Alvin Victor Sellers.

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position to exact tribute in continuity, so long as
his monopoly is allowed to exist."

" Still there is no need for using such offensive

" I am sorry if my words have given offence.
But, although aware of the unsavouriness of the
simile, it was not meant to apply to persons, but to
the institution of landownership. And this being
in my opinion morally indefensible, I naturally
and, as I think, legitimately am endeavouring to
present it in all its native ugliness. The simile
was, perhaps, an unfortunate one, and I hasten to
substitute another. We will suppose, then, a village
community living on what they produce from wood,
fields, and meadows, and that the only road which
leads from the said woods and fields to their habita-
tions was owned by an individual, and that this
individual, by virtue of his exceptionally advan-
tageous position, did well, did not take from the
people, but had the power to make them give a certain
amount of gate-money before they could carry their
crops to their homes. Suppose, also, that the
amount of this ' toll ' was determined by the quantity
which the people have raised in the fields ; or, worse
still, by the quantity which the man on the road
thought they might or could have raised ; taking all
from those whose crop did not come up to his expec-


tations, and nearly all from those who did excep-
tionally well ; leaving them just sufficient to support
life, so that they might be able to come again that
way with fresh supplies, and thereby enable him
to take fresh booty "

" Stop ! " exclaimed the Bishop. " Instead of
softening down, you are only aggravating your
offence. Why, you are now actually describing
a highwayman."

" That's very unfortunate for your cause," said
I ; " for I was only describing the functions of

" Then you had better leave it alone altogether.
Your similes are most objectionable. I know your
views, and agree, in the abstract, with much of what
you say. As for the poor, I need hardly tell you
that they have all my sympathies. But "

" But ? " I asked impatiently, at hearing once
more these stale, threadbare platitudes.

" My son," replied the Bishop with pious emotion,
" two wrongs do not make a right. You cannot
right past wrongs by committing new ones, perhaps
more grievous than the first."

" Good heavens ! " I exclaimed. " Do you call
it wrong to stop wrong-doing ? "

" You are interfering with ancient customs and

" Would you have us understand that the in-
junction ' THOU SHALT NOT STEAL,' does not apply
where theft can be shown to have been an ancient
custom ? "

" You are again using strong language. These
gentlemen here have their documents, which secure
to them certain rights. God forbid that the nation
should break its moral obligations."


" Obligations ! Moral obligations ! Where is the
morality of the thing ? Is it in the fact that millions
of people are daily born into this world without a
resting-place for the soles of their feet ? "

" I fear you are too worldly-minded, and think of
people's soles before you think of their souls."

" Because they have soles first ; and if there
is no sure resting-ground for these, the soul cannot
healthily develop. We will pass by the untold
misery, the starvation, the disappointed hopes, and
broken hearts of the millions of disinherited people,
occasioned by this confiscation of the soil. I will
not reason with you that all this suffering need not
have existed but for this monstrously iniquitous
institution, which, till now, deprived the masses
of their patrimony (for surely, to you, right reverend
sir, I may speak of the land as the PATRIMONY of the
people without fear of being reminded that there
are no natural rights !), but will confine my remarks
to the share this ancient custom had in producing
crime and vice. Did it never occur to you that fully
ninety-nine per cent, of all crime and vice can be
traced to land monopoly ? "

" That is a ridiculous statement to make. Lying
and hypocrisy are great vices, but I fail to see any
connection between these and land monopoly."

" Because you are blind, reverend leader of the
blind. Bethink yourself, and see whether most
of the crimes and vices are not begotten of poverty
or the fear of poverty. Burgling, stealing, cheating,
swindling, forgery, legacy hunting, arson, child-
murder, and suicides : are not all these crimes
committed out of need or for the sake of pecuniary
gain ? And is not this eagerness for wealth, where
it is not occasioned by actual poverty and want,


due to a fear of poverty ? Even lawyers' quibblings,
the perjuries in the law courts, and certainly simony,
may be included in the list of sinful acts which
spring from this source. Now, I put it to you whether
there is any necessity for this fear of poverty ;
whether, if each pair of hands were free to work,
each mouth could not get its loaf of bread ; whether,
if the people were not denied access to bountiful
Nature, there would be that stern necessity for
taking thought for their life, what they shall eat,
or wherewithal they shall clothe themselves ? "

" Ah, it's perverse human nature."

:< You libel human nature, which is capable
of greatness and nobility, were it not stunted by
unnatural conditions. Human nature is prompted
by the natural instinct of self-preservation. Put
no impediment in the way of their existence, and
men are kind and noble. Threaten their existence,
and they become fierce and ferocious. When
you are sitting at your sumptuous table, with full
knowledge that there will be more than enough
to satisfy the appetites of all present, you are kind
and attentive to your neighbour. The soup that
has been placed before you, you pass courteously
to him, because you know you will not lose by your
politeness. But fancy yourself on a desolate island
in company with several thousand fellow-beings,
with just a few ship-biscuits, barely sufficient for
a day's provisions, and with no hope of immediate
relief. It is under conditions like these that human
nature becomes perverse. There is a general
stampede and rush for the means of life a struggle
for existence, in which the bestial instincts gain
mastery over the finer qualities of man. And if
some of the nobler souls escape becoming murderers


of their fellow-men for the sake of a morsel, it is only
because they have hearts stout enough to take
their own lives by preference."

" That's a horrid picture ! "

"It is the picture you have beheld all your life,
and the loss of which you are now lamenting on
moral grovnds. I repeat my challenge. Excepting
the crimes due to the jealousies of the sexes, or
occasioned by mental aberrations, could you name
me a single crime that is not traceable, directly
or indirectly, to poverty or the fear of poverty ?
Add to that the thousands of poor wretches who,
under the shadow of your own palace and cathedral,
walk the streets in shame, forced to it mostly by
poverty or ignorance, the result of poverty
and then tell me where the moral obligation comes
in to perpetuate the institution which is the primary
cause of all this."

" You are introducing a lot of irrelevant matter.
These deeds," pointing to the parchments, " secure
to their owners certain rights, which can be withheld
only by the committal of an immoral act."

" You argue more like a lawyer than a bishop.
That is, you are pleading morality as a justification
for perpetuating the grossest of all immoralities." t

" Sir ! "

" Oh, you need not be outraged ! Maybe you are
doing so in ignorance. But the fact remains, never-
theless, as I will show you. Suppose I owe a man a
sum of money, but that he has neither a note from me
nor any witnesses to prove me his debtor. Would
it then be moral in me to refuse payment because
the creditor could not prove my indebtedness ? "

" That would be grossly immoral, indeed."

" Or suppose that a man did possess a writing


which set out that I was his debtor, but that I had
paid the debt or never received the loan, or that
the writing was a forgery. Indeed, I allow you
to suppose any explanation you please, the facts
being that I did not owe any money to Jones,
although he possessed a deed to the contrary. Would
Jones, under such circumstances, still have a moral
claim on me ? And would it be my moral duty
to thrust those dependent on me into hopeless
poverty, and pay Jones the amount set forth in
the document ? "

" Certainly not."

" Then your moral argument, based on the fact
that these people possess parchments, falls to the
ground if you cannot show the justice of the claim.
You would have to show first, what neither of your
clique has as yet attempted, that the earth belongs
of right to the parchment lairds."

" You travesty the Bible."

" No ; it is you who travesty it. The verse
in question reads, * The Earth is the Lord's and
the fulness thereof.' Show me a parchment signed
by this Lord, and its provisions shall be carried out.
Of course," I added, as a precaution, remembering
the great talent for " interpretations " which Bishops
sometimes display, " you would have to convince us
first of the genuineness of the signature."

There must have been a sting in my last remark,
for the Bishop, hitherto full of meekness and humility,
suddenly flared up.

" The Lord you speak of has given us certain
commandments," he said in a severe tone, " which
it is my duty to see should not be broken. You
have the masses with you because you appeal to
their sordid natures, and tempt them with filthy


lucre. It is for this reason that we are here, to
remind you and the people of the commandment,
' Thou shalt not covet.' . . ."

This piece of ecclesiastical strategy took me
by surprise. I had no immediate reply ready,
and had no time to think of one. For before the
Bishop had finished his little impromptu sermon, a
brawny man with an honest, sunburnt face, wearing
a smock and slouched hat, sprang forward, like a
lion suddenly roused, on hearing the words, " Thou
shalt not covet." His appearance was so sudden
and unexpected, his countenance so earnest and
determined, that it froze the rest of the sentence
in the Bishop's throat.

" Thou shalt not covet," he repeated with
great deliberation, making a short pause after each
word. " That's me, Bishop. It's I who am so
covetous to want a loaf a whole loaf, mind you
for every one of my children. Each of them has
been sent by God, and every one of them has a
mouth ; and you have told me that >God never
sends a mouth but what He sends a loaf. I want
delivery of what has been sent for my children.
I will not stand by any longer and see them robbed
of their share. I am covetous, you see. I covet
what is theirs, and will not see them starving, and
give them cause to curse the hour that made them
see the light of life, while the gifts of our All-Father,
intended for them, are taken from them under the
authority and with the sanction of the Church."

" There, there ! " said the Bishop. " Do you
see now the fruits of your doings ? "

;t The fruits of his doings ? " continued the farmer.
" Let me tell you first the fruits of your doings."
And turning towards myself " You spoke of a


man owning the road that leads from the fields
to the village. I have passed that road, and had
to unload many and many a time. But it's not
quite correct as you told the story. The landlord
not only owned the high road, but the fields and
huts as well. And he didn't keep watch on the
road to plunder the wayfarer, as you said he did,
but spent his time in France and Italy, while I had
to toil from day to day until I could barely rest
my wearied bones for pain. Had he been on the
high road when I carted home my crop, and robbed
me there of it, it would have been a mercy compared
to the agony I had sometimes to endure."

And after a pause, broken only by the sobs of
a few women and children behind him, he con-

" No ; my landlord never stopped me on the
road. I was allowed to cart the crop home ; I
had it under my roof, with the children crying for
food, and I durst not touch it dared not take
a handful of grain to make them a porridge because
I was backward with my rent. The crop I had
gathered was not sufficient to make it up, and
I under notice to quit if I could not pay up within
twenty -four hours. This is far more cruel than
being robbed by a highwayman to stand between
one's own hungry children and the food, warding
them off lest they might be turned out of doors.
I am telling you nothing but a fact, sir. The wife
cut up carefully ithe last crust she had, divided it
amongst our hungry children, moistened ay,
literally drenched with her tears. Ah, my Lord
Bishop, had you seen the children that night eagerly
snatching the bits of 'crust from jtheir mother's
trembling hands, while their father was guarding


his lordship's rent against their hunger, you would
have seen what a covetous lot they were. Yet
of such is the kingdom of heaven of children who,
before they had yet learnt the Sacred Rights of
Property, are already conscious of the Sacred Rights
of Life. I drove to market, sold the loaves which
God had sent for my hungry bairns, and took the
money to his lordship's agent."

" You acted as an honest man," interposed the

" No ; I acted as a thief to my own children,
and may God forgive me the sin. For when I came
home one of my children, the youngest, was dead,
because the mother had no milk for it ; and the
wife died the next day of a broken heart. And
in all this misery I was threatened to be turned
out of my home because I could not pay up the
whole of my arrears."

" You are ungrateful, John," remonstrated the
Bishop, who seemed to know him well ; "for at
the time, your case having been a very hard one,
a collection was made for you."

" Yes, to pay his lordship with. It is he who
received every penny of what the kind folks Heaven
bless them for it have given me. It was for him
I was begging, so that we should not be turned out
of our home in the midst of winter. I say our home,' '
he added, after wiping away a tear, " for it was we
who built it, the children helping to carry the stones ;
but it has been stolen from us under cover of law.
You did not then preach of covetousness to his lord-

" How ungrateful of you, John, to speak thus of
his lordship, after all the kindness and forbearance he
has shown you. Only last Christmas he gave all the


poor of the parish, a free dinner, and you and your
children had a good feed."

The poor farmer, overcome by grief or shame, or
both, made no reply, but buried his head in his
hands. The Socialist answered for him

" They would not have been in need of his degrad-
ing charity, had he not first robbed them of the
fruits of their toil."

" Oh, what wicked language ! " remonstrated the
Bishop ; " to say this of one of the kindest landlords.
Only a few years ago he granted a plot of land, and
to Dissenters too, for a chapel. . . ."

' How kind ! Actually permitted Englishmen
to worship their God in England ! "

" And granted two acres of land to the parish
at half-price for a cemetery."

" And you think it wise to remind us of the fact
that the people could not even rot in their native
land without his lordship's sanction ? "

" What wicked language ! And that of one who
did the bidding of his Master by giving to the
poor. . . ."

" Who was it that made them poor ? "

" Alas, it is the inscrutable will of the Lord.
* The poor ye have always with you," and He made
some poor and some rich, so that the latter should
manifest their charity towards the former." 1

"It is a lie and libel ; it's rank blasphemy ! "
exclaimed John, who was stung by this remark.
And had I not interfered in time, it might have
gone hard with the Bishop. There was considerable
confusion for some time, and I had great difficulty
in restraining John's sinewy arm. At last I suc-
ceeded. And in the meantime all the Bishops had
1 Vide a sermon by the Bishop of Salisbury some time back.


disappeared, and with them, as I thought, the last
plea of landlordism namely, the plea on moral


THE influential deputation now withdrew some-
what abruptly and without ceremony. The
Bishops, as mentioned, were the first to leave ; next
followed the Lawyers, who, prior to their departure,
intimated to their several clients their desire for a
prompt settlement of their accounts. The Financiers
had already withdrawn to one corner of the room,
evidently awaiting an opportunity of speaking to
me on their own separate business. The bond
that had held nobles, bishops, lawyers, and
financiers together was broken ; each was now
only solicitous for his own individual welfare,
and the class interest of each group asserted

It was almost piteous to see the once haughty
and insolent members of " Our Old Nobility "
slinking as unsuccessful suitors out of the hall in
which they had once reigned supreme. Farmer
John, as they filed past him, not daring to meet
his eyes, seemed quite moved by their dejected
demeanour ; and as soon as the door had closed on
the last of them, the kind, honest, simple-hearted
man, forgetful of his own past sufferings, commenced
to plead for them.

" Poor fellows," he said ; " they were great sinners,
it is true. But, sir, were they not as much sinned
against as sinning ? I mean, were they not as


much the products of false institutions as were the
rest of us ? And what are they going to do now ?
They are not used to work, as I am ; and my joy,
and that of all my fellows, would be marred if we
thought they were now to be condemned to undergo
the pangs and sufferings from which we have just
escaped. You should do something for them to
reconcile them to their lot."

" My dear, good, honest John," I replied, much
moved by this evidence of his noble nature ; " your
sympathy for them does you credit. But they
really neither need nor deserve it. No hardship
has been done them, and certainly no injustice.
They have been deprived of nothing to which they
have any right ; on the contrary, they have been
left in possession of much to which others your-
self, for instance could show a much better claim."

" They are welcome to it, I am sure, for now I
and men like me can soon acquire as much as we

"To be sure you can. Nor need you be troubled
on their account. The majority of them still have
more than sufficient to enable them to live in ease
and comfort ; and as for their children "

" It is of them that I was thinking."

" As for their children, they will grow up under
new conditions, and learn to adapt themselves to
the new order of things. They will enter into the
new world a world into which none need be afraid
to enter ; a world in which no one willing to work
shall suffer from poverty, or be haunted by the fear
of it ; a world in which the struggle will be between
man and Nature, and not between man and man ;
a world in which each will enjoy the fruits of his
own toil, in which none will be secured privileges


at the expense of his fellows, in which work will not
only be the only passport to life, but also to true

" Nobility ! " interrupted the Socialist. " We have
had more than enough of nobilities and aristocracies."

" Nay, we have had too little true nobility, too
few real aristocrats. The better worker is always
the better man, and the best worker the best citizen
the first, the foremost, the aristos or aristocrat in
the true sense. The more self-made or Nature's
aristocrats we have, the better for all. The New-
tons, Shakespeares, and Nightingales ; the Watts,
Cartwrights, and Darwins : such are the real aristo-
crats, the leaders and torch-bearers of civilisation.
' Our old nobility,' like your ' capital,' was made up
of sheepskins and paper. True nobles, like real
capital, can only benefit, and not injure, and should
be encouraged instead of being feared or fought."

" I am ready to agree with you on the first point ;
but as to capital "

" What ! " I exclaimed in surprise. " Not yet
cured of your madness ? What harm has real
capital ever done to anyone ? Or, at anyrate, what
harm can it do to anyone where the opportunities of
Nature are alike free to all ? Across the street is a
big ploughshare maker. Is he not a labourer, and
are not his ploughs the type of real capital accumu-
lated labour ? You say he may demand exorbitant
prices. But you forget that the iron and coal mines
are open, and the forests free. Have you ever
known a trader sulking with his goods by demanding
exorbitant prices, unless he had a monopoly of some
sort ? Is not quite the contrary true ? Were not
your great and standing grievances keen competition
and low prices ? "


" Yes, for manufactured articles, but not for

" But now we have no other capital in the market
except what is manufactured, and that is precisely
real capital. Not, indeed, because there is any
necessity for the term ' capital ' at all. For a plough,
a saw, or a plane might be just as well called a * com-
modity ' as a shirt or a loaf of bread. And anything
which is not of the nature of an artificial commodity
is no longer vendible."

" Hold hard ! Let me digest this fact. It is
only now that I begin to see your meaning, and . . .
by Jove ! Why Capital is "

" Nothing but a name, an abstraction, which
sometimes means a plough or a mill, sometimes
lands and slaves, rivers and houses ; and some-
times or, rather, mostly parchments and papers,
the bonds on future production. Once let land, rivers,
and mines be free, and then these bonds are gone.
The only wealth or ' capital ' I hate to hear the
stupid word a person can then own is that which
he has created. Machinery ? Yes ; and, as you
say, he could withhold it from use ; and if he is a
fool, he may do so. But if he is not, he will, instead
of withholding his machinery until the rust has
eaten it up, send out travellers and circulars, and
tempt the people to buy or to hire, by offering all
manner of easy terms. Do you not think so ? "

The Socialist sank back into his chair, elbows
on the table, and rested his head in his two hands.
He looked bewildered, as if a new light had suddenly
broken in upon him.

" What need the people care now," I continued,
" if any man likes to dress himself in velvet and
ermine, and to call himself a lord, and the parch-


ments in his pockets ' capital,' so long as the land
with all that is in and on it that is, with all its
potentialities is free ? All that man requires comes
from land ; the ' capital ' that was required for
production was simply a permit to make use of the
natural resources. The road to the land was through
the bank, and that road was open but to few. The
cheque that was necessary to make production
possible was a permit, or the price of a permit, to use
the forces of Nature. But now that the land is
free "

Here our conversation was interrupted by a
short, stout, vulgar, self - satisfied - looking man ;
one of the fore-mentioned financiers, whose presence
I had forgotten for the moment.

" I am sorry to interrupt you," he commenced,
" but your time may not be wasted in listening
to what I have to say. I am a practical man, and
as such have been consulted on many questions of
importance by those in almost as exalted positions
as yours. I have not come here to discuss with
you abstract theories about justice, morality, liberty,
and all that kind of thing ; that's not in my line ;
I don't deal in sentiment. Doubtless you want to
do something for the poor. Now I don't object to
that in moderation, and might even render you
valuable assistance if I approve of the means. But I
deem it right to warn you of what must inevitably
follow if you should kill off all enterprise."

" Our object is to encourage enterprise, not to
kill it ; provided, of course, that the enterprise is
not of a mischievous character."

" But your legislation, sir, will kill out all enter-
prise, and drive all the capital, upon which the
workers are entirely dependent, out of the country."


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Online LibraryAlvin Victor SellersThe story of my dictatorship .. → online text (page 7 of 9)