Gerald Stanley Lee.

Crowds: a moving-picture of democracy online

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I was much interested some time ago when I had not
been long landed in England, and was still trying in the hopeful
American way to linderstand it — to see the various attitudes '
of Englishmen toward the discussions which were going on at
that time in the Spectator and elsewhere, of Mr. Cadbury's
inconsistency; and while I had no reason, as an American,
fresh-landed from New York, to be interested in Mr. Cadbury
himself, I found that his inconsistency interested me very
much. It insisted on coming back into my mind, in spite of
what I would have thought, as a strangely important subject

— not merely as regards Mr. Cadbury, which might or might
not be important, but as regards England and as regards
America, as regards the way a modem man struggling day by day
with a huge, heavy machine civilization Uke ours, can still man-
age to be a Uve, useful, and possibly even a human, being in it.

There are two astonishing facts that stand face to face with
all of us to-day, who are labouring with civilization.

The first fact is that almost without exception all the men in
it who mean the most in it to us and to other people for good or
for evil — who stir us deeply and do things — all fall into the
inconsistent class.

The second fact is that this is a very small, select distin-
guished, and astonishingly capable class.

A man who is in a grim, serious business like being good, must
expect to give up many of his little self-indulgences in the way
of looking good. Looking inconsistent, possibly even incon-
sistency itself, may be sometimes, temporarily, a man's most
important public service to his time.

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One needs but a little glance at history, or even at one's
own personal history. It is by being inconsistent that people
grow, and without meaning to, give other people materials for
growing. For the particular purpose of making the best things
grow, of pointing up truths, of giving definite edges to right and
wrong, an inconsistent man — a man who is trying to pry him-
self out a Uttle at a time from an impossible situation in an im-
possible world, is likely to do the world more good than a verj'
large crowd of angels who have made up their minds that they
are going to be consistent and going to keep up a consistent look
in this same world — whatever happens to it.

If one is marking people on consistency, and if one takes a
scale of 100 as perfect, perhaps one should not always insist
on 98. One does not always insist on 98 for one's self. And
when one does and does not get it, one feels forgiving sometimes.

In dealing with public men and with other people that we
know less than we know ourselves — if they really do things, it
is well to make allowances, and let them oflF at 65.

In some cases, in fact, when men are doing something that no
one else volunteers to do for. a world, I find I get on very well
with letting them oflF at 51. I have sometimes wished, when I
have been in England, that Tories and Liberals and Socialists and
the Wise and the Good would consider letting George Cadbury
oflf at 51.

Perhaps people are being more safely educated by George
Cadbury in his journals than they might be by other people in
what seem to seem to many of us unf amiUar and dangerous

Perhaps posterity, in 1953, looking down this precipice of
revolution England did not fall into in 1913, may mark George
Cadbury 73 — possibly 89.

If, in any way, in the crisis of England, George Cadbury can
crowd in and can keep thousands and thousands of Englishmen

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and women from being educated by John Bottomley Bull or
by Mrs. John Bottomley Bull and hosts of other would-be
friends of the people — by Tom Mann, Ben Tillett, and Vernon
Hartshorn, does it really seem after all a matter of grave na-
tional importance that George Cadbury — a professional non-
better — in educating these people should allow them to keep
on in his paper, having a betting column?

So long as he really helps stave off John Bottomley Bull and
Mrs. John Bottomley Bull, let him slump into being a million-
aire, if he cannot very well help it! We say, some of us,
let him even make cocoa! or have family prayers! or be a

At least this is the way one American visiting England feels
about it, if he may be permitted.

Perhaps I would not, if I were an angel.

I do not want to be an angel.

I am more ambitious. I want my ideals to do things, and
I want to stand by people who are doing things with their ideals,
whether their ideals are my ideals or not.

Let us suppose. Suppose the reader were in Mr. Cadbury's
place. What would he do? Here are two things, let us
suppose, he wishes very much. He wishes a certain class of
people would not bet, and he also wishes to convince these same
people of certain important social and poUtical ideas for which
he stands. If he told them that he would have nothing to
do with them imless they stopped betting, there would be no
object in his publishing their paper at all. There would be
nothing that they would let him tell them. K, on the other
hand, he begins merely as one more humble, fellow-human being,
and puts himself definitely on record as not betting himself,
and still more definitely as wishing other people would not bet,
and then admits honestly that these other people have as good a
right to decide to bet as he has to decide not to; and if he then

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deliberately proceeds to do what every real gentleman who does
not smoke and wishes other people did not, does without ques-
tion — namely, offers them the facilities for doing it why should
people call him inconsistent?

Perhaps a man's consistency consists in his relation to his own
smoking and betting and not in his rushing his consistency over .
into the smoking and betting of other people. Perhaps being
consistent does not need to mean being a Uttle pharisaical, or
using force, or cutting people oflp and having no argument with
them, in one matter, because one cannot agree with them in
another. Of course, I admit it would be better if Mr. Cadbury
would pubUsh in a parallel column (if he could get a genius to
write it) an extremely tolerant, human, comrade-like series of
objections to betting, which people could read alongside, and
which would persuade people as much as possible not to read
the best betting tips in the world in the column next door, but
certainly the act of furnishing the tips in the meantime and of
being sure that they are the best tips in the world, is a very
real, hiunan, courageous act. It even has a kind of rough and
ready reUgion in it. It may be too much to expect, but even in
our goodness perhaps we ought to do as we would be done by.
We must be righteous, but on the whole, must we not be righte-
ous toward others as we would have them righteous toward

What many of us find ourselves wishing most of all, when we
come upon some specially attractive man is, that we could dis-
cover some way, or that he could discover some way, in which
the ideahst in him, and the realist in him could be got to act

There are some of us who have come to believe that in the
dead earnest, daily, almost desp)^rate struggle of modem life,
the real solid idealist will have to care enough about his ideals
to arrange to have two complete sets, one set which he calls
his personal ideals, which are of such a nature that he can carry
them out alone and rigidly and quite by himself, and another

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which he calls his bending or coSperative ideafs, geared a little
lower and adjusted to more gradual usage, which he uses when
he asks other men to act with him.

It may take a very single-hearted and strong man to keep
before his own mind arid before other people's his two sets of
ideals, his "I" faiths, and his you-and-I faiths, keeping each in
strict proportion, but it would certainly be a great human adven-
ture to do it. Saying "God and I," and saying "God and you
and I" are two diflPerent arts. And it is clear-headedness and
not inconsistency in a man that keeps him so.

This is not a mere defence of Mr. Cadbury; it is a defence of
a type of man, of a temperament in our modem life, of men
like Edward A. Filene, of Boston, of a man like Hugh Mac Rae,
one of the institutions of North Carolina, of Tom L. Johnson
of Cleveland, of nine men out of ten of the bigger and
more creative sort who are helping cities to get their way
and nations to express themselves. I have beUeved that the
principle at stake, the great principle for real life in England and
in America, of letting a man be inconsistent if he knows how —
must have a stand made for it.

There is no one thing, whether in history, or literature, or
science, or politics that can be more crucial in the fate of a
nation to-day than the correct, just, and constructive judgment
of Contemporary Inconsistent People.


If I could have managed it, I would have had this book
printed and written — every page of it — in three parallel

The first column would be for the reader who believes it,
who keeps writing a book more or less like it as he goes along.
I would put in one sentence at the top for him and then let
him have the rest of the space to write in himself. In other
words I would say 2 plus 2 equals 4 and drop it.

The second column would be for the reader who would like

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to believe it if he could, and I would branch out a little more —
about half a column.



The third colunm would be for the reader who is not going
to believe it if it can be helped. It would be in fine type,
bitterly detailed and statistical and take nothing for granted.







This arrangement would make the book what might be
called a Moving Sidewalk of Truth. First sidewalk rather
quick (six miles an hour). Second, four miles an hour. Third,
two miles an hour. People could move over from one sidewalk
to the other in the middle of an idea any time, and go faster or
slower as they liked to, needed to.

No one would accuse me — though I might like or need for
my own personal use at one time or another, a slower sidewalk
or a faster one than others — no one would accuse me of being
inconsistent if I supplied extra sidewalks for people of different
temperaments to move over to suddenly any time they wanted
to. I have come to some of my truth by a bitterly slow side-
walk — slower than other people need, and sometimes I have
come by a fast one (or what some would say was no sidewalk
at all!) but it cannot fairly be claimed that there is anything
inconsistent in my oflPering people every possible convenience
I can think of — for believing me.

Mr. Cadbury is not inconsistent if he tells truth at a different
rate to different people, or if he chooses to put truths before
people in Indian file.

A man is not inconsistent who does not tell all the news he
knows to all kinds of people, all at once, all the time.

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There is nothing disingenuous about having an order for

It is not considered compromising to have an order in moving
railway trains. Why not allow an order in moving trains of
thought? And why should a schedule for moving around
people's bodies be considered any more reasonable than a
schedule or timetable or order for moving around their souls?

Truth in action must always be in an order. Nine idealists
out of ten who fight against News-men, or men who are trying
to make the beautiful work, and who call them hypocrites,
would not do it if they were trying desperately to make the
beautiful work themselves. It is more comfortable and has
a fine free look, to be blunt with the beautiful — the way a
Poet is — to dump all one's ideals down before people and walk
oflF. But it seems to some of us a cold, sentimental, lazy, and
ignoble thing to do with ideals if one loves them — to give
everybody all of them all the time without considering what
becomes of the ideals or what becomes of the people.

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Mabch 4, 191S.

AS I write these words, I look out upon the great meadow.
I see the poles and the wires in the sun, that long trail of poles
and wires I am used to, stalking across the meadow.

I know what they are doing.

They are telling a thousand cities and villages about our new
President, the one they are making this minute, down in Wash-
ington, for these United States. With his hand lifted up he has
just taken his oath, has sworn before God and before his people
to serve the destinies of a nation. And now along a hundred
thousand miles of wire on dumb wooden poles, a hope, a prayer,
a kind of quiet, stern singing of a mighty people goes by.

And I am sitting here in my study window wondering what
he will be like, what he will think, and what he will believe
about us.

What will our new President do with these hundreds of miles
of prayer, of crying to God, stretched up to him out of the hills
and out of the plains?

Does he really overhear it — that huge, dumb, half -helpless,
half -defiant prayer going up past him, out of the eager, hoarse
cities, out of the slow, patient fields, to God?

Does he overhear it, I wonder? What does he make out
that we are like?

I should think it would sound like music to him.

It would come to seem, I should think, when he is alone
with his God (and will he not please be alone with his God some-
times?), like some vast ocean of people singing, a kind of multi-


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tudinous, faraway singing, like the wind — ah, how often
have I heard the wind like some strange and mighty people
in the pine treetops go singing by!

I do not see how a President could help growing a little like a
poet — down in his heart — as he listens.

If he does, he may do as he will with us.

We will let him be an artist in a nation.

As Winslow Homer takes the sea, as Millet takes the peas-
ants in the fields, as Frank Brangwyn lifts up the labour in
the mills and makes it colossal and sublime, the President is an
artist, in touching the crowd's imagination with itself — in
making a nation self-conscious.

He shall be the artist, the composer, the portrait painter of
the people — their faith, their cry, their anger, and their love
shall be in him. In him shall be seen the panorama of the
crowd, focused into a single face. In him there shall be put
'in the foreground of this nation's coimtenance the things that
belong in the foreground. And the things that belong in the
background shall be put in the background, and the httle ideas
and little men shall look httle in it, and the big ones shall look

They do not look so now. This is the one thing that is the
matter with America. The countenence of the nation is not a
composed countenance. All that we want is latent in us, every-
thing is there in our Washington face. The face merely lacks
features and an expression.

This is what a President is for — to give at last the Face of
the United States an expression!

If he is a shrewd poet and believes in us, we shall accept
him as the oflBcial mind reader of the nation. He focuses our
desires. In the weariness of the day he looks away — he
looks up — he leans his head upon his hand — through the
corridors of his brain, that little silent Main street of America,^
the thoughts and the crowds and the jostling wills of th«
people go.

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If he is a shrewd poet about us, he becomes the organic func-
tion, the organizer of the news about our people to ourselves.
He is the public made visible, the public made one. He is a
moving picture of us. He speaks and gestures the United States
— if he is a poet about us — when he beckons or points or when
he puts his finger on his lips, or when he says, "Hush!" or when
he says, "Wait a moment!" he is the voice of the people of the
United States.

I am sitting and correcting, one by one, as they are brought
to me, these last page proofs in the factory. The low thimder
on the floors of the mighty presses, crashing down into paper
words I can never cross out — rises around me. In a minute
more — minute by minute that I am counting, that low thimder
will overtake me, will roar down and fold away these last
guilty, hopeful, tucked-in words with you. Gentle Reader, and
you will get away! And the book will get away!

There is no time to try to hold up that low thunder now, and
to say what I have meant to say about false simplicity and
democracy, and about our all being bullied into being little old
faded Thomas JeflFersons a hundred years after he is dead.

But I will try to suggest what I hope that some one who has
no printing-presses rolling over him — will say:

One cannot help wishing that our socialists to-day would
outgrow Karl Marx, and that our individualists would out-
grow Emerson. Democrats by this time ought to grow a little,
too, and outgrow JeflFerson, and Republicans ought to be able
by this time to outgrow Hamilton.

Why not drop Karl Marx and Emerson and run the gamut of
both of them, on a continent 3,000 miles wide? Why should we
live Thomas JeflFerson's and Alexander Hamilton's lives? Why
not drop JeflFerson and Hamilton and live ours?

The last thing that JeflFerson would do, if he were here, would
be to be JeflFerson over again. It is not fair to JeflFerson for

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anybody to take the liberty of being like him, when he would not
even do it himself. If JeflFerson were here, he would break away
from everybody, lawyers, statesmen and Congress and go out-
doors and look at 1913 for himself.

I like to imagine how it would strike him. I am not troubled
about what he would do. Let JeflFerson go out and listen to
that vast machine, to the New York Central Railway smooth-
ing out and roaring down crowds, roUing and rolling and rolling
men all day and all night into machines. Let JeflFerson go out
and face the New York Central Railway! JeflFerson in his
time had not faced nor looked down through those great fissures
or chasms of ineflBciency in what he chose to call democracy, the
haughty, tryannical aimlessness and meaninglessness of crowds,
too mean-spirited and full of fear and machines to dare to have

He had not faced that blank staring hell of anonymousness,
that bottomless, weak, watery muck of irresponsibility — that
terrific, devilish vagueness which a crowd is and which a crowd
has to be without leaders.

JteflFerson did not know about or reckon with Inventors, as
a means of governing, as a means of getting the will of the

A whole new age of invention, of creation, has flooded the
world since JeflFerson. This is the main fact about the modem
man, that he is gloriously self-made. He is practising democracy,
inventing his own life, making his own soul before our eyes.

If we have a poet in the White House, this is the main fact
he is going to reckon with: He will not be seen taking sides
with the Alexander Hamilton model or with the Thomas JeflFer-
son model or with Karl Marx or Emerson. We will see him
taking Karl Marx and Emerson and Hamilton and JeflFerson and
melting them down, glowing them and fusing them together
into one man — the Crowd-Man — who shall be more aris-
tocratic than Hamilton ever dreamed, and be filled with a
genius for democracy that JeflFerson never guessed.

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America to-day, on the face of the earth and in the hearts
of men, is a new democracy, as new as Radium, Copernicus.,
the Wireless Telegraph, as new and just beginning to be noticed
and guessed at as Jesus Christ!

Copernicus, Marconi, Wilbur Wright, and Christianity have
turned men's hearts outward. Men live for the first time in
a wide daily consciousness of one another.

Alexander Hamilton, had reaUy a rather timid and polite
idea of what an aristocrat was and JeflFerson had merely sketched
out a ground plan for a democrat. If Hamilton had been aris-
tocratic in the modem sense, he would have devoted half his
career to expressing a man like JeflFerson; and if Jeflferson had
been more of a democrat, he would have had room in himself
to tuck in several Alexander Hamiltons. Either one of them
would have been a Crowd-Man.

By a Crowd-Man I do not mean a puU-and-haul man, a
balance of equilibrium between these two men, I mean a fusion,
a glowed together interpenetration of them both.

They did not either of them believe in the people as much as a
man made out of both of them would — a really wrought-
through aristocrat, a really wrought-through democrat or
Crowd-Man, or Hero or Saviour.

I am afraid that some of us do not like the word Saviour as
people think we ought to. There seems to be something about
the way many people use the word Saviour which makes it
seem as if it had been dropped oflf over the edge of the world —
of a real world, of a man's world.

I do not believe that Christ spent five minutes in His whole
life in feeling like a Saviour. He would have felt hurt if He had
f oimd any one saying He was a Saviour in the tone people often
use. He wanted people to feel as if they were like Him. And
the way He served them was by making them feel that they

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I do not believe that Thomas JeflFerson, if he were here to-
day, would object to a hero, or aristocrat, a special expert or
a genius in expressing crowds, if he lived and wrought in this

The final objection that people commonly make to heroes or
to iQaen of marked and special vision or courage is that they are
not good for people, because people put them on pedestals and
worship them. They look up at them wistfully. And then
they look down on themselves.
But I have never seen a hero on a pedestal.
It is only the Carlyle kind of hero who could ever be put on a
pedestal, or who would stay there if put there.

And Carlyle — with all honour be it said — never quite knew
what a hero was. A hero is either a gentleman, or a philos-
opher, or an inventor.

The gentleman — on a pedestal — feels hurt and slips down.
The philosopher laughs.

The inventor thinks up some way of having somebody else
get up — so that it will not really be a pedestal at all.

I agree with all the socialists' objections to heroes, if they mean
by a hero the kind of man that Thomas Carlyle, with all his little
glorious hells, all his little cold, lonesome, select heavens, his
thunderclub view of life, and his Old Testament imagination,
called a hero. There is always something a little strained and
competitive about Carlyle's heroes as he conceives them —
except possibly one or two.

Being a hero with Carlyle consisted in conquering and dis-
placing other heroes. Even if you were a poet, being a hero
consisted in a kind of spiritual standing on some other poet's
neck. According to Carlyle, one must always be a hero against
other men. Modem heroism consists in being a hero with other
men. The hero Against comes in the Twentieth Century to be
the hero With, and the modem hero is known, not by cutting his
enemies down, but by his absorbing and understanding them.
He drinks up what they wish they could do into what he does.

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or he states what they believe better than they can state it.
Combination or cooperation is the tremendous heroism of our
present Ufe.

I admit that I would be afraid of Carlyle's heroes having
pedestals. They have already — many of them — done a good
deal of harm because they have had pedestals, and because they
would not get down from them.

But mine would.

With a man who is being a hero by cooperation, getting
down is part of the heroism. And there is never any real danger
in allowing a pedestal for a real hero. He never has time to sit
on it.

One sees him always over and over again kicking his pedestal
out from under him and using it to batter a world with. As
the world does not take to enjoying its heroes' pedestals in this
way, a pedestal is quite safe. Most people feel the same about
a hero's halo. They prefer to have him wear it like a kind of
glare around his head, and if he uses it as a searchlight upon
them, if he makes his halo really practical and lights up the
world a little around him instead, he is not; likely to be spoiled,
is almost always safe from any danger of having any more halo

Online LibraryGerald Stanley LeeCrowds: a moving-picture of democracy → online text (page 40 of 44)