Upton Sinclair, ed. (18781968). The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest. 1915.
The Sins of Society
By Bernard Vaughan
(The sermons of a Jesuit priest, in Mayfair, London, which caused great excitement among the Smart Set)
SOCIETY nowadays, as we all know, is every bit as material as it was when Dives was alive. It still cares very little, indeed, for what it cannot either put on or into itself. It is self-centred. Its fair votaries must be set up by the best man-milliner, and fed up by the best man-cook; and then, provided they are known at the opera by their diamonds, in Mayfair by their motors, and at Cowes by their yacht, nothing else matters, especially if they happen to have a house at Ascot and a launch at Henley for the racing weeks.
It is not so much persons as things that count in this age of materialism. Hence there is but one sin less pardonable than that of being dull, and that is being poor. After all, there may be some excuse for dulness if you have money, but there is simply none at all for poverty, which like dirt on ones shoes, or dust on ones gown, must be brushed away from sight as soon as possible. Not even poor relatives are tolerated or recognized, except occasionally on an off-day, when, like some unfortunate governesses in such households, they may be asked to look in at tea-time, when nobody is there. Surely all this is very contemptible, and altogether unworthy of old English traditions. Yes, but old English traditions, with rare exceptions, are being swept away by the incoming tide of millionaire wealth, so that, nowadays, it matters little what you are, but much, nay, everything, what you have. If you command money, you command the world. If you have none, you are nobody, though you be a prince.
FATHER VAUGHANS knotted lash is sharp, and he wields it sternly, but it does not raise one weal on the delicate flesh of these massaged and manicured Salomes and Phrynes. His scorn is savage, but it does not produce more than a polite smile on these soft, faultless faces. His contempt is bitter, but it does not make a single modish harlot blush. They are dimly amused by the excitement of the good man. They are not in the least annoyed. They are, on the contrary, eager to ask him to dinner. What a piquant sensation to serve adultery with the sauce of asceticism!
Father Vaughan says that if King Herod and Herodias and Salome were to arrive in Mayfair they would be petted by the Smart Set. The good father, in the innocence of his heart, underacts the role of Sa-vaughan-rola. Herod and Herodias and Salome have arrived. They are here. We know them. We see them daily. Their names are in the newspapers. They were at Ascot. They are present at the smartest weddings at St. Georges, Hanover Square. Do we despise them? Do we boycott them? Do we cut them. By no means. We honor and reverence them. We may talk about their bestialities in the privacy of the boudoir and the smoking-room, but in public the theme is discreetly evaded.