his senseless and insatiate curiosity and greed, together with his incurable habit of neglecting the present for the sake of a future which will never come."

"You speak like a book," said the Angel.

"I wish I did," retorted his dragoman, "for no book I am able to procure enjoins us to stop this riot, and betake ourselves to the pleasurable simplicity which alone can save us."

"You would be bored stiff in a week," said the Angel.

"We should, sir," replied his dragoman, "because from our schooldays we are brought up to be acquisitive, competitive, and restless. Consider the baby in the perambulator, absorbed in contemplating the heavens and sucking its own thumb. Existence, sir, should be like that."

"A beautiful metaphor," said the Angel.

"As it is, we do but skip upon the hearse of life."

"You would appear to be of those whose motto is: 'Try never to leave things as you find them,'" observed the Angel.

"Ah, sir!" responded his dragoman, with a sad smile, "the part of a dragoman is rather ever to try and find things where he leaves them."

"Talking of that," said the Angel dreamily, "when I was here in 1910, I bought some Marconi's for the rise. What are they at now?"

"I cannot tell you," replied his dragoman in a deprecating voice, "but this I will say: Inventors are not only the benefactors but the curses of mankind, and will be so long as we do not find a way of adapting their discoveries to our very limited digestive powers. The chronic dyspepsia of our civilisation, due to the attempt to swallow every pabulum which ingenuity puts before it, is so violent that I sometimes wonder whether we shall survive until your visit in 1984."

"Ah!" said the Angel, pricking his ears; "you really think there is a chance?"

"I do indeed," his dragoman answered gloomily. "Life is now one long telephone call—and what's it all about? A tour in darkness! A rattling of wheels under a sky of smoke! A never-ending game of poker!"

"Confess," said the Angel, "that you have eaten something which has not agreed with you?"

"It is so," answered his dragoman; "I have eaten of modernity, the damndest dish that was ever set to lips. Look at those fellows," he went on, "busy as ants from nine o'clock in the morning to seven in the evening. And look at their wives!"

"Ah! yes," said the Angel cheerily; "let us look at their wives," and with three strokes of his wings he passed to Oxford Street.

"Look at them!" repeated his dragoman, "busy as ants from ten o'clock in the morning to five in the evening."

"Plain is not the word for them," said the Angel sadly. "What are they after, running in and out of these shop-holes?"

"Illusion, sir. The romance of business there, the romance of commerce here. They have got into these habits and, as you know, it is so much easier to get in than to get out. Would you like to see one of their homes?"

"No, no," said the Angel, starting back and coming into contact with a lady's hat. "Why do they have them so large?" he asked, with a certain irritation.

"In order that they may have them small next season," replied his dragoman. "The future, sir; the future! The cycle of beauty and eternal hope, and, incidentally, the good of trade. Grasp that phrase and you will have no need for further inquiry, and probably no inclination."

"One could get American sweets in here, I guess," said the Angel, entering.

II

"And where would you wish to go to-day, sir?" asked his dragoman of the Angel who was moving his head from side to side like a dromedary in the Haymarket.

"I should like," the Angel answered, "to go into the country."

"The country!" returned his dragoman, doubtfully. "You will find very little to see there."

"Natheless," said the Angel, spreading his wings.

"These," gasped his dragoman, after a few breathless minutes, "are the Chilterns—they will serve; any part of the country is now the same. Shall we descend?"

Alighting on what seemed to be a common, he removed the cloud moisture from his brow, and shading his eyes with his hand, stood peering into the distance on every side. "As I thought," he said; "there has been no movement since I brought the Prime here in 1944; we shall have some difficulty in getting lunch."

"A wonderfully peaceful spot," said the Angel.

"True," said his dragoman. "We might fly sixty miles in any direction and not see a house in repair."

"Let us!" said the Angel. They flew a hundred, and alighted again.

"Same here!" said his dragoman. "This is Leicestershire. Note the rolling landscape of wild pastures."

"I am getting hungry," said the Angel. "Let us fly again."

"I have told you, sir," remarked his dragoman, while they were flying, "that we shall have the greatest difficulty in finding any inhabited dwelling in the country. Had we not better alight at Blackton or Bradleeds?"

"No," said the Angel. "I have come for a day in the fresh air."

"Would bilberries serve?" asked his dragoman; "for I see a man gathering them."

The Angel closed his wings, and they dropped on to a moor close to an aged man.

"My worthy wight," said the Angel, "we are hungry. Would you give us some of your bilberries?"

"Wot oh!" ejaculated the ancient party; "never 'eard yer comin'. Been flyin' by wireless, 'ave yer? Got an observer, I see," he added, jerking his grizzled chin at the dragoman. "Strike me, it's the good old dyes o' the Gryte Skirmish over agyne."

"Is this," asked the Angel, whose mouth was already black with bilberries, "the dialect of rural England?"

"I will interrogate him, sir," said his dragoman, "for in truth I am at a loss to account for the presence of a man in the country." He took the old person by his last button and led him a little apart. Returning to the Angel, who had finished the bilberries, he whispered:

"It is as I thought. This is the sole survivor of the soldiers settled on the land at the conclusion of the Great Skirmish. He lives on berries and birds who have died a natural death."

"I fail to understand," answered the Angel. "Where is all the rural population, where the mansions of the great, the thriving farmer, the contented peasant, the labourer about to have his minimum wage, the Old, the Merrie England of 1910?"

"That," responded his dragoman somewhat dramatically, extending his hand towards the old man, "that is the rural population, and he a cockney hardened in the Great Skirmish, or he could never have stayed the course."

"What!" said the Angel; "is no food grown in all this land!"

"Not a cabbage," replied his dragoman; "not a mustard and cress—outside the towns, that is."

"I perceive," said the Angel, "that I have lost touch with much that is of interest. Give me, I pray, a brief sketch of the agricultural movement."

"Why, sir," replied his dragoman, "the agricultural movement in this country since the days of the Great Skirmish, when all were talking of resettling the land, may be summed up in two words: 'Town Expansion.' In order to make this clear to you, however, I must remind you of the political currents of the past thirty years. You will not recollect that during the Great Skirmish, beneath the seeming absence of politics, there were germinating the Parties of the future. A secret but resolute intention was forming in all minds to immolate those who had played any part in politics before and during the important world-tragedy which was then being enacted, especially such as continued to hold portfolios, or persisted in asking questions in the House of Commons, as it was then called. It was not that people held them to be responsible, but nerves required soothing, and there is no anodyne, as you know, sir, equal to human sacrifice. The politician was, as one may say—'off.' No sooner, of course, was peace declared than the first real General Election was held, and it was with a certain chagrin that the old Parties found themselves in the soup. The Parties which had been forming beneath the surface swept the country; one called itself the Patriotic, and was called by its opponents the Prussian Party; the other called itself the Laborious, and was called by its opponents the Loafing Party. Their representatives were nearly all new men. In the first flush of peace, with which the human mind ever associates plenty, they came out on such an even keel that no Government could pass anything at all. Since, however, it was imperative to find the interest on a National Debt of 8,000,000,000, a further election was needed. This time, though the word Peace remained, the word Plenty had already vanished; and the Laborious Party, which, having much less to tax, felt that it could tax more freely, found itself in an overwhelming majority. You will be curious to hear, sir, of what elements this Party was composed. Its solid bulk were the returned soldiers, and the other manual workers of the country; but to this main body there was added a rump, of pundits, men of excellent intentions, brains, and principles, such as in old days had been known as Radicals and advanced Liberals. These had joined out of despair, feeling that otherwise their very existence was jeopardised. To this collocation—and to one or two other circumstances, as you will presently see, sir—the doom of the land must be traced. Now, the Laborious Party, apart from its rump, on which it would or could not sit—we shall never know now—had views about the resettlement of the land not far divergent from those held by the Patriotic Party, and they proceeded to put a scheme into operation, which, for perhaps a year, seemed to have a prospect of success. Many returned soldiers were established in favourable localities, and there was even a disposition to place the country on a self-sufficing basis in regard to food. But they had not been in power eighteen months when their rump—which, as I have told you, contained nearly all their principles—had a severe attack of these. 'Free Trade,'—which, say what you will, follows the line of least resistance and is based on the 'good of trade'—was, they perceived, endangered, and they began to agitate against bonuses on corn and preferential treatment of a pampered industry. The bonus on corn was in consequence rescinded in 1924, and in lieu thereof the system of small holdings was extended—on paper. At the same time the somewhat stunning taxation which had been placed upon the wealthy began to cause the break-up of landed estates. As the general bankruptcy and exhaustion of Europe became more and more apparent the notion of danger from future war began to seem increasingly remote, and the 'good of trade' became again the one object before every British eye. Food from overseas was cheapening once more. The inevitable occurred. Country mansions became a drug in the market, farmers farmed at a loss; small holders went bust daily, and emigrated; agricultural labourers sought the towns. In 1926 the Laborious Party, who had carried the taxation of their opponents to a pitch beyond the power of human endurance, got what the racy call 'the knock,' and the four years which followed witnessed the bitterest internecine struggle within the memory of every journalist. In the course of this strife emigration increased and the land emptied rapidly. The final victory of the Laborious Party, in 1930, saw them, still propelled by their rump, committed, among other things, to a pure town policy. They have never been out of power since; the result you see. Food is now entirely brought from overseas, largely by submarine and air service, in tabloid form, and expanded to its original proportions on arrival by an ingenious process discovered by a German. The country is now used only as a subject for sentimental poets, and to fly over, or by lovers on bicycles at week-ends."

"Mon Dieu!" said the Angel thoughtfully. "To me, indeed, it seems that this must have been a case of: 'Oh! What a surprise!'"

"You are not mistaken, sir," replied his dragoman; "people still open their mouths over this consummation. It is pre-eminently an instance of what will happen sometimes when you are not looking, even to the English, who have been most fortunate in this respect. For you must remember that all Parties, even the Pundits, have always declared that rural life and all that, don't you know, is most necessary, and have ever asserted that they were fostering it to the utmost. But they forgot to remember that our circumstances, traditions, education, and vested interests so favoured town life and the 'good of trade' that it required a real and unparliamentary effort not to take that line of least resistance. In fact, we have here a very good example of what I told you the other day was our most striking characteristic—never knowing where we are till after the event. But what with fog and principles, how can you expect we should? Better be a little town blighter with no constitution and high political principles, than your mere healthy country product of a pampered industry. But you have not yet seen the other side of the moon."

"To what do you refer?" asked the Angel.

"Why, sir, to the glorious expansion of the towns. To this I shall introduce you to-morrow, if such is your pleasure."

"Is London, then, not a town?" asked the Angel playfully.

"London?" cried his dragoman; "a mere pleasure village. To which real town shall I take you? Liverchester?"

"Anywhere," said the Angel, "where I can get a good dinner." So-saying, he paid the rural population with a smile and spread his wings.

III

"The night is yet young," said the Angel thereal on leaving the White Heart Hostel at Liverchester, "and I have had perhaps too much to eat. Let us walk and see the town."

"As you will, sir," replied his dragoman; "there is no difference between night and day, now that they are using the tides for the provision of electric power."

The Angel took a note of the fact. "What do they manufacture here?" he asked.

"The entire town," returned his dragoman, "which now extends from the old Liverpool to the old Manchester (as indeed its name implies), is occupied with expanding the tabloids of food which are landed in its port from the new worlds. This and the town of Brister, reaching from the old Bristol to the old Gloucester, have had the monopoly of food expansion for the United Kingdom since 1940."

"By what means precisely?" asked the Angel.

"Congenial environment and bacteriology," responded his dragoman. They walked for some time in silence, flying a little now and then in the dirtier streets, before the Angel spoke again:

"It is curious," he said, "but I perceive no difference between this town and those I remember on my visit in 1910, save that the streets are better lighted, which is not an unmixed joy, for they are dirty and full of people whose faces do not please me."

"Ah! sir," replied his dragoman, "it is too much to expect that the wonderful darkness which prevailed at the time of the Great Skirmish could endure; then, indeed, one could indulge the hope that the houses were all built by Wren, and the people all clean and beautiful. There is no poetry now."

"No!" said the Angel, sniffing, "but there is atmosphere, and it is not agreeable."

"Mankind, when herded together, will smell," answered his dragoman. "You cannot avoid it. What with old clothes, patchouli, petrol, fried fish and the fag, those five essentials of human life, the atmosphere of Turner and Corot are as nothing."

"But do you not run your towns to please yourselves?" said the Angel.

"Oh, no, sir! The resistance would be dreadful. They run us. You see, they are so very big, and have such prestige. Besides," he added, "even if we dared, we should not know how. For, though some great and good man once brought us plane-trees, we English are above getting the best out of life and its conditions, and despise light Frenchified taste. Notice the principle which governs this twenty-mile residential stretch. It was intended to be light, but how earnest it has all turned out! You can tell at a glance that these dwellings belong to the species 'house' and yet are individual houses, just as a man belongs to the species 'man,' and yet, as they say, has a soul of his own. This principle was introduced off the Avenue Road a few years before the Great Skirmish, and is now universal. Any person who lives in a house identical with another house is not known. Has anything heavier and more conscientious ever been seen?"

"Does this principle also apply to the houses of the working-man?" inquired the Angel.

"Hush, sir!" returned his dragoman, looking round him nervously; "a dangerous word. The LABORIOUS dwell in palaces built after the design of an architect called Jerry, with communal kitchens and baths."

"Do they use them?" asked the Angel with some interest.

"Not as yet, indeed," replied his dragoman; "but I believe they are thinking of it. As you know, sir, it takes time to introduce a custom. Thirty years is but as yesterday."

"The Japanese wash daily," mused the Angel.

"Not a Christian nation," replied his dragoman; "nor have they the dirt to contend with which is conspicuous here. Let us do justice to the discouragement which dogs the ablutions of such as know they will soon be dirty again. It was confidently supposed, at the time of the Great Skirmish, which introduced military discipline and so entirely abolished caste, that the habit of washing would at last become endemic throughout the whole population. Judge how surprised were we of that day when the facts turned out otherwise. Instead of the Laborious washing more, the Patriotic washed less. It may have been the higher price of soap, or merely that human life was not very highly regarded at the time. We cannot tell. But not until military discipline disappeared, and caste was restored, which happened the moment peace returned, did the survivors of the Patriotic begin to wash immoderately again, leaving the Laborious to preserve a level more suited to democracy."

"Talking of levels," said the Angel; "is the populace increasing in stature?"

"Oh, no, indeed!" responded his dragoman; "the latest statistics give a diminution of one inch and a half during the past generation."

"And in longevity?" asked the Angel.

"As to that, babies and old people are now communally treated, and all those diseases which are curable by lymph are well in hand."

"Do people, then, not die?"

"Oh, yes, sir! About as often as before. There are new complaints which redress the balance."

"And what are those?"

"A group of diseases called for convenience Scienticitis. Some think they come from the present food system; others from the accumulation of lymphs in the body; others, again, regard them as the result of dwelling on the subject—a kind of hypnotisation by death; a fourth school hold them traceable to town air; while a fifth consider them a mere manifestation of jealousy on the part of Nature. They date, one may say, with confidence, from the time of the Great Skirmish, when men's minds were turned with some anxiety to the question of statistics, and babies were at a premium."

"Is the population, then, much larger?"

"You mean smaller, sir, do you not? Not perhaps so much smaller as you might expect; but it is still nicely down. You see, the Patriotic Party, including even those Pontificals whose private practice most discouraged all that sort of thing, began at once to urge propagation. But their propaganda was, as one may say, brain-spun; and at once bumped up—pardon the colloquialism—against the economic situation. The existing babies, it is true, were saved; the trouble was rather that the babies began not to exist. The same, of course, obtained in every European country, with the exception of what was still, in a manner of speaking, Russia; and if that country had but retained its homogeneity, it would soon by sheer numbers have swamped the rest of Europe. Fortunately, perhaps, it did not remain homogeneous. An incurable reluctance to make food for cannon and impose further burdens on selves already weighted to the ground by taxes, developed in the peoples of each Central and Western land; and in the years from 1920 to 1930 the downward curve was so alarming in Great Britain that if the Patriotic Party could only have kept office long enough at a time they would, no doubt, have enforced conception at the point of the bayonet. Luckily or unluckily, according to taste, they did not; and it was left for more natural causes to produce the inevitable reaction which began to set in after 1930, when the population of the United Kingdom had been reduced to some twenty-five millions. About that time commerce revived. The question of the land had been settled by its unconscious abandonment, and people began to see before them again the possibility of supporting families. The ingrained disposition of men and women to own pets, together with 'the good of trade,' began once more to have its way; and the population rose rapidly. A renewed joy in life, and the assurance of not having to pay the piper, caused the slums, as they used to be called, to swarm once more, and filled the communal crches. And had it not been for the fact that any one with physical strength, or love of fresh air, promptly emigrated to the Sister Nations on attaining the age of eighteen we might now, sir, be witnessing an overcrowding equal to that of the times before the Great Skirmish. The movement is receiving an added impetus with the approach of the Greater Skirmish between the Teutons and Mongolians, for it is expected that trade will boom and much wealth accrue to those countries which are privileged to look on with equanimity at this great new drama, as the editors are already calling it."

"In all this," said the Angel thereal, "I perceive something rather sordid."

"Sir," replied his dragoman earnestly, "your remark is characteristic of the sky, where people are not made of flesh and blood; pay, I believe, no taxes; and have no experience of the devastating consequences of war. I recollect so well when I was a young man, before the Great Skirmish began, and even when it had been going on several years, how glibly the leaders of opinion talked of human progress, and how blind they were to the fact that it has a certain connection with environment. You must remember that ever since that large and, as some still think, rather tragic occurrence environment has been very dicky and Utopia not unrelated to thin air. It has been perceived time and again that the leaders of public opinion are not always confirmed by events. The new world, which was so sapiently prophesied by rhetoricians, is now nigh thirty years old, and, for my part, I confess to surprise that it is not worse than it actually is. I am moralising, I fear, however, for these suburban buildings grievously encourage the philosophic habit. Rather let us barge along and see the Laborious at their labours, which are never interrupted now by the mere accident of night."

The Angel increased his speed till they alighted amid a forest of tall chimneys, whose sirens were singing like a watch of nightingales.

"There is a shift on," said the dragoman. "Stand here, sir; we shall see them passing in and out."

The Laborious were not hurrying, and went by uttering the words: "Cheer oh!" "So long!" and "Wot abaht it!"

The Angel contemplated them for a time before he said: "It comes back to me now how they used to talk when they were doing up my flat on my visit in 1910."

"Give me, I pray, an imitation," said his dragoman.

The Angel struck the attitude of one painting a door. "William," he said, rendering those voices of the past, "what money are you obtaining?"

"Not half, Alfred."

"If that is so, indeed, William, should you not rather leave your tools and obtain better money? I myself am doing this."

"Not half, Alfred."

"Round the corner I can obtain more money by working for fewer hours. In my opinion there is no use in working for less money when you can obtain more. How much does Henry obtain?"

"Not half, Alfred."

"What I am now obtaining is, in my opinion, no use at all."

"Not half, Alfred."

Here the Angel paused, and let his hand move for one second in a masterly exhibition of activity.

"It is doubtful, sir," said his dragoman, "whether you would be permitted to dilute your conversation with so much labour in these days; the rules are very strict."

"Are there, then, still Trades Unions?" asked the Angel.

"No, indeed," replied his dragoman; "but there are Committees. That habit which grew up at the time of the Great Skirmish has flourished ever since. Statistics reveal the fact that there are practically no adults in the country between the ages of nineteen and fifty who are not sitting on Committees. At the time of the Great Skirmish all Committees were nominally active; they are now both active and passive. In every industry, enterprise, or walk of life a small active Committee directs; and a large passive Committee, formed of everybody else, resists that direction. And it is safe to say that the Passive Committees are active and the Active Committees passive; in this way no inordinate amount of work is done. Indeed, if the tongue and the electric button had not usurped practically all the functions of the human hand, the State would have some difficulty in getting its boots blacked. But a ha'poth of visualisation is worth three lectures at ten shillings the stall, so enter, sir, and see for yourself."

Saying this, he pushed open the door.

In a shed, which extended beyond the illimitable range of the Angel's eye, machinery and tongues were engaged in a contest which filled the ozone with an incomparable hum. Men and women in profusion were leaning against walls or the pillars on which the great roof was supported, assiduously pressing buttons. The scent of expanding food revived the Angel's appetite.

"I shall require supper," he said dreamily.

"By all means, sir," replied his dragoman; "after work—play. It will afford you an opportunity to witness modern pleasures in our great industrial centres. But what a blessing is electric power!" he added. "Consider these lilies of the town, they toil not, neither do they spin——"

"Yet Solomon in all his glory," chipped in the Angel eagerly, "had not their appearance, you bet."

"Indeed they are an insouciant crowd," mused his dragoman. "How tinkling is their laughter! The habit dates from the days of the Great Skirmish, when nothing but laughter would meet the case."

"Tell me," said the Angel, "are the English satisfied at last with their industrial conditions, and generally with their mode of life in these expanded towns?"

"Satisfied? Oh dear, no, sir! But you know what it is: They are obliged to wait for each fresh development before they can see what they have to counteract; and, since that great creative force, 'the good of trade,' is always a little stronger than the forces of criticism and reform, each development carries them a little further on the road to——"

"Hell! How hungry I am again!" exclaimed the Angel. "Let us sup!"

IV

"Laughter," said the Angel thereal, applying his wineglass to his nose, "has ever distinguished mankind from all other animals with the exception of the dog. And the power of laughing at nothing distinguishes man even from that quadruped."

"I would go further, sir," returned his dragoman, "and say that the power of laughing at that which should make him sick distinguishes the Englishman from all other varieties of man except the negro. Kindly observe!" He rose, and taking the Angel by the waist, fox-trotted him among the little tables.

"See!" he said, indicating the other supper-takers with a circular movement of his beard, "they are consumed with laughter. The habit of fox-trotting in the intervals of eating has been known ever since it was introduced by Americans a generation ago, at the beginning of the Great Skirmish, when that important people had as yet nothing else to do; but it still causes laughter in this country. A distressing custom," he wheezed, as they resumed their seats, "for not only does it disturb the oyster, but it compels one to think lightly of the human species. Not that one requires much compulsion," he added, "now that music-hall, cinema, and restaurant are conjoined. What a happy idea that was of Berlin's, and how excellent for business! Kindly glance for a moment—but not more—at the left-hand stage."

The Angel turned his eyes towards a cinematograph film which was being displayed. He contemplated it for the moment without speaking.

"I do not comprehend," he said at last, "why the person with the arrested moustaches is hitting so many people with that sack of flour."

"To cause amusement, sir," replied his dragoman. "Look at the laughing faces around you."

"But it is not funny," said the Angel.

"No, indeed," returned his dragoman. "Be so good as to carry your eyes now to the stage on the right, but not for long. What do you see?"

"I see a very red-nosed man beating a very white-nosed man about the body."

"It is a real scream, is it not?"

"No," said the Angel drily. "Does nothing else ever happen on these stages?"

"Nothing. Stay! Revues happen!"

"What are revues?" asked the Angel.

"Criticisms of life, sir, as it would be seen by persons inebriated on various intoxicants."

"They should be joyous."

"They are accounted so," his dragoman replied; "but for my part, I prefer to criticise life for myself, especially when I am drunk."

"Are there no plays, no operas?" asked the Angel from behind his glass.

"Not in the old and proper sense of these words. They disappeared towards the end of the Great Skirmish."

"What food for the mind is there, then?" asked the Angel, adding an oyster to his collection.

"None in public, sir, for it is well recognised, and has been ever since those days, that laughter alone promotes business and removes the thought of death. You cannot recall, as I can, sir, the continual stream which used to issue from theatres, music-halls, and picture-palaces in the days of the Great Skirmish, nor the joviality of the Strand and the more expensive restaurants. I have often thought," he added with a touch of philosophy, "what a height of civilisation we must have reached to go jesting, as we did, to the Great Unknown."

"Is that really what the English did at the time of the Great Skirmish?" asked the Angel.

"It is," replied his dragoman solemnly.

"Then they are a very fine people, and I can put up with much about them which seems to me distressing."

"Ah! sir, though, being an Englishman, I am sometimes inclined to disparage the English, I am yet convinced that you could not fly a week's journey and come across another race with such a peculiar nobility, or such an unconquerable soul, if you will forgive my using a word whose meaning is much disputed. May I tempt you with a clam?" he added, more lightly. "We now have them from America—in fair preservation, and very nasty they are, in my opinion."

The Angel took a clam.

"My Lord!" he said, after a moment of deglutition.

"Quite so!" replied his dragoman. "But kindly glance at the right-hand stage again. There is a revue on now. What do you see?"

The Angel made two holes with his forefingers and thumbs and, putting them to his eyes, bent a little forward.

"Tut, tut!" he said; "I see some attractive young females with very few clothes on, walking up and down in front of what seem to me, indeed, to be two grown-up men in collars and jackets as of little boys. What precise criticism of life is this conveying?"

His dragoman answered in reproachful accents:

"Do you not feel, sir, from your own sensations, how marvellously this informs one of the secret passions of mankind? Is there not in it a striking revelation of the natural tendencies of the male population? Remark how the whole audience, including your august self, is leaning forward and looking through their thumb-holes?"

The Angel sat back hurriedly.

"True," he said, "I was carried away. But that is not the criticism of life which art demands. If it had been, the audience, myself included, would have been sitting back with their lips curled dry, instead of watering."

"For all that," replied his dragoman, "it is the best we can give you; anything which induces the detached mood of which you spoke, has been banned from the stage since the days of the Great Skirmish; it is so very bad for business."

"Pity!" said the Angel, imperceptibly edging forward; "the mission of art is to elevate."

"It is plain, sir," said his dragoman, "that you have lost touch with the world as it is. The mission of art—now truly democratic—is to level—in principle up, in practice down. Do not forget, sir, that the English have ever regarded stheticism as unmanly, and grace as immoral; when to that basic principle you add the principle of serving the taste of the majority, you have perfect conditions for a sure and gradual decrescendo."

"Does taste, then, no longer exist?" asked the Angel.

"It is not wholly, as yet, extinct, but lingers in the communal kitchens and canteens, as introduced by the Young Men's Christian Association in the days of the Great Skirmish. While there is appetite there is hope, nor is it wholly discouraging that taste should now centre in the stomach; for is not that the real centre of man's activity? Who dare affirm that from so universal a foundation the fair structure of stheticism shall not be rebuilt? The eye, accustomed to the look of dainty dishes and pleasant cookery, may once more demand the architecture of Wren, the sculpture of Rodin, the paintings of—dear me—whom? Why, sir, even before the days of the Great Skirmish, when you were last on earth, we had already begun to put the future of stheticism on a more real basis, and were converting the concert-halls of London into hotels. Few at the time saw the far-reaching significance of that movement, or realised that stheticism was to be levelled down to the stomach, in order that it might be levelled up again to the head, on true democratic principles."

"But what," said the Angel, with one of his preternatural flashes of acumen, "what if, on the other hand, taste should continue to sink and lose even its present hold on the stomach? If all else has gone, why should not the beauty of the kitchen go?"

"That indeed," sighed his dragoman, placing his hand on his heart, "is a thought which often gives me a sinking sensation. Two liqueur brandies," he murmured to the waiter. "But the stout heart refuses to despair. Besides, advertisements show decided traces of sthetic advance. All the great painters, poets, and fiction writers are working on them; the movement had its origin in the propaganda demanded by the Great Skirmish. You will not recollect the war poetry of that period, the patriotic films, the death cartoons, and other remarkable achievements. We have just as great talents now, though their object has not perhaps the religious singleness of those stirring times. Not a food, corset, or collar which has not its artist working for it! Toothbrushes, nutcrackers, babies' baths—the whole caboodle of manufacture—are now set to music. Such themes are considered subliminal if not sublime. No, sir, I will not despair; it is only at moments when I have dined poorly that the horizon seems dark. Listen—they have turned on the 'Kalophone,' for you must know that all music now is beautifully made by machine—so much easier for every one."

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