Past and Present/Chapter IV

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Chapter 4: Captains of Industry[edit]

If I believed that Mammonism with its adjuncts was to continue henceforth the one serious principle of our existence, I should reckon it idle to solicit remedial measures from any Government, the disease being insusceptible of remedy. Government can do much, but it can in no wise do all. Government, as the most conspicuous object in Society, is called upon to give signal of what shall be done; and, in many ways, preside over, further, and command the doing of it. But the Government cannot do, by all its signalling and commanding, what the Society is radically indisposed to do! In the long run every Government is the exact symbol of its People with their wisdom and unwisdom; we have to say, Like People like Government. - The main substance of this immense Problem of Organising Labour, and first of all of Managing the Working Classes, will, it is very clear, have to be solved by those who stand practically in the middle of it, - by those who themselves work and preside over work. Of all that can be enacted by any Parliament in regard to it the germs must already lie potentially extant in those two classes, who are to obey such enactment. A Human Chaos in which there is no light you vainly attempt to irradiate by light shed on it: order never can arise there.

But it is my firm conviction that the ‘Hell of England’ will cease to be that of ‘not making money;’ that we shall get a nobler Hell and a nobler Heaven! I anticipate light in the Human Chaos, glimmering, shining more and more; under manifold true signals from without, That light shall shine. Our deity no longer being Mammon, - O Heavens, each man will then say to himself: “Why such deadly haste to make money? I shall not go to Hell, even if I do not make money! There is another Hell, I am told!” Competition, at railway speed, in all branches of commerce and work will then abate: - good felt hats for the head, in every sense, instead of seven-feet lath-and-plaster hats on wheels, will then be discoverable! Bubble periods with their panics and commercial crises will again become infrequent; steady modest industry will take the place of gambling speculation. To be a noble Master, among noble Workers, will again be the first ambition with some few, - to be a rich Master only the second. How the inventive Genius of England, with the whirr of its bobbins and billy-rollers shoved somewhat into the backgrounds of the brain, will contrive and devise, not cheaper produce exclusively, but fairer distribution of the produce at its present cheapness! By degrees we shall again have a Society with something of Heroism in it, something of Heaven’s Blessing on it; we shall have, as my German friend asserts, ‘instead of Mammon-Feudalism with unsold cotton-shirts and Preservation of the Game, noble just Industrialism and Government by the Wisest!’

It is with the hope of awakening here and there a British man to know himself for a man and divine soul, that a few words of parting admonition, to all persons to whom the Heavenly Powers have lent Power of any kind in this land, may now be addressed. And first to those same Master Workers, Leaders of Industry; who stand nearest, and in fact powerfullest, though not most prominent, being as yet in too many senses a Virtuality rather than an Actuality.

The Leaders of Industry, if Industry is ever to be led, are virtually the Captains of the World; if there be no nobleness in them, there will never be an Aristocracy more. But let the Captains of Industry consider: once again, are they born of other clay than the old Captains of Slaughter; doomed forever to be no Chivalry but a mere gold-plated Doggery, - what the French well name Canaille, ‘Doggery’ with more or less gold carrion at its disposal? Captains of Industry are the true Fighters, henceforth recognisable as the only true ones: Fighters against Chaos, Necessity and the Devils and Jötuns; and lead on Mankind in that great, and alone true, and universal warfare; the stars in their courses fighting for them, and all Heaven and all Earth saying audibly, Well done! Let the Captains of Industry retire into their own hearts, and ask solemnly, if there is nothing but vulturous hunger for fine wines, valet reputation and gilt carriages, discoverable there? Of hearts made by the Almighty God I will not believe such a thing. Deep-hidden under wretchedest god-forgetting Cants, Epicurisms, Dead-Sea Apisms: forgotten as under foulest fat Lethe mud and weeds, there is yet in all hearts born into this God’s-World a spark of the Godlike slumbering. Awake, O nightmare sleepers. Awake, arise, or be forever fallen! This is not playhouse poetry; it is sober fact. Our England, our world cannot live as it is. It will connect itself with a God again, or go down with nameless throes and fire-consummation to the Devils. Thou who feelest aught of such a Godlike stirring in thee, any faintest intimation of it as through heavy-laden dreams, follow it, I conjure thee. Arise, save thyself, be one of those that save thy country.

Bucaniers, Chactaw Indians, whose supreme aim in fighting is that they may get the scalps, the money, that they may amass scalps and money: out of such came no chivalry, and never will! Out of such came only gore and wreck, infernal rage and misery; desperation quenched in annihilation. Behold it, I bid thee, behold there, and consider: What is it that thou have a hundred thousand-pound bills laid up in thy strong room, a hundred scalps hung up in thy wigwam? I value not them or thee. Thy scalps and thy thousand-pound bills are as yet nothing, if no nobleness from within irradiate them; if no chivalry in action, or in embryo ever struggling towards birth and action be there.

Love of men cannot be bought by cash-payment; and without love men cannot endure to be together. You cannot lead a Fighting World without having it regimented, chivalried: the thing in a day becomes impossible; all men in it, the highest at first, the very lowest at last, discern consciously or by a noble instinct, this necessity. And can you any more continue to lead a Working World unregimented, anarchic? I answer, and the Heavens and Earth are now answering, No! The thing becomes not in a day impossible; but in some two generations it does. Yes, when fathers and mothers, in Stockport hunger-cellars, begin to eat their children, and Irish Widows have to prove their relationship by dying of typhus-fever; and amid Governing ‘Corporations of the Best and Bravest’ busy to preserve their gain by ‘bushing,’ dark millions of God’s human creatures start up in mad Chartisms, impracticable Sacred-Months, and Manchester Insurrections; - and there is a virtual Industrial Aristocracy only half-alive, spell-bound amid money bags and ledgers; and an actual Idle Aristocracy seemingly near dead in somnolent delusions, in trespasses and double-barrels; ‘sliding,’ as on inclined planes, which every new year they soap with new Hansard’s-jargon under God’s sky, and so are sliding ever faster towards a ‘scale’ and balance-scale whereon is written, Thou art found wanting; - in such days, after a generation or two, I say, it does become even to the low and simple, very palpably impossible! No Working World, any more than a Fighting World, can be led on without a noble chivalry of Work, and laws and fixed rules which follow out of that, - far nobler than any chivalry of Fighting was. As an anarchic multitude on mere supply-and-demand, it is becoming inevitable that we dwindle in blind suicidal convulsion, and self-abrasion, frightful to the imagination, into Chactaw Workers. With wigwam and scalps, - with palaces and thousand-pound bills; with savagery, depopulation, chaotic desolation! Good Heavens, will not one French Revolution and Reign of Terror suffice us, but must there be two? There will be two if needed, there will be twenty if needed; there will be precisely as many as are needed. The Laws of Nature will have themselves fufilled. That is a thing certain to me.

Your gallant battle-hosts and work-hosts, as the others did, will need to be made loyally yours; they must and will be regulated, methodically secured in their just share of conquest under you; joined with you in veritable brotherhood, sonhood, by quite other and deeper ties than those of temporary day’s wages! How would mere red-coated regiments, to say nothing of chivalrous, fight for you, if you could discharge them on the evening of the battle on payment of the stipulated shillings, - and they discharge you on the morning of it! Chelsea Hospitals, pensions, promotions, rigorous lasting covenant on the one side and on the other, are indispensable even for a hired fighter. The Feudal Baron, much more, - how could he subsist with mere temporary mercenaries round him, at sixpence a day; ready to go over to the other side, if seven-pence were offered? He could not have subsisted; - and his noble instinct saved him from the necessity of even trying! The Feudal Baron had a man’s soul in him; to which anarchy, mutiny, and the other fruits of temporary mercenaries, were intolerable; he had never been a Baron otherwise, but had continued a Chactaw and Bucanier. He felt it precious, and at last it became habitual, and his fruitful enlarged existence included it as a necessity, to have men round him who in heart loved him; whose life he watched over with rigour yet with love, who were prepared to give their life for him if need came. It was beautiful; it was human! Man lives not otherwise, nor can live contented, anywhere or anywhen. Isolation is the sum-total of wretchedness to man. To be cut off, to be left solitary; to have a world alien, not your world; all a hostile camp for you; not a home at all, of hearts and faces who are yours, whose you are! It is the frightfullest enchantment; too truly a work of the Evil One. To have neither superior, nor inferior, nor equal, united manlike to you. Without father, without child, without brother. Man knows no sadder destiny. ‘How is each of us,’ exclaims Jean Paul, ‘so lonely in the wide bosom of the All?’ Encased each of us as in his transparent ‘ice palace;’ our brother visible in his, making signals and gesticulations to us; - visible, but forever unattainable: on his bosom we shall never rest, nor he on ours. It was not a God that did this; no!

Awake ye noble Workers, warriors in the one true war: all this must be remedied. It is you who are already half-alive, whom I will welcome into life, whom I will conjure in God’s name to shake off your enchanted sleep, and live wholly! Cease to count scalps, gold-purses; not in these lies your or our salvation. Even these, if you count only these, will not long be left. Let bucaniering be put far from you; alter, speedily abrogate all laws of the bucaniers, if you would gain any victory that shall endure. Let God’s justice, let pity, nobleness and manly valour, with more gold purses or with fewer, testify themselves in this your brief Life-transit to all the Eternities, the Gods and Silences. It is to you I call; for ye are not dead, ye are already half-alive: there is in you a sleepless dauntless energy, the prime-matter of all nobleness in man. Honour to you in your kind. It is to you I call; ye know at least this, That the mandate of God to His creature man is: Work! The future Epic of the world rests not with those that are near dead, but with those that are alive, and those that are coming into life.

Look around you, Your world-hosts are all in Mutiny, in confusion, destitution; on the eve of fiery wreck and madness! They will not march farther for you on the sixpence a day and supply-and-demand principle: they will not; nor ought they, nor can they. Ye shall reduce them to order, begin reducing them. To order, to just subordination; noble loyalty in return for noble guidance. Their souls are driven nigh mad; let yours be sane and ever saner. Not as a bewildered bewildering mob; but as a firm regimented mass, with real Captains over them, will these men march any more. All human interests, combined human endeavours, and social growths in this world, have, at a certain stage of their developement, required organising: and Work, the grandest of human interests, does now require it.

God knows, the task will be hard: but no noble task was ever easy. This task will wear away your lives, and the lives of your sons and grandsons: but for what purpose, if not for tasks like this, were lives given to men? Ye shall cease to count your thousand-pound scalps, the noble of you shall cease! Nay the very scalps, as I say, will not long be left if you count only these. Ye shall cease wholly to be barbarous, vulturous Chactaws, and become noble European Nineteenth-Century Men. Ye shall know that Mammon, in never such gigs and flunkey ‘respectabilities,’ is not the alone God; that of himself he is but a Devil, and even a Brute-god.

Difficult? Yes, it will be difficult. The short-fibre cotton; that too was difficult. The waste cotton shrub, long useless, disobedient, as the thistle by the wayside, - have ye not conquered it; made it into beautiful bandana webs; white woven shirts for men: bright-tinted air-garments wherein flit goddesses. Ye have shivered mountains asunder; made the hard iron pliant to you as soft putty: the Forest-giants, Marsh-jötuns bear sheaves of golden grain; Ægir the Sea-demon himself stretches his back for a sleek highway, to you, and on Firehorses and Wind-horses ye career. Ye are most strong. Thor, red-bearded, with his blue sun-eyes, with his cheery heart and strong thunder-hammer, he and you have prevailed. Ye are most strong, ye Sons of the icy North, of the far East, - far marching from your rugged Eastern Wilderness, hitherward from the grey Dawn of Time! Ye are Sons of the Jötun-land; the land of Difficulties Conquered. Difficult? You must try this thing. Once try it with the understanding, that it will and shall have to be done. Try it as ye try the much paltrier thing, making of money! I will bet on you once more, against all Jötuns, Tailor-gods, Double-barrelled Law-wards and Denizens of Chaos whatsoever!