The easy and ostensible remedy for such a state of mind is immediate retreat to the reassuring hum of cities: the more difficult but real remedy is the reassurance of one's own identity. Many people take the first course without admitting it; alleging the lack of intercourse or convenience in country life, whereas the real truth is that contact with the steadfast indifference of Nature has proved wounding to their egoism. A vain man cannot maintain his sense of self-importance in the centre of a vast moor, or amid the threatening bulk of giant hills. He looks upon nothing that respects him. He can find nothing subservient to him. Therefore he flies to the crowded haunts of men, and the porter touching his hat to him for a prospective twopence at the railway station, is the welcome confessor of his disallowed divinity. It is, alas! the most common and humbling feature of human nature that we all stiffen our backs with pride when the knee of some fellow-creature is crooked in homage to us, although that homage may be bought for twopence! No wonder that the man in whose character vanity is the chief essence cannot long endure contact with Nature; Nature respects no man, and laughs in the face of the strutting egoist. But if a man will live long enough with Nature to become reconciled to her impassivity, he begins to recover self-respect, by recovering the conviction of his own identity. He has that within himself which Nature has not, the faculty of consciousness. He is but a trifling atom in the scheme of things, but he is a thinking atom. He sees also that all living creatures have an identity of their own. Each goes about the scheme of life in deliberate wisdom. Why should he complain of insignificance when the bird, the flower, the horse that drags the plough, the beaver in the stream, the spider on the wall, make no complaint; each accomplishing its task as intently as though it were the one task the world wanted done? In the life of the merest insect are toils as great, and vicissitudes as tragic, as in the most heroic human life, and to see so much is to attach a new dignity to all kinds of life. The bird building its nest is doing precisely the same thing as the man who builds his house, and with an equal skill of architecture. The flower, fighting for its life, is engaged in the same struggle as man, for whom every breath and pulse-beat is a victory over forces that threaten his destruction. The world is full of identities, each unmoved by the tremendous scale of its environment. Hence a new kind of neighbourship is possible, wider and more catholic than the neighbourship between man and man. Kinship, not in kindred, but in universal life, becomes possible. There is no sense of loneliness in a country life after that discovery is made. The emptiest field is as populous as the thronged city. The Academy of God's art opens every spring upon the gemmed hillside. The building of a new metropolis as wonderful as London is going on beneath the thatch where the bees toil. All that constitutes human magnificence is seen to be but a part, and not a large part either, of a yet wider magnificence of effort and achievement; for of the flowers of the field we can say, 'Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.'
The fact is that civilised man moves in a much too narrow range of affinities. He has forgotten the rock from which he was hewn, and the hole of the pit from which he was dug. He has reduced the keyboard of his sympathies by whole octaves. The habit of shutting up his body within walls, has produced the corresponding habit of shutting up his mind within walls. Hence Nature, which should be an object of delight to him, becomes a cause of terror or repugnance. Solitude, which is one of the most agreeable sensations of the natural man, is one of the most painful and alarming sensations of the civilised man. The civilised man needs to be born again that he may enter the kingdom of Nature; for to enter either the kingdom of grace or of Nature the same process is necessary—we must become as little children. Thoreau has described this experience in terms which might apply equally to the religious mystic or the Nature-lover. He tells us that for a brief period after he came to live in the woods he felt lonesome, and 'doubted if the near neighbourhood of man was not essential to a serene and healthy life. To be alone was something unpleasant. But I was at the same time conscious of a slight insanity in my mood, and seemed to foresee my recovery. In the midst of a gentle rain, while those thoughts prevailed, I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature, in the very pattering of the drops, and in every sight and sound about my house, an infinite and unaccountable friendliness all at once like an atmosphere sustaining me, as made the fancied advantages of human neighbourhood insignificant, and I have never thought of them since. Every little pine-needle expanded and swelled with sympathy, and befriended me. I was so distinctly made aware of the presence of something kindred to me, even in scenes that we are accustomed to call wild and dreary, and also that the nearest of blood to me and humanest was not a person nor a villager, that I thought no place could ever be strange to me again.' This experience marked the rebirth of Thoreau, as truly as a new and delightful sensitiveness to a spiritual world marked the re-birth of Bunyan. The whole secret of re-birth lies in the recovery of lost affinities.
I do not recollect any particular crisis such as Thoreau describes, but I can trace the process in myself. I took no pains to cast the slough of cities; I registered no vows and consulted no teachers; it seemed that the thing was quietly done for me by the Higher Powers. I had no part in the matter except to be docile. Nature took me in hand, as sleep takes in hand the sick child; the only thing asked of me was my submission. The result soon appeared in the altered scale of my perceptions. I became indifferent to newspapers, to the doings and performances of public personages, to the rise and fall of literary reputations, and to a great many books which once interested me. I saw that a considerable number of those whom I had counted public teachers were no better than persons who talked in their sleep. They knew nothing of the elemental life of man, and were unfitted to pronounce verdicts upon his destiny. Novelists particularly offended me by their gross ignorance of life. The pictures of life they drew were as untrue as a description of a street-fight would be if written by a perfumed odalisque who had never crossed the threshold of a harem. The ancient elemental life of man, spent in storm and sunshine, under wide skies, they had not so much as looked at, and their voluminous chatter about man and his doings had as little relation to life as the philosophy that is enunciated in a monkey-house. Opera-bouffe performed upon Helvellyn would be a sorry spectacle; what was all this bedizened rout of people playing before the footlights of cities, but a vain burlesque at which Nature laughed? And as my sense of the importance of this kind of spectacle gradually sank, my appreciation of the serious drama conducted by Nature, upon a stage as old as time, whose footlights are the changeless planets, gradually rose. I had become the neighbour of Eternity, through neighbourship with things that are themselves eternal. I tasted the pleasure of enlarged existence, which had become possible through enlarged affinities. I had eaten of the Tree of Life, which grows wherever there is a Garden brought to beauty by the sweat of man's brow, and I had the knowledge of good and evil.
One form of neighbourship which brought me perpetual delight was—if I may so describe it—neighbourship with the stars. I had hitherto scarce given a thought to astronomy, save of the vaguest kind, and all I knew of it was derived from the recollection of one or two popular lectures. This was pardonable in a citizen, who is never able to see any considerable space of firmament. But when a man comes to live in the country he can scarce remain indifferent to a pageant so sublime as the midnight heavens. It is always with him; it obtrudes itself upon him; it becomes in time the scenery of his life. It pleased me on clear evenings before I slept to go out and take what I called a star-bath, a term justified by the real sense I had of waves of soft light and silence flowing over me, submerging and cleansing me, and setting my soul afloat. But very soon this purely aesthetic pleasure became also an excitement of the intellect. An immense curiosity seized me. I desired to penetrate this lighted labyrinth of space, to climb these shining terraces, to know where these vast roads led, in whose profound seclusion God Himself seemed to hide. In a very humble way I began the study of astronomy, and although I never got beyond its elements yet my whole life was incalculably enriched by what I learned. I sometimes felt that of all my neighbours the stars were the friendliest and wisest. That sense of insignificance, begotten by the pressure of immensity upon the spirit, of which so many men have written, I never felt; my most constant feeling was a kind of gladness which had its root in the conviction of some living friendly Power behind and in the spectacle. The sense of insignificance, if it came at all, was associated with the vanities of mankind. It did indeed seem a strange thing that a man whose thoughts could walk among the stars, should bend those thoughts to a mean eagerness for gold, a pride in dress, or the building of palaces, which when achieved are not so much as a single grain of dust upon an ant-hill. In a universe, whose arithmetic employs worlds for the ciphers of its reckoning, bigness as associated with man sounds ridiculous; and the biggest fortune or the biggest grief are alike infinitesimal. But when the desire of bigness passes from a man's mind, humility becomes pleasurable, and immensity is soothing. I forgot to think of the vastness of the stars; they were for me neighbourly and friendly presences, talking like a wise old nurse to me of things that happened before my birth, and the ancient kindness of Him whom a daring poet calls, 'My old neighbour—God!'
Neighbourship with the earth also became a vital pleasure and a source of peace. There was a time when I had a vivid horror of death; and as I look back, and analyse my sensations, I believe this horror was in large part the work of cities. It sprang from the constant vision of deformity, the presence of hospitals, newspaper narratives of tragic accidents, and the ghastly cheerfulness of metropolitan cemeteries. To die with a window open to the trampling of a clamorous, unconcerned street seemed a thing sordid and unendurable. To be whisked away in a plumed hearse to a grave dug out of the debris of a hundred forgotten graves was the climax of insult. It happened to me once to see a child buried in what was called a common grave. It was a grave which contained already half a dozen little coffins; it was a mere dust-bin of mortality, and it seemed so profane a place that no lustration of religion could give it sanctity. Dissolution met the mind there in more than its native horror; it had the superimposed horror of indecency and wilful outrage. But in the wide wholesome spaces of the world, and beneath the clean stars, death seems not undesirable. A country life gives one the pleasant sense of kinship with the earth. It is no longer an offence to know oneself of the earth earthy. I was so much engaged in the love and study of things whose life was brief that the thought of death became natural. I saw constantly in flowers and birds, and domestic creatures, the little round of life completed and relinquished without regret. I saw also how the aged peasant gathered up his feet and died, like a tired child falling asleep at the close of a long day. Death is in reality no more terrible than birth; but it is only the natural man who can so conceive it. He who lives in constant kinship with the earth will go to his rest on the earth's bosom without repugnance. I knew very well the place where I should be buried; it was beneath a clean turf kept sweet by mountain winds; and the place seemed desirable. Having come back by degrees to a life of entire kinship with the earth, having shared the seasons and the storms, it seemed but the final seal set upon this kinship, that I should dissolve quietly into the elements of things, to find perhaps my resurrection in the eternally renewed life of Nature.
Neighbourship meant also for me kinship, with every kind of life around me, and some friendly association with my fellow-men. The creatures we call dumb have a sure way of talking to us, if we will overcome their shyness and give them a chance. Moreover their habits, their method of life, their thoughts, are in themselves profoundly interesting. I seemed to have discovered a new universe when I first took to bee-culture. The geometry of the heavens is not more astonishing than the geometry of the beehive, nor is the architecture of the finest city built by man more intricate and masterly. Here, as in all things, we are deceived by bulk, counting a thing great merely because it is big; but if it come to deducing an Invisible Mind in the universe from the things that are visible, I would as soon base my argument on what goes on in a bee's brain, as on the harmonies of law manifested in the solar system. I believe we greatly err in underrating other forms of life than our own. The Hindu, who acknowledges a mystic sacredness in all forms of life, comes nearer the truth. Life for life, judged by proportion, plan, symmetry, delicacy of design and beauty of adjustment, man is a creature not a whit more wonderful than many forms of life which he crushes with a careless foot. The creature we call dumb is not dumb to its mates, and it is very likely our human modes of communication appear as absurd to the dog or horse as theirs do to us. We know what we think of the so-called dumb creatures; it might be a humbling surprise if we could know what the dumb creature thinks of us. The satire would not be upon one side, be sure of it.
To the townsman the simple dwellers on the soil seem almost as incapable of intercourse as the creatures of the field and pasture. Because they do not know the kind of things the townsman knows, they are supposed to know nothing. I have already said enough to show how absurd and insolent is this assumption. My neighbours were few, and simple-minded; but they possessed many kinds of skill necessary to their life, they had wisdom and virtue, and upon the whole a kind of fundamental dignity of nature. They were as shy as woodland creatures to a stranger's voice; they were highly sensitive to the mere shadow of a slight, and both suspicious and resentful of patronage; but they met trust with trust, and where they gave their trust they gave their full loyalty of friendship. In my youth, as I have said elsewhere, I often passed a whole day in a forest. I would choose some solitary glade, where my intrusion was audibly resented by the unseen creatures of the wood, who fled before me; but when an hour had passed, and the signal had run through the forest that I meant no harm, those scattered and astonished creatures reassembled. The whole life of the wood then went on before my eyes; the birds sang their best for me, the squirrel performed his innocent gymnastics with an eye to my applause, the very snake moved less shyly through the grass, as though the word had gone forth that I was a guest, who must be entertained and made to feel at home. This experience often recurred to me in my early days at Thornthwaite. It was some time before I was admitted to the free-masonry of the scanty social life around me; when at last I had paid my footing I found that here also was a commonwealth; here also might be found upon a narrow scale, but in authentic forms,
Piety and fear, Instruction, manners, mysteries, and trades, Degrees, observances, customs, and laws.
THE WOUNDS OF A FRIEND
Those who have been friendly enough to follow me so far in my little story will scarcely push their friendship so far that they will refrain from criticism upon myself and my doings. On one point, viz. the social morality of my conduct, I am so sure of criticism that I will anticipate it with self-criticism. Had I the moral right to desert the city, and to ignore the social obligations of the city, in order to find a life that was more pleasurable to myself? A city which presents a depressing variety of social needs can hardly afford to spare any good citizen, however humble, who is capable of social service, and for such a citizen to contract himself out of his obligations is very like skulking. I confess that this consideration occasioned me some uneasiness, and the questions which it raised have been treated with such admirable lucidity by a friend of mine, who still resides in London, that I will let him put the case against me.
The friend of whom I speak belongs to that class which may be roughly described as Earnest Good People. With very small means, and not much spare time at his disposal, he is nevertheless constantly engaged in what is called the work of Social Amelioration. The problems of city squalor, vice, and ignorance haunt him like a nightmare. When a very young man he made a voyage of discovery among the submerged tenth; got acquainted with tramps, night strollers, and wastrels on the Thames Embankment; slept in doss-houses and Salvation Army shelters; tried his hand on experimental philanthropy among the slums; and was driven half-frantic by what he saw. He has the makings of a saint in him; of a Francis of Assisi, of a Father Damien. He teaches in night-schools, conducts Penny Banks, and is grateful to any one who will introduce him to a desperate social enterprise which no one else will attempt. The first business of life, he is fond of saying, is not to get good, but to do good. Of pleasure, in the usual sense of the term, he knows nothing, and would grudge the expenditure of a sixpence upon himself as long as he knew a cadger or a decayed washerwoman who seemed to have a better claim to it. London is for him not a home, but a battlefield, and his spirit is the spirit of the soldier who dare not forsake his post.
Many years ago, when I was going for my summer holiday, he wrote me a reproachful poem, from which I quote a part, because it is the best index to his own character and the most lucid exposition of his own attitude to life which I can recall:
The roar of the streets at their loudest Rises and falls like a tune; Midday in the heart of London, Midway in the month of June.
And blue at the end of a valley I see the ocean gleam, And a voice like falling water Speaks to me thro' a dream.
It calls, and it bids me follow; Ah, how the worn nerves thrill At the vision of those green pastures And waters running still!
But I dare not move nor follow, For out of the quivering heat Another vision arises And darkens at my feet—
White faces worn with the fever That crouches evermore In the court and alley, and seizes The poor man at his door,
Float up in my dream and call me, And cry, If Christ were here He had not left us to perish In the fever-heat of the year!
God knows how I yearn for the mountains And the river that runs between! Ah, well, I can wait—and the pastures Of heaven are always green.
No one will question the nobility of sentiment in these simple lines, and they are the genuine expression of the man. In his case, however slight may be his claim to be called a poet, that hardest test of the poet is fulfilled:—
The gods exact for song To become what we sing.
It will be imagined that a man of this order would view my retreat from London with disfavour. He thought me guilty of a kind of social perfidy. No doubt the Earnest Good People, for whom I have the greatest reverence, will agree in the same verdict. A letter received during the last few days from my friend puts the case with such force, and yet with such good-feeling, that I will transcribe a part of it.
'I confess,' he writes, 'that the pleasures of life among the mountains leaves me cold. It is not that I am incapable of the same kind of pleasure, but, as you know, I have other ideas concerning the uses of life. I cannot enjoy sunsets while men and women are starving. The thought of all the misery of life for multitudes would, as Rossetti puts it, "make a goblin of the sun." You used to be very eloquent against good men who lived only for their own pleasure; are not you yourself living in the same way? I have heard you declaim against the gross selfishness of Goethe's aim in life—"to build the pyramid of his own intellectual culture"; are not you, in your own way, pursuing the same ideal? I have heard you say that nothing so belittled Goethe in your judgment as the fact that he was destitute of patriotism; he dwelt at ease among his books, while his country perished and felt no pang; and you live your joyous life among the hills, and have forgotten the Golgothas on which the poor of London endure their unpitied martyrdom. You are doing good to yourself, no doubt; but is it not a better thing to be doing good to others? I marvel that you can sleep at peace amid the wailing of the world. I cannot, and I thank God I cannot.
'What you do not seem to realise is that all our acts must be judged not only from the personal, but from the collective standpoint. Suppose all men followed your example, what would happen? Why, cities would soon become the mere refuse-heaps of the unfit. The drudges would remain, the captains of industry would be gone. There would be no leaven of higher intelligence left, no standard of manners, nothing that could set the rhythm of life. This is too much the case already. The merchant, the writer, the man of wealth and culture, live as far as they can from the struggling crowd. You would extend the process, and make it possible for the clerk as well as the merchant. If your new gospel of a return to Nature succeeds, we shall soon see the universal exodus of the best intellectual and physical units of the community. But you forget that some millions will remain behind, who cannot flee. Have you no obligations to these?
'Besides this, you do not seem to perceive that the ultimate drift of the new gospel is toward anarchy. The return to nature is practically a return to barbarism. You would have all men content so long as they grew enough potatoes for their daily needs. You would have England return to the conditions of the Saxon heptarchy. Each man would squat upon his clearing in the forest, ignobly independent, brutally content. There would be no longer that struggle for life which develops capacity, that urging onward of the flood of life which cuts for itself new channels, that passion for betterment which means progress. You save yourself from the collisions of life; but it is in such collisions that the finest fires are struck out of the heart of humanity. Again, I say, any course of action must be judged by its collective effect before it can be rightly understood. It is not the individual that counts, but the race. A good for the individual is not permissible unless it is a good also for the race. I do not admit that your new way of life is an entire good for you, for I believe you must in time suffer from your isolation; but even if I did admit it, I should deny your right to it, if in its large effects it means an ill for the race. Would you venture to say that the race would profit by it if your example were largely imitated? I think you dare not say so much, for you must be aware that the general desertion of cities would mean the decay of commerce and of the arts, the arrest of progress, and national disintegration. And if your own personal example would bear only evil fruit were it elevated to a law of life, it stands condemned.
'For my own part, I am where you left me. I am in the same rooms—dull, stuffy, inconvenient—you know all about them. I breathe quantities of bad air every day, and see a hundred things that distress me. I go three nights a week to the room in Lucraft's Row; struggle with the young barbarians of the slums, and am content if I see but a few signs of order evolving themselves out of chaos. A week ago I was knocked down by a ruffian, who came next day to apologise on the three-fold ground that he was drunk, that he did not know it was me he struck, and that if he had known he never would have done it. My ruffian was very penitent. He has since signed the pledge and is my firm friend. I chased him out of a public-house last night, and made him come home to my lodgings with me, where I gave him coffee, and sang songs to him. He followed all my movements with the big wistful eyes of a dog. There were tears in those eyes when he bade me good-night. He brushed them away with a dirty hand, and said, "I know I can keep straight now, sir, because you are my pal, and I ain't a-going against the wishes of my pal!" This morning he left a pineapple at the door for me—he is a coster, and pineapples are cheap just now. I felt more pleasure than I can say; I could have sung over my work all day, so glad was I. My dear fellow, don't think I speak pharisaically—you know me too well; but I do believe I got more genuine pleasure out of my experience with this rough fellow than you will ever get out of your sunsets. Lucraft's Row is a dull place enough, but when a ray of light does shine into it, it brings with it more than common joy.
'My objection to your new mode of life is that it is entirely self-centred. There is no projection of yourself into other lives. You are contributing nothing to the common stock of moral effort. You are simply marooned. It alters nothing that you have marooned yourself under conditions that please and content you. I think that if I were marooned upon the fairest island of the Southern Seas, where I had but to bask in the sunshine and stretch out my hand to find delightful food, there would be still something in my lot which I should find intolerable. I should spend my days upon the island's loftiest crag, watching for a sail. The thought of a thousand ships not far away, rushing round the globe, with throb of piston, crack of cordage, strain of timber, buffeting of waves, and shouting crews, would drive me distracted. What to me were blue skies and soft winds when I might be sharer in this elemental strife? How should I covet, in all this adorable and detested beauty of my solitary isle, the grey skies that looked on human effort, the violent wind, the roaring waves, the muscles cracking at the capstan, the strong exhilaration of peril, effort, conflict, and the glory of hourly contiguity with death! It was so Ulysses felt:
How dull it is to pause, to make an end, To rust unburnished, not to shine in use.
It was so he resolved
To follow knowledge like a sinking star, * * * * * To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
You will not question that the sentiment is manly. Is there not then something that is unmanly in the opposite sentiment? Or, to be plain, my friend, is it not lack of courage which has driven you from us, lack of heroic temper, lack of that divine and primitive instinct which takes a "frolic welcome" in the "thunder and the sunshine," in the conflict and the stress of life?
'I believe that we are bound to be the losers by any wilful separation from our kind. This was the case with the mediaeval monks and ascetics; they lost far more than they gained from their separation from the common life of the people. It is the same still with very rich folk who are able to evade the harsh conscription of life; in evading the conscription of life they invariably deteriorate in physical and mental fibre. I can conceive nothing more ruinous to a young man than that he should have just enough money to make the toil for bread unnecessary. More lives have been spoiled by competence than by poverty; indeed, I doubt whether poverty has any effect at all upon a strong character, except as a stimulus to exertion. Life being what it is, we should take it as we find it: we gain nothing by going out of our way to find an easier path. The beaten road is safest. The man who boldly says, "Let me know the fulness of life; let me taste all that it has to present of vicissitude, joy, sorrow, labour, struggle; let me know all that common people endure, and endure with them; let me be no exception to the common rule, enjoy no special privilege, ask for no immunity from things harsh and disagreeable"—the man who thinks and acts thus is the man who gets the best and most out of life. But you, my friend, have simply copied the old monks in the arrangement of your life. There is nothing novel in your action, though just now your egoism is gratified by the sense of novelty and originality. You have simply gone out of the world to escape the evil of the world. You have bought yourself out of the conscription of life. You have yet to answer me one question: are you the better for it? That question cannot be answered in a day. Ten years hence you will be able to tell me something about it, and I shall be much surprised if you do not then report more of loss than gain. No man ever yet held aloof from his kind without paying the price in narrower sympathies, a narrower brain, and a narrower heart. The eternal spirit of Progress which works throughout the universe never fails to punish the deserter, and the most common punishment is atrophy. Not to submit to the process of evolution is to fall down the long slope of degeneracy.
'You do not need to be told that the entire history of nations confirms this rule. The greatest nations are those which have found life most difficult, and they have thriven on their difficulties. The soft climate, which reduces toil to a minimum, invariably means the enervated race. Under the harsh skies of Britain a great race has been trained to great exploits; but what part have the islands of the South Pacific ever played in human history? Give man a difficulty to overcome, and he at once puts forth his strength; difficulty is his spiritual gymnasium. Impose on him no need of exertion, and he will rot out, just as the races of the South Pacific are rotting out. I would measure the future of a man, or of a nation, by this simple test; do they habitually choose the easier or the harder path for themselves? The nation that chooses the hard path, that is not afraid of the burden of empire, that glories in the strife for primacy and is not afraid to pay the price of primacy in incredible exertion, in blood and sacrifice, is the nation that shall possess the earth. And is it not so with men? Here, again, I press home the need for considering one's actions in their collective aspect. Your course of life is easily imitable: would you have it imitated? There are thousands of men in London who could readily retire into a peaceful life to-morrow, on terms more favourable than yours. Every man possessed of a hundred pounds a year could do it. Yet there are plenty of old men, with ample fortunes, who never dream of doing it. They stick to their posts and they die at them. And it is by such men that the great machinery of social life, of commerce, of national progress is kept going.
'You would say, perhaps, that they are simply sacrificing the finer pleasures of life to the fanaticism of work; ah, but they are also sacrificing them for the good of the community. If the great surgeon or physician bolted from his duties the moment he had acquired money enough to buy a cottage, you would say he had no right to rob mankind of his skill and service to please himself. Have you that right? And if the whole nation acted in this spirit, how long would the nation hold its place of power and influence? In less than a century we should be as the Hottentots. We should be driven out before the advance of more energetic races, just as the Hottentots; who once possessed Southern Europe and Egypt, have been forced back into the African wilderness, where they live a life that is content with the gratification of the most primitive, the most bestial, wants. It is no excuse to say that the action of one man can have but little influence upon the trend of life in a whole nation. The merest unit in the sum, the cipher even, has power to change the total. The strength of wisdom in the majority of a nation may be more than sufficient to-day to counteract the folly of the unit; but there is always the chance that the folly of the individual may in time prevail against the experience of the wise, and pervert the nation. At all events, we ought to consider such possibilities before we hold ourselves free to do as we please in contempt of general custom.
'Do not be angry with me when I say that to me your flight from London appears only an illustration of that cowardice about life which is so common to-day. Men are very much afraid of life to-day; afraid of its responsibilities and duties; afraid of marriage and the burden of children; and not alone for the old are there fears in the way, but even the young men faint and grow weary.
'I can understand Stevenson flying to the South Seas; it was part of his prolonged duel with death. But his heart was in the Highlands, and could he have chosen, his feet would have trodden to old age the grey streets of Edinburgh. Your flight is altogether different. You have no real excuse in ill-health. You have simply fallen sick with a distaste for cities. You have had a bad dream, and you are frightened. I love you still; I count you friend still; but I cannot call you brave.
'O my friend, if I have said anything that sounds unfriendly, do not believe it of me; do not doubt that I love you. I think I should not have written thus but that in your last letter you expressed pity for me, and that stung me, I confess. And so I retort, you see, by pitying you, which is not admirable in me. Therefore let me say, if you care still to please me, do not, in any further letters you may write, ever express the least pity for me. Quite honestly I say I do not need pity, for I am perfectly happy. In giving all the time and money I can spare to the poor in Lucraft's Row, I have really renounced nothing; or, if I have, I am so unconscious of sacrifice that I can only say with Browning:
Renounce joy for thy fellow's sake? That's joy beyond joy!
There are half a dozen ragged boys who love me: there are twenty more who will do so in time; and there is my drunken friend with the dog's eyes, who looks to me to save him from the pit; what more can I ask? Fog and mire, grime and drudgery, these never trouble me, because I see Lucraft's Row, lit with a star, waiting for me at the end of every day. And the star is growing bigger and brighter, for it shines over a tiny obscure Bethlehem where the Soul is getting itself born in a few humble hearts. To be permitted to see this miracle, to assist in this incarnation of the Soul of the People, is its own exceeding great reward; and I may be envied, but never pitied.'
So ran the letter of my friend, and as I transcribe it I feel anew that it is an indictment not to be easily set aside. I must think over what I can reply to it. It seems as though if he be right in his mode of life I must be wrong in mine; and yet may we not both be right? Are we not seeing life from different angles?
Yes, I must have time for thought before I can reply to such a letter.
AM I RIGHT?
I have given myself a week to think over the letter of my friend, and I am now able to perceive that it is built upon a number of most ingenious fallacies. The chief fallacy appears to be this—that he insists that the race must always count for more than the individual, and that the individual must fall in line and step with the average conventions of the race at the expense of his own well-being, or be judged a deserter and a recreant.
It is hardly necessary to point out that no doctrine could be more hostile to collective progress, because progress is not a collective movement, but the movement of great individuals who drag the race after them. I do not recollect a single human reform that has been spontaneously generated in the heart of society itself; it has always had its beginnings in the hearts of individuals. Thus the Reformation is practically Martin Luther, the Evangelical revival is Wesley, the Oxford Movement is Newman, Free Trade is Cobden, and so on through a hundred regenerations of thought, morals, and politics. 'The world being what it is, we must take it as we find it,' is a note of quiet desperation. It is precisely because the Providence of History has again and again raised up men who were incapable of taking the world as they found it, that regenerations and reformations of society have occurred at all. Society never moves forward except when it is goaded by the spirit of individual genius. So far as we can trace the history of civilisation, and thanks to modern research we have about ten thousand years to go by, civilisation is a succession of waves, each flowing a little higher than its predecessor, with an ebb between each. At what point is the ebb checked, at what point does the fuller wave begin to flow? Always with the advent of individual genius. A great man rises who founds a dynasty; a great thinker, who publishes new truths; a great lawgiver or statesman, who establishes a new social system. New worlds need a Columbus, and the social Columbus is always a man with sufficient daring to stand by original convictions. Therefore I say that human progress is only made possible by not taking the world as we find it; and that he is the best friend of collective progress who is the most obedient not to collective convention, but to individual insight.
I observe that my friend does not live in the spirit of his own axiom: else, why should he trouble himself over the inhabitants of Lucraft's Row? He is certainly not taking the world as he finds it when he devotes his hours of leisure to impart the elements of decency to gutter-snipes, and save drunkards from the pit. He is as much an individualist as I, only his individualism expresses itself in a different way; which confirms my original conjecture that we may be equally right in our own mode of life. Nor, by his own confession, does he really sacrifice his inclinations in his mode of life; he gratifies his sense of altruism in Lucraft's Row, and I my love of Nature in the solitude of lonely hills. The objects which give men pleasure may be so diverse that what is a source of joy to one man may be an equal source of misery to another. There can be no doubt that many of the martyrs and ascetics were honestly enamoured of pain and whatever credit they deserve for sacrifice, they pleased themselves by renouncing the world, as others by enjoying it; and all that can be said on the subject is that each pleased himself in his own way.
Thoreau's defence when he was accused of not doing good was that it did not agree with his constitution; and although the defence sounds like a piece of amusing cynicism, it was in reality a plea entirely just. The common fault of the Good Earnest People, as of most people, is that they can only conceive of doing good after a pattern which is congenial to themselves. But their mode of doing good, while it suits themselves admirably, may not suit every constitution, and people of a quite different mental constitution may be quite as good as themselves, although it is after a very different pattern. Thoreau did a vast amount of good by showing men, in his own example, that the simplest kind of life was compatible with the highest intellectual aims; would he, in the long-run, have served the world half as well had he forced himself to live amid the squalor of a New York slum? Are not we so much the wiser and stronger by the lessons taught in the hut beside Walden Pond, that it would be the poorest compensation for their loss to know that Thoreau by dint of effort made himself a fairly efficient city missionary, or pleased the pundits of a Charity Organisation Society? Or to take a yet more forcible example of my meaning: Hood wrote The Song of the Shirt, and Wordsworth The Ode on Intimations of Immortality; would either have gained by an exchange of lot? The one poem could only have been written by a man who knew 'the tragic heart of towns,' and the other by the man who knew the tranquil heart of Nature; but Hood, transported to Grasmere, would have written nothing, and Wordsworth in Fleet Street is unthinkable. As it was, Destiny took the matter in hand, and having men to work upon whose first principle of life was to fulfil and not to violate the instincts of their own nature, succeeded in producing two poets who served mankind each in a way not possible to the other.
I suspect there is a great deal of cant to be cleared out of the mind before we can become equitable judges of what doing good really means. I define doing good as the fulfilment of our best instincts and faculties for the best use of mankind; but I do not expect that the Good Earnest People will accept this definition. They would find it much too catholic, simply because they have learned to attach a specialised meaning to the phrase 'doing good,' which limits it to some form of active philanthropy. If they would but allow a wider vision of life to pass before the eye, they would see that there are many ways of doing good besides those which satisfy their own ideals. It is a singular thing that men find it very difficult to live lives of charity without cherishing uncharitable tempers towards those who do not live precisely as they themselves do. For instance, the busy philanthropist, nobly eager to bring a little happiness into the grey lives of the disinherited, often has the poorest opinion of artists and novelists, who appear to him to live useless lives. But when Turner paints a picture like the Fighting Temeraire Towed to Her Last Berth, which is destined to stir generous thoughts in multitudes of hearts long after his death: or when Scott writes novels which have increased the sum of human happiness for a century, is not each doing good of the rarest, highest, and most enduring kind? The fulfilment of one's best instincts and faculties, for the best use of mankind, is not only the completest, but also the only available form of philanthropy. Since Nature has chosen to endow us with diverse faculties, our service of mankind must be diverse too. In a word, doing good is a much larger business than the ordinary philanthropist imagines; it has many branches and a thousand forms; and they are not always doing the most who seem the busiest, nor do those accomplish most in the alleviation of human misery whose contact with it is the closest.
During the last year of my life in London I came into contact with a brilliant young Oxford man, who had manifest talents for oratory, leadership, and literature. He was in search of a career, and being a youth of quick sympathies and very generous instincts, he was soon caught in the tide of a certain social movement, whose chief aim was to induce persons of culture to live among the very poorest of the poor. The leader of this movement was a man of beautifully unselfish temper, but of no striking intellectual gifts; apart from a certain originality of character, which was the fruit of this unselfish temper, he was quite commonplace in mind, and could have aspired to no higher rank in life than an honourable place among the inferior clergy. He attracted this brilliant youth, however; a youth who had been president of the Oxford Union, and had taken a double first in classics, for whom distinction in life seemed inevitable. The end was that his convert joined what was really a lay order of social and religious service. He lived among the slums of Holborn, devoted himself to the instruction of the children of the gutter, kept the accounts of coal and blanket clubs, and accepted cheerfully all the drudgery of philanthropy among the poor. Most people, I am quite aware, will say that this is a very noble example of renunciation; so it is, and as such I can admire it. But is there nothing else to be considered? May not the sociologist ask whether a man is serving society in the best way by refusing to use his best gifts in the only direction in which they could have full play? For many years this youth had trained himself for a particular part in life which few could fill; he might have influenced the councils of his nation by his powers of debate, the mind of his nation by his gift of literature; he should have stood before kings and spoken to scholars; yet all these high utilities were extinguished in order that he might do something which a man with only a tenth part of his gifts might have done quite as well. Think of the picture; a scholar who never opens a book, an orator who addresses only costers and work-girls, a writer who writes nothing, a leader of men who exerts no public influence; and what is this wilful destruction of high faculties but social waste and robbery? No doubt he is doing good; but would not the good he might have done have been far wider, had he followed the line of his natural gifts, and occupied the place in life for which those gifts obviously fitted him?
This story is a pertinent example of the cant of Doing Good. By all means let those live among the poor and work for their betterment who have a distinct vocation for the task; but it is not a vocation for all. I object to the spectacle of a late president of the Oxford Union giving up his life to the management of coal and blanket clubs, just as I object to the spectacle of a thorough-bred racehorse harnessed to a dray. It is a waste of power. But the Good Earnest People never see this side of things, because they are afflicted with narrowness of vision. They admit no definition of doing good but their own. They cannot see that the man who passes from a distinguished University career to a distinguished public life may do more for the poor by his pen, by his power of awakening sympathy, by the opportunity that may be his to obtain the reversal of unjust laws or the establishment of good laws, than he ever could have done by living in a slum as the friend and helper of a small group of needy men and women. Decisive victories are won more often by lateral movements than by frontal attacks. The wave of force which travels on a circle may arrive with more thrilling impact on a point of contact than that which travels on a horizontal line. Society is best served after all by the fullest development of our best faculties; and whether we check this development from pious or selfish motives, the result is still the same; we have robbed society of its profit by us, which is the worst kind of evil which we can inflict on the community.
If this statement of social obligation is admitted as correct, most of my friend's strictures on my conduct dissolve into mere harmless rhetoric. For instance, he says I have 'marooned' myself, and goes on to draw a fancy picture of a South Sea Islander, content with laziness and sunshine, intimating that this is the kind of life which I have chosen. On the contrary my life is what most city men would call a hard life. I work hard every day, the only difference between my work and theirs being that my work is natural, wholesome, and pleasant, while theirs is drudgery. In what am I more selfish than the average citizen, who after all is doing just what I am doing, viz. working for his living? My friend would have me believe that the man who toils in cities does so from exalted motives. He is bearing the weight of empire, assisting in the growth of British commerce, and generally serving the cause of national progress, while I sit in ignoble independence on my own potato patch. I have known a good many men engaged in the lower ranks of commerce, but I have yet to meet one who is influenced in the least by these highly-coloured motives and ideals. They are intent on earning their living, no more. Their interest in commerce is precisely confined to what they can get out of it. They bear just as little of the burden of the Empire as the tax-gatherer will permit them. There is not one of them who would not object with vigour to take a single shilling less per week for the sake of progress, or any cause that might arrogate that title. Besides, it is surely a piece of undiluted Cockney egoism to suppose that the only persons who do their duty by the Empire are Londoners. We are still an agricultural country, and there are some millions of people who live upon the land. They do some kind of work, which one may suppose is of some utility and value to the nation; why should their kind of work be despised? They also pay taxes, give an equivalent of labour for their keep, rear children, educate them, and send them out to be of some service to the State; what does the dweller in cities do more than these? If I were disposed to argue the question, I should contend that the man who gets a bushel of corn or a sack of good potatoes out of the land has added a more real asset to the wealth of the community, and therefore deserves more praise from the commonwealth, than all the tribe of stockbrokers since the world began; for these lords of wealth, who reign supreme in cities, produce nothing. But since my friend is fond of quoting Browning, I also will quote him, and let the poet say in the flash of three lines what the dialectician would need a page to say:
All service ranks the same with God,— God's puppets, best and worst, Are we: there is no last nor first,
Of course there is no disputing the general truth of the statement that nations are developed by the call made upon their energies by difficulty, and their power of response to that call. But why should such a statement be construed into a reproach on my mode of life? If my friend, who is probably sitting in a comfortable office at this moment, adding up figures which he could do almost with his eyes shut, would condescend to visit my potato patch, he would find call enough upon his energy. I have almost broken my back, and certainly blistered my hands, for the last four hours in hoeing my potato trenches into good level lines, and I have still an hour's work at weeding to do before I can satisfy myself that I have earned my dinner. I can assure him that bread-fruit does not grow on my land, nor am I in danger of being corrupted by a too easy means of subsistence. The worst crime that can be alleged against me is that I have changed my occupation in life, but I am very far from being unoccupied. The occupation which I now follow is the most ancient and most honourable in the world; I believe that Adam followed it. Is it not a curious irony upon civilisation, that it has so filled the mind with artificial estimates of work, that a form of work which is still practised by the great majority of the world's inhabitants is scarcely regarded as work at all by the insolent minority of mankind who happen to live in cities? But I have long observed that there is a universal tendency in men only to regard as work the peculiar sort of work which they themselves do; and so the artisan supposes he is the only genuine 'working man,' and the shopkeeper thinks the life of the professional man a piece of organised idleness, and the tradition appears ineradicable that all the clergy, from bishops downwards, never work at all because they do not sit in offices. It is of a piece with the theory of 'doing good'; for all men are bigots when they attempt to measure the universal life of men by their own little egoistic standards.
As to that imposing axiom, that all our actions must be measured by their collective effects, I heartily agree to it, because it is precisely here that I think my case is strongest. I do not, of course, invite all men to follow my example by returning to what my friend calls 'barbarism,' and there is so little danger of any such catastrophe that it is not worth while discussing it. But if any considerable number of men should think my example good, I would not deter them from following it, because I believe that no greater service could be done to society than to multiply the number of individuals who prefer a simple to an artificial existence, who are willing to live lives of honest labour and entire contentment, who will care not at all for riches, but will spend their utmost care upon their virtues, who will count 'self-possession,' the best of all possessions, and the power of living in God's world in cheerful happiness and modest usefulness the real programme of life which God has set before all His children, and which alone is worth our hope and struggle. The basis of all good citizenship is physical and moral health. Health is really wholeness, and so we get the word holiness, for all these words are products of the same idea. What service to the race can be greater, both in its present value and its ultimate effect, than to produce men and women both physically and morally whole? It is no doubt a duty to do all we can to help the unfit, and assist the infirm; but it is better wisdom and a truer duty to produce the fit and the whole. In the degree that I am better equipped as a man, I am better equipped as a member of the commonwealth. All questions of doing good are secondary to the question of being good; and to be good is but a synonym of moral wholeness. If a nation can succeed in producing efficient human creatures, efficient first of all in body, because that is the basis of all efficiency of mind, and will, and energy, there will be no question of efficient citizenship. As for me, I have found the means of a more efficient manhood by a return to a simple and a natural life; and therefore I am quite willing to submit my action to the test of collective example, believing that the more widely it is imitated, the better will it be for the happiness and well-being of my nation, and of the world.
The best way of doing good that I can devise is to make myself an efficient member of society; and it is obvious that if every man did this there would be very little work for the professional philanthropist. It is not help that men need most, but opportunity. Philanthropy is, for the most part, engaged in patching up the sick anaemic body of society; which is equivalent to minimising the distress of ill-health without producing good health. The wise physician knows very well that no amount of medicine will do much for the anaemic child; what the child wants is room to grow. We have social physicians in plenty, each with his own particular medicine, but all of them together have said nothing half so wise as these two lines of Walt Whitman:
Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons; It is to grow in the open air, and to eat and sleep with the earth.
To create the best persons is to accomplish a service for society which is durable, and therefore is the only real good. I claim that this is what I have tried to do in my own case, and in no other way could I discharge my obligation to society so well. Economically considered I am now a profitable asset to society. I do a man's work every day, and I earn my keep. When the time comes for my children to go out into life they will take with them good thews and muscles, sound bodies, and well-furnished minds. I imagine that this is about as good a contribution to the cause of Progress, the service of Commerce, and the maintenance of Empire, as any one man can make.
THE CITY OF THE FUTURE
After four years' experiment in Quest of the Simple Life I am in a position to state certain conclusions, which are sufficiently authoritative with me to suggest that they may have some weight with my readers. These conclusions I will briefly recapitulate.
The chief discovery which I have made is that man may lead a perfectly honourable, sufficing, and even joyous existence upon a very small income. Money plays a part in human existence much less important than we suppose. The best boon that money can bestow upon us is independence. How much money do we need to secure independence? That must depend on the nature of our wants. Becky Sharp thought that virtue might be possible on 5000 pounds a year; and, apart from the question of whether money has anything to do with virtue at all, it is obvious that she put her figure absurdly high. Most of us put the figure at which independence may be purchased too high. If our idea of independence is the possession of an income that allows extravagance, if life would be intolerable to us without the gratification of many artificial wants, if our notion of a lodge in the wilderness is the
Cottage, with a double coach-house, The pride that apes humility,
at which Coleridge sneered, then only a very few of us can ever hope for our emancipation. The first step toward independence is the limitation of our wants. We must be fed, clothed, and lodged in such a way that a self-respecting life is possible to us; when we have ascertained the figure at which this ideal can be realised, we have ascertained the price of independence.
My experiment I regard as successful, but there are two features in it which diminish its general application. One is that I took with me into my solitude certain tastes and aptitudes, which I may claim without the least egoism to be not altogether common. I had an intense love of Nature, a delight in physical exertion, and a vital interest in literature. I was thus provided with resources in myself. It would be the height of folly for a person wholly destitute of these aptitudes to venture upon such a life as mine. He would find the country unutterably wearisome, its pursuits a detestable form of drudgery, and the unoccupied hours of his life tedious beyond expression.
In reconsidering what I have written I perceive that unconsciously I have chronicled only the pleasant episodes of my existence. There is another picture that might be painted of mountains clothed in cloud, roads deep in mire, work done under drenching rains, early darkness, lack of neighbourship, isolation and monotony, a life separated by continents of silence from all the eager movement of the world. There are two pictures of the country, equally true; the country of Corot, idyllic, lovely, full of soft light and graceful form; the country of Millet, austere, harsh, bleak, impressive only by a certain gravity and grand severity. We all imagine that we could live in, and we all desire, the country of Corot. But could we live in the country of Millet? I confess that I could not have done so without resources in myself. It required a genuine pleasure in hard physical exercise to get through the duties of the day, and a genuine interest in literature to supply the place of those artificial forms of pleasure which relieve the tedium of towns. I do not know what I should have done without books in the long winter evenings. Nowhere is a 'city of the mind,' into which one can retire, so necessary as in the country. There is also needed an enduring and genuine delight in Nature and outdoor occupations, which creates its own sunshine under dreary skies. The mere sentiment of rusticity, created in the townsman's mind by pictures and novels, soon dissolves before the realities of a genuine country life. It is Millet, not Corot, who is the most frequent comrade of the man who looks for months together on the same expanse of fields, and moves upon the same unchanging round of labour. Therefore it is necessary to insist that no error could be greater than for a man with no real aptitude for a solitary life, and no resources of intellectual pleasure in himself, to attempt such an experiment as mine. He would weary of it in a month, and would flee, like a child afraid of the darkness, back to gaslit streets again, with reviling on his lips and bitter anger in his heart.
It must also be remembered that I did not go into the country with the intention of deriving my livelihood from the soil. My sources of income were separate from my mode of life; and although my income was at the best very small, yet it was sufficient to secure me ease of mind. I did indeed discover that the expenses of a simple life were slight, and that these expenses might be kept low by a moderate degree of industry in rural pursuits, but I never imagined that I could live altogether by the soil. I may frankly confess that while I believe it to be perfectly possible for a strong and handy man, accustomed to agricultural pursuits, to earn a living from the soil, my example has little to teach in this direction. The cry of 'Back to the Land' will be meaningless until general ownership in the land is made possible. It is the burden of rent, often a cruel and unjust rent, that has driven men from the land. Not far from me at Thornthwaite there resided a man and his wife who were among the most frugal and industrious persons I have ever met, yet they found it absolutely impossible to earn a living from the land simply because the conditions of their tenure were unreasonable. For thirteen acres of land, with a small farm-house and farm-buildings, they paid eighty pounds per annum, with an additional charge of thirty shillings a year for the right of a boat upon the lake. The most that they could do with this small holding was to graze four cows, and in a good season they got nearly enough hay to feed their cattle during the winter months; but with all the pinching in the world they went steadily behind at the rate of about forty pounds per annum. This is a concrete example of the difficulties of the small farmer, and it is sufficient to show how vain is the hope of any return to the land as long as rents are maintained at their present level. Were it possible for an English government to offer free grants of land as the Canadian government does, or even to fix rents and provide for the purchase of land as is the case in Ireland, multitudes of able-bodied men, wearied with the fierce struggle for bread in cities, would avail themselves of the opportunity; but under the present conditions of farm-tenure those who know the country best, know that, except in a very few districts, it is next to impossible to live by the land.
In these important respects, I admit that little can be deduced from my example. All that I can pretend to teach is that any man possessed of a small but secure income can live with ease and comfort in the country, where he would be condemned to a bitter struggle in a city; that a country life presents incomparable advantages of health and happiness; that it is not dull or monotonous to the man who has a genuine love of Nature, and some intellectual resources in himself; and that what are called the privations of such a life are inconsiderable compared with the real injuries endured by the man of small income, who earns his difficult bread in the fierce struggle of a city or a manufacturing town.
This leads me to a final question, viz. can nothing be done to regenerate our cities? Is it quite impossible that the City of the Future should be so contrived as to offer the best advantages of corporate and communal existence without those intolerable disadvantages which at present make the city a realm of 'dreadful night' to the poor, the weak, and the sensitive?
I began by saying that I am not a hater of cities. I feel their fascination, and four years of country life have not destroyed that fascination. When I had occasion recently to return to London for a week's visit, I was surprised to find with what eager joy I plunged into the labyrinth of lighted streets, how the blood began to quicken with the movement of the ceaseless crowd, how much of grandeur and beauty assailed the eye in the wide perspective of domes and towers and spires, how the very voice of London, sonorous and confused, like the noise of a great battlefield, thrilled the spirit, and I felt again that old and poignant charm of cities, that quickening of the imagination which lies in mere multitude, that perpetual seduction of the senses begotten by the revelation of so much effort and magnificence. There was an indescribable vivacity in this moving crowd, a contagious animation in the air; and, if truth be told, I found the air fresher and the sky less grey than I had fancied, for a south-west wind, soft as velvet and wet with sea-salt, blew through street and square, and the sky was full of sunshine and of racing clouds. I could not wonder at the love of cities; it seemed a passion inherent in modern man, fed and brought to its maturity by centuries of communal existence. And so the thought grew, that the temper of enduring antagonism to cities was a temper more and more impossible to modern man, who has long since left behind the realities of elemental life, the rude simplicities of patriarchal modes of existence. The City is with us, and it has come to stay. London grows vaster year by year, and there is no sign of arrest in its prodigious life. Is it then a dream quite impossible and vain, that cities may be so administered as to develop the best life of men, and not to stint it?
I believe that it is possible, and, most of all, by the expansion of the city area. There was a reason why men should be closely packed together in mediaeval times, when cities had their defensive walls against invaders, but those conditions have long since passed away. Entire security of life makes for the dispersal of population, and in a city like London, which has not been exposed to the perils of invasion for more than two centuries, there is no reason why people should be confined in narrow areas, From all that we can learn of the most ancient cities of the world, such as Nineveh and Babylon, we know that they covered enormous areas, although at no time were they secure from the capricious tragedies of war. Nineveh appears to have been a group of cities, united by a common government; cities of gardens and parks, so that the country flowed into the streets; cities in which the great temples, and palaces, and public buildings were not confined to any one quarter, but were scattered through the entire area of the city, giving an equal dignity to its every part. Let us apply the analogy to London. Let us suppose a reconstructed London, devised upon the broad principle of ample space and air according to population; of congregated and contiguous cities under a common government; of public buildings of utility and beauty equally distributed; and it is easy to imagine a London that should combine all the charm of the country with the advantages of the metropolis. The splendid streets, which are the main arteries of traffic, would remain, but the squalid tenements and alleys which are packed away behind them would disappear. A long chain of parks and gardens would unite the West and East, taking the place of a host of rotten rabbit-warrens, which are a disgrace to any civilised community. There would be no quarter of the town relinquished to the absolutely poor; Poplar would have its palaces of wealthy merchants as well as Kensington, St. Albans on the north, Reigate on the south, would mark the limits of the city, and all the intervening space would be filled with thriving colonies of Londoners, living in well-built houses with ample gardens. Manufactories would be distributed as well as mansions. The various trades would not be huddled together in narrow inconvenient corners of the metropolis; the factory, removed a dozen miles from Charing Cross, would take its workers with it, and become the nucleus of a new township. The artisan would thus work within sight of his house, and that entire dislocation of home-life, involved by present conditions of labour, would disappear. And each of these townships would have its baths, libraries, and technical schools, not dependent on local enterprise or generosity, but administered by a central body, composed of men of wide views and experience, who should deserve the great title of the City Fathers; and each would be saved from the narrow spirit of suburbanism by the proud sense of its corporate unity with London.
Such a London no doubt bears the aspect of a futile dream; yet it is worth while pointing out that in a dim and feeble way this has been the ideal after which London has been groping ever since the day when the population first overflowed its normal boundaries. The mischief has been that nothing has been done upon a grand scale and by organised effort. A bit of open space has been bought for a park here and there, while a much larger bit has passed into the builder's hands through local indifference or apathy. New suburbs have arisen in a day, not because any central power willed it, but simply by the combined greed, energy, and enterprise of the speculative builder, who invariably builds rotten houses, which he sells as fast as he can to guileless people with a passion for owning house-property. The result has been confusion, waste, and disappointment. The new township rises without any adequate provision for roads or railway accommodation. It is filled by a migratory population who do not realise these inconveniences or ignore them, as long as the novelty of the thing charms them; presently they move off again, a poorer population takes their place, rents drop, and another suburb is left to a precarious existence. I contend that this necessary expansion of the metropolis should not be left to caprice; it should be designed upon broad lines of development. The London County Council should buy up every acre of land that comes into the market within a thirty-five mile radius of Central London. It should be for the Council to decide whether such land as they acquired should be retained for parks and gardens, or utilised for building. It should be in their sole power to decide the kind of buildings that should be erected, and to bind themselves to erect buildings of public utility and convenience, such as libraries, baths, and concert-halls in a settled proportion to the number of dwelling-houses. At all costs the speculative builder should be eliminated. He is the worst sort of parasite on the community. His dishonesty is absolute, and the mischief which he works is little short of crime. Since the County Council has established its right to build houses, and has built them well, let it build all our houses, and give to other classes beside the artisan the advantage of substantial tenements. Let it borrow as many millions as it pleases; no one will complain if its administration is efficient; and after all, we may as well pay a fair rent to a central body, amenable to public opinion, as to a private individual whose own gain is the chief matter involved, We cannot do without the capitalist; but a Communal Capitalist is infinitely preferable to a private capitalist. Municipal Socialism is the watchword of the future; and instead of being jealous of the existing powers of the County Council, I would increase those powers tenfold; for without the widest kind of power, and even of despotic power, invested in some central authority, the chaotic expansion of London will go on to the enrichment of the few and the abiding injury of the many.
One of the greatest difficulties in this expansion of the area is the means of locomotion. It is at present in the power of a railway company, which is after all only a private trading concern, to create or ruin the prosperity of a suburb by the kind of provision which it makes for it necessities. A good, rapid, cheap, and frequent service of trains is a matter of the utmost importance to a suburb. But here again, our method of expansion is left to chance and haphazard. The speculative builder does not trouble himself about a train-service; he knows by experience that he can attract a population to any given locality, and he leaves the new residents to discover the inconveniences of the locality for themselves. It might be supposed that the railway company, in its own interest, would be quick to profit by the new population on its line of route; sometimes it does so, but in many instances it does not. One would suppose by the grudging way in which extra trains are put on to meet the needs of an increased population, that the railway company was a beneficent association, granting favours, instead of a trading concern in search of new business. The only real remedy for this kind of evil is that all the means of locomotion within a twenty-five miles radius of Charing Cross should be in the hands of one central authority. If a County Council is capable of superintending a tramway system, it should also be capable of superintending the suburban railway system for the public good. And if it be thought much too vast an undertaking for the County Council to become the proprietor of all the suburban lines, it should at least be in the power of the Council to exercise effective control over their working, and to compel the companies to make adequate provision for the outlying populations.
But it is clear that if factories and businesses were removed into suburban districts, carrying their armies of workers with them, a good part of the difficulty of locomotion would soon settle itself. It is the enormous daily flow of population toward the centre that chokes the channels of locomotion, and the wisest method of checking this flow is to make it unnecessary, by establishing manufacturing colonies, on the pattern of Mr. Ellis Lever's and Mr. Cadbury's colonies at Port Sunlight and Bourneville. There would still remain the difficulty of locomotion in the central districts, but with proper enterprise, organisation, and control, this difficulty is not insuperable. In a few years we shall look back with wonder and pity to the days when the infrequent 'bus, the slow and tedious horse-tram, and the exorbitant cab were the means of locomotion in which a city of six million people put its trust. The electric tram, clean, frequent, and rapid, will be everywhere; the electric cab will run at a normal fare of threepence a mile; perhaps also there will be electric overhead railways, constructed upon a system which does not interfere with the perspective of the main thoroughfares, for the overhead electric railway, whatever may be its defects, is a means of locomotion vastly preferable to the unventilated tubes on which we now pride ourselves. May we not also hope that the general application of electric force will do much to cleanse our atmosphere? With houses lit and warmed by electricity, factories run by electric force, cooking done in electric ovens, the vile smoke which darkens and destroys the city would disappear. The skies of London would be as pure as the sky of the Orkneys, and a hundred trees and plants, which now perish at the first touch of the fog-fiend, would grow in our city parks and gardens as freely as they grow in Epping Forest. With a fleet of electric boats upon the Thames, running at one minute intervals, the Thames would once more become the river of pleasure, and a highway of popular traffic. There is no reason why these things should not be. All that is needed is that London, through its chosen representatives, should assume the full control of its own life; working out the scheme of its improvement by deliberate methods and upon a settled plan; compelling the obedience of all its citizens to a central authority, and intrusting to that authority the complete management of its affairs, not as a means of personal profit, but for the profit and the welfare of the whole community.
In the meantime much may be done by personal enterprise. Is there any real reason why groups of persons, whose employment is in the city, but whose hearts are in the country, should not found small colonies for themselves on the outskirts of London? Let a thousand householders combine themselves into a company; let them choose their own site, build their own houses; let them erect their own Church—one Church upon the broad basis of charity instead of dogma would suffice—elect their own managing committee, and set themselves to the creation of a true community. Let them possess their own electric plant for heating and lighting; let every house share the common convenience; and since domestic labour forms one of the chief difficulties to-day, let common dining-halls be erected for every hundred persons, where good and cheap meals could be provided, or from which such meals could be supplied to private houses, at the bare cost of their production. Let it be the aim of these communities to collect persons of not one trade or profession only, but persons of varied occupations to compose their citizenship, so that as many forms of human energy as might be possible should be represented, each contributing its own element to the common life. Let all the trades permitted in the little township be conducted on co-operative principles, and not for private gain. Let due provision be made for efficient education, for the cultivation of the arts, and for the proper means of pleasure. Would not such a combination of men and women represent the best ideal of a human community? And can we not see that in the mere economy of means and money the gain by such a system would be immense? Suppose the capitalised value of such a township, including the purchase of land, the erection of houses, draining, lighting, and so forth, were put at a million and a quarter sterling, which is a generous estimate, this would impose upon the individual house-holders no more than 40 pounds per annum, calculated at 4 per cent.; and besides this he would share in the great economy of co-operative trading. If this estimate be rejected as inadequate, it is easy to compute the cost by adding a burden of 10 pounds per annum to each house-holder for each quarter of a million expended; but even if the total charge reached 50 pounds or 60 pounds per annum for each householder, he would gain immensely in what he could get for his expenditure, compared with what he could get for the same money in crowded London. Such a scheme is simply the application of the principle of co-operation to communal life. It is not chimerical; if it seem so, it is simply because we are so ill-trained in morals that we are unwilling to act together in practical brotherhood. It is not impracticable; it might be achieved to-morrow if we were in earnest over it. There are hundreds of thoughtful men who have perceived its attractions, outlined its system, vaguely desired its benefits; are there not a thousand bold adventurers in London willing to bring their vague ideal to the test, and to make a practical experiment which, once successful, would alter the whole science of living, and go far to solve some of the most difficult problems of our time?
It is for such a movement that I wait. Free and glad as my life among the mountains has been, yet I am sensible that I am deprived of many elements of human intercourse, which are efficacious in the growth of thought and the widening of the mind. I count my deprivation light compared with the higher gains that are mine in the composure of my mind, the joy of animal vitality, the tranquil days that leave no bitterness and bring no discord, each joined to each in 'natural piety,' each inwoven into the calm rhythm of fulfilled desire and duty. But my pleasure is too little shared to be entirely satisfactory. I see that there are terms on which my happiness might be communicated; that there is a mode of life that should combine all the delight of human intercourse with the tranquillity of natural existence; that the choice does not lie, and ought not to lie, between the city and the desert; that it is only by the folly of man, only by his greed, and haste, and carelessness, and contempt for the communal principle, that such a choice is forced upon me. The Regenerated City will come in time, too late perhaps for me to enjoy it; but the City Colony or Commune may come at any time; and when it comes I will gladly be its conscript, I will earnestly labour for its welfare, I will humbly seek to promote its success, believing that in the degree that society exchanges individualism for co-operation, personal gain for common good, man will enter on the widening evolution of a real progress, and find the path that leads him to a truly Golden Age.