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who minister to his odious cravings as any Nero or
Caligula. His pleasures are bought by pangs as effec-
tually as if the pangs were the end and aim. He makes
for misery as by a law, yet he is our most cherished
institution, and a crown of things. He has become
instinctive, automatic, inconscient — the last and worst
sign of all. He is of those most hopeless of all wrong-
doers who know not what they do.

* Only think of the melancholy implications of
anguish that lie in his name as it stands in the Share
List! Sweet old ladies, with no power to trace the
dividend to its source in human woe, take stock in
Ridler, and lead lives of private virtue and philan-
thropic effort on his proceeds. They are as innocent
of all critique of conscience in the matter as a pike
who swallows a fellow-creature for his morning meal.
Their stockbroker has advised them that Ridler is a
good thing; their anointed priest, so conscientiously
busy with his thurible and his altar-cloths, has said
nothing to the contrary. Ridler turns Nance's bones
into gold ; he pays his covenanted percentage of the
spoil, and we quietly pocket it without one single
thought of the ethical considerations involved in the
reckoning. It is there, and that is enough, like the
peach in the market, or the sunlight that gave its
bloom to the fruit. This is the awful automatic evil,
the new Pandora's box that works as by an invested
penny in the slot. The sanctified Cowper, the mild
and ministrant Unwin heed not, for want of thought,
and go on cultivating literature and the finer feelings
on a little manslaughter to the end of their exemplary
lives. They stir the fire, wheel the sofa round, and fill
the blameless cup on incomes drawn from the torture-
chamber and the sty. If chance had not thrown me
in the way of Nance, for certain I should have stood

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No. 5 John Street

in with Ridler. Why strain at a gnat, when one has
comfortably digested the camel of an entire income
which bears this taint ?

* Beauty armed for conquest — what dire significance,
not only for its familiar contrasts of suggestion in furs
skinned alive from the beast, and feathers plucked
quick from the wing. The very money that buys these
braveries is often minted, after a fashion, from living
things of our own species, each one thrown aside, a
broken life, when it has yielded its grain of ore. A
hundred Nances, mayhap, have died to make one day's
triumph for a queen of Hurlingham or a queen of the
Row ; and, to the seeing eye, their ghosts attend her in
her pride. Israel does not know, my people do not
consider — that is all. Strange that morals should
have given the benefit of its proclamation of neutrality
to money-making, which, as the fiercest of all the lusts
of appetite, needs the strongest curb.

' Raw material from start to finish ! Only think of
it, from the slave-gangs in the tropics driven to their
death for it in its natural state, to little Nance at
home, perishing so gamely and so idly for the manu-
factured article. A factor with a whip at one end of
the prospect ; at the other, Ridler with a pay sheet
which has all the properties of an impulsive thong.
What a scene when the black ghosts and the white
ghosts meet at the point of junction between time and
eternity, and find that they were all in a fellowship of
iniquity suffered, and iniquity done.

'And all so needless, even for gain. The swamps
might be as gardens, the factories as halls of Hygeia,
if we would only make up our minds to give Nance
and the niggers a little of their due. " What, out of
our money? " Our money ! Though we began at this
moment paying back to them what we have misappro-
priated during the ages from their share of the partner-

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No. 5 Jchn Street

ship, we could never complete our twenty shillings in
the pound of restitution in a thousand years.'

Here would I fain stop. But the imperious
shape is still irresistible in its demand for the
truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth ;
and I have to go on :

*So we may extend our empire till it eats up the
planet ; it will be no cure for this sore of selfishness at
its heart. Empire as much as you please, of course,
since it is our destiny. But let the higher peoples
conquer the lower only to lead them up to light and
life, and never draw the sword against a neighbour's
fetich, until they feel full sure they have got rid of
their own. The idea of conquest solely for the better
provision of one's own dinner wants but a touch to
make it as disgusting as a cannibal feast. We cannot
give better than we have, and we must search our
hearts deeply to feel sure that we are equal to the
high mission of putting others to death for their own
good. What a boon for the native our economic
system as it stands ! Socialise the very Imperial idea.
Conquer only to bring the conquered into the family,
and to give them their equal place at the board — a
board with no boss at the head, but only with a carver
whose duty it is to see that all are served. While
Rome did that, after her fashion, Rome prospered.
When she ceased to do it, and began to sleep on the
full stomach stuffed with her neighbour's share, she
died. Carnage may be God's daughter, but let her
take care to kill for God.

'The innermost truth of John Street, then, is for the
democracy after all. Where is John Street's religion,
where are its priests ? — not the coped and stoled variety
who are capable of dooming a whole social order with

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No. 5 John Street

a text, but the real spirit-wrestlers who struggle for a
new blessing with the God within. John Street suffers
because it is simply Bond Street in all but the luck.
The strange thing is that not one of the sufferers has
chanced on the secret of his cure — serve yourself
through serving others, and never put the cart before
the horse. As it is, set the glass to your eye, and
look into the John Street cheese, and you will see a
perfect commonwealth of oppressors and oppressed as
idly active as the other community outside.

' '48 as a leader, where can he lead for want of head ?
Azrael as a leader, where can he lead for want of the
finer spiritual sense, without which everything is still
nothing? And as the led, the beer-swilling crew
beneath them who are but an organised appetite, and
whose elective affinities are as those of midges crossing
in the air ! Nothing can be done with them until they
"get religion." While waiting for it, they are worse
than the idolaters it is their business to supplant'

It vi^as now, I am afraid, but a mere 'take it
and be hanged to you,' so far as the poor
Governor in Council was concerned, and I
wrote on : —

' So again, there must come to men the Appointed
One — not yet, alas ! in sight — who will show them by
his shining example what the religion is to be. We
may only guess at his message, but surely it will be
the purified conscience as the Word of God, nor more
nor less, and never a line of text. Then saints, hier-
archies, and choirs celestial will seem but poets' play-
things. Taken seriously, they have given us the whole
of that unhappy fakir tribe who are capable of thinking
of their Maker to the total exclusion of the thing He
has made. Will not the Appointed One bid us leave

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No. 5 John Street

that Maker — Jehovah, God, or Lord, First Cause, or
Universal Soul — to contemplations of His own nature
more within the measure of His own powers, and listen
merely for the Voice of Him in the purified breast,
especially for the undertones in which the sweetness
of its message lies ? Then when, haply, the Voice says
charity, in its larger rendering of love, brotherhood,
self-sacrifice, obey it, and leave the metaphysics of the
question to take care of itself. Above all, without
waiting for any behest, burn the later Fathers, as the
madman's housekeeper burned his books. So will
come the great change, and democracy will step forth
armed and equipped for its conquest of the world.
The old mystery of regeneration is true as ever as a
principle, in spite of its fantastic setting in the creeds
of the hour. Democracy must get rid of the natural
man of each for himself, and have a new birth into the
spiritual man, the ideal self of each for all. This is its
great lesson. The monstrous heresy of self-worship,
self-absorption, whether as capitalist, artist, bonze, or
mere greedy fellow with storage for one and an appetite
for two, is the essentially irreligious idea.

' The struggle for this renaissance, constantly re-
newed, is the most persistent note of all the great
religions. They have failed only when they have been
diverted from it. The very reproach that the thing
is not natural is a sign that it is right. Man's work
in life is to turn himself from the raw product into a
piece of fine art. The Nike of Samothrace in the
natural state is but a lump of clay.

* Literature must have a part in it, for the true busi-
ness of literature is the new forces which are shaping
man to democracy. Art must have a part in it. It
will be a change in the entire orientation of the human
spirit.

'Nothing but a Church will do. All the other

330



No. 5 John Street



schemes of democracy have come to nought for want
of that. The lecture platform is no substitute for
Sinai. Democracy is a religion, or nothing, with its
doctrine, its form, its ritual, its ceremonies, its ceno-
bites, its government as a Church — above all, its
organised sacrifice of the altar, the sacrifice of self
This is the deepest craving of human nature. All
attempts to reconcile man's heroism to his interests
have ever failed. His goodness must make him smart.

' Such a Church, while waiting for its lawgiver, may
have its modest beginnings in any two or three who
are gathered together with the resolve that they will
stand side by side, alike in weal as in woe, and that
they will not covet their neighbour's bread. They
may so gather with the comforting assurance that the
world itself will not be big enough to hold them in
their great day.

* As a mere economic formula, democracy must ever
fade off into Bellamy visions of a glorified Poughkeepsie
v.ith superior drains. The underground system of the
human being is the thing that we must first set right.
A mere nagging negation will never serve. Without
religion how is man, the essentially religious animal, to
face the most tremendous of all problems — social
justice? Religion — Guyau's natural internal energy
for good coming straight from the fount of all being,
and translating itself into action by its own exuberance
of vitality — is his breath of life. Such progress as he
has made has ever been in accordance with such
religions as he has had. Poor as they may have been,
they have been adequate in their hour, and this science
moves by experiment, like the rest. What is most
essential in it is what has least changed. Love, Justice,
Brotherhood, ever the Voice has whispered these, or
proclaimed them in trumpet tones. Only the systems
are the things that have their day.

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No. 5 John Street

' Our Heaven of the accepted convention bears too
much of the taint of its origin as a plan for under-
pinning earthly thrones. The very high souls want
pulling down from their pride of place. That Celestial
House of Lords with its ticketed seats on the steps of
the Dais! Where do the others come in? New
Heavens, a new Earth !

* So is there no escape from the Iron Law of Brother-
hood. All solutions but this have had their trial, and
all have failed. Never was their failure more awfully
conspicuous than it is to-day, when nine-tenths of man-
kind still live as brutes in regard to all that makes
life worth living, while the other tenth rots in character
with the infirmities of plethora and excess. Ring out
the old, ring in the new, the great moral Renaissance,
the New Learning of the mind and the heart, the new
types of man and woman developed by liberty working
within the domain of love and law.'

Never did that austere regard relieve me of
its terrors till this was written and despatched.
The irrevocable step had been taken; nought
remained but the bitterness of the reflection
that I had been robbed, as with the strong hand,
of thoughts that belonged to the privacy of my
own soul. Such thoughts, no doubt, are often in
other souls, and with nobody the wiser, even
the holder, so coyly respectful are we of the
recesses of our own nature. Pondering, with
dismay, the effect of the rash disclosure on our
island worshippers of the old order, I was about
to formulate a hearty curse on my spiritual Paul
Pry. But at that moment of crisis, ' O how glad
I waked, to find this but a dream ! ' and to feel

332



No. 5 John Street

myself at liberty to supply its place with an ode
and a bundle of Jubilee papers.

• • • • »

In due course I had an acknowledgment of
the receipt of the Reports from my employer,
the Governor of the Island. It was a long
communication, and I give it only in its salient
passages : —

'Young Man, — All safe to hand with enclosures,
some of them short in postage, but that can be made
good in the account. We thank you kindly for the
trouble you have taken. We send you something
about our celebration (see copy-book enclosed, for
which there will be no charge). We had three services
and a foot-race, and fired a gun. I preached, morning
and evening. I am sorry we have no one who can
draw pictures of these things. It was a fine sight,
especially when I proposed the health of Her Majesty
in cocoa-nut milk. You know our rule about intoxi-
cating drink.

a • • • •

' Your Reports were laid before the Council as soon
as they came to hand. They were greatly admired,
especially for the handwriting. We reckon ' John
Quintal our best for penmanship here ; but he is not
your equal in capitals. If you could send us out a
few boxes of the nibs you use, it would be greatly
appreciated.

' We should have been glad to hear what the Queen
really thought about our loyal and dutiful address.
We had some sort of a reply, but it didn't seem hearty.
I see from the papers there were other addresses to
attend to. So all in good time.

'Did she mind me not coming over?

333



No. 5 John Street

' We feel greatly improved by what you say about
your merchant princes sucking up all the wealth, and
then raining it back again in fertilising showers accord-
ing to their judgment. We are going to try that. To
tell you the truth, I did try it once on my own account,
but made a mess of it for want of practice. I began
by storing up three times as many goats and vegetables
as I needed for my own use. They all went bad — the
goats particularly so, for want of exercise — and the
man who I got em of at a bargain passed a very hard
winter for lack of food. He had too little, and I had
too much, you see, which was foolish.

' I am bound to tell you we can't quite make out
about people sometimes dying of starvation in your
country. What do you mean ? The only case of that
sort we ever had came from lockjaw, and we are not
a millionth part as rich as you. You can't have lock-
jaw to that extent. As for starving for want of food,
how can that be when all the world sends all its best
things to you, and pretty nigh all the ships in it are
carrying 'em over day and night? Our idea is that
you must waste your victuals a good deal.

* Also, about those dinners given to over a hundred
thousand of the poor — not for compliment like, as we
sometimes feast a friend, but because they was really
griped. Do you know what a hundred thousand means,
young man ? Take a sheet of paper and work it out
in single strokes. And that in one city — not all over.
Why, you must have got muddled in your oughts!
We had a pretty lively debate about this in the
Council, I can tell you, and the proposition was carried
by four to two to what the schoolmaster calls refer it
back.

* Besides, how can you have so many people hungry,
when you 've got so many others ready to form com-

334



No. 5 John Street

panics? Companies, as we understand it, is for pro-
vidin' things. We should have liked to hear something
about the way you set about making them. We are
always ready to introduce improvements, and we might
try something of the kind here. Who 's that Sir Marma-
duke Ridler we hear so much about in the papers?
We can't quite make him out. Does he do it for love,
as the sayin' goes ? He seems a good, kind man. I
wonder if he likes guava jelly. We could send him
some.

• . • • •

'I was delighted with what you sent us about the
review of the fleet. Some says we ought to have a
fleet of our own, so as to be more like you, and go and
take other people's islands. But I don't hold with it.
It would be a dreadful responsibility. We mightn't be
able to make them happy when we'd got them, and
then we should be ashamed to look one another in the
face.

• • • • «

* Then — you don't mind my speakin' out — we can't
understand how you can reconcile it to your conscience
as a moral nation to treat your rich people so bad. It
looks as though they 've got to overdo themselves to
give the others a chance of getting anything at all.
We seem to hear of nothing but their rushin' about
here and there, orderin' all sorts of things they can't
possibly want, just for what you call the good of trade.
You 've no right to lay such fearful burdens on any of
your fellow-creatures.

' We don't quite see our way to all that money spent
on fads in religion — for that's about what it comes to.
I can't help fancyin' that in your religion there's a
good deal of what one of them money articles I read
the other day calls waterin' the stock. There's so

335



No. 5 John Street

much altar cloth, altar plate, and things as don't be-
long to the real workin' plant goes into it, that you
can't hope to get a fair dividend on your actual capital
of holiness. That 's the way it strikes me, speakin' as
a little child.

• • « • •

* We don't at all hold with that scheme of the Orb as
Cash, and wish you hadn't sent it over. It made some
of us feel bad.

• • • • «

* What I 've been comin' to, after all, but it 's just as
hard to face it now as when I begun, is that in the
matter of accounts the Council has not behaved quite
so distinguished as I should like. You forgot to send
in your bill ; but, as I explained to them, we was
pledged under our great seal that anything in the
nature of legitimate expenses within the limits of a
pound sterling should be made good. Not that we
have a coin of that kind in the place, except the one
in the Museum. Our currency is yams. They're
delicious eatin', and I wanted to send you a full sack
by way of settlement — as they say, " free of all de-
mands." But, by the Council's vote, I 've got to
forward you only half a sack on account, the remit-
tance to be completed on the revision of your Report
herewith returned.

' N.B. — If you could tell me how that system of
rainin' back is to be managed without the others
sometimes dyin' of thirst while they're waitin' for the
showers, I should feel very much obliged. I 'd go so
far even as to send another quarter of a sack of pro-
duce by return, leaving only a quarter outstandin' to
balance the account. To get the full flavour, please
bake in a slow oven, and serve hot with a mossel of
butter.



No. 5 John Street

' We want to know everything, we 're so eager to get
on ; so please tell us all you can. To be quite plain
with you, I hope you are not keepin' anythin' back.
One ill-natured member of Council went so far as to
say that you wouldn't let out all you knew under
another sack. I told him that a young man of your
standing was quite above suspicion. And I may just
mention in confidence that we can't go a step further
in yams.'

• • • « V

Happy the dreamer though, for all that, to
whom it is sometimes given to learn a final secret
without the inconvenience of dying ! Yet such
the awakening to the sense of life, toil, purpose,
the depression of failure, that one could fain send
in one's resignation as a human being ere the
vision fades.



FINIS



337



Printed by T. and A. Constable, Printers to Her Majesty
at the Edinburgh University Press



Mr. Grant Richards's



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Online LibraryRichard WhiteingNo. 5 John street → online text (page 19 of 21)