Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Signs of Change by William Morris

Part 1 out of 3

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.



How we Live and How we Might Live
Whigs, Democrats, and Socialists
Feudal England
The Hopes of Civilization
The Aims of Art
Useful Work versus Useless Toil
Dawn of a New Epoch


The word Revolution, which we Socialists are so often forced to use,
has a terrible sound in most people's ears, even when we have
explained to them that it does not necessarily mean a change
accompanied by riot and all kinds of violence, and cannot mean a
change made mechanically and in the teeth of opinion by a group of
men who have somehow managed to seize on the executive power for the
moment. Even when we explain that we use the word revolution in its
etymological sense, and mean by it a change in the basis of society,
people are scared at the idea of such a vast change, and beg that you
will speak of reform and not revolution. As, however, we Socialists
do not at all mean by our word revolution what these worthy people
mean by their word reform, I can't help thinking that it would be a
mistake to use it, whatever projects we might conceal beneath its
harmless envelope. So we will stick to our word, which means a
change of the basis of society; it may frighten people, but it will
at least warn them that there is something to be frightened about,
which will be no less dangerous for being ignored; and also it may
encourage some people, and will mean to them at least not a fear, but
a hope.

Fear and Hope--those are the names of the two great passions which
rule the race of man, and with which revolutionists have to deal; to
give hope to the many oppressed and fear to the few oppressors, that
is our business; if we do the first and give hope to the many, the
few MUST be frightened by their hope; otherwise we do not want to
frighten them; it is not revenge we want for poor people, but
happiness; indeed, what revenge can be taken for all the thousands of
years of the sufferings of the poor?

However, many of the oppressors of the poor, most of them, we will
say, are not conscious of their being oppressors (we shall see why
presently); they live in an orderly, quiet way themselves, as far as
possible removed from the feelings of a Roman slave-owner or a
Legree; they know that the poor exist, but their sufferings do not
present themselves to them in a trenchant and dramatic way; they
themselves have troubles to bear, and they think doubtless that to
bear trouble is the lot of humanity, nor have they any means of
comparing the troubles of their lives with those of people lower in
the social scale; and if ever the thought of those heavier troubles
obtrudes itself upon them, they console themselves with the maxim
that people do get used to the troubles they have to bear, whatever
they may be.

Indeed, as far as regards individuals at least, that is but too true,
so that we have as supporters of the present state of things, however
bad it may be, first those comfortable unconscious oppressors who
think that they have everything to fear from any change which would
involve more than the softest and most gradual of reforms, and
secondly those poor people who, living hard and anxiously as they do,
can hardly conceive of any change for the better happening to them,
and dare not risk one tittle of their poor possessions in taking any
action towards a possible bettering of their condition; so that while
we can do little with the rich save inspire them with fear, it is
hard indeed to give the poor any hope. It is, then, no less than
reasonable that those whom we try to involve in the great struggle
for a better form of life than that which we now lead should call on
us to give them at least some idea of what that life may be like.

A reasonable request, but hard to satisfy, since we are living under
a system that makes conscious effort towards reconstruction almost
impossible: it is not unreasonable on our part to answer, "There are
certain definite obstacles to the real progress of man; we can tell
you what these are; take them away, and then you shall see."

However, I purpose now to offer myself as a victim for the
satisfaction of those who consider that as things now go we have at
least got something, and are terrified at the idea of losing their
hold of that, lest they should find they are worse off than before,
and have nothing. Yet in the course of my endeavour to show how we
might live, I must more or less deal in negatives. I mean to say I
must point out where in my opinion we fall short in our present
attempts at decent life. I must ask the rich and well-to-do what
sort of a position it is which they are so anxious to preserve at any
cost? and if, after all, it will be such a terrible loss to them to
give it up? and I must point out to the poor that they, with
capacities for living a dignified and generous life, are in a
position which they cannot endure without continued degradation.

How do we live, then, under our present system? Let us look at it a

And first, please to understand that our present system of Society is
based on a state of perpetual war. Do any of you think that this is
as it should be? I know that you have often been told that the
competition, which is at present the rule of all production, is a
good thing, and stimulates the progress of the race; but the people
who tell you this should call competition by its shorter name of WAR
if they wish to be honest, and you would then be free to consider
whether or no war stimulates progress, otherwise than as a mad bull
chasing you over your own garden may do. War or competition,
whichever you please to call it, means at the best pursuing your own
advantage at the cost of some one else's loss, and in the process of
it you must not be sparing of destruction even of your own
possessions, or you will certainly come by the worse in the struggle.
You understand that perfectly as to the kind of war in which people
go out to kill and be killed; that sort of war in which ships are
commissioned, for instance, "to sink, burn, and destroy;" but it
appears that you are not so conscious of this waste of goods when you
are only carrying on that other war called COMMERCE; observe,
however, that the waste is there all the same.

Now let us look at this kind of war a little closer, run through some
of the forms of it, that we may see how the "burn, sink, and destroy"
is carried on in it.

First, you have that form of it called national rivalry, which in
good truth is nowadays the cause of all gunpowder and bayonet wars
which civilized nations wage. For years past we English have been
rather shy of them, except on those happy occasions when we could
carry them on at no sort of risk to ourselves, when the killing was
all on one side, or at all events when we hoped it would be. We have
been shy of gunpowder war with a respectable enemy for a long while,
and I will tell you why: It is because we have had the lion's-share
of the world-market; we didn't want to fight for it as a nation, for
we had got it; but now this is changing in a most significant, and,
to a Socialist, a most cheering way; we are losing or have lost that
lion's share; it is now a desperate "competition" between the great
nations of civilization for the world-market, and to-morrow it may be
a desperate war for that end. As a result, the furthering of war (if
it be not on too large a scale) is no longer confined to the honour-
and-glory kind of old Tories, who if they meant anything at all by it
meant that a Tory war would be a good occasion for damping down
democracy; we have changed all that, and now it is quite another kind
of politician that is wont to urge us on to "patriotism" as 'tis
called. The leaders of the Progressive Liberals, as they would call
themselves, long-headed persons who know well enough that social
movements are going on, who are not blind to the fact that the world
will move with their help or without it; these have been the Jingoes
of these later days. I don't mean to say they know what they are
doing: politicians, as you well know, take good care to shut their
eyes to everything that may happen six months ahead; but what is
being done is this: that the present system, which always must
include national rivalry, is pushing us into a desperate scramble for
the markets on more or less equal terms with other nations, because,
once more, we have lost that command of them which we once had.
Desperate is not too strong a word. We shall let this impulse to
snatch markets carry us whither it will, whither it must. To-day it
is successful burglary and disgrace, to-morrow it may be mere defeat
and disgrace.

Now this is not a digression, although in saying this I am nearer to
what is generally called politics than I shall be again. I only want
to show you what commercial war comes to when it has to do with
foreign nations, and that even the dullest can see how mere waste
must go with it. That is how we live now with foreign nations,
prepared to ruin them without war if possible, with it if necessary,
let alone meantime the disgraceful exploiting of savage tribes and
barbarous peoples, on whom we force at once our shoddy wares and our
hypocrisy at the cannon's mouth.

Well, surely Socialism can offer you something in the place of all
that. It can; it can offer you peace and friendship instead of war.
We might live utterly without national rivalries, acknowledging that
while it is best for those who feel that they naturally form a
community under one name to govern themselves, yet that no community
in civilization should feel that it had interests opposed any other,
their economical condition being at any rate similar; so that any
citizen of one community could fall to work and live without
disturbance of his life when he was in a foreign country, and would
fit into his place quite naturally; so that all civilized nations
would form one great community, agreeing together as to the kind and
amount of production and distribution needed; working at such and
such production where it could be best produced; avoiding waste by
all means. Please to think of the amount of waste which they would
avoid, how much such a revolution would add to the wealth of the
world! What creature on earth would be harmed by such a revolution?
Nay, would not everybody be the better for it? And what hinders it?
I will tell you presently.

Meantime let us pass from this "competition" between nations to that
between "the organizers of labour," great firms, joint-stock
companies; capitalists in short, and see how competition "stimulates
production" among them: indeed it does do that; but what kind of
production? Well, production of something to sell at a profit, or
say production of profits: and note how war commercial stimulates
that: a certain market is demanding goods; there are, say, a hundred
manufacturers who make that kind of goods, and every one of them
would if he could keep that market to himself; and struggles
desperately to get as much of it as he can, with the obvious result
that presently the thing is overdone, and the market is glutted, and
all that fury of manufacture has to sink into cold ashes. Doesn't
that seem something like war to you? Can't you see the waste of it--
waste of labour, skill, cunning, waste of life in short? Well, you
may say, but it cheapens the goods. In a sense it does; and yet only
apparently, as wages have a tendency to sink for the ordinary worker
in proportion as prices sink; and at what a cost do we gain this
appearance of cheapness! Plainly speaking, at the cost of cheating
the consumer and starving the real producer for the benefit of the
gambler, who uses both consumer and producer as his milch cows. I
needn't go at length into the subject of adulteration, for every one
knows what kind of a part it plays in this sort of commerce; but
remember that it is an absolutely necessary incident to the
production of profit out of wares, which is the business of the so-
called manufacturer; and this you must understand, that, taking him
in the lump, the consumer is perfectly helpless against the gambler;
the goods are forced on him by their cheapness, and with them a
certain kind of life which that energetic, that aggressive cheapness
determines for him: for so far-reaching is this curse of commercial
war that no country is safe from its ravages; the traditions of a
thousand years fall before it in a month; it overruns a weak or semi-
barbarous country, and whatever romance or pleasure or art existed
there, is trodden down into a mire of sordidness and ugliness; the
Indian or Javanese craftsman may no longer ply his craft leisurely,
working a few hours a day, in producing a maze of strange beauty on a
piece of cloth: a steam-engine is set a-going at Manchester, and
that victory over nature and a thousand stubborn difficulties is used
for the base work of producing a sort of plaster of china-clay and
shoddy, and the Asiatic worker, if he is not starved to death
outright, as plentifully happens, is driven himself into a factory to
lower the wages of his Manchester brother worker, and nothing of
character is left him except, most like, an accumulation of fear and
hatred of that to him most unaccountable evil, his English master.
The South Sea Islander must leave his canoe-carving, his sweet rest,
and his graceful dances, and become the slave of a slave: trousers,
shoddy, rum, missionary, and fatal disease--he must swallow all this
civilization in the lump, and neither himself nor we can help him now
till social order displaces the hideous tyranny of gambling that has
ruined him.

Let those be types of the consumer: but now for the producer; I mean
the real producer, the worker; how does this scramble for the plunder
of the market affect him? The manufacturer, in the eagerness of his
war, has had to collect into one neighbourhood a vast army of
workers, he has drilled them till they are as fit as may be for his
special branch of production, that is, for making a profit out of it,
and with the result of their being fit for nothing else: well, when
the glut comes in that market he is supplying, what happens to this
army, every private in which has been depending on the steady demand
in that market, and acting, as he could not choose but act, as if it
were to go on for ever? You know well what happens to these men:
the factory door is shut on them; on a very large part of them often,
and at the best on the reserve army of labour, so busily employed in
the time of inflation. What becomes of them? Nay, we know that well
enough just now. But what we don't know, or don't choose to know,
is, that this reserve army of labour is an absolute necessity for
commercial war; if OUR manufacturers had not got these poor devils
whom they could draft on to their machines when the demand swelled,
other manufacturers in France, or Germany, or America, would step in
and take the market from them.

So you see, as we live now, it is necessary that a vast part of the
industrial population should be exposed to the danger of periodical
semi-starvation, and that, not for the advantage of the people in
another part of the world, but for their degradation and enslavement.

Just let your minds run for a moment on the kind of waste which this
means, this opening up of new markets among savage and barbarous
countries which is the extreme type of the force of the profit-market
on the world, and you will surely see what a hideous nightmare that
profit-market is: it keeps us sweating and terrified for our
livelihood, unable to read a book, or look at a picture, or have
pleasant fields to walk in, or to lie in the sun, or to share in the
knowledge of our time, to have in short either animal or intellectual
pleasure, and for what? that we may go on living the same slavish
life till we die, in order to provide for a rich man what is called a
life of ease and luxury; that is to say, a life so empty,
unwholesome, and degraded, that perhaps, on the whole, he is worse
off than we the workers are: and as to the result of all this
suffering, it is luckiest when it is nothing at all, when you can say
that the wares have done nobody any good; for oftenest they have done
many people harm, and we have toiled and groaned and died in making
poison and destruction for our fellow-men.

Well, I say all this is war, and the results of war, the war this
time, not of competing nations, but of competing firms or capitalist
units: and it is this war of the firms which hinders the peace
between nations which you surely have agreed with me in thinking is
so necessary; for you must know that war is the very breath of the
nostrils of these fighting firms, and they have now, in our times,
got into their hands nearly all the political power, and they band
together in each country in order to make their respective
governments fulfil just two functions: the first is at home to act
as a strong police force, to keep the ring in which the strong are
beating down the weak; the second is to act as a piratical body-guard
abroad, a petard to explode the doors which lead to the markets of
the world: markets at any price abroad, uninterfered-with privilege,
falsely called laissez-faire, {1} at any price at home, to provide
these is the sole business of a government such as our industrial
captains have been able to conceive of. I must now try to show you
the reason of all this, and what it rests on, by trying to answer the
question, Why have the profit-makers got all this power, or at least
why are they able to keep it?

That takes us to the third form of war commercial: the last, and,
the one which all the rest is founded on. We have spoken first of
the war of rival nations; next of that of rival firms: we have now
to speak of rival men. As nations under the present system are
driven to compete with one another for the markets of the world, and
as firms or the captains of industry have to scramble for their share
of the profits of the markets, so also have the workers to compete
with each other--for livelihood; and it is this constant competition
or war amongst them which enables the profit-grinders to make their
profits, and by means of the wealth so acquired to take all the
executive power of the country into their hands. But here is the
difference between the position of the workers and the profit-makers:
to the latter, the profit-grinders, war is necessary; you cannot have
profit-making without competition, individual, corporate, and
national; but you may work for a livelihood without competing; you
may combine instead of competing.

I have said war was the life-breath of the profit-makers; in like
manner, combination is the life of the workers. The working-classes
or proletariat cannot even exist as a class without combination of
some sort. The necessity which forced the profit-grinders to collect
their men first into workshops working by the division of labour, and
next into great factories worked by machinery, and so gradually to
draw them into the great towns and centres of civilization, gave
birth to a distinct working-class or proletariat: and this it was
which gave them their MECHANICAL existence, so to say. But note,
that they are indeed combined into social groups for the production
of wares, but only as yet mechanically; they do not know what they
are working at, nor whom they are working for, because they are
combining to produce wares of which the profit of a master forms an
essential part, instead of goods for their own use: as long as they
do this, and compete with each other for leave to do it, they will
be, and will feel themselves to be, simply a part of those competing
firms I have been speaking of; they will be in fact just a part of
the machinery for the production of profit; and so long as this lasts
it will be the aim of the masters or profit-makers to decrease the
market value of this human part of the machinery; that is to say,
since they already hold in their hands the labour of dead men in the
form of capital and machinery, it is their interest, or we will say
their necessity, to pay as little as they can help for the labour of
living men which they have to buy from day to day: and since the
workmen they employ have nothing but their labour-power, they are
compelled to underbid one another for employment and wages, and so
enable the capitalist to play his game.

I have said that, as things go, the workers are a part of the
competing firms, an adjunct of capital. Nevertheless, they are only
so by compulsion; and, even without their being conscious of it, they
struggle against that compulsion and its immediate results, the
lowering of their wages, of their standard of life; and this they do,
and must do, both as a class and individually: just as the slave of
the great Roman lord, though he distinctly felt himself to be a part
of the household, yet collectively was a force in reserve for its
destruction, and individually stole from his lord whenever he could
safely do so. So, here, you see, is another form of war necessary to
the way we live now, the war of class against class, which, when it
rises to its height, and it seems to be rising at present, will
destroy those other forms of war we have been speaking of; will make
the position of the profit-makers, of perpetual commercial war,
untenable; will destroy the present system of competitive privilege,
or commercial war.

Now observe, I said that to the existence of the workers it was
combination, not competition, that was necessary, while to that of
the profit-makers combination was impossible, and war necessary. The
present position of the workers is that of the machinery of commerce,
or in plainer words its slaves; when they change that position and
become free, the class of profit-makers must cease to exist; and what
will then be the position of the workers? Even as it is they are the
one necessary part of society, the life-giving part; the other
classes are but hangers-on who live on them. But what should they
be, what will they be, when they, once for all, come to know their
real power, and cease competing with one another for livelihood? I
will tell you: they will be society, they will be the community.
And being society--that is, there being no class outside them to
contend with--they can then regulate their labour in accordance with
their own real needs.

There is much talk about supply and demand, but the supply and demand
usually meant is an artificial one; it is under the sway of the
gambling market; the demand is forced, as I hinted above, before it
is supplied; nor, as each producer is working against all the rest,
can the producers hold their hands, till the market is glutted and
the workers, thrown out on the streets, hear that there has been
over-production, amidst which over-plus of unsaleable goods they go
ill-supplied with even necessaries, because the wealth which they
themselves have created is "ill-distributed," as we call it--that is,
unjustly taken away from them.

When the workers are society they will regulate their labour, so that
the supply and demand shall be genuine, not gambling; the two will
then be commensurate, for it is the same society which demands that
also supplies; there will be no more artificial famines then, no more
poverty amidst over-production, amidst too great a stock of the very
things which should supply poverty and turn it into well-being. In
short, there will be no waste and therefore no tyranny.

Well, now, what Socialism offers you in place of these artificial
famines, with their so-called over-production, is, once more,
regulation of the markets; supply and demand commensurate; no
gambling, and consequently (once more) no waste; not overwork and
weariness for the worker one month, and the next no work and terror
of starvation, but steady work and plenty of leisure every month; not
cheap market wares, that is to say, adulterated wares, with scarcely
any GOOD in them, mere scaffold-poles for building up profits; no
labour would be spent on such things as these, which people would
cease to want when they ceased to be slaves. Not these, but such
goods as best fulfilled the real uses of the consumers, would labour
be set to make; for profit being abolished, people could have what
they wanted, instead of what the profit-grinders at home and abroad
forced them to take.

For what I want you to understand is this: that in every civilized
country at least there is plenty for all--is, or at any rate might
be. Even with labour so misdirected as it is at present, an
equitable distribution of the wealth we have would make all people
comparatively comfortable; but that is nothing to the wealth we might
have if labour were not misdirected.

Observe, in the early days of the history of man he was the slave of
his most immediate necessities; Nature was mighty and he was feeble,
and he had to wage constant war with her for his daily food and such
shelter as he could get. His life was bound down and limited by this
constant struggle; all his morals, laws, religion, are in fact the
outcome and the reflection of this ceaseless toil of earning his
livelihood. Time passed, and little by little, step by step, he grew
stronger, till now after all these ages he has almost completely
conquered Nature, and one would think should now have leisure to turn
his thoughts towards higher things than procuring to-morrow's dinner.
But, alas! his progress has been broken and halting; and though he
has indeed conquered Nature and has her forces under his control to
do what he will with, he still has himself to conquer, he still has
to think how he will best use those forces which he has mastered. At
present he uses them blindly, foolishly, as one driven by mere fate.
It would almost seem as if some phantom of the ceaseless pursuit of
food which was once the master of the savage was still hunting the
civilized man; who toils in a dream, as it were, haunted by mere dim
unreal hopes, borne of vague recollections of the days gone by. Out
of that dream he must wake, and face things as they really are. The
conquest of Nature is complete, may we not say? and now our business
is, and has for long been, the organization of man, who wields the
forces of Nature. Nor till this is attempted at least shall we ever
be free of that terrible phantom of fear of starvation which, with
its brother devil, desire of domination, drives us into injustice,
cruelty, and dastardliness of all kinds: to cease to fear our
fellows and learn to depend on them, to do away with competition and
build up co-operation, is our one necessity.

Now, to get closer to details; you probably know that every man in
civilization is worth, so to say, more than his skin; working, as he
must work, socially, he can produce more than will keep himself alive
and in fair condition; and this has been so for many centuries, from
the time, in fact, when warring tribes began to make their conquered
enemies slaves instead of killing them; and of course his capacity of
producing these extras has gone on increasing faster and faster, till
to-day one man will weave, for instance, as much cloth in a week as
will clothe a whole village for years: and the real question of
civilization has always been what are we to do with this extra
produce of labour--a question which the phantom, fear of starvation,
and its fellow, desire of domination, has driven men to answer pretty
badly always, and worst of all perhaps in these present days, when
the extra produce has grown with such prodigious speed. The
practical answer has always been for man to struggle with his fellow
for private possession of undue shares of these extras, and all kinds
of devices have been employed by those who found themselves in
possession of the power of taking them from others to keep those whom
they had robbed in perpetual subjection; and these latter, as I have
already hinted, had no chance of resisting this fleecing as long as
they were few and scattered, and consequently could have little sense
of their common oppression. But now that, owing to the very pursuit
of these undue shares of profit, or extra earnings, men have become
more dependent on each other for production, and have been driven, as
I said before, to combine together for that end more completely, the
power of the workers--that is to say, of the robbed or fleeced class-
-has enormously increased, and it only remains for them to understand
that they have this power. When they do that they will be able to
give the right answer to the question what is to be done with the
extra products of labour over and above what will keep the labourer
alive to labour: which answer is, that the worker will have all that
he produces, and not be fleeced at all: and remember that he
produces collectively, and therefore he will do effectively what work
is required of him according to his capacity, and of the produce of
that work he will have what he needs; because, you see, he cannot USE
more than he needs--he can only WASTE it.

If this arrangement seems to you preposterously ideal, as it well
may, looking at our present condition, I must back it up by saying
that when men are organized so that their labour is not wasted, they
will be relieved from the fear of starvation and the desire of
domination, and will have freedom and leisure to look round and see
what they really do need.

Now something of that I can conceive for my own self, and I will lay
my ideas before you, so that you may compare them with your own,
asking you always to remember that the very differences in men's
capacities and desires, after the common need of food and shelter is
satisfied, will make it easier to deal with their desires in a
communal state of things.

What is it that I need, therefore, which my surrounding circumstances
can give me--my dealings with my fellow-men--setting aside inevitable
accidents which co-operation and forethought cannot control, if there
be such?

Well, first of all I claim good health; and I say that a vast
proportion of people in civilization scarcely even know what that
means. To feel mere life a pleasure; to enjoy the moving one's limbs
and exercising one's bodily powers; to play, as it were, with sun and
wind and rain; to rejoice in satisfying the due bodily appetites of a
human animal without fear of degradation or sense of wrong-doing:
yes, and therewithal to be well formed, straight-limbed, strongly
knit, expressive of countenance--to be, in a word, beautiful--that
also I claim. If we cannot have this claim satisfied, we are but
poor creatures after all; and I claim it in the teeth of those
terrible doctrines of asceticism, which, born of the despair of the
oppressed and degraded, have been for so many ages used as
instruments for the continuance of that oppression and degradation.

And I believe that this claim for a healthy body for all of us
carries with it all other due claims: for who knows where the seeds
of disease which even rich people suffer from were first sown: from
the luxury of an ancestor, perhaps; yet often, I suspect, from his
poverty. And for the poor: a distinguished physicist has said that
the poor suffer always from one disease--hunger; and at least I know
this, that if a man is overworked in any degree he cannot enjoy the
sort of health I am speaking of; nor can he if he is continually
chained to one dull round of mechanical work, with no hope at the
other end of it; nor if he lives in continual sordid anxiety for his
livelihood, nor if he is ill-housed, nor if he is deprived of all
enjoyment of the natural beauty of the world, nor if he has no
amusement to quicken the flow of his spirits from time to time: all
these things, which touch more or less directly on his bodily
condition, are born of the claim I make to live in good health;
indeed, I suspect that these good conditions must have been in force
for several generations before a population in general will be really
healthy, as I have hinted above; but also I doubt not that in the
course of time they would, joined to other conditions, of which more
hereafter, gradually breed such a population, living in enjoyment of
animal life at least, happy therefore, and beautiful according to the
beauty of their race. On this point I may note that the very
variations in the races of men are caused by the conditions under
which they live, and though in these rougher parts of the world we
lack some of the advantages of climate and surroundings, yet, if we
were working for livelihood and not for profit, we might easily
neutralize many of the disadvantages of our climate, at least enough
give due scope to the full development of our race.

Now the next thing I claim is education. And you must not say that
every English child is educated now; that sort of education will not
answer my claim, though I cheerfully admit it is something:
something, and yet after all only class education. What I claim is
liberal education; opportunity, that is, to have my share of whatever
knowledge there is in the world according to my capacity or bent of
mind, historical or scientific; and also to have my share of skill of
hand which is about in the world, either in the industrial
handicrafts or in the fine arts; picture-painting, sculpture, music,
acting, or the like: I claim to be taught, if I can be taught, more
than one craft to exercise for the benefit of the community. You may
think this a large claim, but I am clear it is not too large a claim
if the community is to have any gain out of my special capacities, if
we are not all to be beaten down to a dull level of mediocrity as we
are now, all but the very strongest and toughest of us.

But also I know that this claim for education involves one for public
advantages in the shape of public libraries, schools, and the like,
such as no private person, not even the richest, could command: but
these I claim very confidently, being sure that no reasonable
community could bear to be without such helps to a decent life.

Again, the claim for education involves a claim for abundant leisure,
which once more I make with confidence; because when once we have
shaken off the slavery of profit, labour would be organized so
unwastefully that no heavy burden would be laid on the individual
citizens; every one of whom as a matter of course would have to pay
his toll of some obviously useful work. At present you must note
that all the amazing machinery which we have invented has served only
to increase the amount of profit-bearing wares; in other words, to
increase the amount of profit pouched by individuals for their own
advantage, part of which profit they use as capital for the
production of more profit, with ever the same waste attached to it;
and part as private riches or means for luxurious living, which again
is sheer waste--is in fact to be looked on as a kind of bonfire on
which rich men burn up the product of the labour they have fleeced
from the workers beyond what they themselves can use. So I say that,
in spite of our inventions, no worker works under the present system
an hour the less on account of those labour-saving machines, so-
called. But under a happier state of things they would be used
simply for saving labour, with the result of a vast amount of leisure
gained for the community to be added to that gained by the avoidance
of the waste of useless luxury, and the abolition of the service of
commercial war.

And I may say that as to that leisure, as I should in no case do any
harm to any one with it, so I should often do some direct good to the
community with it, by practising arts or occupations for my hands or
brain which would give pleasure to many of the citizens; in other
words, a great deal of the best work done would be done in the
leisure time of men relieved from any anxiety as to their livelihood,
and eager to exercise their special talent, as all men, nay, all
animals are.

Now, again, this leisure would enable me to please myself and expand
my mind by travelling if I had a mind to it: because, say, for
instance, that I were a shoemaker; if due social order were
established, it by no means follows that I should always be obliged
to make shoes in one place; a due amount of easily conceivable
arrangement would enable me to make shoes in Rome, say, for three
months, and to come back with new ideas of building, gathered from
the sight of the works of past ages, amongst other things which would
perhaps be of service in London.

But now, in order that my leisure might not degenerate into idleness
and aimlessness, I must set up a claim for due work to do. Nothing
to my mind is more important than this demand, and I must ask your
leave to say something about it. I have mentioned that I should
probably use my leisure for doing a good deal of what is now called
work; but it is clear that if I am a member of a Socialist Community
I must do my due share of rougher work than this--my due share of
what my capacity enables me to do, that is; no fitting of me to a
Procrustean bed; but even that share of work necessary to the
existence of the simplest social life must, in the first place,
whatever else it is, be reasonable work; that is, it must be such
work as a good citizen can see the necessity for; as a member of the
community, I must have agreed to do it.

To take two strong instances of the contrary, I won't submit to be
dressed up in red and marched off to shoot at my French or German or
Arab friend in a quarrel that I don't understand; I will rebel sooner
than do that.

Nor will I submit to waste my time and energies in making some
trifling toy which I know only a fool can desire; I will rebel sooner
than do that.

However, you may be sure that in a state of social order I shall have
no need to rebel against any such pieces of unreason; only I am
forced to speak from the way we live to the way we might live.

Again, if the necessary reasonable work be of a mechanical kind, I
must be helped to do it by a machine, not to cheapen my labour, but
so that as little time as possible may be spent upon it, and that I
may be able to think of other things while am tending the machine.
And if the work be specially rough or exhausting, you will, I am
sure, agree with me in saying that I must take turns in doing it with
other people; I mean I mustn't, for instance, be expected to spend my
working hours always at the bottom of a coal-pit. I think such work
as that ought to be largely volunteer work, and done, as I say, in
spells. And what I say of very rough work I say also of nasty work.
On the other hand, I should think very little of the manhood of a
stout and healthy man who did not feel a pleasure in doing rough
work; always supposing him to work under the conditions I have been
speaking of--namely, feeling that it was useful (and consequently
honoured), and that it was not continuous or hopeless, and that he
was really doing it of his own free will.

The last claim I make for my work is that the places I worked in,
factories or workshops, should be pleasant, just as the fields where
our most necessary work is done are pleasant. Believe me there is
nothing in the world to prevent this being done, save the necessity
of making profits on all wares; in other words, the wares are
cheapened at the expense of people being forced to work in crowded,
unwholesome, squalid, noisy dens: that is to say, they are cheapened
at the expense of the workman's life.

Well, so much for my claims as to my NECESSARY work, my tribute to
the community. I believe people would find, as they advanced in
their capacity for carrying on social order, that life so lived was
much less expensive than we now can have any idea of; and that, after
a little, people would rather be anxious to seek work than to avoid
it; that our working hours would rather be merry parties of men and
maids, young men and old enjoying themselves over their work, than
the grumpy weariness it mostly is now. Then would come the time for
the new birth of art, so much talked of, so long deferred; people
could not help showing their mirth and pleasure in their work, and
would be always wishing to express it in a tangible and more or less
enduring form, and the workshop would once more be a school of art,
whose influence no one could escape from.

And, again, that word art leads me to my last claim, which is that
the material surroundings of my life should be pleasant, generous,
and beautiful; that I know is a large claim, but this I will say
about it, that if it cannot be satisfied, if every civilized
community cannot provide such surroundings for all its members, I do
not want the world to go on; it is a mere misery that man has ever
existed. I do not think it possible under the present circumstances
to speak too strongly on this point. I feel sure that the time will
come when people will find it difficult to believe that a rich
community such as ours, having such command over external Nature,
could have submitted to live such a mean, shabby, dirty life as we

And once for all, there is nothing in our circumstances save the
hunting of profit that drives us into it. It is profit which draws
men into enormous unmanageable aggregations called towns, for
instance; profit which crowds them up when they are there into
quarters without gardens or open spaces; profit which won't take the
most ordinary precautions against wrapping a whole district in a
cloud of sulphurous smoke; which turns beautiful rivers into filthy
sewers; which condemns all but the rich to live in houses idiotically
cramped and confined at the best, and at the worst in houses for
whose wretchedness there is no name.

I say it is almost incredible that we should bear such crass
stupidity as this; nor should we if we could help it. We shall not
bear it when the workers get out of their heads that they are but an
appendage to profit-grinding, that the more profits that are made the
more employment at high wages there will be for them, and that
therefore all the incredible filth, disorder, and degradation of
modern civilization are signs of their prosperity. So far from that,
they are signs of their slavery. When they are no longer slaves they
will claim as a matter of course that every man and every family
should be generously lodged; that every child should be able to play
in a garden close to the place his parents live in; that the houses
should by their obvious decency and order be ornaments to Nature, not
disfigurements of it; for the decency and order above-mentioned when
carried to the due pitch would most assuredly lead to beauty in
building. All this, of course, would mean the people--that is, all
society--duly organized, having in its own hands the means of
production, to be OWNED by no individual, but used by all as occasion
called for its use, and can only be done on those terms; on any other
terms people will be driven to accumulate private wealth for
themselves, and thus, as we have seen, to waste the goods of the
community and perpetuate the division into classes, which means
continual war and waste.

As to what extent it may be necessary or desirable for people under
social order to live in common, we may differ pretty much according
to our tendencies towards social life. For my part I can't see why
we should think it a hardship to eat with the people we work with; I
am sure that as to many things, such as valuable books, pictures, and
splendour of surroundings, we shall find it better to club our means
together; and I must say that often when I have been sickened by the
stupidity of the mean idiotic rabbit warrens that rich men build for
themselves in Bayswater and elsewhere, I console myself with visions
of the noble communal hall of the future, unsparing of materials,
generous in worthy ornament, alive with the noblest thoughts of our
time, and the past, embodied in the best art which a free and manly
people could produce; such an abode of man as no private enterprise
could come anywhere near for beauty and fitness, because only
collective thought and collective life could cherish the aspirations
which would give birth to its beauty, or have the skill and leisure
to carry them out. I for my part should think it much the reverse of
a hardship if I had to read my books and meet my friends in such a
place; nor do I think I am better off to live in a vulgar stuccoed
house crowded with upholstery that I despise, in all respects
degrading to the mind and enervating to the body to live in, simply
because I call it my own, or my house.

It is not an original remark, but I make it here, that my home is
where I meet people with whom I sympathise, whom I love.

Well, that is my opinion as a middle-class man. Whether a working-
class man would think his family possession of his wretched little
room better than his share of the palace of which I have spoken, I
must leave to his opinion, and to the imaginations of the middle
class, who perhaps may sometimes conceive the fact that the said
worker is cramped for space and comfort--say on washing-day.

Before I leave this matter of the surroundings of life, I wish to
meet a possible objection. I have spoken of machinery being used
freely for releasing people from the more mechanical and repulsive
part of necessary labour; and I know that to some cultivated people,
people of the artistic turn of mind, machinery is particularly
distasteful, and they will be apt to say you will never get your
surroundings pleasant so long as you are surrounded by machinery. I
don't quite admit that; it is the allowing machines to be our masters
and not our servants that so injures the beauty of life nowadays. In
other words, it is the token of the terrible crime we have fallen
into of using our control of the powers of Nature for the purpose of
enslaving people, we careless meantime of how much happiness we rob
their lives of.

Yet for the consolation of the artists I will say that I believe
indeed that a state of social order would probably lead at first to a
great development of machinery for really useful purposes, because
people will still be anxious about getting through the work necessary
to holding society together; but that after a while they will find
that there is not so much work to do as they expected, and that then
they will have leisure to reconsider the whole subject; and if it
seems to them that a certain industry would be carried on more
pleasantly as regards the worker, and more effectually as regards the
goods, by using hand-work rather than machinery, they will certainly
get rid of their machinery, because it will be possible for them to
do so. It isn't possible now; we are not at liberty to do so; we are
slaves to the monsters which we have created. And I have a kind of
hope that the very elaboration of machinery in a society whose
purpose is not the multiplication of labour, as it now is, but the
carrying on of a pleasant life, as it would be under social order--
that the elaboration of machinery, I say, will lead the
simplification of life, and so once more to the limitation of

Well, I will now let my claims for decent life stand as I have made
them. To sum them up in brief, they are: First, a healthy body;
second, an active mind in sympathy with the past, the present, and
the future; thirdly, occupation fit for a healthy body and an active
mind; and fourthly, a beautiful world to live in.

These are the conditions of life which the refined man of all ages
has set before him as the thing above all others to be attained. Too
often he has been so foiled in their pursuit that he has turned
longing eyes backward to the days before civilization, when man's
sole business was getting himself food from day to day, and hope was
dormant in him, or at least could not be expressed by him.

Indeed, if civilization (as many think) forbids the realization of
the hope to attain such conditions of life, then civilization forbids
mankind to be happy; and if that be the case, then let us stifle all
aspirations towards progress--nay, all feelings of mutual good-will
and affection between men--and snatch each one of us what we can from
the heap of wealth that fools create for rogues to grow fat on; or
better still, let us as speedily as possible find some means of dying
like men, since we are forbidden to live like men.

Rather, however, take courage, and believe that we of this age, in
spite of all its torment and disorder, have been born to a wonderful
heritage fashioned of the work of those that have gone before us; and
that the day of the organization of man is dawning. It is not we who
can build up the new social order; the past ages have done the most
of that work for us; but we can clear our eyes to the signs of the
times, and we shall then see that the attainment of a good condition
of life is being made possible for us, and that it is now our
business to stretch out our hands to take it.

And how? Chiefly, I think, by educating people to a sense of their
real capacities as men, so that they may be able to use to their own
good the political power which is rapidly being thrust upon them; to
get them to see that the old system of organizing labour FOR
INDIVIDUAL PROFIT is becoming unmanageable, and that the whole people
have now got to choose between the confusion resulting from the break
up of that system and the determination to take in hand the labour
now organized for profit, and use its organization for the livelihood
of the community: to get people to see that individual profit-makers
are not a necessity for labour but an obstruction to it, and that not
only or chiefly because they are the perpetual pensioners of labour,
as they are, but rather because of the waste which their existence as
a class necessitates. All this we have to teach people, when we have
taught ourselves; and I admit that the work is long and burdensome;
as I began by saying, people have been made so timorous of change by
the terror of starvation that even the unluckiest of them are stolid
and hard to move. Hard as the work is, however, its reward is not
doubtful. The mere fact that a body of men, however small, are
banded together as Socialist missionaries shows that the change is
going on. As the working-classes, the real organic part of society,
take in these ideas, hope will arise in them, and they will claim
changes in society, many of which doubtless will not tend directly
towards their emancipation, because they will be claimed without due
knowledge of the one thing necessary to claim, EQUALITY OF CONDITION;
but which indirectly will help to break up our rotten sham society,
while that claim for equality of condition will be made constantly
and with growing loudness till it MUST be listened to, and then at
last it will only be a step over the border and the civilized world
will be socialized; and, looking back on what has been, we shall be
astonished to think of how long we submitted to live as we live now.


What is the state of parties in England to-day? How shall we
enumerate them? The Whigs, who stand first on the list in my title,
are considered generally to be the survival of an old historical
party once looked on as having democratic tendencies, but now the
hope of all who would stand soberly on the ancient ways. Besides
these, there are Tories also, the descendants of the stout defenders
of Church and State and the divine right of kings.

Now, I don't mean to say but that at the back of this ancient name of
Tory there lies a great mass of genuine Conservative feeling, held by
people who, if they had their own way, would play some rather
fantastic tricks, I fancy; nay, even might in the course of time be
somewhat rough with such people as are in this hall at present. {3}
But this feeling, after all, is only a sentiment now; all practical
hope has died out of it, and these worthy people CANNOT have their
own way. It is true that they elect members of Parliament, who talk
very big to please them, and sometimes even they manage to get a
Government into power that nominally represents their sentiment, but
when that happens the said Government is forced, even when its party
has a majority in the House of Commons, to take a much lower
standpoint than the high Tory ideal; the utmost that the real Tory
party can do, even when backed by the Primrose League and its sham
hierarchy, is to delude the electors to return Tories to Parliament
to pass measures more akin to Radicalism than the Whigs durst
attempt, so that, though there are Tories, there is no Tory party in

On the other hand, there is a party, which I can call for the present
by no other name than Whig, which is both numerous and very powerful,
and which does, in fact, govern England, and to my mind will always
do so as long as the present constitutional Parliament lasts. Of
course, like all parties it includes men of various shades of
opinion, from the Tory-tinted Whiggery of Lord Salisbury to the
Radical-tinted Whiggery of Mr. Chamberlain's present tail. Neither
do I mean to say that they are conscious of being a united party; on
the contrary, the groups will sometimes oppose each other furiously
at elections, and perhaps the more simple-minded of them really think
that it is a matter of importance to the nation which section of them
may be in power; but they may always be reckoned upon to be in their
places and vote against any measure which carries with it a real
attack on our constitutional system; surely very naturally, since
they are there for no other purpose than to do so. They are, and
always must be, conscious defenders of the present system, political
and economical, as long as they have any cohesion as Tories, Whigs,
Liberals, or even Radicals. Not one of them probably would go such a
very short journey towards revolution as the abolition of the House
of Lords. A one-chamber Parliament would seem to them an impious
horror, and the abolition of the monarchy they would consider a
serious inconvenience to the London tradesman.

Now this is the real Parliamentary Party, at present divided into
jarring sections under the influence of the survival of the party
warfare of the last few generations, but which already shows signs of
sinking its differences so as to offer a solid front of resistance to
the growing instinct which on its side will before long result in a
party claiming full economical as well as political freedom for the
whole people.

But is there nothing in Parliament, or seeking entrance to it, except
this variously tinted Whiggery, this Harlequin of Reaction? Well,
inside Parliament, setting aside the Irish party, which is, we may
now well hope, merely temporarily there, there is not much. It is
not among people of "wealth and local influence," who I see are
supposed to be the only available candidates for Parliament of a
recognized party, that you will find the elements of revolution. We
will grant that there are some few genuine Democrats there, and let
them pass. But outside there are undoubtedly many who are genuine
Democrats, and who have it in their heads that it is both possible
and desirable to capture the constitutional Parliament and turn it
into a real popular assembly, which, with the people behind it, might
lead us peaceably and constitutionally into the great Revolution
which all THOUGHTFUL men desire to bring about; all thoughtful men,
that is, who do not belong to the consciously cynical Tories, i.e.,
men determined, whether it be just or unjust, good for humanity or
bad for it, to keep the people down as long as they can, which they
hope, very naturally, will be as long as they live.

To capture Parliament and turn it into a popular but constitutional
assembly is, I must conclude, the aspiration of the genuine Democrats
wherever they may be found; that is their idea of the first step of
the Democratic policy. The questions to be asked of this, as of all
other policies, are first, What is the end proposed by it? and
secondly, Are they likely to succeed? As to the end proposed, I
think there is much difference of opinion. Some Democrats would
answer from the merely political point of view, and say: Universal
suffrage, payment of members, annual Parliaments, abolition of the
House of Lords, abolition of the monarchy, and so forth. I would
answer this by saying: After all, these are not ends, but means to
an end; and passing by the fact that the last two are not
constitutional measures, and so could not be brought about without
actual rebellion, I would say if you had gained all these things, and
more, all you would have done would have been to establish the
ascendancy of the Democratic party; having so established it, you
would then have to find out by the usual party means what that
Democratic party meant, and you would find that your triumph in mere
politics would lead you back again exactly to the place you started
from. You would be Whigs under a different name. Monarchy, House of
Lords, pensions, standing army, and the rest of it, are only supports
to the present social system--the PRIVILEGE based on the wages and
capital system of production--and are worth nothing except as
supports to it. If you are determined to support that system,
therefore, you had better leave these things alone. The real masters
of Society, the real tyrants of the people, are the Landlords and
Capitalists, whom your political triumph would not interfere with.

Then, as now, there would be a proletariat and a moneyed class.
Then, as now, it would be possible sometimes for a diligent,
energetic man, with his mind set wholly on such success, to climb out
of the proletariat into the moneyed class, there to sweat as he once
was sweated; which, my friends, is, if you will excuse the word, your
ridiculous idea of freedom of contract.

The sole and utmost success of your policy would be that it might
raise up a strong opposition to the condition of things which it
would be your function to uphold; but most probably such opposition
would still be outside Parliament, and not in it; you would have made
a revolution, probably not without bloodshed, only to show people the
necessity for another revolution the very next day.

Will you think the example of America too trite? Anyhow, consider
it! A country with universal suffrage, no king, no House of Lords,
no privilege as you fondly think; only a little standing army,
chiefly used for the murder of red-skins; a democracy after your
model; and with all that, a society corrupt to the core, and at this
moment engaged in suppressing freedom with just the same reckless
brutality and blind ignorance as the Czar of all the Russias uses.

But it will be said, and certainly with much truth, that not all the
Democrats are for mere political reform. I say that I believe that
this is true, and it is a very important truth too. I will go
farther, and will say that all those Democrats who can be
distinguished from Whigs do intend social reforms which they hope
will somewhat alter the relations of the classes towards each other;
and there is, generally speaking, amongst Democrats a leaning towards
a kind of limited State-Socialism, and it is through that that they
hope to bring about a peaceful revolution, which, if it does not
introduce a condition of equality, will at least make the workers
better off and contented with their lot.

They hope to get a body of representatives elected to Parliament, and
by them to get measure after measure passed which will tend towards
this goal; nor would some of them, perhaps most of them, be
discontented if by this means we could glide into complete State-
Socialism. I think that the present Democrats are widely tinged with
this idea, and to me it is a matter of hope that it is so; whatever
of error there is in it, it means advance beyond the complete
barrenness of the mere political programme.

Yet I must point out to these semi-Socialist Democrats that in the
first place they will be made the cat's-paw of some of the wilier of
the Whigs. There are several of these measures which look to some
Socialistic, as, for instance, the allotments scheme, and other
schemes tending toward peasant proprietorship, co-operation, and the
like, but which after all, in spite of their benevolent appearance,
are really weapons in the hands of reactionaries, having for their
real object the creation of a new middle-class made out of the
working-class and at their expense; the raising, in short, of a new
army against the attack of the disinherited.

There is no end to this kind of dodge, nor will be apparently till
there is an end of the class which tries it on; and a great many of
the Democrats will be amused and absorbed by it from time to time.
They call this sort of nonsense "practical;" it SEEMS like doing
something, while the steady propaganda of a principle which must
prevail in the end is, according to them, doing nothing, and is
unpractical. For the rest, it is not likely to become dangerous,
further than as it clogs the wheels of the real movement somewhat,
because it is sometimes a mere piece of reaction, as when, for
instance, it takes the form of peasant proprietorship, flying right
in the face of the commercial development of the day, which tends
ever more and more towards the aggregation of capital, thereby
smoothing the way for the organized possession of the means of
production by the workers when the true revolution shall come:
while, on the other hand, when this attempt to manufacture a new
middle-class takes the form of co-operation and the like, it is not
dangerous, because it means nothing more than a slightly altered form
of joint-stockery, and everybody almost is beginning to see this.
The greed of men stimulated by the spectacle of profit-making all
around them, and also by the burden of the interest on the money
which they have been obliged to borrow, will not allow them even to
approach a true system of co-operation. Those benefited by the
transaction presently become eager shareholders in a commercial
speculation, and if they are working-men, as they often are, they are
also capitalists. The enormous commercial success of the great co-
operative societies, and the absolute no-effect of that success on
the social conditions of the workers, are sufficient tokens of what
this non-political co-operation must come to: "Nothing--it shall not
be less."

But again, it may be said, some of the Democrats go farther than
this; they take up actual pieces of Socialism, and are more than
inclined to support them. Nationalization of the land, or of
railways, or cumulative taxation on incomes, or limiting the right of
inheritance, or new factory laws, or the restriction by law of the
day's labour--one of these, or more than one sometimes, the Democrats
will support, and see absolute salvation in these one or two planks
of the platform. All this I admit, and once again say it is a
hopeful sign, and yet once again I say there is a snare in it--a
snake lies lurking in the grass.

Those who think that they can deal with our present system in this
piecemeal way very much underrate the strength of the tremendous
organization under which we live, and which appoints to each of us
his place, and if we do not chance to fit it, grinds us down till we
do. Nothing but a tremendous force can deal with this force; it will
not suffer itself to be dismembered, nor to lose anything which
really is its essence without putting forth all its force in
resistance; rather than lose anything which it considers of
importance, it will pull the roof of the world down upon its head.
For, indeed, I grant these semi-Socialist Democrats that there is one
hope for their tampering piecemeal with our Society; if by chance
they can excite people into seriously, however blindly, claiming one
or other of these things in question, and could be successful in
Parliament in driving it through, they would certainly draw on a
great civil war, and such a war once let loose would not end but
either with the full triumph of Socialism or its extinction for the
present; it would be impossible to limit the aim of the struggle; nor
can we even guess at the course which it would take, except that it
could not be a matter of compromise. But suppose the Democratic
party peaceably successful on this new basis of semi-State Socialism,
what would it all mean? Attempts to balance the two classes whose
interests are opposed to each other, a mere ignoring of this
antagonism which has led us through so many centuries to where we are
now, and then, after a period of disappointment and disaster, the
naked conflict once more; a revolution made, and another immediately
necessary on its morrow!

Yet, indeed, it will not come to that; for, whatever may be the aims
of the Democrats, they will not succeed in getting themselves into a
position from whence they could make the attempt to realize them. I
have said there are Tories and yet no real Tory party; so also it
seems to me that there are Democrats but no Democratic party; at
present they are used by the leaders of the parliamentary factions,
and also kept at a distance by them from any real power. If they by
hook or crook managed to get a number of members into Parliament,
they would find out their differences very speedily under the
influence of party rule; in point of fact, the Democrats are not a
party; because they have no principles other than the old Whig-
Radical ones, extended in some cases so as to take in a little semi-
Socialism which the march of events has forced on them--that is, they
gravitate on one side to the Whigs and on the other to the
Socialists. Whenever, if ever, they begin to be a power in the
elections and get members in the House, the temptation to be members
of a real live party which may have the government of the country in
its hands, the temptation to what is (facetiously, I suppose) called
practical politics, will be too much for many, even of those who
gravitate towards Socialism; a quasi-Democratic parliamentary party,
therefore, would probably be merely a recruiting ground, a nursery
for the left wing of the Whigs; though it would indeed leave behind
some small nucleus of opposition, the principles of which, however,
would be vague and floating, so that it would be but a powerless
group after all.

The future of the constitutional Parliament, therefore, it seems to
me, is a perpetual Whig Rump, which will yield to pressure when mere
political reforms are attempted to be got out of it, but will be
quite immovable towards any real change in social and economical
matters; that is to say, so far as it may be conscious of the attack;
for I grant that it may be BETRAYED into passing semi-State-
Socialistic measures, which will do this amount of good, that they
will help to entangle commerce in difficulties, and so add to
discontent by creating suffering; suffering of which the people will
not understand the causes definitely, but which their instinct will
tell them truly is brought about by GOVERNMENT, and that, too, the
only kind of government which they can have so long as the
constitutional Parliament lasts.

Now, if you think I have exaggerated the power of the Whigs, that is,
of solid, dead, unmoving resistance to progress, I must call your
attention to the events of the last few weeks. Here has been a
measure of pacification proposed; at the least and worst an attempt
to enter upon a pacification of a weary and miserable quarrel many
centuries old. The British people, in spite of their hereditary
prejudice against the Irish, were not averse to the measure; the
Tories were, as usual, powerless against it; yet so strong has been
the vis inertiae of Whiggery that it has won a notable victory over
common-sense and sentiment combined, and has drawn over to it a
section of those hitherto known as Radicals, and probably would have
drawn all Radicals over but for the personal ascendancy of Mr.
Gladstone. The Whigs, seeing, if but dimly, that this Irish
Independence meant an attack on property, have been successful in
snatching the promised peace out of the people's hands, and in
preparing all kinds of entanglement and confusion for us for a long
while in their steady resistance to even the beginnings of

This, therefore, is what Parliament looks to me: a solid central
party, with mere nebulous opposition on the right hand and on the
left. The people governed; that is to say, fair play amongst
themselves for the money-privileged classes to make the most of their
privilege, and to fight sturdily with each other in doing so; but the
government concealed as much as possible, and also as long as
possible; that is to say, the government resting on an assumed
necessary eternity of privilege to monopolize the means of the
fructification of labour.

For so long as that assumption is accepted by the ignorance of the
people, the Great Whig Rump will remain inexpugnable, but as soon as
the people's eyes are opened, even partially--and they begin to
understand the meaning of the words, the Emancipation of Labour--we
shall begin to have an assured hope of throwing off the basest and
most sordid tyranny which the world has yet seen, the tyranny of so-
called Constitutionalism.

How, then, are the people's eyes to be opened? By the force evolved
from the final triumph and consequent corruption of Commercial
Whiggery, which force will include in it a recognition of its
constructive activity by intelligent people on the one hand, and on
the other half-blind instinctive struggles to use its destructive
activity on the part of those who suffer and have not been allowed to
think; and, to boot, a great deal that goes between those two

In this turmoil, all those who can be truly called Socialists will be
involved. The modern development of the great class-struggle has
forced us to think, our thoughts force us to speak, and our hopes
force us to try to get a hearing from the people. Nor can one tell
how far our words will carry, so to say. The most moderate
exposition of our principles will bear with it the seeds of
disruption; nor can we tell what form that disruption will take.

One and all, then, we are responsible for the enunciation of
Socialist principles and of the consequences which may flow from
their general acceptance, whatever that may be. This responsibility
no Socialist can shake off by declarations against physical force and
in favour of constitutional methods of agitation; we are attacking
the Constitution with the very beginnings, the mere lispings, of

Whiggery, therefore, in its various forms, is the representative of
Constitutionalism--is the outward expression of monopoly and
consequent artificial restraints on labour and life; and there is
only one expression of the force which will destroy Whiggery, and
that is Socialism; and on the right hand and on the left Toryism and
Radicalism will melt into Whiggery--are doing so now--and Socialism
has got to absorb all that is not Whig in Radicalism.

Then comes the question, What is the policy of Socialism? If Toryism
and Democracy are only nebulous masses of opposition to the solid
centre of Whiggery, what can we call Socialism?

Well, at present, in England at least, Socialism is not a party, but
a sect. That is sometimes brought against it as a taunt; but I am
not dismayed by it; for I can conceive of a sect--nay, I have heard
of one--becoming a very formidable power, and becoming so by dint of
its long remaining a sect. So I think it is quite possible that
Socialism will remain a sect till the very eve of the last stroke
that completes the revolution, after which it will melt into the new
Society. And is it not sects, bodies of definite, uncompromising
principles, that lead us into revolutions? Was it not so in the
Cromwellian times? Nay, have not the Fenian sect, even in our own
days, made Home Rule possible? They may give birth to parties,
though not parties themselves. And what should a sect like we are
have to do in the parliamentary struggle--we who have an ideal to
keep always before ourselves and others, and who cannot accept
compromise; who can see nothing that can give us rest for a minute
save the emancipation of labour, which will be brought about by the
workers gaining possession of all the means of the fructification of
labour; and who, even when that is gained, shall have pure Communism
ahead to strive for?

What are we to do, then? Stand by and look on? Not exactly. Yet we
may look on other people doing their work while we do ours. They are
already beginning, as I have said, to stumble about with attempts at
State Socialism. Let them make their experiments and blunders, and
prepare the way for us by so doing. And our own business? Well, we-
-sect or party, or group of self-seekers, madmen, and poets, which
you will--are at least the only set of people who have been able to
see that there is and has been a great class-struggle going on.
Further, we can see that this class-struggle cannot come to an end
till the classes themselves do: one class must absorb the other.
Which, then? Surely the useful one, the one that the world lives by,
and on. The business of the people at present is to make it
impossible for the useless, non-producing class to live; while the
business of Constitutionalism is, on the contrary, to make it
possible for them to live. And our business is to help to make the
people CONSCIOUS of this great antagonism between the people and
Constitutionalism; and meantime to let Constitutionalism go on with
its government unhelped by us at least, until it at last becomes
CONSCIOUS of its burden of the people's hate, of the people's
knowledge that it is disinherited, which we shall have done our best
to further by any means that we could.

As to Socialists in Parliament, there are two words about that. If
they go there to take a part in carrying on Constitutionalism by
palliating the evils of the system, and so helping our rulers to bear
their burden of government, I for one, and so far as their action
therein goes, cannot call them Socialists at all. But if they go
there with the intention of doing what they can towards the
disruption of Parliament, that is a matter of tactics for the time
being; but even here I cannot help seeing the danger of their being
seduced from their true errand, and I fear that they might become, on
the terms above mentioned, simply supporters of the very thing they
set out to undo.

I say that our work lies quite outside Parliament, and it is to help
to educate the people by every and any means that may be effective;
and the knowledge we have to help them to is threefold--to know their
own, to know how to take their own, and to know how to use their own.


It is true that the Norman Conquest found a certain kind of feudality
in existence in England--a feudality which was developed from the
customs of the Teutonic tribes with no admixture of Roman law; and
also that even before the Conquest this country was slowly beginning
to be mixed up with the affairs of the Continent of Europe, and that
not only with the kindred nations of Scandinavia, but with the
Romanized countries also. But the Conquest of Duke William did
introduce the complete Feudal system into the country; and it also
connected it by strong bonds to the Romanized countries, and yet by
so doing laid the first foundations of national feeling in England.
The English felt their kinship with the Norsemen or the Danes, and
did not suffer from their conquests when they had become complete,
and when, consequently, mere immediate violence had disappeared from
them; their feeling was tribal rather than national; but they could
have no sense of tribal unity with the varied populations of the
provinces which mere dynastical events had strung together into the
dominion, the manor, one may say, of the foreign princes of Normandy
and Anjou; and, as the kings who ruled them gradually got pushed out
of their French possessions, England began to struggle against the
domination of men felt to be foreigners, and so gradually became
conscious of her separate nationality, though still only in a
fashion, as the manor of an ENGLISH lord.

It is beyond the scope of this piece to give anything like a
connected story, even of the slightest, of the course of events
between the conquest of Duke William and the fully developed
mediaeval period of the fourteenth century, which is the England that
I have before my eyes as Mediaeval or Feudal. That period of the
fourteenth century united the developments of the elements which had
been stirring in Europe since the final fall of the Roman Empire, and
England shared in the general feeling and spirit of the age,
although, from its position, the course of its history, and to a
certain extent the lives of its people, were different. It is to
this period, therefore, that I wish in the long run to call your
attention, and I will only say so much about the earlier period as
may be necessary to explain how the people of England got into the
position in which they were found by the Statute of Labourers enacted
by Edward III., and the Peasants' Rebellion in the time of his
grandson and successor, Richard II.

Undoubtedly, then, the Norman Conquest made a complete break in the
continuity of the history of England. When the Londoners after the
Battle of Hastings accepted Duke William for their king, no doubt
they thought of him as occupying much the same position as that of
the newly slain Harold; or at any rate they looked on him as being
such a king of England as Knut the Dane, who had also conquered the
country; and probably William himself thought no otherwise; but the
event was quite different; for on the one hand, not only was he a man
of strong character, able, masterful, and a great soldier in the
modern sense of the word, but he had at his back his wealthy dukedom
of Normandy, which he had himself reduced to obedience and organized;
and, on the other hand, England lay before him, unorganized, yet
stubbornly rebellious to him; its very disorganization and want of a
centre making it more difficult to deal with by merely overrunning it
with an army levied for that purpose, and backed by a body of house-
carles or guards, which would have been the method of a Scandinavian
or native king in dealing with his rebellious subjects. Duke
William's necessities and instincts combined led him into a very
different course of action, which determined the future destiny of
the country. What he did was to quarter upon England an army of
feudal vassals drawn from his obedient dukedom, and to hand over to
them the lordship of the land of England in return for their military
service to him, the suzerain of them all. Thenceforward, it was
under the rule of these foreign landlords that the people of England
had to develop.

The development of the country as a Teutonic people was checked and
turned aside by this event. Duke William brought, in fact, his
Normandy into England, which was thereby changed from a Teutonic
people (Old-Norse theod), with the tribal customary law still in use
among them, into a province of Romanized Feudal Europe, a piece of
France, in short; and though in time she did grow into another
England again, she missed for ever in her laws, and still more in her
language and her literature, the chance of developing into a great
homogeneous Teutonic people infused usefully with a mixture of Celtic

However, this step which Duke William was forced to take further
influenced the future of the country by creating the great order of
the Baronage, and the history of the early period of England is
pretty much that of the struggle of the king with the Baronage and
the Church. For William fixed the type of the successful English
mediaeval king, of whom Henry II. and Edward I. were the most notable
examples afterwards. It was, in fact, with him that the struggle
towards monarchical bureaucracy began, which was checked by the
barons, who extorted Magna Charta from King John, and afterwards by
the revolt headed by Simon de Montfort in Henry III.'s reign; was
carried on vigorously by Edward I., and finally successfully finished
by Henry VII. after the long faction-fight of the Wars of the Roses
had weakened the feudal lords so much that they could no longer
assert themselves against the monarchy.

As to the other political struggle of the Middle Ages, the contest
between the Crown and the Church, two things are to be noted; first,
that at least in the earlier period the Church was on the popular
side. Thomas Beckett was canonized, it is true, formally and by
regular decree; but his memory was held so dear by the people that he
would probably have been canonized informally by them if the holy
seat at Rome had refused to do so. The second thing to be noted
about the dispute is this, that it was no contest of principle.
According to the mediaeval theory of life and religion, the Church
and the State were one in essence, and but separate manifestations of
the Kingdom of God upon earth, which was part of the Kingdom of God
in heaven. The king was an officer of that realm and a liegeman of
God. The doctor of laws and the doctor of physic partook in a degree
of the priestly character. On the other hand, the Church was not
withdrawn from the every-day life of men; the division into a worldly
and spiritual life, neither of which had much to do with the other,
was a creation of the protestantism of the Reformation, and had no
place in the practice at least of the mediaeval Church, which we
cannot too carefully remember is little more represented by modern
Catholicism than by modern Protestantism. The contest, therefore,
between the Crown and the Church was a mere bickering between two
bodies, without any essential antagonism between them, as to how far
the administration of either reached; neither dreamed of
subordinating one to the other, far less of extinguishing one by the

The history of the Crusades, by-the-way, illustrates very
emphatically this position of the Church in the Middle Ages. The
foundation of that strange feudal kingdom of Jerusalem, whose very
coat of arms was a solecism in heraldry, whose king had precedence,
in virtue of his place as lord of the centre of Christianity, over
all other kings and princes; the orders of men-at-arms vowed to
poverty and chastity, like the Templars and Knights of St. John; and
above all the unquestioning sense of duty that urged men of all
classes and kinds into the holy war, show how strongly the idea of
God's Kingdom on the earth had taken hold of all men's minds in the
early Middle Ages. As to the result of the Crusades, they certainly
had their influence on the solidification of Europe and the great
feudal system, at the head of which, in theory at least, were the
Pope and the Kaiser. For the rest, the intercourse with the East
gave Europe an opportunity of sharing in the mechanical civilization
of the peoples originally dominated by the Arabs, and infused by the
art of Byzantium and Persia, not without some tincture of the
cultivation of the latter classical period.

The stir and movement also of the Crusades, and the necessities in
which they involved the princes and their barons, furthered the
upward movement of the classes that lay below the feudal vassals,
great and little; the principal opportunity for which movement,
however, in England, was given by the continuous struggle between the
Crown and the Church and Baronage.

The early Norman kings, even immediately after the death of the
Conqueror, found themselves involved in this struggle, and were
forced to avail themselves of the help of what had now become the
inferior tribe--the native English, to wit. Henry I., an able and
ambitious man, understood this so clearly that he made a distinct bid
for the favour of the inferior tribe by marrying an English princess;
and it was by means of the help of his English subjects that he
conquered his Norman subjects, and the field of Tenchebray, which put
the coping-stone on his success, was felt by the English people as an
English victory over the oppressing tribe with which Duke William had
overwhelmed the English people. It was during this king's reign and
under these influences that the trading and industrial classes began
to rise somewhat. The merchant gilds were now in their period of
greatest power, and had but just begun, in England at least, to
develop into the corporations of the towns; but the towns themselves
were beginning to gain their freedom and to become an important
element in the society of the time, as little by little they asserted
themselves against the arbitrary rule of the feudal lords, lay or
ecclesiastical: for as to the latter, it must be remembered that the
Church included in herself the orders or classes into which lay
society was divided, and while by its lower clergy of the parishes
and by the friars it touched the people, its upper clergy were simply
feudal lords; and as the religious fervour of the higher clergy,
which was marked enough in the earlier period of the Middle Ages (in
Anselm, for example), faded out, they became more and more mere
landlords, although from the conditions of their landlordism, living
as they did on their land and amidst of their tenants, they were less
oppressive than the lay landlords.

The order and progress of Henry I.'s reign, which marks the
transition from the mere military camp of the Conqueror to the
mediaeval England I have to dwell upon, was followed by the period of
mere confusion and misery which accompanied the accession of the
princes of Anjou to the throne of England. In this period the barons
widely became mere violent and illegal robbers; and the castles with
which the land was dotted, and which were begun under the auspices of
the Conqueror as military posts, became mere dens of strong-thieves.

No doubt this made the business of the next able king, Henry II., the
easier. He was a staunch man of business, and turned himself with
his whole soul towards the establishment of order and the
consolidation of the monarchy, which accordingly took a great stride
under him towards its ultimate goal of bureaucracy. He would
probably have carried the business still farther, since in his
contest with the Church, in spite of the canonization of Beckett and
the king's formal penance at his tomb, he had in fact gained a
victory for the Crown which it never really lost again; but in his
days England was only a part of the vast dominion of his House, which
included more than half of France, and his struggle with his
feudatories and the French king, which sowed the seed of the loss of
that dominion to the English Crown, took up much of his life, and
finally beat him.

His two immediate successors, Richard I. and John, were good
specimens of the chiefs of their line, almost all of whom were very
able men, having even a touch of genius in them, but therewithal were
such wanton blackguards and scoundrels that one is almost forced to
apply the theological word "wickedness" to them. Such characters
belong specially to their times, fertile as they were both of great
qualities and of scoundrelism, and in which our own special vice of
hypocrisy was entirely lacking. John, the second of these two pests,
put the coping-stone on the villany of his family, and lost his
French dominion in the lump.

Under such rascals as these came the turn of the Baronage; and they,
led by Stephen Langton, the archbishop who had been thrust on the
unwilling king by the Pope, united together and forced from him his
assent to Magna Charta, the great, thoroughly well-considered deed,
which is conventionally called the foundation of English Liberty, but
which can only claim to be so on the ground that it was the
confirmation and seal of the complete feudal system in England, and
put the relations between the vassals, the great feudatories, and the
king on a stable basis; since it created, or at least confirmed,
order among these privileged classes, among whom, indeed, it
recognized the towns to a certain extent as part of the great feudal
hierarchy: so that even by this time they had begun to acquire
status in that hierarchy.

So John passed away, and became not long after an almost mythical
personage, the type of the bad king. There are still ballads, and
prose stories deduced from these ballads, in existence, which tell
the tale of this strange monster as the English people imagined it.

As they belong to the literature of the fourteenth century, the
period I have undertaken to tell you about specially, I will give you
one of the latter of these concerning the death of King John, for
whom the people imagined a more dramatic cause of death than mere
indigestion, of which in all probability he really died; and you may
take it for a specimen of popular literature of the fourteenth

I can here make bold to quote from memory, without departing very
widely from the old text, since the quaint wording of the original,
and the spirit of bold and blunt heroism which it breathes, have
fixed it in my mind for ever.

The king, you must remember, had halted at Swinestead Abbey, in
Lincolnshire, in his retreat from the hostile barons and their French
allies, and had lost all his baggage by the surprise of the advancing
tide in the Wash; so that he might well be in a somewhat sour mood.

Says the tale: So the king went to meat in the hall, and before him
was a loaf; and he looked grimly on it and said, 'For how much is
such a loaf sold in this realm?'

'Sir, for one penny,' said they.

Then the king smote the board with his fist and said, 'By God, if I
live for one year such a loaf shall be sold for twelve pence!'

That heard one of the monks who stood thereby, and he thought and
considered that his hour and time to die was come, and that it would
be a good deed to slay so cruel a king and so evil a lord.

So he went into the garden and plucked plums and took out of them the
steles [stalks], and did venom in them each one; and he came before
the king and sat on his knee, and said:

'Sir, by St. Austin, this is fruit of our garden.'

Then the king looked evilly on him and said, 'Assay them, monk!'

So the monk took and ate thereof, nor changed countenance any whit:
and the king ate thereafter.

But presently afterwards the monk swelled and turned blue, and fell
down and died before the king: then waxed the king sick at heart,
and he also swelled and died, and so he ended his days.

For a while after the death of John and the accession of Henry III.
the Baronage, strengthened by the great Charter and with a weak and
wayward king on the throne, made their step forward in power and
popularity, and the first serious check to the tendency to
monarchical bureaucracy, a kind of elementary aristocratic
constitution, was imposed upon the weakness of Henry III. Under this
movement of the barons, who in their turn had to seek for the support
of the people, the towns made a fresh step in advance, and Simon de
Montfort, the leader of what for want of a better word must be called
the popular party, was forced by his circumstances to summon to his
Parliament citizens from the boroughs. Earl Simon was one of those
men that come to the front in violent times, and he added real
nobility of character to strength of will and persistence. He became
the hero of the people, who went near to canonizing him after his
death. But the monarchy was too strong for him and his really
advanced projects, which by no means squared with the hopes of the
Baronage in general: and when Prince Edward, afterwards Edward I.,
grown to his full mental stature, came to the help of the Crown with
his unscrupulous business ability, the struggle was soon over; and
with Evesham field the monarchy began to take a new stride, and the
longest yet taken, towards bureaucracy.

Edward I. is remembered by us chiefly for the struggle he carried on
with the Scotch Baronage for the feudal suzerainty of that kingdom,
and the centuries of animosity between the two countries which that
struggle drew on. But he has other claims to our attention besides

At first, and remembering the ruthlessness of many of his acts,
especially in the Scotch war, one is apt to look upon him as a
somewhat pedantic tyrant and a good soldier, with something like a
dash of hypocrisy beyond his time added. But, like the Angevine
kings I was speaking of just now, he was a completely characteristic
product of his time. He was not a hypocrite probably, after all, in
spite of his tears shed after he had irretrievably lost a game, or
after he had won one by stern cruelty. There was a dash of real
romance in him, which mingled curiously with his lawyer-like
qualities. He was, perhaps, the man of all men who represented most
completely the finished feudal system, and who took it most to heart.
His law, his romance, and his religion, his self-command, and his
terrible fury were all a part of this innate feudalism, and exercised
within its limits; and we must suppose that he thoroughly felt his
responsibility as the chief of his feudatories, while at the same
time he had no idea of his having any responsibilities towards the
lower part of his subjects. Such a man was specially suited to
carrying on the tendency to bureaucratic centralization, which
culminated in the Tudor monarchy. He had his struggle with the
Baronage, but hard as it was, he was sure not to carry it beyond the
due limits of feudalism; to that he was always loyal. He had slain
Earl Simon before he was king, while he was but his father's general;
but Earl Simon's work did not die with him, and henceforward, while
the Middle Ages and their feudal hierarchy lasted, it was impossible
for either king or barons to do anything which would seriously injure
each other's position; the struggle ended in his reign in a balance
of power in England which, on the one hand, prevented any great
feudatory becoming a rival of the king, as happened in several
instances in France, and on the other hand prevented the king lapsing
into a mere despotic monarch.

I have said that bureaucracy took a great stride in Edward's reign,
but it reached its limits under feudalism as far as the nobles were
concerned. Peace and order was established between the different
powers of the governing classes; henceforward, the struggle is
between them and the governed; that struggle was now to become
obvious; the lower tribe was rising in importance; it was becoming
richer for fleecing, but also it was beginning to have some power;
this led the king first, and afterwards the barons, to attack it
definitely; it was rich enough to pay for the trouble of being
robbed, and not yet strong enough to defend itself with open success,
although the slower and less showy success of growth did not fail it.
The instrument of attack in the hands of the barons was the ordinary
feudal privilege, the logical carrying out of serfdom; but this
attack took place two reigns later. We shall come to that further
on. The attack on the lower tribe which was now growing into
importance was in this reign made by the king; and his instrument

I have told you that Simon de Montfort made some attempt to get the
burgesses to sit in his Parliament, but it was left to Edward I. to
lay the foundations firmly of parliamentary representation, which he
used for the purpose of augmenting the power of the Crown and
crushing the rising liberty of the towns, though of course his direct
aim was simply at--money.

The Great Council of the Realm was purely feudal; it was composed of
the feudatories of the king, theoretically of all of them,
practically of the great ones only. It was, in fact, the council of
the conquering tribe with their chief at its head; the matters of the
due feudal tribute, aids, reliefs, fines, scutage, and the like--in
short, the king's revenue due from his men--were settled in this
council at once and in the lump. But the inferior tribe, though not
represented there, existed, and, as aforesaid, was growing rich, and
the king had to get their money out of their purses directly; which,
as they were not represented at the council, he had to do by means of
his officers (the sheriffs) dealing with them one after another,
which was a troublesome job; for the men were stiff-necked and quite
disinclined to part with their money; and the robbery having to be
done on the spot, so to say, encountered all sorts of opposition:
and, in fact, it was the money needs both of baron, bishop, and king
which had been the chief instrument in furthering the progress of the
towns. The towns would be pressed by their lords, king, or baron, or
bishop, as it might be, and they would see their advantage and strike
a bargain. For you are not to imagine that because there was a deal
of violence going on in those times there was no respect for law; on
the contrary, there was a quite exaggerated respect for it if it came
within the four corners of the feudal feeling, and the result of this
feeling of respect was the constant struggle for STATUS on the part
of the townships and other associations throughout the Middle Ages.

Well, the burghers would say, "'Tis hard to pay this money, but we
will put ourselves out to pay it if you will do something for us in
return; let, for example, our men be tried in our own court, and the
verdict be of one of compurgation instead of wager of battle," and so
forth, and so forth.

All this sort of detailed bargaining was, in fact, a safeguard for
the local liberties, so far as they went, of the towns and shires,
and did not suit the king's views of law and order at all; and so
began the custom of the sheriff (the king's officer, who had taken
the place of the earl of the Anglo-Saxon period) summoning the
burgesses to the council, which burgesses you must understand were
not elected at the folkmotes of the town, or hundred, but in a sort
of hole-and-corner way by a few of the bigger men of the place. What
the king practically said was this: "I want your money, and I cannot
be for ever wrangling with you stubborn churles at home there, and
listening to all your stories of how poor you are, and what you want;
no, I want you to be REPRESENTED. Send me up from each one of your
communes a man or two whom I can bully or cajole or bribe to sign
away your substance for you."

Under these circumstances it is no wonder that the towns were not
very eager in the cause of REPRESENTATION. It was no easy job to get
them to come up to London merely to consult as to the kind of sauce
with which they were to be eaten. However, they did come in some
numbers, and by the year 1295 something like a shadow of our present
Parliament was on foot. Nor need there be much more said about this
institution; as time went on its functions got gradually extended by
the petition for the redress of grievances accompanying the granting
of money, but it was generally to be reckoned on as subservient to
the will of the king, who down to the later Tudor period played some
very queer tunes on this constitutional instrument.

Edward I. gave place to his son, who again was of the type of king
who had hitherto given the opportunity to the barons for their turn
of advancement in the constitutional struggle; and in earlier times
no doubt they would have taken full advantage of the circumstances;
as it was they had little to gain. The king did his best to throw
off the restraint of the feudal constitution, and to govern simply as
an absolute monarch. After a time of apparent success he failed, of
course, and only succeeded in confirming the legal rights of
feudalism by bringing about his own formal deposition at the hands of
the Baronage, as a chief who, having broken the compact with his
feudatories, had necessarily forfeited his right. If we compare his
case with that of Charles I. we shall find this difference in it,
besides the obvious one that Edward was held responsible to his
feudatories and Charles towards the upper middle classes, the
squirearchy, as represented by Parliament; that Charles was condemned
by a law created for the purpose, so to say, and evolved from the
principle of the representation of the propertied classes, while
Edward's deposition was the real logical outcome of the confirmed
feudal system, and was practically legal and regular.

The successor of the deposed king, the third Edward, ushers in the
complete and central period of the Middle Ages in England. The
feudal system is complete: the life and spirit of the country has
developed into a condition if not quite independent, yet quite
forgetful, on the one hand of the ideas and customs of the Celtic and
Teutonic tribes, and on the other of the authority of the Roman
Empire. The Middle Ages have grown into manhood; that manhood has an
art of its own, which, though developed step by step from that of Old
Rome and New Rome, and embracing the strange mysticism and dreamy
beauty of the East, has forgotten both its father and its mother, and
stands alone triumphant, the loveliest, brightest, and gayest of all
the creations of the human mind and hand.

It has a literature of its own too, somewhat akin to its art, yet
inferior to it, and lacking its unity, since there is a double stream
in it. On the one hand is the court poet, the gentleman, Chaucer,
with his Italianizing metres, and his formal recognition of the
classical stories; on which, indeed, he builds a superstructure of
the quaintest and most unadulterated mediaevalism, as gay and bright
as the architecture which his eyes beheld and his pen pictured for
us, so clear, defined, and elegant it is; a sunny world even amidst
its violence and passing troubles, like those of a happy child, the
worst of them an amusement rather than a grief to the onlookers; a
world that scarcely needed hope in its eager life of adventure and
love, amidst the sunlit blossoming meadows, and green woods, and
white begilded manor-houses. A kindly and human muse is Chaucer's,
nevertheless, interested in and amused by all life, but of her very
nature devoid of strong aspirations for the future; and that all the
more, since, though the strong devotion and fierce piety of the ruder
Middle Ages had by this time waned, and the Church was more often
lightly mocked at than either feared or loved, still the HABIT of
looking on this life as part of another yet remained: the world is
fair and full of adventure; kind men and true and noble are in it to
make one happy; fools also to laugh at, and rascals to be resisted,
yet not wholly condemned; and when this world is over we shall still
go on living in another which is a part of this. Look at all the
picture, note all and live in all, and be as merry as you may, never
forgetting that you are alive and that it is good to live.

That is the spirit of Chaucer's poetry; but alongside of it existed
yet the ballad poetry of the people, wholly untouched by courtly
elegance and classical pedantry; rude in art but never coarse, true
to the backbone; instinct with indignation against wrong, and thereby
expressing the hope that was in it; a protest of the poor against the
rich, especially in those songs of the Foresters, which have been
called the mediaeval epic of revolt; no more gloomy than the
gentleman's poetry, yet cheerful from courage, and not content. Half
a dozen stanzas of it are worth a cartload of the whining
introspective lyrics of to-day; and he who, when he has mastered the
slight differences of language from our own daily speech, is not
moved by it, does not understand what true poetry means nor what its
aim is.

There is a third element in the literature of this time which you may
call Lollard poetry, the great example of which is William Langland's
"Piers Plowman." It is no bad corrective to Chaucer, and in FORM at
least belongs wholly to the popular side; but it seems to me to show
symptoms of the spirit of the rising middle class, and casts before
it the shadow of the new master that was coming forward for the
workman's oppression. But I must leave what more I have to say on
this subject of the art and literature of the fourteenth century for
another occasion. In what I have just said, I only wanted to point
out to you that the Middle Ages had by this time come to the fullest
growth; and that they could express in a form which was all their
own, the ideas and life of the time.

That time was in a sense brilliant and progressive, and the life of
the worker in it was better than it ever had been, and might compare
with advantage with what it became in after periods and with what it
is now; and indeed, looking back upon it, there are some minds and
some moods that cannot help regretting it, and are not particularly
scared by the idea of its violence and its lack of accurate knowledge
of scientific detail.

However, one thing is clear to us now, the kind of thing which never
is clear to most people living in such periods--namely, that whatever
it was, it could not last, but must change into something else.

The complete feudalism of the fourteenth century fell, as systems
always fall, by its own corruption, and by development of the innate
seeds of change, some of which indeed had lain asleep during
centuries, to wake up into activity long after the events which had
created them were forgotten.

The feudal system was naturally one of open war; and the alliances,
marriages, and other dealings, family with family, made by the king
and potentates, were always leading them into war by giving them
legal claims, or at least claims that could be legally pleaded, to
the domains of other lords, who took advantage of their being on the
spot, of their strength in men or money, or their popularity with the
Baronage, to give immediate effect to THEIR claims. Such a war was
that by which Edward I. drew on England the enmity of the Scotch; and
such again was the great war which Edward III. entered into with
France. You must not suppose that there was anything in this war of
a national, far less of a race, character. The last series of wars
before this time I am now speaking of, in which race feelings counted
for much, was the Crusades. This French war, I say, was neither
national, racial, or tribal; it was the private business of a lord of
the manor, claiming what he considered his legal rights of another
lord, who had, as he thought, usurped them; and this claim his loyal
feudatories were bound to take up for him; loyalty to a feudal
superior, not patriotism to a country, was the virtue which Edward
III.'s soldiers had to offer, if they had any call to be virtuous in
that respect.

This war once started was hard to drop, partly because of the success
that Edward had in it, falling as he did on France with the force of
a country so much more homogeneous than it; and no doubt it was a war
very disastrous to both countries, and so may be reckoned as amongst
the causes which broke up the feudal system.

But the real causes of that break-up lay much deeper than that. The
system was not capable of expansion in production; it was, in fact,
as long as its integrity remained untouched, an army fed by slaves,
who could not be properly and closely exploited; its free men proper
might do something else in their leisure, and so produce art and
literature, but their true business as members of a conquering tribe,
their concerted business, was to fight. There was, indeed, a fringe
of people between the serf and the free noble who produced the
matters of handicraft which were needed for the latter, but
deliberately, and, as we should now think, wastefully; and as these
craftsmen and traders began to grow into importance and to push
themselves, as they could not help doing, into the feudal hierarchy,
as they acquired STATUS, so the sickness of the feudal system
increased on it, and the shadow of the coming commercialism fell upon

That any set of people who could claim to be other than the property
of free men should not have definite rights differentiated sharply
from those of other groups, was an idea that did not occur to the
Middle Ages; therefore, as soon as men came into existence that were
not serfs and were not nobles, they had to struggle for status by
organizing themselves into associations that should come to be
acknowledged members of the great feudal hierarchy; for indefinite
and negative freedom was not allowed to any person in those days; if
you had not status you did not exist except as an outlaw.

This is, briefly speaking, the motive power of necessity that lay
behind the struggle of the town corporations and craft-gilds to be
free, a struggle which, though it was to result in the breaking up of
the mediaeval hierarchy, began by an appearance of strengthening it
by adding to its members, increasing its power of production, and so
making it more stable for the time being.

About this struggle, and the kind of life which accompanied it, I may
have to write another time, and so will not say more about it here.
Except this, that it was much furthered by the change that gradually
took place between the landlords and the class on whom all society
rested, the serfs. These at first were men who had no more rights
than chattel slaves had, except that mostly, as part of the stock of
the manor, they could not be sold off it; they had to do all the work
of the manor, and to earn their own livelihood off it as they best
could. But as the power of production increased, owing to better
methods of working, and as the country got to be more settled, their
task-work became easier of performance and their own land more
productive to them; and that tendency to the definition and
differentiation of rights, moreover, was at work for their benefit,
and the custom of the manor defined what their services were, and
they began to acquire rights. From that time they ceased to be pure
serfs, and began to tend towards becoming tenants, at first paying
purely and simply SERVICE for their holdings, but gradually commuting
that service for fines and money payment--for rent, in short.

Towards the close of the fourteenth century, after the country had
been depopulated by the Black Death, and impoverished by the long
war, the feudal lords of these copyholders and tenants began to
regret the slackness with which their predecessors had exploited
their PROPERTY, the serfs, and to consider that under the new
commercial light which had begun to dawn upon them THEY could do it
much better if they only had their property a little more in hand;
but it was too late, for their property had acquired rights, and
therewithal had got strange visions into their heads of a time much
better than that in which they lived, when even those rights should
be supplanted by a condition of things in which the assertion of
rights for any one set of men should no longer be needed, since all
men should be free to enjoy the fruits of their own labour.

Of that came the great episode of the Peasants' War, led by men like
Wat Tyler, Jack Straw, and John Ball, who indeed, with those they
led, suffered for daring to be before their time, for the revolt was
put down with cruelty worthy of an Irish landlord or a sweating
capitalist of the present day; but, nevertheless, serfdom came to an
end in England, if not because of the revolt, yet because of the
events that made it, and thereby a death-wound was inflicted on the
feudal system.

From that time onward the country, passing through the various
troubles of a new French war of Henry V.'s time, and the War of the
Roses, did not heed these faction fights much.

The workmen grew in prosperity, but also they began to rise into a
new class, and a class beneath them of mere labourers who were not
serfs began to form, and to lay the foundations of capitalistic

England got carried into the rising current of commercialism, and the
rich men and landlords to turn their attention to the production of
profit instead of the production of livelihood; the gild-less
journeyman and the landless labourer slowly came into existence; the
landlord got rid of his tenants all he could, turned tillage into
pasture, and sweated the pastures to death in his eagerness for wool,
which for him meant money and the breeding of money; till at last the
place of the serf, which had stood empty, as it were, during a
certain transition period, during which the non-capitalistic
production was expanding up to its utmost limit, was filled by the
proletarian working for the service of a master in a new fashion, a
fashion which exploited and (woe worth the while!) exploits him very
much more completely than the customs of the manor of the feudal

The life of the worker and the production of goods in this transition
period, when Feudal society was sickening for its end, is a difficult
and wide subject that requires separate treatment; at present I will
leave the mediaeval workman at the full development of that period
which found him a serf bound to the manor, and which left him
generally a yeoman or an artisan sharing the collective STATUS of his

The workman of to-day, if he could realize the position of his
forerunner, has some reason to envy him: the feudal serf worked
hard, and lived poorly, and produced a rough livelihood for his
master; whereas the modern workman, working harder still, and living
little if any better than the serf, produces for his master a state
of luxury of which the old lord of the manor never dreamed. The
workman's powers of production are multiplied a thousandfold; his own
livelihood remains pretty much where it was. The balance goes to his
master and the crowd of useless, draggled-tailed knaves and fools who
pander to his idiotic sham desires, and who, under the pretentious
title of the intellectual part of the middle classes, have in their
turn taken the place of the mediaeval jester.

Truly, if the Positivist motto, "Live for others," be taken in stark
literality, the modern workman should be a good and wise man, since
he has no chance of living for himself!

And yet, I wish he were wiser still; wise enough to make an end of
the preaching of "Live on others," which is the motto set forth by
commercialism to her favoured children.

Yet in one thing the modern proletarian has an advantage over the
mediaeval serf, and that advantage is a world in itself. Many a
century lay between the serf and successful revolt, and though he
tried it many a time and never lost heart, yet the coming change
which his martyrdom helped on was not to be for him yet, but for the
new masters of his successors. With us it is different. A few years
of wearisome struggle against apathy and ignorance; a year or two of
growing hope--and then who knows? Perhaps a few months, or perhaps a
few days of the open struggle against brute force, with the mask off
its face, and the sword in its hand, and then we are over the bar.

Who knows, I say? Yet this we know, that ahead of us, with nothing
betwixt us except such incidents as are necessary to its development,
lies the inevitable social revolution, which will bring about the end
of mastery and the triumph of fellowship.


Every age has had its hopes, hopes that look to something beyond the
life of the age itself, hopes that try to pierce into the future;
and, strange to say, I believe that those hopes have been stronger
not in the heyday of the epoch which has given them birth, but rather
in its decadence and times of corruption: in sober truth it may well
be that these hopes are but a reflection in those that live happily
and comfortably of the vain longings of those others who suffer with
little power of expressing their sufferings in an audible voice:
when all goes well the happy world forgets these people and their
desires, sure as it is that their woes are not dangerous to them the
wealthy: whereas when the woes and grief of the poor begin to rise
to a point beyond the endurance of men, fear conscious or unconscious
falls upon the rich, and they begin to look about them to see what
there may be among the elements of their society which may be used as
palliatives for the misery which, long existing and ever growing
greater among the slaves of that society, is now at last forcing
itself on the attention of the masters. Times of change, disruption,
and revolution are naturally times of hope also, and not seldom the
hopes of something better to come are the first tokens that tell
people that revolution is at hand, though commonly such tokens are no
more believed than Cassandra's prophecies, or are even taken in a
contrary sense by those who have anything to lose; since they look
upon them as signs of the prosperity of the times, and the long
endurance of that state of things which is so kind to them. Let us
then see what the hopes of civilization are like to-day: for indeed
I purpose speaking of our own times chiefly, and will leave for the
present all mention of that older civilization which was destroyed by
the healthy barbarism out of which our present society has grown.

Book of the day: