Upton Sinclair, ed. (18781968). The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest. 1915.
By Charles Kingsley
(English clergyman and novelist, 18191875; founder of the Christian Socialist movement. In the scene here quoted, a young University man is taken by a game-keeper to see the degradation of English village life)
CANT they read? Cant they practice light and interesting handicrafts at home, as the German peasantry do?
Wholl teach em, sir? From the plough-tail to the reaping-hook, and back again, is all they know. Besides, sir, they are not like us Cornish; they are a stupid pig-headed generation at the best, these south countrymen. Theyre grown-up babies who want the parson and the squire to be leading them, and preaching to them, and spurring them on, and coaxing them up, every moment. And as for scholarship, sir, a boy leaves school at nine or ten to follow the horses; and between that time and his wedding-day he forgets every word he ever learnt, and becomes, for the most part, as thorough a heathen savage at heart as those wild Indians in the Brazils used to be.
And then we call them civilized Englishmen! said Lancelot. We can see that your Indian is a savage, because he wears skins and feathers; but your Irish cotter or your English laborer, because he happens to wear a coat and trousers, is to be considered a civilized man.
Its the way of the world, sir, said Tregarva, judging carnal judgment, according to the sight of its own eyes; always looking at the outsides of things and men, sir, and never much deeper. But as for reading, sir, its all very well for me, who have been a keeper and dawdled about like a gentleman with a gun over my arm; but did you ever do a good days farm-work in your life? If you had, man or boy, you wouldnt have been game for much reading when you got home; youd do just what these poor fellows dotumble into bed at eight oclock, hardly waiting to take your clothes off, knowing that you must turn up again at five oclock the next morning to get a breakfast of bread, and, perhaps, a dab of the squires dripping, and then back to work again; and so on, day after day, sir, week after week, year after year, without a hope or chance of being anything but what you are, and only too thankful if you can get work to break your back, and catch the rheumatism over.
Its only Gods blessing if it is incessant, sir, for if it stops, they starve, or go to the house to be worse fed than the thieves in gaol. And as for its being severe, theres many a boy, as their mothers will tell you, comes home night after night, too tired to eat their suppers, and tumble, fasting, to bed in the same foul shirt which theyve been working in all the day, never changing their rag of calico from weeks end to weeks end, or washing the skin thats under it once in seven years.
No wonder, indeed, sir: theyve no time to think; theyre born to be machines, and machines they must be; and I think, sir, he added bitterly, its Gods mercy that they darent think. Its Gods mercy that they dont feel. Men that write books and talk at elections call this a free country, and say that the poorest and meanest has a free opening to rise and become prime minister, if he can. But you see, sir, the misfortune is, that in practice he cant; for one who gets into a gentlemans family, or into a little shop, and so saves a few pounds, fifty know that theyve no chance before them, but day-laborer born, day-laborer live, from hand to mouth, scraping and pinching to get not meat and beer even, but bread and potatoes; and then, at the end of it all, for a worthy reward, half-a-crown a-week of parish payor the work-house. Thats a lively hopeful prospect for a Christian man!
Into the booth they turned; and as soon as Lancelots eyes were accustomed to the reeking atmosphere, he saw seated at two long temporary tables of board, fifty or sixty of My brethren, as clergymen call them in their sermons, wrangling, stupid, beery, with sodden eyes and drooping lipsinterspersed with more girls and brazen-faced women, with dirty flowers in their caps, whose sole business seemed to be to cast jealous looks at each other, and defend themselves from the coarse overtures of their swains.
Lancelot had been already perfectly astonished at the foulness of language which prevailed; and the utter absence of anything like chivalrous respect, almost of common decency, towards women. But lo! the language of the elder women was quite as disgusting as that of the men, if not worse. He whispered a remark on the point to Tregarva, who shook his head.
Its the field-work, sirthe field-work, that does it all. They get accustomed there from their childhood to hear words whose very meanings they shouldnt know; and the elder teach the younger ones, and the married ones are worst of all. It wears them out in body, sir, that field-work, and makes them brutes in soul and in manners.
Sadder and sadder, Lancelot tried to listen to the conversation of the men round him. To his astonishment he hardly understood a word of it. It was half articulate, nasal, guttural, made up almost entirely of vowels, like the speech of savages. He had never before been struck with the significant contrast between the sharp, clearly defined articulation, the vivid and varied tones of the gentleman, or even of the London street-boy, when compared with the coarse, half-formed growls, as of a company of seals, which he heard round him. That single fact struck him, perhaps, more deeply than any; it connected itself with many of his physiological fancies; it was the parent of many thoughts and plans of his afterlife. Here and there he could distinguish a half sentence. An old shrunken man opposite him was drawing figures in the spilt beer with his pipe-stem, and discoursing of the glorious times before the great war, when there was more food than there were mouths, and more work than there were hands. Poor human nature! thought Lancelot, as he tried to follow one of those unintelligible discussions about the relative prices of the loaf and the bushel of flour, which ended, as usual, in more swearing, and more quarrelling, and more beer to make it upPoor human nature! always looking back, as the German sage says, to some fancied golden age, never looking forward to the real one which is coming!
Its all along of this new sky-and-tough-it farming. They used to spread the money broad cast, but now they drills it all in one place, like bone-dust under their fancy plants, and we poor self-sown chaps gets none.
This garland of fancies was received with great applause; whereat the pedler, emboldened, proceeded to observe, mysteriously, that donkeys took a beating, but horses kicked at it; and that theyd found out that in Staffordshire long ago. You want a good Chartist lecturer down here, my covies, to show you donkeys of laboring men that you have got iron on your heels, if you only knowed how to use it.
And again the boys delicate voice rang out the ferocious chorus, with something, Lancelot fancied, of fiendish exultation, and every worn face lighted up with a coarse laugh, that indicated no malicebut also no mercy.
Lancelot almost ran out into the nightinto a triad of fights, two drunken men, two jealous wives, and a brute who struck a poor, thin, worn-out woman, for trying to coax him home. Lancelot rushed up to interfere, but a man seized his uplifted arm.