Civics: as Applied Sociology/Part 2/Discussion
The Chairman (THE RT. HON. CHARLES BOOTH) said:
I feel always the inspiring character of Professor Geddes' addresses. He seems to widen and deepen the point of view, and to widen and deepen one's own ideas, and enables us to hold them more firmly and better than one can do without the aid of the kind of insight Professor Geddes has given into the methods of his own mind. I believe that we all hold our conceptions by some sort of tenure. I am afraid I hold mine by columns and statistics much underlined—a horrible prosaic sort of arrangement on ruled paper. I remember a lady of my acquaintance who had a place for everything. The discovery of America was in the left-hand corner; the Papacy was in the middle; and for everything she had some local habitation in an imaginary world. Professor Geddes is far more ingenious than that, and it is most interesting and instructive and helpful to follow these charming diagrams which spring evidently from the method he himself uses in holding and forming his conceptions. That it is of the utmost value to have large conceptions there can be no doubt—large conceptions both in time and place, large conceptions of all those various ideas to which he has called our attention. By some means or other we have to have them; and having got them, every individual, single fact has redoubled value. We put it in its place. So I hope that in our discussion, while we may develop each in his own way, the mental methods we pursue, we may bring forward anything that strikes us as germane, as a practical point of application to the life of the world, and especially anything having an application to the life of London. I would make my contribution to that with regard to a scheme that has been explained to me by its originator, Mrs. Barnett, the wife of Canon Barnett of Toynbee Hall. The idea concerns an open space which has recently been secured in Hampstead. It is known to you all that a certain piece of ground belonging to the trustees of Eton College has been secured, which extends the open space of Hampstead Heath in such a way as to protect a great amount of beauty. The further proposal is to acquire an estate surrounding that open space which has now been secured for ever to the people, and to use this extension to make what is called a "garden suburb." It is a following out of the "garden-city" idea which is seizing hold of all our minds, and it seems to me an exceedingly practical adaptation of that idea. Where it comes in, in connection with the address we have just heard, is that the root idea is that it shall bring together all the good elements of civic life. It is not to be for one class, or one idea, but for all classes, and all ideas—a mixed population with all its needs thought for and provided for; and above everything, the beauty of those fields and those hills is not to be sacrificed, but to be used for the good of the suburb and the good of London. I hope that out of it will come an example that will be followed. That is a little contribution I wish to make to the discussion to-day, and if I can interest any one here in forwarding it, I shall be exceedingly glad.
MR. SWINNY said:
Towards the close of his lecture, Professor Geddes remarked that the cities of America inherited a great part of their civilisation from Greece and Rome and the Europe of the Middle Age. I believe that thought will lead us to consider the point whether this geographical survey should precede or follow a general historical survey. Now, if we consider that a river valley in England, with the towns in that valley, are part of the English nation, and that the English nation has shared in the general historical evolution of Western Europe, it would seem that the first simplification the question allows of is: What is there in the historical development of that city that is common to the whole of Western Europe, and what is peculiar to its position as an English city? And the second simplification that the problem allows of is to consider what part of the evolution of a particular city is due to its peculiar position in that river valley? So that it seems necessary first to get a general idea of the historical evolution of England and the West; and then you can proceed to consider what is due to the part played by the city in that evolution. Thus you have to consider not so much the city as a result of its immediate environment, but the effect of its environment in modifying the general course of civilisation as it affected that city.
DR. J.L. TAYLER,
referring to Professor Geddes' remarks on the working craftsman and the thinking craftsman, said he believed that in a country like England, where the prevailing tendencies of thought and action were of an essentially practical nature, many people who now felt contempt for higher mental ideals would alter their views, if this idea of the causal relationship between thinkers and workers could be driven home. If business men and women could be made to realise that in the higher regions of pure science there were always to be found some thinkers who belonged to the same craft or trade as they themselves, they would naturally tend to rely on these thinkers when dealing with problems that necessitate a wide mental outlook.
Moreover, the thought that students of great mental powers studied the objects with which working craftsmen were in daily contact, could not fail to deepen, refine and purify their more practical and, in some respects, grosser aims; while the knowledge that every science-study had an industrial as well as a scientific aspect would make the thinking craftsmen more alive to the needs of everyday existence.
Such conceptions, if spread through all classes of our community, would inevitably change the feeling of distrust of learning into one of healthful enthusiasm, and give in addition a unity and direction to our various life pursuits which might in time generate a true modern national spirit; for it is precisely this divorce of mental and physical, of theoretical and practical, class and individual effort—which such a thinking and working craft theory would rectify—that destroys our efficiency by creating an unreal chasm between refined and unrefined, learned and unlearned, where there should be only a progressive evolution from the lower to the higher, from the immediate practical to the ultimate ideal.
THE REV. DR. AVELING said:
There was one point that the lecturer made which, I think, might be a fit and fruitful subject for discussion. He said that we were the product of the city. To a great extent that is undoubtedly true; but on the other hand, he advocated an improvement in the conditions of environment, to be brought about by our own endeavours. Therefore, the city can be shaped and made by us. What, then, is the exact value to be given to the seemingly contradictory doctrines that the individual is the product of the city and also that the city is the product of the citizen? The establishing of some fixed relation between—or the adjusting of the relations of—these two causes of social progress would be, I think, interesting to the philosopher, and useful to the economist. The problem is without doubt a difficult one, but its solution would be of great value. I do not venture to offer any answer to the question I raise—I merely state it.
MR. A.W. STILL said:
We have been passing through a period in which the city has created a type of man so wholly absorbed in the promotion of his own individual interests that he tends almost entirely to forget the social obligations which ought to make the greatest appeal to him. We may take some hope from what Professor Geddes has said, that the time is coming when we shall bring the force of our own characters to bear on our environment, and endeavour to break away from conditions which have made us the slaves of environment. I know the lovely little garden city of Bourneville intimately, and some of the experiments in other quarters. But in the common expansion of cities, I have seen that as the people get away from one set of slums, they are creating new areas which will become as degraded and abominable as those which are left behind. It has always seemed to me that there is room for good work by some committee, or some body of men, who would be voluntary guardians of the city's well-being, who would make it their business to acquire all that knowledge which Professor Geddes has just put before us in terms so enchanting, and would use all the ability that they possess in order to lead the minds of the community towards the cultivation of the best and highest ideals in civic life. I do not think it need be regarded as impossible that, from an association of this kind, such a movement as I have mentioned should spring. I conceive the possibility of each group developing into a trust, capable of acting in the interests of the city in years to come, exercising a mighty influence, being relied upon for guidance, and administering great funds for the common good. If we could get in each of our populous centres a dozen thoroughly intelligent broad-minded men, capable of watching all the streams of tendency—all the developments of civic life, bringing their judgment to bear on its progress, and urging the public to move in the right direction, a great service might be rendered. At least once a year, these little groups of men might meet together at some general conference, and, by the exchange of their opinions and by the mutual helpfulness of intellectual intercourse, raise up and perfect civic ideals which would be a boon to this country. We suffer at present, I think, from the too great particularisation of our efforts. We get one man devoting himself exclusively to a blind asylum, another seeming to take no interest in anything but a deaf-and-dumb institute or the like, and yet another devoting himself to charity organisation. It is all excellent work, but the difficulty is to get broad, comprehensive views taken of the common good. To reduce poverty and to check physical degeneracy, there must be an effort continuously made to raise the tone of the environment in which we live. The home and the city need to be made wholesome and beautiful, and the people need to be encouraged to enlarge their minds by contact with nature, and by the study of all that is elevating and that increases the sum of social responsibility.
MR. E.S. WEYMOUTH said:
He found it somewhat difficult to see what was to be the practical outcome of civics if studied in the way proposed. Would Professor Geddes consider it the duty of any Londoner, who wished to study sociology practically, to map out London, and also the surrounding districts, with special reference to the Thames River Basin, as appeared to be suggested in both Professor Geddes' papers? Looking at civics in its practical or ethical aspect, he was bound to confess that, though he had acquired a tolerable knowledge of the geography of the Thames Basin, he did not feel it helped him materially towards becoming a better citizen of London. Would Professor Geddes wish them to study, first, London with its wealth side by side with its squalor and filth, and then proceed to study another large town, where the same phenomena presented themselves? What gain would there be in that proportionate to the labour entailed? In his own case, so disheartened had he felt by observing that all their efforts, public and private, for the improvement of their civic conditions seemed to end in raising considerably the rents of the ground landlords of London, while leaving the bulk of the population engaged in a hard struggle for their existence, that he had for years past found it difficult to take much interest in municipal affairs, so long as the rates and taxes were—as it seemed to him—put upon the wrong shoulders. And for the study of civics, he had preferred to turn to those cities where efforts were being made to establish communal life on what seemed to him juster conditions. In 1897, he was struck with the title of an article in the "Daily Telegraph." It was headed, "The Land of Beauty, Society without Poverty, Life without Care." He found the article was a description of Durban in Natal. The writer attributed the prosperity of this town to the fact that the suburbs were kept in the hands of the community, instead of being handed over to private owners who would absorb all the unearned increment. Even if this eulogium betrayed exaggeration still a student of civics might feel that the economic conditions of that town were worth studying. Similarly, in New Zealand, the adoption in 1891 of the tax on land values brought prosperity to the towns, and changed the tide of emigration from New Zealand into immigration. Again, at home they had Bourneville, Port Sunlight, and that most interesting of all present-day experiments in this country, the Garden City, all of these being founded by men with ideals. He could not help feeling that a student of civics, possessed of such a fair working knowledge of the city he lived in as most of them might reasonably lay claim to, would make more real progress by studying the success or failure of social experiments, than by entering on the very formidable task that seemed to be set before them by Professor Geddes. However, when they left abstract civics, as they had it portrayed to them in these papers, and turned to the architectural or the historical side of concrete civics, there should be no better guide than Professor Geddes, whose labours in Edinburgh, and whose projected schemes for the improvement of Dunfermline, were becoming widely known.
MR. TOMKINS (of the London Trades Council) said:
If before any person was allowed to serve on our different public bodies, he should be required to attend a course of lectures such as those given by Professor Geddes on civics, that would surely be a means of developing his social interests, and would tend to eliminate that self-interest which too often actuated public men. There was nothing more difficult than for workmen to-day to be able to take larger views. The workman's whole business was now so different from what is was in the days of the arts and crafts guilds of the Middle Ages; they now found him ground down into some little division of industry, and it was quite impossible for him to work in his own way. Thus he got narrow-minded, because concentrated on some minor process. He was kept at work with his nose to the mill the whole time, and it became too exhausting for him to try and take these larger views of life. He often thought of the amount of talent and energy and practical beauty which was wasted in our workshops to-day. Referring to the Garden Cities of this country and the United States, Mr. Tomkins said the idea of getting great Trusts to use their money in a social spirit, and not merely to get the workers tied to their mills, was really something which opened out a vista of grand possibilities in the future; but if any movement was to be successful it would be necessary to teach the great masses of workers, and to create a real sound social public opinion amongst them.
PROFESSOR GEDDES' reply
Professor Geddes, in replying to the discussion, said he entirely agreed with the point made by Mr. Swinny, and he should just like to correct what he had said in his lecture by reference to what he meant by a civic museum. In Edinburgh, he had in his museum a large room, with a geographical model of the old town with its hill-fort, and so on; and he hung round this maps and diagrams of historical and geographical details. On the opposite side of the room, he had a symbol of the market-cross, which stood for the centre of its municipal life, of its ideals and independence of environment. Around it was grouped what represented the other side of the city; and here he might answer another point, and say that they could never settle the great philosophical controversy of determinism and free-will. They would always incline when young to the novel of circumstance, and later, to the novel of character, but they should always feel that life was a game of individual skill with interfering circumstances. These diagrams of his were only the page split. On the one side, he meant to push to the extreme the idea that the place makes us, and on the other side, that we make the place. By what process do men struggle towards the selection of their ideals? They find themselves within the grasp of their environment, their whole heritage of culture, of good and ill, the whole tradition of the past; but they must select certain elements of these—the elements that seem to them good, and so they might escape from the manner of the city. Pointing to a drawing of the old Scotch bawbee, Professor Geddes said it was not a very dignified symbol of the coinage of the world, but let them mark how it had on the one side the hammerman at his work, with his motto "Beat deus artem," and, on the other side, a larger legend, with the eagle of the empire and the lamb of Saint John.
To return to his civic museum: the room below the one he had described was the larger museum for Scotland, and in the room below that, again, the museum for England, Ireland and America, the whole English-speaking world—not the Empire only. And the whole stood on a museum and library representing that larger evolution of the occidental civilisation which showed them they were merely children of the past. Professor Geddes pleaded for museums in which every city displayed its own past and present, but related itself to the whole of Europe and the whole occident.
One or two practical questions of great importance had been raised; but, with all respect, he submitted that they could consider what was practical and practicable without requiring to go into the question of taxing land. That was a matter of political opinion. It was as if they were discussing the geology of coal, which they could do, without reference to coal royalties. Mr. Weymouth was with them on the subject of preserving old buildings; and he thought there was a great deal to be learned, if Mr. Weymouth would descend the valley of the Thames once more. It was of great importance if he found a great city at the tidal limit. Going down the Thames and the Tay, they would find, at the last ford of one, the old Abbey of Westminster, and at the last ford of the other, the old Abbey of Scoon. The kings of England and Scotland were crowned there because these were the most important places—a point of great historic interest. As a matter of practical interest, he might mention that Scoon and Westminster alike passed out of supreme importance when bridges were built across the river below; and he would next point out how just as Perth became of subordinate importance when the great Tay Bridge was built, so it became a tremendously important question to London, as it might in turn be much affected by the making of a great and a new bridge much further down the stream. This study of the descending river had real and practical, as well as historical importance. He had been about considerably in the great cities of the United States, and had been struck by the amount of good endeavour there. It was not, however, by denouncing Tammany that they could beat it, but by understanding it. They must understand the mechanism by which the Celtic chieftain ruled his clan, and they must deal with these methods by still other methods; and they might often find it more satisfactory to re-moralise the chieftain than to destroy him.
Professor Geddes concluded by saying that he appreciated the admirable suggestion of Mr. Still towards the evolution of civic unions. He was sure Mr. Still had there an idea of great significance which might be developed.