Nonfiction > Upton Sinclair, ed. > The Cry for Justice

Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968).
The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest.  1915.
Alton Locke

By Charles Kingsley

(English clergyman and novelist, 1819–1875; 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. A young poet is taken out by an old Scotchman, to make his first acquaintance with the world of misery)
IT was a foul, chilly, foggy Saturday night. From the butchers’ and greengrocers’ shops the gas-lights flared and flickered, wild and ghastly, over haggard groups of slip-shod dirty women, bargaining for scraps of stale meat and frost-bitten vegetables, wrangling about short weight and bad quality. Fish-stalls and fruit-stalls lined the edge of the greasy pavement, sending up odors as foul as the language of sellers and buyers. Blood and sewer-water crawled from under doors and out of spouts, and reeked down the gutters among the offal, animal and vegetable, in every stage of putrefaction. Foul vapors rose from cowsheds and slaughter-houses, and the doorways of undrained alleys, where the inhabitants carried the filth out on their shoes from the back-yard into the court, and from the court up into the main street; while above, hanging like cliffs over the streets—those narrow, brawling torrents of filth, and poverty, and sin—the houses with their teeming load of life were piled up into the dingy, choking night. A ghastly, deafening, sickening sight it was. Go, scented Belgravian! and see what London is! and then go to the library which God has given thee—one often fears in vain—and see what science says this London might be!  1
  “Ay,” he muttered to himself, as he strode along, “sing awa; get yoursel’ wi’ child wi’ pretty fancies and gran’ words, like the rest o’ the poets, and gang to hell for it.”  2
  “To hell, Mr. Mackaye?”  3
  “Ay, to a verra real hell, Alton Locke, laddie—a warse ane than ony fiends’ kitchen, or subterranean Smithfield that ye’ll hear o’ in the pulpits—the hell on earth o’ being a flunkey, and a humbug, and a useless peacock, wasting God’s gifts on your ain lusts and pleasures—and kenning it—and not being able to get oot o’ it, for the chains o’ vanity and self-indulgence. I’ve warned ye. Now look there——”  4
  He stopped suddenly before the entrance of a miserable alley—  5
  “Look! there’s not a soul down that yard but’s either beggar, drunkard, thief, or warse. Write anent that! Say how you saw the mouth o’ hell, and the two pillars thereof at the entry—the pawn-broker’s shop o’ one side, and the gin palace at the other—twa monstrous deevils, eating up men, and women, and bairns, body and soul. Look at the jaws o’ the monsters, how they open and open, and swallow in anither victim and anither. Write anent that.”  6
  “What jaws, Mr. Mackaye?”  7
  “They faulding-doors o’ the gin shop, goose. Are na they a mair damnable man-devouring idol than ony red-hot statue o’ Moloch, or wicker Gogmagog, wherein thae auld Britons burnt their prisoners? Look at thae bare-footed bare-backed hizzies, with their arms roun’ the men’s necks, and their mouths full o’ vitriol and beastly words! Look at that Irishwoman pouring the gin down the babbie’s throat! Look at that rough o’ a boy gaun out o’ the pawn shop, where he’s been pledging the handkerchief he stole the morning, into the gin shop, to buy beer poisoned wi’ grains o’ paradise, and cocculus indicus, and saut, and a’ damnable, maddening, thirst-breeding, lust-breeding drugs! Look at that girl that went in wi’ a shawl on her back and cam’ out wi’out ane! Drunkards frae the breast! harlots frae the cradle! damned before they’re born! John Calvin had an inkling o’ the truth there, I’m a’most driven to think, wi’ his reprobation deevil’s doctrines!”  8
  “Well—but—Mr. Mackaye, I know nothing about these poor creatures.”  9
  “Then ye ought. What do ye ken anent the Pacific? [Alton Locke has been writing poems about the South Sea Islands.] Which is maist to your business?—thae bare-backed hizzies that play the harlot o’ the other side o’ the warld, or these—these thousands o’ bare-backed hizzies that play the harlot o’ your ain side—made out o’ your ain flesh and blude? You a poet! True poetry, like true charity, my laddie, begins at hame. If ye’ll be a poet at a’, ye maun be a cockney poet; and while the cockneys be what they be, ye maun write, like Jeremiah of old, o’ lamentation and mourning and woe, for the sins o’ your people. Gin you want to learn the spirit o’ a people’s poet, down wi’ your Bible and read thae auld Hebrew prophets; gin ye wad learn the style, read your Burns frae morning till night; and gin ye’d learn the matter, just gang after your nose, and keep your eyes open, and ye’ll no miss it.”  10
  “But all this is so—so unpoetical.”  11
  “Hech! Is there no the heeven above them there, and the hell beneath them? and God frowning, and the deevil grinning? No poetry there! Is no the verra idea of the classic tragedy defined to be, man conquered by circumstance? Canna ye see it there? And the verra idea of the modern tragedy, man conquering circumstance?—and I’ll show you that, too—in mony a garret where no eye but the gude God’s enters, to see the patience, and the fortitude, and the self-sacrifice, and the luve stronger than death, that’s shining in thae dark places o’ the earth. Come wi’ me, and see.”  12

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