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. 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 streetsthose narrow, brawling torrents of filth, and poverty, and sinthe 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 theeone often fears in vainand see what science says this London might be!
Ay, to a verra real hell, Alton Locke, laddiea warse ane than ony fiends kitchen, or subterranean Smithfield that yell hear o in the pulpitsthe hell on earth o being a flunkey, and a humbug, and a useless peacock, wasting Gods gifts on your ain lusts and pleasuresand kenning itand not being able to get oot o it, for the chains o vanity and self-indulgence. Ive warned ye. Now look there
Look! theres not a soul down that yard buts either beggar, drunkard, thief, or warse. Write anent that! Say how you saw the mouth o hell, and the two pillars thereof at the entrythe pawn-brokers shop o one side, and the gin palace at the othertwa 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.
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 mens necks, and their mouths full o vitriol and beastly words! Look at that Irishwoman pouring the gin down the babbies throat! Look at that rough o a boy gaun out o the pawn shop, where hes 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 wiout ane! Drunkards frae the breast! harlots frae the cradle! damned before theyre born! John Calvin had an inkling o the truth there, Im amost driven to think, wi his reprobation deevils doctrines!
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 thesethese thousands o bare-backed hizzies that play the harlot o your ain sidemade out o your ain flesh and blude? You a poet! True poetry, like true charity, my laddie, begins at hame. If yell 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 peoples 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 yed learn the matter, just gang after your nose, and keep your eyes open, and yell no miss it.
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 Ill show you that, tooin mony a garret where no eye but the gude Gods enters, to see the patience, and the fortitude, and the self-sacrifice, and the luve stronger than death, thats shining in thae dark places o the earth. Come wi me, and see.