Part 5 out of 9
brought it into contrast with the wide occasions of the age;
discussed its failure to control the grasping financiers in South
Africa, its failure to release public education from sectarian
squabbles, its misconduct of the Boer War, its waste of the world's
resources. . . .
It soon became manifest that my opening and my general spaciousness
of method bored my audiences a good deal. The richer and wider my
phrases the thinner sounded my voice in these non-resonating
gatherings. Even the platform supporters grew restive
unconsciously, and stirred and coughed. They did not recognise
themselves as mankind. Building an empire, preparing a fresh stage
in the history of humanity, had no appeal for them. They were
mostly everyday, toiling people, full of small personal solicitudes,
and they came to my meetings, I think, very largely as a relaxation.
This stuff was not relaxing. They did not think politics was a
great constructive process, they thought it was a kind of dog-fight.
They wanted fun, they wanted spice, they wanted hits, they wanted
also a chance to say "'Ear', 'ear!" in an intelligent and honourable
manner and clap their hands and drum with their feet. The great
constructive process in history gives so little scope for clapping
and drumming and saying "'Ear, 'ear!" One might as well think of
hounding on the solar system.
So after one or two attempts to lift my audiences to the level of
the issues involved, I began to adapt myself to them. I cut down my
review of our imperial outlook and destinies more and more, and
developed a series of hits and anecdotes and--what shall I call
them?--"crudifications" of the issue. My helper's congratulated me
on the rapid improvement of my platform style. I ceased to speak of
the late Prime Minister with the respect I bore him, and began to
fall in with the popular caricature of him as an artful rabbit-
witted person intent only on keeping his leadership, in spite of the
vigorous attempts of Mr. Joseph Chamberlain to oust him therefrom.
I ceased to qualify my statement that Protection would make food
dearer for the agricultural labourer. I began to speak of Mr.
Alfred Lyttelton as an influence at once insane and diabolical, as a
man inspired by a passionate desire to substitute manacled but still
criminal Chinese for honest British labourers throughout the world.
And when it came to the mention of our own kindly leader, of Mr.
John Burns or any one else of any prominence at all on our side I
fell more and more into the intonation of one who mentions the high
gods. And I had my reward in brighter meetings and readier and
One goes on from phase to phase in these things.
"After all," I told myself, "if one wants to get to Westminster one
must follow the road that leads there," but I found the road
nevertheless rather unexpectedly distasteful. "When one gets
there," I said, "then it is one begins."
But I would lie awake at nights with that sore throat and headache
and fatigue which come from speaking in ill-ventilated rooms, and
wondering how far it was possible to educate a whole people to great
political ideals. Why should political work always rot down to
personalities and personal appeals in this way? Life is, I suppose,
to begin with and end with a matter of personalities, from
personalities all our broader interests arise and to personalities
they return. All our social and political effort, all of it, is
like trying to make a crowd of people fall into formation. The
broader lines appear, but then come a rush and excitement and
irrelevancy, and forthwith the incipient order has vanished and the
marshals must begin the work over again!
My memory of all that time is essentially confusion. There was a
frightful lot of tiresome locomotion in it; for the Kinghamstead
Division is extensive, abounding in ill-graded and badly metalled
cross-roads and vicious little hills, and singularly unpleasing to
the eye in a muddy winter. It is sufficiently near to London to
have undergone the same process of ill-regulated expansion that made
Bromstead the place it is. Several of its overgrown villages have
developed strings of factories and sidings along the railway lines,
and there is an abundance of petty villas. There seemed to be no
place at which one could take hold of more than this or that element
of the population. Now we met in a meeting-house, now in a Masonic
Hall or Drill Hall; I also did a certain amount of open-air speaking
in the dinner hour outside gas-works and groups of factories. Some
special sort of people was, as it were, secreted in response to each
special appeal. One said things carefully adjusted to the
distinctive limitations of each gathering. Jokes of an incredible
silliness and shallowness drifted about us. Our advisers made us
declare that if we were elected we would live in the district, and
one hasty agent had bills printed, "If Mr. Remington is elected he
will live here." The enemy obtained a number of these bills and
stuck them on outhouses, pigstyes, dog-kennels; you cannot imagine
how irksome the repetition of that jest became. The vast drifting
indifference in between my meetings impressed me more and more. I
realised the vagueness of my own plans as I had never done before I
brought them to the test of this experience. I was perplexed by the
riddle of just how far I was, in any sense of the word, taking hold
at all, how far I wasn't myself flowing into an accepted groove.
Margaret was troubled by no such doubts. She was clear I had to go
into Parliament on the side of Liberalism and the light, as against
the late Government and darkness. Essential to the memory of my
first contest, is the memory of her clear bright face, very resolute
and grave, helping me consciously, steadfastly, with all her
strength. Her quiet confidence, while I was so dissatisfied, worked
curiously towards the alienation of my sympathies. I felt she had
no business to be so sure of me. I had moments of vivid resentment
at being thus marched towards Parliament.
I seemed now always to be discovering alien forces of character in
her. Her way of taking life diverged from me more and more. She
sounded amazing, independent notes. She bought some particularly
costly furs for the campaign that roused enthusiasm whenever she
appeared. She also made me a birthday present in November of a
heavily fur-trimmed coat and this she would make me remove as I went
on to the platform, and hold over her arm until I was ready to
resume it. It was fearfully heavy for her and she liked it to be
heavy for her. That act of servitude was in essence a towering
self-assertion. I would glance sideways while some chairman
floundered through his introduction and see the clear blue eye with
which she regarded the audience, which existed so far as she was
concerned merely to return me to Parliament. It was a friendly eye,
provided they were not silly or troublesome. But it kindled a
little at the hint of a hostile question. After we had come so far
and taken so much trouble!
She constituted herself the dragoman of our political travels. In
hotels she was serenely resolute for the quietest and the best, she
rejected all their proposals for meals and substituted a severely
nourishing dietary of her own, and even in private houses she
astonished me by her tranquil insistence upon special comforts and
sustenance. I can see her face now as it would confront a hostess,
a little intent, but sweetly resolute and assured.
Since our marriage she had read a number of political memoirs, and
she had been particularly impressed by the career of Mrs. Gladstone.
I don't think it occurred to her to compare and contrast my quality
with that of Mrs. Gladstone's husband. I suspect her of a
deliberate intention of achieving parallel results by parallel
methods. I was to be Gladstonised. Gladstone it appeared used to
lubricate his speeches with a mixture--if my memory serves me right--
of egg beaten up in sherry, and Margaret was very anxious I should
take a leaf from that celebrated book. She wanted, I know, to hold
the glass in her hand while I was speaking.
But here I was firm. "No," I said, very decisively, "simply I won't
stand that. It's a matter of conscience. I shouldn't feel--
democratic. I'll take my chance of the common water in the carafe
on the chairman's table."
"I DO wish you wouldn't," she said, distressed.
It was absurd to feel irritated; it was so admirable of her, a
little childish, infinitely womanly and devoted and fine--and I see
now how pathetic. But I could not afford to succumb to her. I
wanted to follow my own leading, to see things clearly, and this
reassuring pose of a high destiny, of an almost terribly efficient
pursuit of a fixed end when as a matter of fact I had a very
doubtful end and an aim as yet by no means fixed, was all too
seductive for dalliance. . . .
And into all these things with the manner of a trifling and casual
incident comes the figure of Isabel Rivers. My first impressions of
her were of a rather ugly and ungainly, extraordinarily interesting
schoolgirl with a beautiful quick flush under her warm brown skin,
who said and did amusing and surprising things. When first I saw
her she was riding a very old bicycle downhill with her feet on the
fork of the frame--it seemed to me to the public danger, but
afterwards I came to understand the quality of her nerve better--and
on the third occasion she was for her own private satisfaction
climbing a tree. On the intervening occasion we had what seems now
to have been a long sustained conversation about the political
situation and the books and papers I had written.
I wonder if it was.
What a delightful mixture of child and grave woman she was at that
time, and how little I reckoned on the part she would play in my
life! And since she has played that part, how impossible it is to
tell now of those early days! Since I wrote that opening paragraph
to this section my idle pen has been, as it were, playing by itself
and sketching faces on the blotting pad--one impish wizened visage
is oddly like little Bailey--and I have been thinking cheek on fist
amidst a limitless wealth of memories. She sits below me on the low
wall under the olive trees with our little child in her arms. She
is now the central fact in my life. It still seems a little
incredible that that should be so. She has destroyed me as a
politician, brought me to this belated rebeginning of life. When I
sit down and try to make her a girl again, I feel like the Arabian
fisherman who tried to put the genius back into the pot from which
it had spread gigantic across the skies. . . .
I have a very clear vision of her rush downhill past our labouring
ascendant car--my colours fluttered from handle-bar and shoulder-
knot--and her waving hand and the sharp note of her voice. She
cried out something, I don't know what, some greeting.
"What a pretty girl!" said Margaret.
Parvill, the cheap photographer, that industrious organiser for whom
by way of repayment I got those magic letters, that knighthood of
the underlings, "J. P." was in the car with us and explained her to
us. "One of the best workers you have," he said. . . .
And then after a toilsome troubled morning we came, rather cross
from the strain of sustained amiability, to Sir Graham Rivers'
house. It seemed all softness and quiet--I recall dead white
panelling and oval mirrors horizontally set and a marble fireplace
between white marble-blind Homer and marble-blind Virgil, very grave
and fine--and how Isabel came in to lunch in a shapeless thing like
a blue smock that made her bright quick-changing face seem yellow
under her cloud of black hair. Her step-sister was there, Miss
Gamer, to whom the house was to descend, a well-dressed lady of
thirty, amiably disavowing responsibility for Isabel in every phrase
and gesture. And there was a very pleasant doctor, an Oxford man,
who seemed on excellent terms with every one. It was manifest that
he was in the habit of sparring with the girl, but on this occasion
she wasn't sparring and refused to be teased into a display in spite
of the taunts of either him or her father. She was, they discovered
with rising eyebrows, shy. It seemed an opportunity too rare for
them to miss. They proclaimed her enthusiasm for me in a way that
brought a flush to her cheek and a look into her eye between appeal
and defiance. They declared she had read my books, which I thought
at the time was exaggeration, their dry political quality was so
distinctly not what one was accustomed to regard as schoolgirl
reading. Miss Gamer protested to protect her, "When once in a blue
moon Isabel is well-behaved. . . .!"
Except for these attacks I do not remember much of the conversation
at table; it was, I know, discursive and concerned with the sort of
topographical and social and electioneering fact natural to such a
visit. Old Rivers struck me as a delightful person, modestly
unconscious of his doubly-earned V. C. and the plucky defence of
Kardin-Bergat that won his baronetcy. He was that excellent type,
the soldier radical, and we began that day a friendship that was
only ended by his death in the hunting-field three years later. He
interested Margaret into a disregard of my plate and the fact that I
had secured the illegal indulgence of Moselle. After lunch we went
for coffee into another low room, this time brown panelled and
looking through French windows on a red-walled garden, graceful even
in its winter desolation. And there the conversation suddenly
picked up and became good. It had fallen to a pause, and the
doctor, with an air of definitely throwing off a mask and wrecking
an established tranquillity, remarked: "Very probably you Liberals
will come in, though I'm not sure you'll come in so mightily as you
think, but what you do when you do come in passes my comprehension."
"There's good work sometimes," said Sir Graham, "in undoing."
"You can't govern a great empire by amending and repealing the Acts
of your predecessors," said the doctor.
There came that kind of pause that happens when a subject is
broached too big and difficult for the gathering. Margaret's blue
eyes regarded the speaker with quiet disapproval for a moment, and
then came to me in the not too confident hope that I would snub him
out of existence with some prompt rhetorical stroke. A voice spoke
out of the big armchair.
"We'll do things," said Isabel.
The doctor's eye lit with the joy of the fisherman who strikes his
fish at last. "What will you do?" he asked her.
"Every one knows we're a mixed lot," said Isabel.
"Poor old chaps like me!" interjected the general.
"But that's not a programme," said the doctor.
"But Mr. Remington has published a programme," said Isabel.
The doctor cocked half an eye at me.
"In some review," the girl went on. "After all, we're not going to
elect the whole Liberal party in the Kinghamstead Division. I'm a
"But the programme," said the doctor, "the programme--"
"In front of Mr. Remington!"
"Scandal always comes home at last," said the doctor. "Let him hear
"I'd like to hear," I said. "Electioneering shatters convictions
and enfeebles the mind."
"Not mine," said Isabel stoutly. "I mean--Well, anyhow I take it
Mr. Remington stands for constructing a civilised state out of this
"THIS muddle," protested the doctor with an appeal of the eye to the
beautiful long room and the ordered garden outside the bright clean
"Well, THAT muddle, if you like! There's a slum within a mile of us
already. The dust and blacks get worse and worse, Sissie?"
"They do," agreed Miss Gamer.
"Mr. Remington stands for construction, order, education, discipline."
"And you?" said the doctor.
"I'm a good Remington-ite."
"Discipline!" said the doctor.
"Oh!" said Isabel. "At times one has to be--Napoleonic. They want
to libel me, Mr. Remington. A political worker can't always be in
time for meals, can she? At times one has to make--splendid cuts."
Miss Gamer said something indistinctly.
"Order, education, discipline," said Sir Graham. "Excellent things!
But I've a sort of memory--in my young days--we talked about
something called liberty."
"Liberty under the law," I said, with an unexpected approving murmur
from Margaret, and took up the defence. "The old Liberal definition
of liberty was a trifle uncritical. Privilege and legal
restrictions are not the only enemies of liberty. An uneducated,
underbred, and underfed propertyless man is a man who has lost the
possibility of liberty. There's no liberty worth a rap for him. A
man who is swimming hopelessly for life wants nothing but the
liberty to get out of the water; he'll give every other liberty for
it--until he gets out."
Sir Graham took me up and we fell into a discussion of the changing
qualities of Liberalism. It was a good give-and-take talk,
extraordinarily refreshing after the nonsense and crowding secondary
issues of the electioneering outside. We all contributed more or
less except Miss Gamer; Margaret followed with knitted brows and
occasional interjections. "People won't SEE that," for example, and
"It all seems so plain to me." The doctor showed himself clever but
unsubstantial and inconsistent. Isabel sat back with her black mop
of hair buried deep in the chair looking quickly from face to face.
Her colour came and went with her vivid intellectual excitement;
occasionally she would dart a word, usually a very apt word, like a
lizard's tongue into the discussion. I remember chiefly that a
chance illustration betrayed that she had read Bishop Burnet. . . .
After that it was not surprising that Isabel should ask for a lift
in our car as far as the Lurky Committee Room, and that she should
offer me quite sound advice EN ROUTE upon the intellectual
temperament of the Lurky gasworkers.
On the third occasion that I saw Isabel she was, as I have said,
climbing a tree--and a very creditable tree--for her own private
satisfaction. It was a lapse from the high seriousness of politics,
and I perceived she felt that I might regard it as such and attach
too much importance to it. I had some difficulty in reassuring her.
And it's odd to note now--it has never occurred to me before--that
from that day to this I do not think I have ever reminded Isabel of
And after that memory she seems to be flickering about always in the
election, an inextinguishable flame; now she flew by on her bicycle,
now she dashed into committee rooms, now she appeared on doorsteps
in animated conversation with dubious voters; I took every chance I
could to talk to her--I had never met anything like her before in
the world, and she interested me immensely--and before the polling
day she and I had become, in the frankest simplicity, fast
friends. . . .
That, I think, sets out very fairly the facts of our early
relationship. But it is hard to get it true, either in form or
texture, because of the bright, translucent, coloured, and
refracting memories that come between. One forgets not only the
tint and quality of thoughts and impressions through that
intervening haze, one forgets them altogether. I don't remember now
that I ever thought in those days of passionate love or the
possibility of such love between us. I may have done so again and
again. But I doubt it very strongly. I don't think I ever thought
of such aspects. I had no more sense of any danger between us,
seeing the years and things that separated us, than I could have had
if she had been an intelligent bright-eyed bird. Isabel came into
my life as a new sort of thing; she didn't join on at all to my
previous experiences of womanhood. They were not, as I have
laboured to explain, either very wide or very penetrating
experiences, on the whole, "strangled dinginess" expresses them, but
I do not believe they were narrower or shallower than those of many
other men of my class. I thought of women as pretty things and
beautiful things, pretty rather than beautiful, attractive and at
times disconcertingly attractive, often bright and witty, but,
because of the vast reservations that hid them from me, wanting,
subtly and inevitably wanting, in understanding. My idealisation of
Margaret had evaporated insensibly after our marriage. The shrine I
had made for her in my private thoughts stood at last undisguisedly
empty. But Isabel did not for a moment admit of either idealisation
or interested contempt. She opened a new sphere of womanhood to me.
With her steady amber-brown eyes, her unaffected interest in
impersonal things, her upstanding waistless blue body, her energy,
decision and courage, she seemed rather some new and infinitely
finer form of boyhood than a feminine creature, as I had come to
measure femininity. She was my perfect friend. Could I have
foreseen, had my world been more wisely planned, to this day we
might have been such friends.
She seemed at that time unconscious of sex, though she has told me
since how full she was of protesting curiosities and restrained
emotions. She spoke, as indeed she has always spoken, simply,
clearly, and vividly; schoolgirl slang mingled with words that
marked ample voracious reading, and she moved quickly with the free
directness of some graceful young animal. She took many of the easy
freedoms a man or a sister might have done with me. She would touch
my arm, lay a hand on my shoulder as I sat, adjust the lapel of a
breast-pocket as she talked to me. She says now she loved me always
from the beginning. I doubt if there was a suspicion of that in her
mind those days. I used to find her regarding me with the clearest,
steadiest gaze in the world, exactly like the gaze of some nice
healthy innocent animal in a forest, interested, inquiring,
speculative, but singularly untroubled. . . .
Polling day came after a last hoarse and dingy crescendo. The
excitement was not of the sort that makes one forget one is tired
out. The waiting for the end of the count has left a long blank
mark on my memory, and then everyone was shaking my hand and
repeating: "Nine hundred and seventy-six."
My success had been a foregone conclusion since the afternoon, but
we all behaved as though we had not been anticipating this result
for hours, as though any other figures but nine hundred and seventy-
six would have meant something entirely different. "Nine hundred
and seventy-six!" said Margaret. "They didn't expect three
"Nine hundred and seventy-six," said a little short man with a
paper. "It means a big turnover. Two dozen short of a thousand,
A tremendous hullaboo began outside, and a lot of fresh people came
into the room.
Isabel, flushed but not out of breath, Heaven knows where she had
sprung from at that time of night! was running her hand down my
sleeve almost caressingly, with the innocent bold affection of a
girl. "Got you in!" she said. "It's been no end of a lark."
"And now," said I, "I must go and be constructive."
"Now you must go and be constructive," she said.
"You've got to live here," she added.
"By Jove! yes," I said. "We'll have to house hunt."
"I shall read all your speeches."
"I wish I was you," she said, and said it as though it was not
exactly the thing she was meaning to say.
"They want you to speak," said Margaret, with something unsaid in
"You must come out with me," I answered, putting my arm through
hers, and felt someone urging me to the French windows that gave on
"If you think--" she said, yielding gladly
"Oh, RATHER!" said I.
The Mayor of Kinghamstead, a managing little man with no great
belief in my oratorical powers, was sticking his face up to mine.
"It's all over," he said, "and you've won. Say all the nice things
you can and say them plainly."
I turned and handed Margaret out through the window and stood
looking over the Market-place, which was more than half filled with
swaying people. The crowd set up a roar of approval at the sight of
us, tempered by a little booing. Down in one corner of the square a
fight was going on for a flag, a fight that even the prospect of a
speech could not instantly check. "Speech!" cried voices, "Speech!"
and then a brief "boo-oo-oo" that was drowned in a cascade of shouts
and cheers. The conflict round the flag culminated in the smashing
of a pane of glass in the chemist's window and instantly sank to
"Gentlemen voters of the Kinghamstead Division," I began.
"Votes for Women!" yelled a voice, amidst laughter--the first time I
remember hearing that memorable war-cry.
"Three cheers for Mrs. Remington!"
"Mrs. Remington asks me to thank you," I said, amidst further uproar
and reiterated cries of "Speech!"
Then silence came with a startling swiftness.
Isabel was still in my mind, I suppose. "I shall go to
Westminster," I began. I sought for some compelling phrase and
could not find one. "To do my share," I went on, "in building up a
great and splendid civilisation."
I paused, and there was a weak gust of cheering, and then a renewal
"This election," I said, "has been the end and the beginning of
much. New ideas are abroad--"
"Chinese labour," yelled a voice, and across the square swept a
wildfire of booting and bawling.
It is one of the few occasions when I quite lost my hold on a
speech. I glanced sideways and saw the Mayor of Kinghamstead
speaking behind his hand to Parvill. By a happy chance Parvill
caught my eye.
"What do they want?" I asked.
"What do they want?"
"Say something about general fairness--the other side," prompted
Parvill, flattered but a little surprised by my appeal. I pulled
myself hastily into a more popular strain with a gross eulogy of my
opponent's good taste.
"Chinese labour!" cried the voice again.
"You've given that notice to quit," I answered.
The Market-place roared delight, but whether that delight expressed
hostility to Chinamen or hostility to their practical enslavement no
student of the General Election of 1906 has ever been able to
determine. Certainly one of the most effective posters on our side
displayed a hideous yellow face, just that and nothing more. There
was not even a legend to it. How it impressed the electorate we did
not know, but that it impressed the electorate profoundly there can
be no disputing.
Kinghamstead was one of the earliest constituencies fought, and we
came back--it must have been Saturday--triumphant but very tired, to
our house in Radnor Square. In the train we read the first
intimations that the victory of our party was likely to be a
Then came a period when one was going about receiving and giving
congratulations and watching the other men arrive, very like a boy
who has returned to school with the first batch after the holidays.
The London world reeked with the General Election; it had invaded
the nurseries. All the children of one's friends had got big maps
of England cut up into squares to represent constituencies and were
busy sticking gummed blue labels over the conquered red of Unionism
that had hitherto submerged the country. And there were also orange
labels, if I remember rightly, to represent the new Labour party,
and green for the Irish. I engaged myself to speak at one or two
London meetings, and lunched at the Reform, which was fairly tepid,
and dined and spent one or two tumultuous evenings at the National
Liberal Club, which was in active eruption. The National Liberal
became feverishly congested towards midnight as the results of the
counting came dropping in. A big green-baize screen had been fixed
up at one end of the large smoking-room with the names of the
constituencies that were voting that day, and directly the figures
came to hand, up they went, amidst cheers that at last lost their
energy through sheer repetition, whenever there was record of a
Liberal gain. I don't remember what happened when there was a
Liberal loss; I don't think that any were announced while I was
How packed and noisy the place was, and what a reek of tobacco and
whisky fumes we made! Everybody was excited and talking, making
waves of harsh confused sound that beat upon one's ears, and every
now and then hoarse voices would shout for someone to speak. Our
little set was much in evidence. Both the Cramptons were in, Lewis,
Bunting Harblow. We gave brief addresses attuned to this excitement
and the late hour, amidst much enthusiasm.
"Now we can DO things!" I said amidst a rapture of applause. Men I
did not know from Adam held up glasses and nodded to me in solemn
fuddled approval as I came down past them into the crowd again.
Men were betting whether the Unionists would lose more or less than
two hundred seats.
"I wonder just what we shall do with it all," I heard one sceptic
speculating. . . .
After these orgies I would get home very tired and excited, and find
it difficult to get to sleep. I would lie and speculate about what
it was we WERE going to do. One hadn't anticipated quite such a
tremendous accession to power for one's party. Liberalism was
swirling in like a flood. . . .
I found the next few weeks very unsatisfactory and distressing. I
don't clearly remember what it was I had expected; I suppose the
fuss and strain of the General Election had built up a feeling that
my return would in some way put power into my hands, and instead I
found myself a mere undistinguished unit in a vast but rather vague
majority. There were moments when I felt very distinctly that a
majority could be too big a crowd altogether. I had all my work
still before me, I had achieved nothing as yet but opportunity, and
a very crowded opportunity it was at that. Everyone about me was
chatting Parliament and appointments; one breathed distracting and
irritating speculations as to what would be done and who would be
asked to do it. I was chiefly impressed by what was unlikely to be
done and by the absence of any general plan of legislation to hold
us all together. I found the talk about Parliamentary procedure and
etiquette particularly trying. We dined with the elder Cramptons
one evening, and old Sir Edward was lengthily sage about what the
House liked, what it didn't like, what made a good impression and
what a bad one. "A man shouldn't speak more than twice in his first
session, and not at first on too contentious a topic," said Sir
"Very much depends on manner. The House hates a lecturer. There's
a sort of airy earnestness--"
He waved his cigar to eke out his words.
"Little peculiarities of costume count for a great deal. I could
name one man who spent three years living down a pair of
spatterdashers. On the other hand--a thing like that--if it catches
the eye of the PUNCH man, for example, may be your making."
He went off into a lengthy speculation of why the House had come to
like an originally unpopular Irishman named Biggar. . . .
The opening of Parliament gave me some peculiar moods. I began to
feel more and more like a branded sheep. We were sworn in in
batches, dozens and scores of fresh men, trying not to look too
fresh under the inspection of policemen and messengers, all of us
carrying new silk hats and wearing magisterial coats. It is one of
my vivid memories from this period, the sudden outbreak of silk hats
in the smoking-room of the National Liberal Club. At first I
thought there must have been a funeral. Familiar faces that one had
grown to know under soft felt hats, under bowlers, under liberal-
minded wide brims, and above artistic ties and tweed jackets,
suddenly met one, staring with the stern gaze of self-consciousness,
from under silk hats of incredible glossiness. There was a
disposition to wear the hat much too forward, I thought, for a good
There was much play with the hats all through; a tremendous
competition to get in first and put hats on coveted seats. A memory
hangs about me of the House in the early afternoon, an inhumane
desolation inhabited almost entirely by silk hats. The current use
of cards to secure seats came later. There were yards and yards of
empty green benches with hats and hats and hats distributed along
them, resolute-looking top hats, lax top hats with a kind of shadowy
grin under them, sensible top bats brim upward, and one scandalous
incontinent that had rolled from the front Opposition bench right to
the middle of the floor. A headless hat is surely the most soulless
thing in the world, far worse even than a skull. . . .
At last, in a leisurely muddled manner we got to the Address; and I
found myself packed in a dense elbowing crowd to the right of the
Speaker's chair; while the attenuated Opposition, nearly leaderless
after the massacre, tilted its brim to its nose and sprawled at its
ease amidst its empty benches.
There was a tremendous hullaboo about something, and I craned to see
over the shoulder of the man in front. ''Order, order, order!"
"What's it about?" I asked.
The man in front of me was clearly no better informed, and then I
gathered from a slightly contemptuous Scotchman beside me that it
was Chris Robinson had walked between the honourable member in
possession of the house and the Speaker. I caught a glimpse of him
blushingly whispering about his misadventure to a colleague. He was
just that same little figure I had once assisted to entertain at
Cambridge, but grey-haired now, and still it seemed with the same
knitted muffler he had discarded for a reckless half-hour while he
talked to us in Hatherleigh's rooms.
It dawned upon me that I wasn't particularly wanted in the House,
and that I should get all I needed of the opening speeches next day
from the TIMES.
I made my way out and was presently walking rather aimlessly through
the outer lobby.
I caught myself regarding the shadow that spread itself out before
me, multiplied itself in blue tints of various intensity, shuffled
itself like a pack of cards under the many lights, the square
shoulders, the silk hat, already worn with a parliamentary tilt
backward; I found I was surveying this statesmanlike outline with a
weak approval. "A MEMBER!" I felt the little cluster of people that
were scattered about the lobby must be saying.
"Good God!" I said in hot reaction, "what am I doing here?"
It was one of those moments infinitely trivial in themselves, that
yet are cardinal in a man's life. It came to me with extreme
vividness that it wasn't so much that I had got hold of something as
that something had got hold of me. I distinctly recall the rebound
of my mind. Whatever happened in this Parliament, I at least would
attempt something. "By God!" I said, "I won't be overwhelmed. I am
here to do something, and do something I will!"
But I felt that for the moment I could not remain in the House.
I went out by myself with my thoughts into the night. It was a
chilling night, and rare spots of rain were falling. I glanced over
my shoulder at the lit windows of the Lords. I walked, I remember,
westward, and presently came to the Grosvenar Embankment and
followed it, watching the glittering black rush of the river and the
dark, dimly lit barges round which the water swirled. Across the
river was the hunched sky-line of Doulton's potteries, and a kiln
flared redly. Dimly luminous trams were gliding amidst a dotted
line of lamps, and two little trains crawled into Waterloo station.
Mysterious black figures came by me and were suddenly changed to the
commonplace at the touch of the nearer lamps. It was a big confused
world, I felt, for a man to lay his hands upon.
I remember I crossed Vauxhall Bridge and stood for a time watching
the huge black shapes in the darkness under the gas-works. A shoal
of coal barges lay indistinctly on the darkly shining mud and water
below, and a colossal crane was perpetually hauling up coal into
mysterious blacknesses above, and dropping the empty clutch back to
the barges. Just one or two minute black featureless figures of men
toiled amidst these monster shapes. They did not seem to be
controlling them but only moving about among them. These gas-works
have a big chimney that belches a lurid flame into the night, a
livid shivering bluish flame, shot with strange crimson streaks. . . .
On the other side of Lambeth Bridge broad stairs go down to the
lapping water of the river; the lower steps are luminous under the
lamps and one treads unwarned into thick soft Thames mud. They seem
to be purely architectural steps, they lead nowhere, they have an
air of absolute indifference to mortal ends.
Those shapes and large inhuman places--for all of mankind that one
sees at night about Lambeth is minute and pitiful beside the
industrial monsters that snort and toil there--mix up inextricably
with my memories of my first days as a legislator. Black figures
drift by me, heavy vans clatter, a newspaper rough tears by on a
motor bicycle, and presently, on the Albert Embankment, every seat
has its one or two outcasts huddled together and slumbering.
"These things come, these things go," a whispering voice urged upon
me, "as once those vast unmeaning Saurians whose bones encumber
museums came and went rejoicing noisily in fruitless lives." . . .
Fruitless lives!--was that the truth of it all? . . .
Later I stood within sight of the Houses of Parliament in front of
the colonnades of St Thomas's Hospital. I leant on the parapet
close by a lamp-stand of twisted dolphins--and I prayed!
I remember the swirl of the tide upon the water, and how a string of
barges presently came swinging and bumping round as high-water
turned to ebb. That sudden change of position and my brief
perplexity at it, sticks like a paper pin through the substance of
my thoughts. It was then I was moved to prayer. I prayed that
night that life might not be in vain, that in particular I might not
live in vain. I prayed for strength and faith, that the monstrous
blundering forces in life might not overwhelm me, might not beat me
back to futility and a meaningless acquiescence in existent things.
I knew myself for the weakling I was, I knew that nevertheless it
was set for me to make such order as I could out of these disorders,
and my task cowed me, gave me at the thought of it a sense of
"Break me, O God," I prayed at last, "disgrace me, torment me,
destroy me as you will, but save me from self-complacency and little
interests and little successes and the life that passes like the
shadow of a dream."
BOOK THE THIRD
THE HEART OF POLITICS
CHAPTER THE FIRST
THE RIDDLE FOR THE STATESMAN
I have been planning and replanning, writing and rewriting, this
next portion of my book for many days. I perceive I must leave it
raw edged and ill joined. I have learnt something of the
impossibility of History. For all I have had to tell is the story
of one man's convictions and aims and how they reacted upon his
life; and I find it too subtle and involved and intricate for the
doing. I find it taxes all my powers to convey even the main forms
and forces in that development. It is like looking through moving
media of changing hue and variable refraction at something vitally
unstable. Broad theories and generalisations are mingled with
personal influences, with prevalent prejudices; and not only
coloured but altered by phases of hopefulness and moods of
depression. The web is made up of the most diverse elements, beyond
treatment multitudinous. . . . For a week or so I desisted
altogether, and walked over the mountains and returned to sit
through the warm soft mornings among the shaded rocks above this
little perched-up house of ours, discussing my difficulties with
Isabel and I think on the whole complicating them further in the
effort to simplify them to manageable and stateable elements.
Let me, nevertheless, attempt a rough preliminary analysis of this
confused process. A main strand is quite easily traceable. This
main strand is the story of my obvious life, my life as it must have
looked to most of my acquaintances. It presents you with a young
couple, bright, hopeful, and energetic, starting out under Altiora's
auspices to make a career. You figure us well dressed and active,
running about in motor-cars, visiting in great people's houses,
dining amidst brilliant companies, going to the theatre, meeting in
the lobby. Margaret wore hundreds of beautiful dresses. We must
have had an air of succeeding meritoriously during that time.
We did very continually and faithfully serve our joint career. I
thought about it a great deal, and did and refrained from doing ten
thousand things for the sake of it. I kept up a solicitude for it,
as it were by inertia, long after things had happened and changes
occurred in me that rendered its completion impossible. Under
certain very artless pretences, we wanted steadfastly to make a
handsome position in the world, achieve respect, SUCCEED. Enormous
unseen changes had been in progress for years in my mind and the
realities of my life, before our general circle could have had any
inkling of their existence, or suspected the appearances of our
life. Then suddenly our proceedings began to be deflected, our
outward unanimity visibly strained and marred by the insurgence of
these so long-hidden developments.
That career had its own hidden side, of course; but when I write of
these unseen factors I do not mean that but something altogether
broader. I do not mean the everyday pettinesses which gave the
cynical observer scope and told of a narrower, baser aspect of the
fair but limited ambitions of my ostensible self. This "sub-
careerist" element noted little things that affected the career,
made me suspicious of the rivalry of so-and-so, propitiatory to so-
and-so, whom, as a matter of fact, I didn't respect or feel in the
least sympathetic towards; guarded with that man, who for all his
charm and interest wasn't helpful, and a little touchy at the
appearance of neglect from that. No, I mean something greater and
not something smaller when I write of a hidden life.
In the ostensible self who glowed under the approbation of Altiora
Bailey, and was envied and discussed, praised and depreciated, in
the House and in smoking-room gossip, you really have as much of a
man as usually figures in a novel or an obituary notice. But I am
tremendously impressed now in the retrospect by the realisation of
how little that frontage represented me, and just how little such
frontages do represent the complexities of the intelligent
contemporary. Behind it, yet struggling to disorganise and alter
it, altogether, was a far more essential reality, a self less
personal, less individualised, and broader in its references. Its
aims were never simply to get on; it had an altogether different
system of demands and satisfactions. It was critical, curious, more
than a little unfeeling--and relentlessly illuminating.
It is just the existence and development of this more generalised
self-behind-the-frontage that is making modern life so much more
subtle and intricate to render, and so much more hopeful in its
relations to the perplexities of the universe. I see this mental
and spiritual hinterland vary enormously in the people about me,
from a type which seems to keep, as people say, all its goods in the
window, to others who, like myself, come to regard the ostensible
existence more and more as a mere experimental feeder and agent for
that greater personality behind. And this back-self has its history
of phases, its crises and happy accidents and irrevocable
conclusions, more or less distinct from the adventures and
achievements of the ostensible self. It meets persons and phrases,
it assimilates the spirit of a book, it is startled into new
realisations by some accident that seems altogether irrelevant to
the general tenor of one's life. Its increasing independence of the
ostensible career makes it the organ of corrective criticism; it
accumulates disturbing energy. Then it breaks our overt promises
and repudiates our pledges, coming down at last like an overbearing
mentor upon the small engagements of the pupil.
In the life of the individual it takes the role that the growth of
philosophy, science, and creative literature may play in the
development of mankind.
It is curious to recall how Britten helped shatter that obvious,
lucidly explicable presentation of myself upon which I had embarked
with Margaret. He returned to revive a memory of adolescent dreams
and a habit of adolescent frankness; he reached through my shallow
frontage as no one else seemed capable of doing, and dragged that
back-self into relation with it.
I remember very distinctly a dinner and a subsequent walk with him
which presents itself now as altogether typical of the quality of
I had come upon him one day while lunching with Somers and Sutton at
the Playwrights' Club, and had asked him to dinner on the spur of
the moment. He was oddly the same curly-headed, red-faced
ventriloquist, and oddly different, rather seedy as well as untidy,
and at first a little inclined to make comparisons with my sleek
successfulness. But that disposition presently evaporated, and his
talk was good and fresh and provocative. And something that had
long been straining at its checks in my mind flapped over, and he
and I found ourselves of one accord.
Altiora wasn't at this dinner. When she came matters were apt to
become confusedly strenuous. There was always a slight and
ineffectual struggle at the end on the part of Margaret to
anticipate Altiora's overpowering tendency to a rally and the
establishment of some entirely unjustifiable conclusion by a COUP-
DE-MAIN. When, however, Altiora was absent, the quieter influence
of the Cramptons prevailed; temperance and information for its own
sake prevailed excessively over dinner and the play of thought. . . .
Good Lord! what bores the Cramptons were! I wonder I endured
them as I did. They had all of them the trick of lying in wait
conversationally; they had no sense of the self-exposures, the
gallant experiments in statement that are necessary for good
conversation. They would watch one talking with an expression
exactly like peeping through bushes. Then they would, as it were,
dash out, dissent succinctly, contradict some secondary fact, and
back to cover. They gave one twilight nerves. Their wives were
easier but still difficult at a stretch; they talked a good deal
about children and servants, but with an air caught from Altiora of
making observations upon sociological types. Lewis gossiped about
the House in an entirely finite manner. He never raised a
discussion; nobody ever raised a discussion. He would ask what we
thought of Evesham's question that afternoon, and Edward would say
it was good, and Mrs. Willie, who had been behind the grille, would
think it was very good, and then Willie, parting the branches, would
say rather conclusively that he didn't think it was very much good,
and I would deny hearing the question in order to evade a profitless
statement of views in that vacuum, and then we would cast about in
our minds for some other topic of equal interest. . . .
On this occasion Altiora was absent, and to qualify our Young
Liberal bleakness we had Mrs. Millingham, with her white hair and
her fresh mind and complexion, and Esmeer. Willie Crampton was with
us, but not his wife, who was having her third baby on principle;
his brother Edward was present, and the Lewises, and of course the
Bunting Harblows. There was also some other lady. I remember her
as pale blue, but for the life of me I cannot remember her name.
Quite early there was a little breeze between Edward Crampton and
Esmeer, who had ventured an opinion about the partition of Poland.
Edward was at work then upon the seventh volume of his monumental
Life of Kosciusko, and a little impatient with views perhaps not
altogether false but betraying a lamentable ignorance of accessible
literature. At any rate, his correction of Esmeer was magisterial.
After that there was a distinct and not altogether delightful pause,
and then some one, it may have been the pale-blue lady, asked Mrs.
Lewis whether her aunt Lady Carmixter had returned from her rest-
and-sun-cure in Italy. That led to a rather anxiously sustained
talk about regimen, and Willie told us how he had profited by the
no-breakfast system. It had increased his power of work enormously.
He could get through ten hours a day now without inconvenience.
"What do you do?" said Esmeer abruptly.
"Oh! no end of work. There's all the estate and looking after
"I asked three questions yesterday. And for one of them I had to
consult nine books!"
We were drifting, I could see, towards Doctor Haig's system of
dietary, and whether the exclusion or inclusion of fish and chicken
were most conducive to high efficiency, when Britten, who had
refused lemonade and claret and demanded Burgundy, broke out, and
was discovered to be demanding in his throat just what we Young
Liberals thought we were up to?
"I want," said Britten, repeating his challenge a little louder, "to
hear just exactly what you think you are doing in Parliament?"
Lewis laughed nervously, and thought we were "Seeking the Good of
"Beneficient Legislation," said Lewis.
"Beneficient in what direction?" insisted Britten. "I want to know
where you think you are going."
"Amelioration of Social Conditions," said Lewis.
"That's only a phrase!"
"You wouldn't have me sketch bills at dinner?"
"I'd like you to indicate directions," said Britten, and waited.
"Upward and On," said Lewis with conscious neatness, and turned to
ask Mrs. Bunting Harblow about her little boy's French.
For a time talk frothed over Britten's head, but the natural
mischief in Mrs. Millingham had been stirred, and she was presently
echoing his demand in lisping, quasi-confidential undertones. "What
ARE we Liberals doing?" Then Esmeer fell in with the
To begin with, I was a little shocked by this clamour for
fundamentals--and a little disconcerted. I had the experience that
I suppose comes to every one at times of discovering oneself
together with two different sets of people with whom one has
maintained two different sets of attitudes. It had always been, I
perceived, an instinctive suppression in our circle that we
shouldn't be more than vague about our political ideals. It had
almost become part of my morality to respect this convention. It
was understood we were all working hard, and keeping ourselves fit,
tremendously fit, under Altiora's inspiration, Pro Bono Publico.
Bunting Harblow had his under-secretaryship, and Lewis was on the
verge of the Cabinet, and these things we considered to be in the
nature of confirmations. . . . It added to the discomfort of the
situation that these plunging enquiries were being made in the
presence of our wives.
The rebel section of our party forced the talk.
Edward Crampton was presently declaring--I forget in what relation:
"The country is with us."
My long-controlled hatred of the Cramptons' stereotyped phrases
about the Country and the House got the better of me. I showed my
cloven hoof to my friends for the first time.
"We don't respect the Country as we used to do," I said. "We
haven't the same belief we used to have in the will of the people.
It's no good, Crampton, trying to keep that up. We Liberals know as
a matter of fact--nowadays every one knows--that the monster that
brought us into power has, among other deficiencies, no head. We've
got to give it one--if possible with brains and a will. That lies
in the future. For the present if the country is with us, it means
merely that we happen to have hold of its tether."
Lewis was shocked. A "mandate" from the Country was sacred to his
system of pretences.
Britten wasn't subdued by his first rebuff; presently he was at us
again. There were several attempts to check his outbreak of
interrogation; I remember the Cramptons asked questions about the
welfare of various cousins of Lewis who were unknown to the rest of
us, and Margaret tried to engage Britten in a sympathetic discussion
of the Arts and Crafts exhibition. But Britten and Esmeer were
persistent, Mrs. Millingham was mischievous, and in the end our
rising hopes of Young Liberalism took to their thickets for good,
while we talked all over them of the prevalent vacuity of political
intentions. Margaret was perplexed by me. It is only now I
perceive just how perplexing I must have been. "Of course, she said
with that faint stress of apprehension in her eyes, one must have
aims." And, "it isn't always easy to put everything into phrases."
"Don't be long," said Mrs. Edward Crampton to her husband as the
wives trooped out. And afterwards when we went upstairs I had an
indefinable persuasion that the ladies had been criticising
Britten's share in our talk in an altogether unfavourable spirit.
Mrs. Edward evidently thought him aggressive and impertinent, and
Margaret with a quiet firmness that brooked no resistance, took him
at once into a corner and showed him Italian photographs by Coburn.
We dispersed early.
I walked with Britten along the Chelsea back streets towards
Battersea Bridge--he lodged on the south side.
"Mrs. Millingham's a dear," he began.
"She's a dear."
"I liked her demand for a hansom because a four-wheeler was too
"She was worked up," I said. "She's a woman of faultless character,
but her instincts, as Altiora would say, are anarchistic--when she
gives them a chance."
"So she takes it out in hansom cabs."
"She's wise," said Britten. . . .
"I hope, Remington," he went on after a pause, "I didn't rag your
other guests too much. I've a sort of feeling at moments--
Remington, those chaps are so infernally not--not bloody. It's part
of a man's duty sometimes at least to eat red beef and get drunk.
How is he to understand government if he doesn't? It scares me to
think of your lot--by a sort of misapprehension--being in power. A
kind of neuralgia in the head, by way of government. I don't
understand where YOU come in. Those others--they've no lusts.
Their ideal is anaemia. You and I, we had at least a lust to take
hold of life and make something of it. They--they want to take hold
of life and make nothing of it. They want to cut out all the
stimulants. Just as though life was anything else but a reaction to
stimulation!" . . .
He began to talk of his own life. He had had ill-fortune through
most of it. He was poor and unsuccessful, and a girl he had been
very fond of had been attacked and killed by a horse in a field in a
very horrible manner. These things had wounded and tortured him,
but they hadn't broken him. They had, it seemed to me, made a kind
of crippled and ugly demigod of him. He was, I began to perceive,
so much better than I had any right to expect. At first I had been
rather struck by his unkempt look, and it made my reaction all the
stronger. There was about him something, a kind of raw and bleeding
faith in the deep things of life, that stirred me profoundly as he
showed it. My set of people had irritated him and disappointed him.
I discovered at his touch how they irritated him. He reproached me
boldly. He made me feel ashamed of my easy acquiescences as I
walked in my sleek tall neatness beside his rather old coat, his
rather battered hat, his sturdier shorter shape, and listened to his
denunciations of our self-satisfied New Liberalism and
"It has the same relation to progress--the reality of progress--that
the things they paint on door panels in the suburbs have to art and
beauty. There's a sort of filiation. . . . Your Altiora's just the
political equivalent of the ladies who sell traced cloth for
embroidery; she's a dealer in Refined Social Reform for the Parlour.
The real progress, Remington, is a graver thing and a painfuller
thing and a slower thing altogether. Look! THAT"--and he pointed
to where under a boarding in the light of a gas lamp a dingy
prostitute stood lurking--"was in Babylon and Nineveh. Your little
lot make believe there won't be anything of the sort after this
Parliament! They're going to vanish at a few top notes from Altiora
Bailey! Remington!--it's foolery. It's prigs at play. It's make-
believe, make-believe! Your people there haven't got hold of
things, aren't beginning to get hold of things, don't know anything
of life at all, shirk life, avoid life, get in little bright clean
rooms and talk big over your bumpers of lemonade while the Night
goes by outside--untouched. Those Crampton fools slink by all
this,"--he waved at the woman again--"pretend it doesn't exist, or
is going to be banished root and branch by an Act to keep children
in the wet outside public-houses. Do you think they really care,
Remington? I don't. It's make-believe. What they want to do, what
Lewis wants to do, what Mrs. Bunting Harblow wants her husband to
do, is to sit and feel very grave and necessary and respected on the
Government benches. They think of putting their feet out like
statesmen, and tilting shiny hats with becoming brims down over
their successful noses. Presentation portrait to a club at fifty.
That's their Reality. That's their scope. They don't, it's
manifest, WANT to think beyond that. The things there ARE,
Remington, they'll never face! the wonder and the depth of life,--
lust, and the night-sky,--pain."
"But the good intention," I pleaded, "the Good Will!"
"Sentimentality," said Britten. "No Good Will is anything but
dishonesty unless it frets and burns and hurts and destroys a man.
That lot of yours have nothing but a good will to think they have
good will. Do you think they lie awake of nights searching their
hearts as we do? Lewis? Crampton? Or those neat, admiring,
satisfied little wives? See how they shrank from the probe!"
"We all," I said, "shrink from the probe."
"God help us!" said Britten. . . .
"We are but vermin at the best, Remington," he broke out,"and the
greatest saint only a worm that has lifted its head for a moment
from the dust. We are damned, we are meant to be damned, coral
animalculae building upward, upward in a sea of damnation. But of
all the damned things that ever were damned, your damned shirking,
temperate, sham-efficient, self-satisfied, respectable, make-
believe, Fabian-spirited Young Liberal is the utterly damnedest."
He paused for a moment, and resumed in an entirely different note:
"Which is why I was so surprised, Remington, to find YOU in this
"You're just the old plunger you used to be, Britten," I said.
"You're going too far with all your might for the sake of the damns.
Like a donkey that drags its cart up a bank to get thistles.
There's depths in Liberalism--"
"We were talking about Liberals."
"Liberty! What do YOOR little lot know of liberty?"
"What does any little lot know of liberty?"
"It waits outside, too big for our understanding. Like the night
and the stars. And lust, Remington! lust and bitterness! Don't I
know them? with all the sweetness and hope of life bitten and
trampled, the dear eyes and the brain that loved and understood--and
my poor mumble of a life going on! I'm within sight of being a
drunkard, Remington! I'm a failure by most standards! Life has cut
me to the bone. But I'm not afraid of it any more. I've paid
something of the price, I've seen something of the meaning."
He flew off at a tangent. "I'd rather die in Delirium Tremens," he
cried, "than be a Crampton or a Lewis. . . ."
"Make-believe. Make-believe." The phrase and Britten's squat
gestures haunted me as I walked homeward alone. I went to my room
and stood before my desk and surveyed papers and files and
Margaret's admirable equipment of me.
I perceived in the lurid light of Britten's suggestions that so it
was Mr. George Alexander would have mounted a statesman's private
room. . . .
I was never at any stage a loyal party man. I doubt if party will
ever again be the force it was during the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries. Men are becoming increasingly constructive and
selective, less patient under tradition and the bondage of initial
circumstances. As education becomes more universal and liberating,
men will sort themselves more and more by their intellectual
temperaments and less and less by their accidental associations.
The past will rule them less; the future more. It is not simply
party but school and college and county and country that lose their
glamour. One does not hear nearly as much as our forefathers did of
the "old Harrovian," "old Arvonian," "old Etonian" claim to this or
that unfair advantage or unearnt sympathy. Even the Scotch and the
Devonians weaken a little in their clannishness. A widening sense
of fair play destroys such things. They follow freemasonry down--
freemasonry of which one is chiefly reminded nowadays in England by
propitiatory symbols outside shady public-houses. . . .
There is, of course, a type of man which clings very obstinately to
party ties. These are the men with strong reproductive imaginations
and no imaginative initiative, such men as Cladingbowl, for example,
or Dayton. They are the scholars-at-large in life. For them the
fact that the party system has been essential in the history of
England for two hundred years gives it an overwhelming glamour.
They have read histories and memoirs, they see the great grey pile
of Westminster not so much for what it is as for what it was, rich
with dramatic memories, populous with glorious ghosts, phrasing
itself inevitably in anecdotes and quotations. It seems almost
scandalous that new things should continue to happen, swamping with
strange qualities the savour of these old associations.
That Mr. Ramsay Macdonald should walk through Westminster Hall,
thrust himself, it may be, through the very piece of space that once
held Charles the Martyr pleading for his life, seems horrible
profanation to Dayton, a last posthumous outrage; and he would, I
think, like to have the front benches left empty now for ever, or at
most adorned with laureated ivory tablets: "Here Dizzy sat," and "On
this Spot William Ewart Gladstone made his First Budget Speech."
Failing this, he demands, if only as signs of modesty and respect on
the part of the survivors, meticulous imitation. "Mr. G.," he
murmurs, "would not have done that," and laments a vanished subtlety
even while Mr. Evesham is speaking. He is always gloomily disposed
to lapse into wonderings about what things are coming to, wonderings
that have no grain of curiosity. His conception of perfect conduct
is industrious persistence along the worn-down, well-marked grooves
of the great recorded days. So infinitely more important to him is
the documented, respected thing than the elusive present.
Cladingbowl and Dayton do not shine in the House, though Cladingbowl
is a sound man on a committee, and Dayton keeps the OLD COUNTRY
GAZETTE, the most gentlemanly paper in London. They prevail,
however, in their clubs at lunch time. There, with the pleasant
consciousness of a morning's work free from either zeal or shirking,
they mingle with permanent officials, prominent lawyers, even a few
of the soberer type of business men, and relax their minds in the
discussion of the morning paper, of the architecture of the West
End, and of the latest public appointments, of golf, of holiday
resorts, of the last judicial witticisms and forensic "crushers."
The New Year and Birthday honours lists are always very sagely and
exhaustively considered, and anecdotes are popular and keenly
judged. They do not talk of the things that are really active in
their minds, but in the formal and habitual manner they suppose to
be proper to intelligent but still honourable men. Socialism,
individual money matters, and religion are forbidden topics, and sex
and women only in so far as they appear in the law courts. It is to
me the strangest of conventions, this assumption of unreal loyalties
and traditional respects, this repudiation and concealment of
passionate interests. It is like wearing gloves in summer fields,
or bathing in a gown, or falling in love with the heroine of a
novel, or writing under a pseudonym, or becoming a masked Tuareg. . . .
It is not, I think, that men of my species are insensitive to the
great past that is embodied in Westminster and its traditions; we
are not so much wanting in the historical sense as alive to the
greatness of our present opportunities and the still vaster future
that is possible to us. London is the most interesting, beautiful,
and wonderful city in the world to me, delicate in her incidental
and multitudinous littleness, and stupendous in her pregnant
totality; I cannot bring myself to use her as a museum or an old
bookshop. When I think of Whitehall that little affair on the
scaffold outside the Banqueting Hall seems trivial and remote in
comparison with the possibilities that offer themselves to my
imagination within the great grey Government buildings close at
It gives me a qualm of nostalgia even to name those places now. I
think of St. Stephen's tower streaming upwards into the misty London
night and the great wet quadrangle of New Palace Yard, from which
the hansom cabs of my first experiences were ousted more and more by
taxicabs as the second Parliament of King Edward the Seventh aged; I
think of the Admiralty and War office with their tall Marconi masts
sending out invisible threads of direction to the armies in the
camps, to great fleets about the world. The crowded, darkly shining
river goes flooding through my memory once again, on to those narrow
seas that part us from our rival nations; I see quadrangles and
corridors of spacious grey-toned offices in which undistinguished
little men and little files of papers link us to islands in the
tropics, to frozen wildernesses gashed for gold, to vast temple-
studded plains, to forest worlds and mountain worlds, to ports and
fortresses and lighthouses and watch-towers and grazing lands and
corn lands all about the globe. Once more I traverse Victoria
Street, grimy and dark, where the Agents of the Empire jostle one
another, pass the big embassies in the West End with their flags and
scutcheons, follow the broad avenue that leads to Buckingham Palace,
witness the coming and going of troops and officials and guests
along it from every land on earth. . . . Interwoven in the texture
of it all, mocking, perplexing, stimulating beyond measure, is the
gleaming consciousness, the challenging knowledge: "You and your
kind might still, if you could but grasp it here, mould all the
destiny of Man!"
My first three years in Parliament were years of active discontent.
The little group of younger Liberals to which I belonged was very
ignorant of the traditions and qualities of our older leaders, and
quite out of touch with the mass of the party. For a time
Parliament was enormously taken up with moribund issues and old
quarrels. The early Educational legislation was sectarian and
unenterprising, and the Licensing Bill went little further than the
attempted rectification of a Conservative mistake. I was altogether
for the nationalisation of the public-houses, and of this end the
Bill gave no intimations. It was just beer-baiting. I was
recalcitrant almost from the beginning, and spoke against the
Government so early as the second reading of the first Education
Bill, the one the Lords rejected in 1906. I went a little beyond my
intention in the heat of speaking,--it is a way with inexperienced
man. I called the Bill timid, narrow, a mere sop to the jealousies
of sects and little-minded people. I contrasted its aim and methods
with the manifest needs of the time.
I am not a particularly good speaker; after the manner of a writer I
worry to find my meaning too much; but this was one of my successes.
I spoke after dinner and to a fairly full House, for people were
already a little curious about me because of my writings. Several
of the Conservative leaders were present and stayed, and Mr.
Evesham, I remember, came ostentatiously to hear me, with that
engaging friendliness of his, and gave me at the first chance an
approving "Hear, Hear!" I can still recall quite distinctly my two
futile attempts to catch the Speaker's eye before I was able to
begin, the nervous quiver of my rather too prepared opening, the
effect of hearing my own voice and my subconscious wonder as to what
I could possibly be talking about, the realisation that I was
getting on fairly well, the immense satisfaction afterwards of
having on the whole brought it off, and the absurd gratitude I felt
for that encouraging cheer.
Addressing the House of Commons is like no other public speaking in
the world. Its semi-colloquial methods give it an air of being
easy, but its shifting audience, the comings and goings and
hesitations of members behind the chair--not mere audience units,
but men who matter--the desolating emptiness that spreads itself
round the man who fails to interest, the little compact, disciplined
crowd in the strangers' gallery, the light, elusive, flickering
movements high up behind the grill, the wigged, attentive, weary
Speaker, the table and the mace and the chapel-like Gothic
background with its sombre shadows, conspire together, produce a
confused, uncertain feeling in me, as though I was walking upon a
pavement full of trap-doors and patches of uncovered morass. A
misplaced, well-meant "Hear, Hear!" is apt to be extraordinarily
disconcerting, and under no other circumstances have I had to speak
with quite the same sideways twist that the arrangement of the House
imposes. One does not recognise one's own voice threading out into
the stirring brown. Unless I was excited or speaking to the mind of
some particular person in the house, I was apt to lose my feeling of
an auditor. I had no sense of whither my sentences were going, such
as one has with a public meeting well under one's eye. And to lose
one's sense of an auditor is for a man of my temperament to lose
one's sense of the immediate, and to become prolix and vague with
My discontents with the Liberal party and my mental exploration of
the quality of party generally is curiously mixed up with certain
impressions of things and people in the National Liberal Club. The
National Liberal Club is Liberalism made visible in the flesh--and
Doultonware. It is an extraordinary big club done in a bold,
wholesale, shiny, marbled style, richly furnished with numerous
paintings, steel engravings, busts, and full-length statues of the
late Mr. Gladstone; and its spacious dining-rooms, its long, hazy,
crowded smoking-room with innumerable little tables and groups of
men in armchairs, its magazine room and library upstairs, have just
that undistinguished and unconcentrated diversity which is for me
the Liberal note. The pensive member sits and hears perplexing
dialects and even fragments of foreign speech, and among the
clustering masses of less insistent whites his roving eye catches
profiles and complexions that send his mind afield to Calcutta or
Rangoon or the West Indies or Sierra Leone or the Cape. . . .
I was not infrequently that pensive member. I used to go to the
Club to doubt about Liberalism.
About two o'clock in the day the great smoking-room is crowded with
countless little groups. They sit about small round tables, or in
circles of chairs, and the haze of tobacco seems to prolong the
great narrow place, with its pillars and bays, to infinity. Some of
the groups are big, as many as a dozen men talk in loud tones; some
are duologues, and there is always a sprinkling of lonely,
dissociated men. At first one gets an impression of men going from
group to group and as it were linking them, but as one watches
closely one finds that these men just visit three or four groups at
the outside, and know nothing of the others. One begins to perceive
more and more distinctly that one is dealing with a sort of human
mosaic; that each patch in that great place is of a different
quality and colour from the next and never to be mixed with it.
Most clubs have a common link, a lowest common denominator in the
Club Bore, who spares no one, but even the National Liberal bores
are specialised and sectional. As one looks round one sees here a
clump of men from the North Country or the Potteries, here an island
of South London politicians, here a couple of young Jews ascendant
from Whitechapel, here a circle of journalists and writers, here a
group of Irish politicians, here two East Indians, here a priest or
so, here a clump of old-fashioned Protestants, here a little knot of
eminent Rationalists indulging in a blasphemous story SOTTO VOCE.
Next them are a group of anglicised Germans and highly specialised
chess-players, and then two of the oddest-looking persons--bulging
with documents and intent upon extraordinary business transactions
over long cigars. . . .
I would listen to a stormy sea of babblement, and try to extract
some constructive intimations. Every now and then I got a whiff of
politics. It was clear they were against the Lords--against
plutocrats--against Cossington's newspapers--against the brewers. . . .
It was tremendously clear what they were against. The trouble
was to find out what on earth they were for! . . .
As I sat and thought, the streaked and mottled pillars and wall, the
various views, aspects, and portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone, the
partitions of polished mahogany, the yellow-vested waiters, would
dissolve and vanish, and I would have a vision of this sample of
miscellaneous men of limited, diverse interests and a universal
littleness of imagination enlarged, unlimited, no longer a sample
but a community, spreading, stretching out to infinity--all in
little groups and duologues and circles, all with their special and
narrow concerns, all with their backs to most of the others.
What but a common antagonism would ever keep these multitudes
together? I understood why modern electioneering is more than half
of it denunciation. Let us condemn, if possible, let us obstruct
and deprive, but not let us do. There is no real appeal to the
commonplace mind in "Let us do." That calls for the creative
imagination, and few have been accustomed to respond to that call.
The other merely needs jealousy and bate, of which there are great
and easily accessible reservoirs in every human heart. . . .
I remember that vision of endless, narrow, jealous individuality
very vividly. A seething limitlessness it became at last, like a
waste place covered by crawling locusts that men sweep up by the
sackload and drown by the million in ditches. . . .
Grotesquely against it came the lean features, the sidelong shy
movements of Edward Crampton, seated in a circle of talkers close at
hand. I had a whiff of his strained, unmusical voice, and behold!
he was saying something about the "Will of the People. . . ."
The immense and wonderful disconnectednesses of human life! I
forgot the smoke and jabber of the club altogether; I became a
lonely spirit flung aloft by some queer accident, a stone upon a
ledge in some high and rocky wilderness, and below as far as the eye
could reach stretched the swarming infinitesimals of humanity, like
grass upon the field, like pebbles upon unbounded beaches. Was
there ever to be in human life more than that endless struggling
individualism? Was there indeed some giantry, some immense valiant
synthesis, still to come--or present it might be and still unseen by
me, or was this the beginning and withal the last phase of
mankind? . . .
I glimpsed for a while the stupendous impudence of our ambitions,
the tremendous enterprise to which the modern statesman is
implicitly addressed. I was as it were one of a little swarm of
would-be reef builders looking back at the teeming slime upon the
ocean floor. All the history of mankind, all the history of life,
has been and will be the story of something struggling out of the
indiscriminated abyss, struggling to exist and prevail over and
comprehend individual lives--an effort of insidious attraction, an
idea of invincible appeal. That something greater than ourselves,
which does not so much exist as seek existence, palpitating between
being and not-being, how marvellous it is! It has worn the form and
visage of ten thousand different gods, sought a shape for itself in
stone and ivory and music and wonderful words, spoken more and more
clearly of a mystery of love, a mystery of unity, dabbling meanwhile
in blood and cruelty beyond the common impulses of men. It is
something that comes and goes, like a light that shines and is
withdrawn, withdrawn so completely that one doubts if it has ever
been. . . .
I would mark with a curious interest the stray country member of the
club up in town for a night or so. My mind would be busy with
speculations about him, about his home, his family, his reading, his
horizons, his innumerable fellows who didn't belong and never came
up. I would fill in the outline of him with memories of my uncle
and his Staffordshire neighbours. He was perhaps Alderman This or
Councillor That down there, a great man in his ward, J. P. within
seven miles of the boundary of the borough, and a God in his home.
Here he was nobody, and very shy, and either a little too arrogant
or a little too meek towards our very democratic mannered but still
livened waiters. Was he perhaps the backbone of England? He over-
ate himself lest he should appear mean, went through our Special
Dinner conscientiously, drank, unless he was teetotal, of unfamiliar
wines, and did his best, in spite of the rules, to tip. Afterwards,
in a state of flushed repletion, he would have old brandy, black
coffee, and a banded cigar, or in the name of temperance omit the
brandy and have rather more coffee, in the smoking-room. I would
sit and watch that stiff dignity of self-indulgence, and wonder,
wonder. . . .
An infernal clairvoyance would come to me. I would have visions of
him in relation to his wife, checking always, sometimes bullying,
sometimes being ostentatiously "kind"; I would see him glance
furtively at his domestic servants upon his staircase, or stiffen
his upper lip against the reluctant, protesting business employee.
We imaginative people are base enough, heaven knows, but it is only
in rare moods of bitter penetration that we pierce down to the baser
lusts, the viler shames, the everlasting lying and muddle-headed
self-justification of the dull.
I would turn my eyes down the crowded room and see others of him and
others. What did he think he was up to? Did he for a moment
realise that his presence under that ceramic glory of a ceiling with
me meant, if it had any rational meaning at all, that we were
jointly doing something with the nation and the empire and
mankind? . . . How on earth could any one get hold of him, make
any noble use of him? He didn't read beyond his newspaper. He
never thought, but only followed imaginings in his heart. He never
discussed. At the first hint of discussion his temper gave way.
He was, I knew, a deep, thinly-covered tank of resentments and
quite irrational moral rages. Yet withal I would have to resist
an impulse to go over to him and nudge him and say to him, "Look
here! What indeed do you think we are doing with the nation and
the empire and mankind? You know--MANKIND!"
I wonder what reply I should have got.
So far as any average could be struck and so far as any backbone
could be located, it seemed to me that this silent, shy, replete,
sub-angry, middle-class sentimentalist was in his endless species
and varieties and dialects the backbone of our party. So far as I
could be considered as representing anything in the House, I
pretended to sit for the elements of HIM. . . .
For a time I turned towards the Socialists. They at least had an
air of coherent intentions. At that time Socialism had come into
politics again after a period of depression and obscurity, with a
tremendous ECLAT. There was visibly a following of Socialist
members to Chris Robinson; mysteriously uncommunicative gentlemen in
soft felt hats and short coats and square-toed boots who replied to
casual advances a little surprisingly in rich North Country
dialects. Members became aware of a "seagreen incorruptible," as
Colonel Marlow put it to me, speaking on the Address, a slender
twisted figure supporting itself on a stick and speaking with a fire
that was altogether revolutionary. This was Philip Snowden, the
member for Blackburn. They had come in nearly forty strong
altogether, and with an air of presently meaning to come in much
stronger. They were only one aspect of what seemed at that time a
big national movement. Socialist societies, we gathered, were
springing up all over the country, and every one was inquiring about
Socialism and discussing Socialism. It had taken the Universities
with particular force, and any youngster with the slightest
intellectual pretension was either actively for or brilliantly
against. For a time our Young Liberal group was ostentatiously
sympathetic. . . .
When I think of the Socialists there comes a vivid memory of certain
evening gatherings at our house. . . .
These gatherings had been organised by Margaret as the outcome of a
discussion at the Baileys'. Altiora had been very emphatic and
uncharitable upon the futility of the Socialist movement. It seemed
that even the leaders fought shy of dinner-parties.
"They never meet each other," said Altiora, "much less people on the
other side. How can they begin to understand politics until they do
"Most of them have totally unpresentable wives," said Altiora,
"totally!" and quoted instances, "and they WILL bring them. Or they
won't come! Some of the poor creatures have scarcely learnt their
table manners. They just make holes in the talk. . . ."
I thought there was a great deal of truth beneath Altiora's
outburst. The presentation of the Socialist case seemed very
greatly crippled by the want of a common intimacy in its leaders;
the want of intimacy didn't at first appear to be more than an
accident, and our talk led to Margaret's attempt to get acquaintance
and easy intercourse afoot among them and between them and the Young
Liberals of our group. She gave a series of weekly dinners,
planned, I think, a little too accurately upon Altiora's model, and
after each we had as catholic a reception as we could contrive.
Our receptions were indeed, I should think, about as catholic as
receptions could be. Margaret found herself with a weekly houseful
of insoluble problems in intercourse. One did one's best, but one
got a nightmare feeling as the evening wore on.
It was one of the few unanimities of these parties that every one
should be a little odd in appearance, funny about the hair or the
tie or the shoes or more generally, and that bursts of violent
aggression should alternate with an attitude entirely defensive. A
number of our guests had an air of waiting for a clue that never
came, and stood and sat about silently, mildly amused but not a bit
surprised that we did not discover their distinctive Open-Sesames.
There was a sprinkling of manifest seers and prophetesses in
shapeless garments, far too many, I thought, for really easy social
intercourse, and any conversation at any moment was liable to become
oracular. One was in a state of tension from first to last; the
most innocent remark seemed capable of exploding resentment, and
replies came out at the most unexpected angles. We Young Liberals
went about puzzled but polite to the gathering we had evoked. The
Young Liberals' tradition is on the whole wonderfully discreet,
superfluous steam is let out far away from home in the Balkans or
Africa, and the neat, stiff figures of the Cramptons, Bunting
Harblow, and Lewis, either in extremely well-cut morning coats
indicative of the House, or in what is sometimes written of as
"faultless evening dress," stood about on those evenings, they and
their very quietly and simply and expensively dressed little wives,
like a datum line amidst lakes and mountains.
I didn't at first see the connection between systematic social
reorganisation and arbitrary novelties in dietary and costume, just
as I didn't realise why the most comprehensive constructive projects
should appear to be supported solely by odd and exceptional
personalities. On one of these evenings a little group of rather
jolly-looking pretty young people seated themselves for no
particular reason in a large circle on the floor of my study, and
engaged, so far as I could judge, in the game of Hunt the Meaning,
the intellectual equivalent of Hunt the Slipper. It must have been
that same evening I came upon an unbleached young gentleman before
the oval mirror on the landing engaged in removing the remains of an
anchovy sandwich from his protruded tongue--visible ends of cress
having misled him into the belief that he was dealing with
doctrinally permissible food. It was not unusual to be given hand-
bills and printed matter by our guests, but there I had the
advantage over Lewis, who was too tactful to refuse the stuff, too
neatly dressed to pocket it, and had no writing-desk available upon
which he could relieve himself in a manner flattering to the giver.
So that his hands got fuller and fuller. A relentless, compact
little woman in what Margaret declared to be an extremely expensive
black dress has also printed herself on my memory; she had set her
heart upon my contributing to a weekly periodical in the lentil
interest with which she was associated, and I spent much time and
care in evading her.
Mingling with the more hygienic types were a number of Anti-Puritan
Socialists, bulging with bias against temperance, and breaking out
against austere methods of living all over their faces. Their
manner was packed with heartiness. They were apt to choke the
approaches to the little buffet Margaret had set up downstairs, and
there engage in discussions of Determinism--it always seemed to be
Determinism--which became heartier and noisier, but never
acrimonious even in the small hours. It seemed impossible to settle
about this Determinism of theirs--ever. And there were worldly
Socialists also. I particularly recall a large, active, buoyant,
lady-killing individual with an eyeglass borne upon a broad black
ribbon, who swam about us one evening. He might have been a
slightly frayed actor, in his large frock-coat, his white waistcoat,
and the sort of black and white check trousers that twinkle. He had
a high-pitched voice with aristocratic intonations, and he seemed to
be in a perpetual state of interrogation. "What are we all he-a
for?" he would ask only too audibly. "What are we doing he-a?
What's the connection?"
What WAS the connection?
We made a special effort with our last assembly in June, 1907. We
tried to get something like a representative collection of the
parliamentary leaders of Socialism, the various exponents of
Socialist thought and a number of Young Liberal thinkers into one
room. Dorvil came, and Horatio Bulch; Featherstonehaugh appeared
for ten minutes and talked charmingly to Margaret and then vanished
again; there was Wilkins the novelist and Toomer and Dr. Tumpany.
Chris Robinson stood about for a time in a new comforter, and
Magdeberg and Will Pipes and five or six Labour members. And on our
side we had our particular little group, Bunting Harblow, Crampton,
Lewis, all looking as broad-minded and open to conviction as they
possibly could, and even occasionally talking out from their bushes
almost boldly. But the gathering as a whole refused either to
mingle or dispute, and as an experiment in intercourse the evening
was a failure. Unexpected dissociations appeared between Socialists
one had supposed friendly. I could not have imagined it was
possible for half so many people to turn their backs on everybody
else in such small rooms as ours. But the unsaid things those backs
expressed broke out, I remarked, with refreshed virulence in the
various organs of the various sections of the party next week.
I talked, I remember, with Dr. Tumpany, a large young man in a still
larger professional frock-coat, and with a great shock of very fair
hair, who was candidate for some North Country constituency. We
discussed the political outlook, and, like so many Socialists at
that time, he was full of vague threatenings against the Liberal
party. I was struck by a thing in him that I had already observed
less vividly in many others of these Socialist leaders, and which
gave me at last a clue to the whole business. He behaved exactly
like a man in possession of valuable patent rights, who wants to be
dealt with. He had an air of having a corner in ideas. Then it
flashed into my head that the whole Socialist movement was an
attempted corner in ideas. . . .
Late that night I found myself alone with Margaret amid the debris
of the gathering.
I sat before the fire, hands in pockets, and Margaret, looking white
and weary, came and leant upon the mantel.
"Oh, Lord!" said Margaret.
I agreed. Then I resumed my meditation.
"Ideas," I said, "count for more than I thought in the world."
Margaret regarded me with that neutral expression behind which she
was accustomed to wait for clues.
"When you think of the height and depth and importance and wisdom of
the Socialist ideas, and see the men who are running them," I
explained. . . . "A big system of ideas like Socialism grows up out
of the obvious common sense of our present conditions. It's as
impersonal as science. All these men--They've given nothing to it.
They're just people who have pegged out claims upon a big
intellectual No-Man's-Land--and don't feel quite sure of the law.
There's a sort of quarrelsome uneasiness. . . . If we professed
Socialism do you think they'd welcome us? Not a man of them!
They'd feel it was burglary. . . ."
"Yes," said Margaret, looking into the fire. "That is just what I
felt about them all the evening. . . . Particularly Dr. Tumpany."
"We mustn't confuse Socialism with the Socialists," I said; "that's
the moral of it. I suppose if God were to find He had made a
mistake in dates or something, and went back and annihilated
everybody from Owen onwards who was in any way known as a Socialist
leader or teacher, Socialism would be exactly where it is and what
it is to-day--a growing realisation of constructive needs in every
man's mind, and a little corner in party politics. So, I suppose,
it will always be. . . . But they WERE a damned lot, Margaret!"
I looked up at the little noise she made. "TWICE!" she said,
smiling indulgently, "to-day!" (Even the smile was Altiora's.)
I returned to my thoughts. They WERE a damned human lot. It was an
excellent word in that connection. . . .
But the ideas marched on, the ideas marched on, just as though men's
brains were no more than stepping-stones, just as though some great
brain in which we are all little cells and corpuscles was thinking
them! . . .
"I don't think there is a man among them who makes me feel he is
trustworthy," said Margaret; "unless it is Featherstonehaugh."
I sat taking in this proposition.
"They'll never help us, I feel," said Margaret.
"Oh, damn the Liberals!" I said. "They'll never even help
"I don't think I could possibly get on with any of those people,"
said Margaret, after a pause.
She remained for a time looking down at me and, I could feel,
perplexed by me, but I wanted to go on with my thinking, and so I
did not look up, and presently she stooped to my forehead and kissed
me and went rustling softly to her room.
I remained in my study for a long time with my thoughts
crystallising out. . . .
It was then, I think, that I first apprehended clearly how that
opposition to which I have already alluded of the immediate life and
the mental hinterland of a man, can be applied to public and social
affairs. The ideas go on--and no person or party succeeds in
embodying them. The reality of human progress never comes to the
surface, it is a power in the deeps, an undertow. It goes on in
silence while men think, in studies where they write self-
forgetfully, in laboratories under the urgency of an impersonal
curiosity, in the rare illumination of honest talk, in moments of
emotional insight, in thoughtful reading, but not in everyday
affairs. Everyday affairs and whatever is made an everyday affair,
are transactions of the ostensible self, the being of habits,
interests, usage. Temper, vanity, hasty reaction to imitation,
personal feeling, are their substance. No man can abolish his
immediate self and specialise in the depths; if he attempt that, he
simply turns himself into something a little less than the common
man. He may have an immense hinterland, but that does not absolve
him from a frontage. That is the essential error of the specialist
philosopher, the specialist teacher, the specialist publicist. They
repudiate frontage; claim to be pure hinterland. That is what
bothered me about Codger, about those various schoolmasters who had
prepared me for life, about the Baileys and their dream of an
official ruling class. A human being who is a philosopher in the
first place, a teacher in the first place, or a statesman in the
first place, is thereby and inevitably, though he bring God-like
gifts to the pretence--a quack. These are attempts to live deep-
side shallow, inside out. They produce merely a new pettiness. To
understand Socialism, again, is to gain a new breadth of outlook; to
join a Socialist organisation is to join a narrow cult which is not
even tolerably serviceable in presenting or spreading the ideas for
which it stands. . . .
I perceived I had got something quite fundamental here. It had
taken me some years to realise the true relation of the great
constructive ideas that swayed me not only to political parties, but
to myself. I had been disposed to identify the formulae of some one
party with social construction, and to regard the other as
necessarily anti-constructive, just as I had been inclined to follow
the Baileys in the self-righteousness of supposing myself to be
wholly constructive. But I saw now that every man of intellectual
freedom and vigour is necessarily constructive-minded nowadays, and
that no man is disinterestedly so. Each one of us repeats in
himself the conflict of the race between the splendour of its
possibilities and its immediate associations. We may be shaping
immortal things, but we must sleep and answer the dinner gong, and
have our salt of flattery and self-approval. In politics a man
counts not for what he is in moments of imaginative expansion, but
for his common workaday, selfish self; and political parties are
held together not by a community of ultimate aims, but by the
stabler bond of an accustomed life. Everybody almost is for
progress in general, and nearly everybody is opposed to any change,
except in so far as gross increments are change, in his particular
method of living and behaviour. Every party stands essentially for
the interests and mental usages of some definite class or group of
classes in the exciting community, and every party has its
scientific-minded and constructive leading section, with well-
defined hinterlands formulating its social functions in a public-
spirited form, and its superficial-minded following confessing its
meannesses and vanities and prejudices. No class will abolish
itself, materially alter its way of life, or drastically reconstruct
itself, albeit no class is indisposed to co-operate in the unlimited
socialisation of any other class. In that capacity for aggression
upon other classes lies the essential driving force of modern
affairs. The instincts, the persons, the parties, and vanities sway
and struggle. The ideas and understandings march on and achieve
themselves for all--in spite of every one. . . .
The methods and traditions of British politics maintain the form of
two great parties, with rider groups seeking to gain specific ends
in the event of a small Government majority. These two main parties
are more or less heterogeneous in composition. Each, however, has
certain necessary characteristics. The Conservative Party has
always stood quite definitely for the established propertied
interests. The land-owner, the big lawyer, the Established Church,
and latterly the huge private monopoly of the liquor trade which has
been created by temperance legislation, are the essential
Conservatives. Interwoven now with the native wealthy are the
families of the great international usurers, and a vast
miscellaneous mass of financial enterprise. Outside the range of
resistance implied by these interests, the Conservative Party has
always shown itself just as constructive and collectivist as any
other party. The great landowners have been as well-disposed
towards the endowment of higher education, and as willing to co-
operate with the Church in protective and mildly educational
legislation for children and the working class, as any political
section. The financiers, too, are adventurous-spirited and eager
for mechanical progress and technical efficiency. They are prepared
to spend public money upon research, upon ports and harbours and
public communications, upon sanitation and hygienic organisation. A
certain rude benevolence of public intention is equally
characteristic of the liquor trade. Provided his comfort leads to
no excesses of temperance, the liquor trade is quite eager to see
the common man prosperous, happy, and with money to spend in a bar.
All sections of the party are aggressively patriotic and favourably
inclined to the idea of an upstanding, well-fed, and well-exercised
population in uniform. Of course there are reactionary landowners
and old-fashioned country clergy, full of localised self-importance,
jealous even of the cottager who can read, but they have neither the
power nor the ability to retard the constructive forces in the party
as a whole. On the other hand, when matters point to any definitely
confiscatory proposal, to the public ownership and collective
control of land, for example, or state mining and manufactures, or
the nationalisation of the so-called public-house or extended
municipal enterprise, or even to an increase of the taxation of
property, then the Conservative Party presents a nearly adamantine
bar. It does not stand for, it IS, the existing arrangement in
Even more definitely a class party is the Labour Party, whose
immediate interest is to raise wages, shorten hours of labor,
increase employment, and make better terms for the working-man
tenant and working-man purchaser. Its leaders are no doubt
constructive minded, but the mass of the following is naturally
suspicious of education and discipline, hostile to the higher
education, and--except for an obvious antagonism to employers and
property owners--almost destitute of ideas. What else can it be?
It stands for the expropriated multitude, whose whole situation and
difficulty arise from its individual lack of initiative and
organising power. It favours the nationalisation of land and
capital with no sense of the difficulties involved in the process;
but, on the other hand, the equally reasonable socialisation of
individuals which is implied by military service is steadily and
quite naturally and quite illogically opposed by it. It is only in
recent years that Labour has emerged as a separate party from the
huge hospitable caravanserai of Liberalism, and there is still a
very marked tendency to step back again into that multitudinous
For multitudinousness has always been the Liberal characteristic.
Liberalism never has been nor ever can be anything but a diversified
crowd. Liberalism has to voice everything that is left out by these
other parties. It is the party against the predominating interests.
It is at once the party of the failing and of the untried; it is the
party of decadence and hope. From its nature it must be a vague and
planless association in comparison with its antagonist, neither so
constructive on the one hand, nor on the other so competent to
hinder the inevitable constructions of the civilised state.
Essentially it is the party of criticism, the "Anti" party. It is a
system of hostilities and objections that somehow achieves at times
an elusive common soul. It is a gathering together of all the
smaller interests which find themselves at a disadvantage against
the big established classes, the leasehold tenant as against the
landowner, the retail tradesman as against the merchant and the
moneylender, the Nonconformist as against the Churchman, the small
employer as against the demoralising hospitable publican, the man
without introductions and broad connections against the man who has
these things. It is the party of the many small men against the
fewer prevailing men. It has no more essential reason for loving
the Collectivist state than the Conservatives; the small dealer is
doomed to absorption in that just as much as the large owner; but it
resorts to the state against its antagonists as in the middle ages
common men pitted themselves against the barons by siding with the
king. The Liberal Party is the party against "class privilege"
because it represents no class advantages, but it is also the party
that is on the whole most set against Collective control because it
represents no established responsilibity. It is constructive only
so far as its antagonism to the great owner is more powerful than
its jealousy of the state. It organises only because organisation
is forced upon it by the organisation of its adversaries. It lapses
in and out of alliance with Labour as it sways between hostility to
wealth and hostility to public expenditure. . . .
Every modern European state will have in some form or other these
three parties: the resistent, militant, authoritative, dull, and
unsympathetic party of establishment and success, the rich party;
the confused, sentimental, spasmodic, numerous party of the small,
struggling, various, undisciplined men, the poor man's party; and a
third party sometimes detaching itself from the second and sometimes
reuniting with it, the party of the altogether expropriated masses,
the proletarians, Labour. Change Conservative and Liberal to
Republican and Democrat, for example, and you have the conditions in
the United States. The Crown or a dethroned dynasty, the
Established Church or a dispossessed church, nationalist secessions,
the personalities of party leaders, may break up, complicate, and
confuse the self-expression of these three necessary divisions in
the modern social drama, the analyst will make them out none the
less for that. . . .
And then I came back as if I came back to a refrain;--the ideas go
on--as though we are all no more than little cells and corpuscles in
some great brain beyond our understanding. . . .
So it was I sat and thought my problem out. . . . I still remember
my satisfaction at seeing things plainly at last. It was like
clouds dispersing to show the sky. Constructive ideas, of course,
couldn't hold a party together alone, "interests and habits, not
ideas," I had that now, and so the great constructive scheme of
Socialism, invading and inspiring all parties, was necessarily
claimed only by this collection of odds and ends, this residuum of
disconnected and exceptional people. This was true not only of the