LETTERS TO THE PRESS (11)
The Sixth Commandment
The Times (20 October, 1890 - p.4)
For some days it was announced that on Saturday night Miss Wallis would “put a question” to the audience at the Shaftesbury Theatre, where Mr. Robert Buchanan’s romantic drama The Sixth Commandment is being performed. Accordingly, on the fall of the curtain on Saturday night Miss Wallis came forward and said the matter she had to submit to the public was this:—Mr. Buchanan’s play had been subjected to a certain amount of criticism in some quarters, and she wished to know whether the public liked it, and whether it ought to be continued in the bill. Shouts of “Yes” went up in reply, and some little disorder ensued, in the midst of which Miss Wallis retired, apparently satisfied with the result of her experiment.
The Pall Mall Gazette (21 October, 1890)
STAGE AND SONG.
In his attempt to lead the public to believe that his latest play is a work worthy of their most earnest consideration, Mr. Robert Buchanan has fairly out-Buchananised himself. We all know the author of “The Sixth Commandment,” and his rough sledge hammer methods. We are all acquainted with his unaccountable readiness to rush to the tourney, and break a lance with any one and every one on any and every conceivable subject under the sun. But who would have imagined that even this universal provider, this literary Whiteley, would be bold enough to champion the cause of the unsatisfactory and uninteresting play which now holds the boards at the Shaftesbury theatre? Yet so it is. Mr. Buchanan has thought fit to pour down upon the innocent pages of the Daily Chronicle a column of virtuous indignation, in which he inveighs freely against the critics and the audience who failed to recognize in “The Sixth Commandment,” on its production, a work of high literary and dramatic merit. Every one, apparently, was wrong on the first night. The play bored us to distraction; but our weariness was caused by our extraordinary lack of appreciation of the beauties which its author now points out to us.
Here are a few specimen counts in Mr. Buchanan’s indictment of the critics:—
Then comes the whole series of perversions, as illustrated in my own case. because a play is strong and gloomy it is a coarse Coburg melodrama, a production quite unfit for educated people to witness; because it represents things as they really are, it is a vulgar catalogue of transpontine horrors; because it is not charged with bourgeois sentiment or inflated with Cockney fun, it is dismal and dull; because it bores a jaded appetite, spoiled by Robertsonian lollipops and bob-bons, it is not to the taste of English audiences; and because two or three hired ruffians hoot at the author from the gallery, he has received the condemnation of the great English public.
What can one say to a dramatist who meets failure in this spirit? “Hired ruffians,” forsooth! If ever a long-suffering and lenient audience were assembled within the walls of a theatre it was the devoted band of playgoers who endured with scarcely a sign of impatience or derision the deadly dreariness of “The Sixth Commandment.” Not till the author—the fons et origo mali—appeared at the end of all things were any sounds indicating marked disapproval audible. That an unfavourable verdict could have been sincerely and honestly recorded is seemingly beyond the range of Mr. Buchanan’s imagination; and so the humble folk in the gallery, who did not like the play and said so when the right moment arrived, are coolly classed as “hired ruffians.” Hired by whom, Mr. Buchanan?
In truly execrable taste, too, is the writer’s cheap sneer at the “Robertsonian lollipops and bon-bons.” Is not the notion delicious? “Caste,” “Ours,” “School,” and the style of play originated by that bright genius whose light first shone forth from “the little theatre in Tottenham-street,” have spoiled our dramatic appetites and made us turn up our noses in wrongheaded and wilful daintiness at “The Sixth Commandment,” that wholesome dose prescribed for us by Dr. Buchanan. Our conversion, I fear, will not be quickly accomplished, nor shall we immediately elevate Mr. Buchanan to a supreme position among our playwrights merely because he scoffs at the success of Mr. Henry Arthur Jones’s works at the theatre which has witnessed his own discomfiture. Let Mr. Buchanan give us as fine a play as either “The Middleman” or “Judah,” and he will then be entitled to a rather more serious hearing when he tries to force his wares down the throats of the public.
For Mrs. Lancaster-Wallis I am really sorry. I think she is wrong in persevering with “The Sixth Commandment,” for the simple reason that it is impossible to see how the play can be made genuinely attractive at the Shaftesbury Theatre or elsewhere. At any rate there is no earthly object to be gained by “asking a question” on one particular evening. The Shaftesbury booking-sheet will furnish the only reliable answer to Mrs. Lancaster’s query, and to that document alone should the manageress turn her attention.
The Era (25 October, 1890)
“DON’T NAIL HIS EARS TO THE PUMP.”
TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.
Sir,—A very sad errand took me some hundreds of miles from London last Saturday evening, or I should have felt it my duty to be present at the Shaftesbury Theatre, when the new managerial policy was inaugurated by a very estimable lady, who, with the evident concurrence of her “kind friends in front,” has created a startling and somewhat formidable precedent. Whatever my faults may be—and no one knows them better than myself—I hope at least I have the courage of my opinions. But I honestly own that this new invitation of a courteous lady—bless her innocence!—to throw the critics into the jaws of the pit, would have amused me not a little, and added to the store of a pretty long experience in theatrical shindies. How well I can recall the time, I am afraid to say how many years ago, when, having naturally to my great disappointment written a play which proved a disastrous failure, I innocently ran counter to the prejudices of my old friends the pittites. Would you believe it, I actually refused to come before the curtain to be hissed, badgered, bullied, and booed at because I had failed where I wanted to succeed. The pit and I differed on that point. I thought it unmanly, un-English, nay, cowardly, to hiss and hoot a man who was down on his luck. The pit—for whose opinion on most critical matters I have the highest respect—thought otherwise. So in that noble, chivalrous fashion which we all so much admire, they followed me for many weeks to theatre after theatre, and hissed me soundly for my impertinence in not coming forward for the orthodox hissing when it was due. However, my opponents gave in first. It pleased them, and it did not hurt me.
The last contretemps of which I was the innocent victim was of a more modern date. It occurred at the St. James’s Theatre, where I was called out to be hissed, because, so far as I could make out, I was accused of making statements, which I never uttered or ever dreamed of uttering. The anonymous system of journalism certainly does not protect a journalist from some of the penalties of the signed system. On the whole, I would rather bear the brunt of what I write than be execrated for what I don’t. So I regret I was not present at the Shaftesbury on Saturday, for I don’t like to miss these little pleasant incidents in a dramatic career, and I should like to have heard a graceful manageress, in her artless fashion and most insinuating tones, acting Mrs Plausible to the critical bench whilst she sawed off one of its legs.
Surely Mrs Lancaster-Wallis must have heard the old story, “Don’t nail his ears to the pump.” A poor wretch is caught, he is alone, he is defenceless, he is in the power of the infuriated mob, and someone in an elevated position, chuckling with delight, screams out, “Arrah, bhoys, be aisy with ’im; don’t nail his ears to the pump.” The managerial manifesto was so artfully done, the announcement that a question would be asked, the publication of the plausible circular, the speech, the casual allusion to the critics with honeyed accents, and then, of course, the deprecating hand! It must have been immense, and I should say better acted by the heroine than many scenes in the disputed play.
But surely the fair manageress of the Shaftesbury Theatre finds herself impaled on the horns of a very curious dilemma? Either she packed the house, or introduced one dissentient voice—one would have been quite enough—in order that her cross question should not have a crooked answer, which I do not for one moment believe; or she forgot the usual courtesy that a hostess generally bestows upon her guests?
Surely Mrs Wallis-Lancaster invited the very criticism to which she takes, apparently, so much exception. She asked for an opinion on her new play. She did not say, I ask you to come and see this play simply and solely in order that you should praise it to the skies, but to tell me what you think of it. That the manageress herself thought well of it was sufficiently proved by her producing it. But she wanted, asked for, and obtained the opinion of experts. The experts gave their opinion, and without a moment’s hesitation the manageress profited by it. She set to work without delay. She changed the disputed religion of the dead Jew. She dismissed the praying “Pepos,” with his “humane” requiem. She destroyed that wonderful effect, a good curtain, as it is vulgarly called. She lopped away some of the inconsistencies in the last act, she shortened the play by a good hour, she allowed the final curtain to fall on a climax instead of an anti-climax; she did all that tact and ingenuity could do to lighten what was found cumbersome; and then, having yielded on all points to the judgment of her critics, with well-simulated scorn at all critical comment she proceeded to ask her famous and utterly useless question.
And when the answer came, who so surprised as the manageress of the Shaftesbury? When the little boy holds a powder-flask over a lighted train of gunpowder, and his hand or head go whizzing into the air, the usual comment is “Who’d have thought it?” When the servant girl snatches up a lighted candle to ascertain an escape of gas, and the windows are blown out, the inevitable remark is “Lor!” The only defence of the thoughtless, panic-stricken creature who cries “Fire!” in a crowded theatre is “Dear me; I am very sorry.”
But allow me to remark that the Shaftesbury question was not a matter of impulse, but of determination. It was not a sudden freak, but a carefully conceived plan. And now that is all over, what good has been gained? Who is a penny the better or worse for the silly question or the rude answer? An amiable gentleman, whose opinion is doubtless highly valued by the Shaftesbury management, considers that critics are conspirators, and once more a “boo” and a “groan” have been given to my unfortunate name. It will not materially alter my “plan of campaign,” nor will it affect my judgment in the least possible degree.
What I think of my own honourable profession and the cordial esteem I hold for my colleagues in our difficult and anxious calling I said the other evening at the Birkbeck Institute, and I trust I shall have an opportunity of saying again in the presence of the dramatic profession and its distinguished leader. The only dishonesty of which I can charge myself or my fellow labourers is the sometimes excusable act of saying less about bad work than we ought to say—not more. The actor or actress who out of charity is “let down easily” is the first to turn round and try to flout the critic. If we really always did say exactly what we thought I very much fear that the modern manager and manageress would not sleep and doze so contentedly on the soft feather bed of self-satisfaction.
A few more of these scenes, a little more of this theatrical bear-baiting, and perhaps a dose or so of honest truth would do more good than the sweet sugar plums of courteous reticence.
As I write, a kindly letter comes from Mr Robert Buchanan, urging that he was in no way responsible for the managerial policy of last Saturday night. In fact, the author of The Sixth Commandment disapproved of it altogether. “Should you allude in any way,” says Mr Buchanan, “to the scene at the Shaftesbury Theatre last Saturday night, perhaps you will print my disclaimer of being concerned in it in any way,” and then Mr Buchanan proceeds to explain his reason for not endorsing the “new departure” of managers against critics, or for favouring a precedent which it would be wholly unwise to follow in the future. We are none of us a penny the better or the worse for the silly scene at the Shaftesbury. The squib was taken to the gunpowder, but it did not go off, and the success of The Sixth Commandment will be proved in good time by the booking-sheet.
Athenæum Club, S.W. CLEMENT SCOTT.
The Pall Mall Gazette (28 October, 1890)
No, Mr. Buchanan! You are wrong once more. Of course it sounds very modest and convincing when you express an opinion that “The Sixth Commandment” is nearly as good as “Carmen up to Data” and “A Million of Money,” two plays which you suggest the experts pronounced perfect. But I fancy that yet again you have allowed your soaring imagination to carry you beyond the regions of stern fact. If you can demonstrate by the “notices” that the drama now running at Drury Lane was summed up as “perfect” by the critics, I shall be much surprised. As for the current Gaiety burlesque, ask Mr. Henry Pettitt, Mr. George Edwardes, or your collaborator, Mr. George R. Sims, if their ideas on the subject correspond with your own. But, assuming even that you are correct in your statement, would you seriously desire that a play from your pen, of, at least, a somewhat lofty aim, should be measured by the same standard and judged by the same canons of art as the annual combinations of popular elements which each autumn gives us at “Old Drury” and the Temple of the Sacred Lamp? Think it over carefully, Mr. Buchanan, and you will admit—to yourself at any rate—that your words were almost as hasty and ill-judged as any you have written apropos of your latest dramatic production.
The Era (1 November, 1890)
ROBT. BUCHANAN AND CLEMENT SCOTT.
In reply to the letter of Mr Clement Scott which appeared in our issue of Oct. 25th, Mr Robert Buchanan contributed the following to the Observer on Sunday last:—
“In a communication to The Era Mr Clement Scott makes an extract from a letter to him, in which I disclaim all personal responsibility for the action of the Shaftesbury management in ‘putting the question’ to the audience last Saturday evening. In doing so much Mr Scott has fulfilled my personal wish, but he has inadvertently passed over the reasons which I gave for my disclaimer, and it is important to me that both the critics and the public should understand them.
“My opinions concerning criticism itself are well known. I regard it as the record of individual judgments more or less influenced by personal character and temperament, and more or less fallible and unscientific. It is a necessity to the newspaper, but less frequently a necessity to the theatre. A strong and powerful personality, like that of Mr Scott himself, or of Mr Moy Thomas, or of Mr Byron Webber, to take the first names which occur to me, makes itself felt through a critique, the value of which is in exact proportion to the value of the personality, and against such a personality an author or artist criticised has a perfect right, in self-defence, to uphold his own, as I myself have often done, and shall do again. I should never dream, however, of appealing to a mixed audience to determine my personal artistic merits, or those of my critics. I should never call a crowd together and abide its absolute fiat as to any work of mine. The plébiscite in affairs of English literature would be as fatal to truth and justice as the plébiscite has been in affairs of foreign politics.
“I hold, nevertheless, that Miss Wallis was quite within her right in asking the audience whether or not they liked the entertainment provided for them; for with her it was not an artistic but a commercial question. That question was put in the name of the management, not that of the author. Had he been the questioner I should have expressed no gratitude to anybody for ‘kind suggestions and valuable hints.’ A blow over the head with a bludgeon is not a ‘kind suggestion,’ and a howl from a newspaper is not ‘a valuable hint.’ In point of fact, The Sixth Commandment, as played on Saturday evening, Oct. 18th, was almost verbatim et literatim the same play adversely criticised on the first night; I had cut out a little of the dialogue, and the carpenters had shortened their interminable ‘waits,’ that was all. If other changes have been made since they are not of my making. Although never behindhand in listening to good advice (as I showed in my revision of the third act of Sweet Nancy), I determine its value by the effect of a play on the audience, or rather, on a succession of audiences.
“I am very grateful to critics when they praise me, not at all grateful when they abuse me; but in either case, I take their opinions for what they are worth—for so many printed judgments of so many competent and incompetent men. Nor have I much more respect for a plébiscite of first-night critics than for a plébiscite of ordinary playgoers, although the latter, I think, are rather more disinterested. Mr Scott uses the word ‘experts’ to describe himself and his brethren. It is a word I reject altogether in connection with works of art. The ‘experts’ have ‘damned’ nearly all good and original writers, from Shakespeare down to Wordsworth and Shelley. If we wish to know the value of ‘expert’ judgment let us read Gifford’s judgment on Keats and Shelley, Jeffrey’s on Wordsworth, Professor Wilson’s on Coleridge, and Lord Lytton’s on Tennyson. As a rule, I believe, no work of art—be it drama, or poem, or picture—is quite as good or quite as bad as ‘experts’ make it out to be. Yet expert opinion, after all, is more valuable than mob opinion, in so far as it represents an accredited individuality.
“In the letter to which I have referred Mr Scott makes one remark which I consider quite beyond the mark. He says practically that the merit of The Sixth Commandment will be decided by the box sheet of the theatre, by the nightly returns; yet he must be well aware that those returns are affected, for the time being, by the praise or blame of the press. Your experts first shriek out a warning to the public not to patronise a particular play, and then say to the manager, ‘You see how just was our criticism—the public don’t come!’ Does Mr Scott imagine that people flocked to buy the Excursion because Jeffrey proclaimed ‘This will never do!’ or that Christopher North’s description of Coleridge as a ‘drivelling dotard’ caused a rush for the works of the poet and philosopher under criticism? Is it a fact that good plays always succeed, and that bad plays never do? A play, like a book, has to find out its public. It is somewhat difficult for a play to do so when its very life depends on the ephemeral comment of a day.
“I am not in this letter defending The Sixth Commandment. personally, I consider it almost as good as Carmen Up to Data, Half a Million of Money, and other masterpieces applauded by the experts; but that, doubtless, is only an author’s fondness for his own bantling. All I want to say is that I do not share the gratitude of the Shaftesbury management because kind friends have knocked me down. I shall try again, I shall be knocked down again, and I shall get up again; but I shall never regard a broken head as a ‘valuable suggestion.’”
“THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT.”
TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.
Sir,—So much comment has been made as to the wisdom of my recent appeal to the public re The Sixth Commandment, that, in justice to myself, I must beg that I may be granted space in your valuable columns to clear myself of two accusations which have been brought against me, viz., that I appealed “to a crowded house against the unanimous judgment of the critics, and that I “introduced the dissentient voice” whose allusion to the critics “impaled me indeed on the horns of a very curious dilemma.”
For the first accusation. How could a printed statement circulated amongst my audience, asking their consideration of The Sixth Commandment in its altered form, and my acknowledgment to the gentlemen of the Press for their valuable hints as to alterations and excisions which had been cordially accepted and adopted—how could this be construed into an appeal to the public from or against the critics?
It is not unusual for a manager to ask his audience if the play be approved, but because I ask my question a week after the production, I am taken to task as desiring to affront those whom I am most desirous to please.
I am not at all seeking to apologise to them, because I have had no intention to wound them, and I certainly do not hold myself responsible for the enthusiastic voice which cried “Down with the critics” and so brought on my devoted head this avalanche of comment. This brings me to the second much graver accusation “that I sent in that ‘dissentient voice.’” What can I say or do to convince those who make this assertion that it is absolutely unfounded? Neither directly or indirectly was I, or any one connected with me or the theatre, responsible or aware that any voice would be raised in protest against the critics. And, after all, how small a spark to cause such a conflagration. In a crowded house one voice made itself heard against the press, and two more echoed its sentiment. It was my involuntary impulse—nay, my duty, to correct the impression even these solitary voices might cause, and I did not hesitate there and then, as actress and manageress, to state that on which I still insist, that criticism is as necessary to the healthy existence of our art as the theatre is necessary to the mental health of the community at large.
If I smart at the misrepresentation which has been placed on my action in regard to this matter, it is the smart inseparable from misconstruction and distorted motives.
Mr Buchanan having written letters to the Press begging (in his fear of being associated with my appeal) that his “disclaimer of being concerned in it in any way” might be printed, and having further stated that he “disapproved of it altogether,” I here emphatically state—and my word, I presume, is as good as Mr Buchanan’s—that he did know a week before that an appeal would be made by me to a mixed audience to determine his “personal artistic merits” as represented by the play I was asking them to approve or disapprove of. Further, that Mr Buchanan uttered no word until after the storm in disapproval of the step, and that he went purposely to the theatre to watch the attitude of the audience.
That Mr Buchanan should have forgotten his courage so far as to disclaim responsibility when a woman was battling for his piece is to me incomprehensible. Mr Buchanan’s grievance evidently is, that I publicly acknowledged indebtedness to the critics for what I still hold to have been their valuable hints. He says, referring to criticism, that “a blow over the head with a bludgeon is not a kind suggestion.” I say it is a very valuable blow if it kills ennui, beats away rodomontade, reveals and brings into light hidden excellence.
Finally, he states that his play, as now represented, is verbatim et literatim the same play adversely criticised. That is not so. The play has been reduced by forty minutes, but, to do him full justice, I quite admit the truth of his statement, “If other changes have been made since, they are not of my making.” Consequently, if the play be successful, I shall not have to thank Mr Buchanan for the “changes” which have made it so.
I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
Shaftesbury Theatre, W., Oct. 30th, 1890.
MISS WALLIS AND THE CRITICS.
We sincerely trust that the new departure recently inaugurated by Miss WALLIS at the Shaftesbury Theatre will not be followed by other London managers and manageresses. The practice has about it something feminine and feline which commends it not. The velvet paw of the innocent query, “Do you like the play?” concealed the sharp claws which inflicted the scratch of the implied question, “What do you think of the critics who condemned it?” The wording of Miss WALLIS’S distributed circular was certainly adroit. The preamble was specially ingenious. Miss WALLIS said, alluding to The Sixth Commandment:— “Guided by the advice of the press, which unanimously condemned the play, another piece would have been instantly put in rehearsal, but for one consideration—the applause nightly and what seems very like appreciation of the play on the part of the public.” Miss WALLIS concluded her manifesto by a left-handed compliment to the critics, “whose time, consideration, and forbearance were severely taxed in an unusually long performance on the opening night.”
On the evening of the 18th inst. Miss WALLIS, in pursuance of an intention announced in the previous week, put the question to the house, “Do you like the play?” The scene which followed is described as having been sufficiently absurd. The fair manageress was uproariously answered in the affirmative, and the naughty critics were contemptuously alluded to by most sweet voices from the popular parts of the house. Nobody was a whit the better or the worse for the incident, except the manageress who had departed from custom by an act of execrable taste. Miss WALLIS is no novice in theatrical business. Her acquaintance with the ways and manners of the British public is of no recent date. It is true that she acknowledged, in her circular, the alterations which had been made in the play since its production. But she must have known very well that, even supposing her audience to be composed of ordinary units, and not to be, to any extent, a “packed” assemblage, the question would have been taken as a challenge, and accepted as conveying an insinuation. If Miss WALLIS’S only reason had been to ascertain the favour of the public towards the piece, surely the amount of the applause bestowed upon the play nightly, or, still better, the receipts for the week, would have given her sufficient information as to the probability of the piece achieving an enduring success. The best test of the popularity of a drama is not the noise made by one particular audience, but the amount of money expended by the collective patronage of the general public during a period. Applause is very gratifying, but it will not pay salaries; and Miss WALLIS can scarcely intend to continue the run of The Sixth Commandment as long as the piece evokes applause, though it come from thin houses—half “paper.”
Miss WALLIS invited the Press to pronounce judgment upon Mr BUCHANAN’S play. The critics came, saw, and gave their opinions in print. Miss WALLIS profited by their advice, and altered the piece according to their suggestions. The only logical action then to take would have been to invite the critics a second time, or, supposing it impossible to procure “second notices,” to be satisfied with having read detractions and put them to profit. The appeal to what was, in some sort, a special audience convened by a mysterious notice, was, indeed, so fallacious a test that it is difficult to believe that Miss WALLIS’S motive in making it was exactly that suggested by her circular. Like a lady’s letter, which contains the pith of its intention in its postscript, Miss WALLIS’S address bore its sting in its tail, and her deprecatory allusions to the critics were equally amusing and impertinent. Mr CLEMENT SCOTT has, we see, chosen to take them seriously.
It is a mistake to suppose that the office and function of dramatic criticism is to predict the success or failure of theatrical speculations. In the case of those forms of entertainment which appeal plainly and avowedly to a crude and childish taste it is, perhaps, useless to do more than admit the success of the production, and commend the adroitness of the manufacturers. It is idle to examine into the ethics of a “carpentered” melodrama, or consider the congruity of a fashionable burlesque. But the mercenary spirit in the case of the dramatist is more often affected than genuine. Even that arch-cynic Mr W. S. GILBERT, lapped in luxury and rolling in wealth untold derived from opera librettoes, aspired to be the author of a sterling play; and discriminating and worthy praise is still felt by many to be an equivalent for a smaller allowance of solid padding in the way of percentages. To stimulate and encourage this feeling, and not to give a manager the “straight tip” as to the success of his speculation, is the higher function of dramatic criticism. There are theatres and audiences for all grades of dramatic work. The Shaftesbury Theatre, when Mr WILLARD handed it over to Miss WALLIS, had acquired a certain prestige and reputation. Mr BUCHANAN, though he has seared his artistic conscience very deeply, is, as some of his works prove, a man of culture and education. The Sixth Commandment was not only crudely conceived, but carelessly constructed. The critics were right to apply the lash severely to this play, written by Mr BUCHANAN and produced at the Shaftesbury Theatre. They had a right to feel indignant that, with all the mental resources at the command of the author and all the financial resources at the command of the management, the length of the performance, even, had not been estimated, and that a great deal of the piece was not only conventional, but unworkmanlike and “scamped.” It might have been thought that, in the circumstances, a certain amount of humility would not have been out of place. When you get people to show you how to revise your work, it is but grateful to avoid slyly offensive action afterwards. However, of one thing Miss WALLIS may rest assured. The shouts of a convened assembly are not only without the least value as a test of the artistic merit of a play: they are equally useless as a gauge of its future profitability. Perhaps, however, the management of the Shaftesbury were “canny” enough after all. The oddity of the experiment of “question-asking” may have secured one good house at least for The Sixth Commandment in addition to the usual “first night” crush. However, we are not disposed to be too hard upon the lady, seeing that she is no sympathiser with the silly abuse levelled at the press by Mr ROBERT BUCHANAN.
The Era (8 November, 1890)
MR. BUCHANAN AT BAY.
An interesting symptom of the general interest which is created by the drama at the present date is the amount of writing about it which is done in the form of essays in reviews and letters to the papers. Hardly a piece is produced nowadays without some more or less acrimonious discussion arising with regard to its originality, its logical consistency, or its artistic merit. It cannot be denied that the practice makes things very lively; indeed, we may sometimes find more amusement and edification in the correspondence about a new play than in the piece itself. An inveterate letter-writer is Mr ROBERT BUCHANAN. Like another ROBERT— which his surname was ROY—Mr BUCHANAN appears to live in an atmosphere of habitual hostility. Since the time when he denounced the Fleshly School of Poetry and Society Journalism down to the present, his condition has been one of intermittent warfare. It cannot be said that the results have hitherto been altogether disadvantageous to himself. Apart from the notoriety gained by the constant appearance of a man’s name in print, the public are always grateful to the individual who “gives sport.” The fact that Mr BUCHANAN generally comes off second best in these encounters does not appear to dash his spirits a whit. The only danger which he runs is that of eventually becoming—in an epistolary sense—an awful bore. In a recent letter he says that, whenever any critic possessing a “strong and powerful personality” censures his (Mr BUCHANAN’S) work, he considers he has, in self-defence, a perfect right to uphold his own, as he has often done, and shall do again. There is something terrible about such an announcement as this. If, every time Mr BUCHANAN writes an imperfect play, we are to have at length his reasons for disagreeing with the critics, life will be too short for a complete digestion of his correspondence. But Mr BUCHANAN must not think by this dreadful threat to terrify his critics into indulgence. It is the readers of newspapers and not the dramatic judges who will suffer, and the critics will feel as much indifference to Mr BUCHANAN’S verbosity as the absentee Irish landlord did to the bullets aimed at his unhappy agent by the down-trodden peasantry.
Nor are Mr BUCHANAN’S latest samples of correspondence greatly to his credit. His statement that he was not concerned in any way in the “question asking” at the Shaftesbury Theatre which has caused so much averse comment, has been flatly contradicted by Miss WALLIS, who asserts that Mr BUCHANAN knew a week before of her intention of making the appeal, and not only uttered no word until after the storm in disapproval of the step, but went purposely to the theatre on the night of Oct. 18th to watch the attitude of the audience. He has since tried to back out of a rather unpleasant position by drawing distinction between “artistic” and “commercial” interests. He, he says, as an artist, disapproved of the step; but he applauded Miss WALLIS’S action, because her aim was purely mercenary.
What sort of sneakish sophistry is this? Mr BUCHANAN has a week’s notice of Miss WALLIS’S intention; he is the author of the piece, a sharer in the responsibility of its production, and a sharer in its possible success. He allows a lady to take a step which may or may not be of advantage to his or her interests; he watches in silence the result of the experiment; and when it chances to raise a storm of disapprobation he hastens to cry, “’Twasn’t me, gentlemen! I had nothing to do with it! It was all her doing!”
And, be it remembered, this lady has done all in the way of altering his piece to make a favourable answer to a question as to its merits possible. Anyone who has ever timed a play can estimate how much rubbish can be removed by shortening it by forty minutes, and can judge how much accuracy there is in Mr BUCHANAN’S statement that The Sixth Commandment as now played at the Shaftesbury Theatre is the same piece as was presented to the “competent and incompetent” critics on the 8th ult. Mr BUCHANAN’S described division of interests between himself and the manageress who rents his play from him is “quite too delightful.” According to “Mr B.”—to adopt Miss WALLIS’S abbreviation—his only interest in The Sixth Commandment was an artistic one; hers merely commercial. This ingenious distinction gives the firm of BUCHANAN and WALLIS all the freedom as respects action which, with regard to feeling, was enjoyed by General Boum in The Grand Duchess. As a friend he regretted that his ally Baron Puck was nearly shot by the sentries on guard; as a commander he commended their vigilance. Mr BUCHANAN, the art partner of the Shaftesbury firm, will “answer all questions concerning that department.” If anything unpopular is done in connection with one of his plays he can always say, “Oh, yes; I had nothing to do with that. I must refer you to the commercial partner, Miss WALLIS.
This is a slippery sort of arrangement indeed, and one against which we must firmly protest. Surely Mr BUCHANAN has some voice as to what is done with his pieces after their production? If he had put his veto on the asking of the question, is it likely Miss WALLIS would have insisted on trying the foolish experiment? All this about “artistic and commercial interests” is simply verbiage. Miss WALLIS’S interest in The Sixth Commandment is just as artistic as Mr BUCHANAN’S— perhaps more so. To hear this dramatic author-of- all-work, who wrote cynically to Mr G. R. SIMS, “the more original we are the less we shall be liked,” prating of artistic interest, just as if profit were any more or less his object than that of the actress who played the principal part in his drama, is simply nauseous. Mr BUCHANAN has a trick, too, of making statements which, if not absolutely untrue, are painfully misleading. He writes to Mr SCOTT, saying, with reference to the scene at the Shaftesbury Theatre, “perhaps you will print my disclaimer of being concerned in it in any way.” And yet it comes out (for we must take the lady’s word before Mr. B.’s) that he gave his tacit sanction to the experiment, and went to the theatre to see how the “cat would jump.” He says in another letter:—“The Sixth Commandment is almost verbatim and literatim the same play adversely criticised on Oct. 8th.” Miss WALLIS says that the piece has been shortened by nearly three-quarters of an hour. But we have neither time nor space to expose Mr BUCHANAN’S fallacies in detail. If he would devote some of the nervous energy and travail of brain which he applies to newspaper correspondence to his purely dramatic work his plays would be better and the general reader no worse. His recent action suggests that “Chivalry” is indeed becoming a little obsolete, and some impatient spirits may consider it would be an act of “Beneficent Murder” if some of the productions of his too prolific pen were strangled at their birth.
The Echo (1 December, 1890 - p.2)
[Reprinted in The Coming Terror, and other essays and letters. London: William Heinemann, 1891.]
“THE JOURNALIST IN
TO THE EDITOR OF THE ECHO.
SIR,—I venture to send the following lines to you because I am convinced that The Echo is almost alone among London newspapers both in the courage of its own opinions and in that higher courage which affords free ventilation to opinions which are opposed to its own. Writing neither as a person having authority, nor as one of the scribes, I wish to put on record, if you will permit me, my complete and absolute sympathy with Mr. Parnell. He may, or may not, be an adulterer—that, in any case, I consider a detail, chiefly interesting to himself; but I contend that his technical and legal guilt is no proof whatever of his moral turpitude. No question involving the relation of the sexes can be absolutely decided in the tainted atmosphere of our foul Divorce Court, and the case of “O’Shea v. Parnell” was established by the unworthiest of all evidence, that of prying chambermaids, prurient lodging-house keepers, and all the miserable human fry who swim in the unclean shallows of the legal puddle. To my mind, Mr. Parnell’s stern and absolute silence, his determination not to be dragged through the obscene mire, is negative evidence in his favour. He has chosen, like a strong man, to let the blow fall on his own shoulders, and the result is that Mrs. O’Shea has been spared and almost forgotten, while all the moral wolves are clamouring for Mr. Parnell’s blood. But even if Mr. Parnell is guilty no man can tell in what degree. That, as I have said, is a matter chiefly concerning himself. What concerns us, men who stand as simple spectators of a persecution unparalleled in the history of politics, is the means which are being adopted to hound a great man out of public life.
It is on record, I believe, or at any rate it has been stated, that immediately after the decision of the Divorce Court a well-known journalist waited upon Mr. Parnell and informed him that unless full “confession” was made at once and the leadership of the Irish Party simultaneously resigned, the said journalist would appeal to the Puritans of England to “let loose the dogs” of moral War. Whether threatened or not, the thing has been done, and Mr. Parnell has been hunted down, not by honest public opinion, not by British virtue, not even by the British Matron, but by the Journalism of the sewers on the one side and the Journalism of the back-kitchen on the other. For whence chiefly arises this ferocious clamour of prurient morality, this talk about the sanctity of the household, and the eternal symbolism of the bedpost? Firstly, from the source out of which arose the publication of a scandal so infamous, and described so infamously, that the very air of Nature was polluted as by a cesspool, the stench of which penetrated like poison into every household of the land. Secondly, from the individual who invented the journalism of Paul Pry, who has violated all the privileges of social life, while haunting the back kitchens of the aristocracy, and counted the candle-ends of the governing classes; and who, finally, proposed not long ago, in the House of Commons, to the manifest satisfaction of a crowd of fellow- demagogues, to pollute the ears of his fellow-Members by opening up in broad day the sewer of another foul and loathsome scandal. The other attacks on the character of the Member for Cork may be set aside as purely political. The attacks to which I draw attention are specifically “moral.” It is the latter to which I wish to confine your attention, while demanding whether we are to substitute for the espionage of the old and discredited priesthoods the priesthood of the Journalist in Absolution.
No “Confessional Unmasked” has yet, to my mind, furnished so sad an illustration of human prurience as the new Confessional of the Journal. Manifold as are the injuries which Journalism in general has done to society, to literature, and to art, by fostering the uninstruction of the general reader, and parodying the ephemeral judgments of the hour, those injuries are small to the crimes committed by the Journalism which masquerades in the guise of Morality, which deals in household garbage, and, in the interests of vulgar curiosity, institutes a Public Confessional. Dismal, indeed, is the lot of the human being who, like Mr. Parnell, sits in the confession-box, with the Priest of Prurience on one side and the Priest of Espionage on the other. If he refuses, as Mr. Parnell has done, to make any kind of utterance, woe to him and to his generation! The flood-gates of denunciation are opened; the whole army of back-kitchen moralists and scandal-mongers is arrayed against him; the standard of the Cross is raised, and men prepare for the luxury of the auto da fé. Honest citizens bar their doors, and peep from their windows in terror. Everywhere, ushered by the newsboy with his “latest edition,” walk the agents of the Inquisition.
To most men who would live their lives in peace, Journalism is merely Babbage’s Organ in the Street; they stop their ears, and try to think and work in spite of it. But to all men who value the security of their homes and the right of private judgment the New Journalism, with its aggression, its tyrannical bias, and its shameless indecency, is the old Priest in Absolution forcing a way into every household. Tartuffe and Melchior live again in the columns of the inquisitorial newspaper, while the Scapin of Politics walks hand in hand with the Mawworm of Morality. At this moment, therefore, when a wave of prurient Puritanism is rising higher and higher to destroy all that makes the world sweet and wholesome, it is with no common interest that we who are neither inquisitorial nor “moral” watch the fate of Mr. Parnell. If he stands like a rock, refusing to be doomed by the Divorce Court, and defying the clamour of penny-a-lining Pharisees, there is still hope for Society. If he falls, bestraddled over by the rampant Journalist in Absolution, we who loathe his would-be Confessors may well despair. I shall say nothing here of his public services, of his power and prescience as the one man capable of interpreting the hopes and wishes of the Irish race; nothing of the constitutional bigotry which has led even so honest a man as Mr. Gladstone to join in the cry against him. It should be remembered, nevertheless, that Mr. Parnell retains his position, not because he is privately virtuous, but because he is politically puissant, and that Mr. Gladstone, despite all his noble disinterestedness, is a retrograde moralist, who repudiates Divorce under any circumstances, and founds his repudiation on the diseased ravings of mediæval monks and saints. I for one believe that issues far deeper than any issues merely political will be determined by the ultimate position of Mr. Parnell. I for one refuse to accept the discredited disclosures of the Divorce Court and the obscene comments of the Journalist in Absolution as any final test of human life and character.—I am, &c.,
South Hampstead, N.W., Dec. 30.
The Echo (3 December, 1890 - p.3)
MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN ON PARNELL
TO THE EDITOR OF THE ECHO.
SIR,—I have no claim upon your space beyond that of one of the common folk, who, failing to attain the sublime heights of poets and great geniuses, are hedged about by the sordid rules of morality, and are bound in by some lingering faith in the efficacy of the Ten Commandments.
Speaking on behalf of some such ordinary mortals, the rare atmosphere breathed by Mr. Buchanan seems to intoxicate us as he takes us for a ramble among his mountains of imposing sentiment. Our feet seem to spurn the ground of every-day fact while wafted away to the breezy eminences of the Capital-land conjured up by him.
Descending to stern reality, I believe every right-minded man and woman to-day is rejoicing at the discovery that there yet remains a solid moral substratum of character in the people which is uninfluenced by party considerations, independent of political bias. The metal of the people’s conscience has been struck, and has rung clear and true. In this case the Lord has had mercy upon us, and inclined our hearts to keep this law. And of the shreds of national character which remain to us Mr. Buchanan would seek to divest us. As to Mr. Buchanan’s attacks on journalism generally, it must always be a mystery to those who endeavour to unravel the dark sayings of his Byronic creed why he is constantly utilising that medium for making known his opinions to the world. Journalism may be far from perfect, but our duty is to support and co-operate with it where its tendency is to favour those principles which are an Empire’s weal.—Yours, etc.,
A MORALIST FIRST AND A
Dec. 1. HOME RULER AFTERWARDS.
The Yorkshire Evening Post (3 December, 1890 - p.2)
Mr. ROBERT BUCHANAN has broken out again, and in a new place. The wrongs of Mr. PARNELL have roused him to hurl anew Buchananian thunderbolts against the pernicious marriage and social customs of the time. Mr. BUCHANAN writes to the Echo, and declares that, speaking neither as a person having authority nor as a scribe, he has complete and absolute sympathy with Mr. PARNELL. Whether he is an adulterer or not is in Mr. BUCHANAN’S eyes a detail; he distinctly denies that his legal guilt is a sign of moral turpitude. Mr. PARNELL has been “hounded down by the journalism of the sewers and the journalism of the back kitchen.” In further characteristic language Mr. BUCHANAN pours out the vials of his wrath against all mankind in general and journalism in particular. Mr. GLADSTONE comes in for one of the swashbuckler blows of the irate author, and is denounced for his “constitutional bigotry.” But after all the whirlwind of Mr. BUCHANAN’S invective has passed, the reader asks himself what it is all about? Is Mr. PARNELL’S offence the less heinous because all men are not saints? Are adultery and the betrayal of a friend’s wife the less blameworthy because the offender is politically puissant? Does this not savour of a Pharisaism on the writer’s part as bad as that he inveighs against? We fear Mr. BUCHANAN is destined yet awhile to be a voice crying in the wilderness.
“In Darkest England”, T. H. Huxley and the Salvation Army
[Buchanan’s two letters in response to Huxley’s criticism of the Salvation Army in The Times were reprinted in The Coming Terror, and other essays and letters (London: William Heinemann, 1891). However to put them in context, here are Huxley’s letters. Buchanan’s response to the first letter was printed in The Times immediately below a second letter of Huxley’s, so for clarity’s sake I’ve reversed the position. Buchanan’s second letter was then written in response to Huxley’s second letter, but was not printed in The Times, so I’ve used the version from The Coming Terror which was printed in the Daily Chronicle. I have also included a letter from Henry John Atkinson, referred to in his second letter by Buchanan, and Huxley’s third letter to The Times with its postscript about Buchanan.]
The Times (1 December, 1890 - p. 13)
“IN DARKEST ENGLAND.”
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir,—A short time ago a generous and philanthropic friend wrote to me, placing at my disposal a large sum of money for the furtherance of the vast scheme which the General of the Salvation Army has propounded, if I thought it worthy of support. The responsibility of advising my benevolent correspondent has weighed heavily upon me, but I felt that it would be cowardly, as well as ungracious, to refuse to accept it. I have therefore studied Mr. Booth’s book with some care, for the purpose of separating the essential from the accessory features of his project, and I have based my judgment—I am sorry to say an unfavourable one—upon the data thus obtained. Before communicating my conclusions to my friend, however, I am desirous to know what there may be to be said in arrest of that judgment; and the matter is of such vast public importance that I trust you will aid me by publishing this letter, notwithstanding its length.
There are one or two points upon which I imagine all thinking men have arrived at the same convictions as those from which Mr. Booth starts. It is certain that there is an immense amount of remediable misery among us; that, in addition to the poverty, disease, and degradation which are the consequences of causes beyond human control, there is a vast, probably a very much larger, quantity of misery which is the result of faulty social arrangements. Further, I think it is not to be doubted that, unless this remediable misery is effectually dealt with, the hordes of vice and pauperism will destroy modern civilization as effectually as uncivilized tribes of another kind destroyed the great social organization which preceded ours. Moreover, I think all will agree that no reforms and improvements will go to the root of the evil unless they attack it in its ultimate source—namely, the motives of the individual man. Honest, industrious, and self-restraining men will make a very bad social organization prosper; while vicious, idle, and reckless citizens will bring to ruin the best that ever was, or ever will be, invented.
The leading propositions which are peculiar to Mr. Booth, I take to be these:—
(1) That the only adequate means to such reformation of the individual man is the adoption of that form of somewhat corybantic Christianity of which the soldiers of the Salvation Army are the militant missionaries. This implies the belief that the excitement of the religious emotions (largely by processes described by their employers as “rousing” and “convivial”) is a desirable and trustworthy method of permanently amending the conduct of mankind.
I demur to these propositions. I am of opinion that the testimony of history, no less than the cool observation of that which lies within the personal experience of many of us, is wholly adverse to it.
(2) That the appropriate instrument for the propagation and maintenance of this peculiar sacramental enthusiasm is the Salvation Army—a body of devotees, drilled and disciplined as a military organization, and provided with a numerous hierarchy of officers, every one of whom is pledged to blind and unhesitating obedience to the “General,” who frankly tells us that the first condition of the service is “implicit, unquestioning obedience.” “A telegram from me will send any of them to the uttermost parts of the earth”; every one “has taken service on the express condition that he or she will obey, without questioning, or gainsaying, the orders from headquarters” (Darkest England, p.243).
This proposition seems to me to be indisputable. History confirms it. Francis of Assisi and Ignatius Loyola made their great experiments on the same principle. Nothing is more certain than that a body of religious enthusiasts (perhaps we may even say fanatics) pledged to blind obedience to their chief is one of the most efficient instruments for effecting any purpose that the wit of man has yet succeeded in devising. And I can but admire the insight into human nature which has led Mr. Booth to leave his unquestioning and unhesitating instruments unbound by vows. A volunteer slave is worth ten sworn bondsmen.
(3) That the success of the Salvation Army, with its present force of 9,416 officers “wholly engaged in the work,” its capital of three-quarters of a million, its income of the same amount, its 1.375 corps at home and 1,499 in the colonies and foreign countries (Appendix, pp. 3 and 4), is a proof that Divine assistance has been vouchsafed to its efforts.
Here I am not able to agree with the sanguine commander-in-chief of the new model, whose labours in creating it have probably interfered with his acquisition of information respecting the fate of previous enterprises of like kind.
It does not appear to me that his success is in any degree more remarkable than that of Francis of Assisi, or that of Ignatius Loyola, than that of George Fox, or even than that of the Mormons, in our own time. When I observe the discrepancies of the doctrinal foundations from which each of these great movements set out, I find it difficult to suppose that supernatural aid has been given to all of them; still more, that Mr. Booths’ smaller measure of success is evidence that it has been granted to him.
But what became of the Franciscan experiment? If there was one rule rather than another on which the founder laid stress, it was that his army of friars should be absolute mendicants, keeping themselves sternly apart from all worldly entanglements. Yet even before the death of Francis, in 1226, a strong party, headed by Elias of Cortona, the deputy of his own appointment, began to hanker after these very things; and within 30 years of that time the Franciscans had become one of the most powerful, wealthy, and worldly corporations in Christendom, with their fingers in every sink of political and social corruption, if so be profit for the order could be fished out of it, their principal interest being to fight their rivals, the Dominicans, and to persecute such of their own brethren as were honest enough to try to carry out their founder’s plainest injunctions.
We also know what has become of Loyola’s experiment. For two centuries the Jesuits have been the hope of the enemies of the Papacy, for whenever it becomes too prosperous they are sure to bring about a catastrophe by their corrupt use of the political and social influence which their organization and their welfare secure. With these examples of that which may happen to institutions founded by noble men, with high aims, in the hands of successors of a different stamp, armed with despotic authority, before me, common prudence surely requires that before advising the handing over of a large sum of money to the general of a new order of mendicants I should ask what guarantee there is that, 30 years hence, the “General” who then autocratically controls the action, say, of 100,000 officers pledged to blind obedience, distributed through the whole length and breadth of the poorer classes, and each with his finger on the trigger of a mine charged with discontent and religious fanaticism; with the absolute control, say, of eight or ten millions sterling of capital and as many of income; with barracks in every town, with estates scattered over the country, and with settlements in the colonies—will exercise his enormous powers, not merely honestly, but wisely? What shadow of security is there that the person who wields this uncontrolled authority over many thousands of men shall use it solely for those philanthropic and religious objects which, I do not doubt, are alone in the mind of Mr. Booth? Who is to say that the Salvation Army, in the year 1920, shall not be a replica of what the Franciscan order had become in the year 1260?
The personal character and the intentions of the founders of such organizations as we are considering count for very little in the formation of a forecast of their future, and if they did, it is no disrespect to Mr. Booth to say that he is not the peer of Francis of Assisi; but if Francis’s judgment of men was so imperfect as to permit him to appoint an ambitious intriguer of the stamp of Brother Elias his successor, we have no right to be sanguine about the perspicacity of Mr. Booth in a like matter.
Adding to all these considerations the fact that Mr. Llewelyn Davies, the warmth of whose philanthropy is beyond question and in whose competency and fairness I, for one, place implicit reliance, flatly denies the boasted success of the Salvation Army in its professed mission, I have arrived at the conclusion that, as at present advised, I cannot be the instrument of carrying out my friend’s proposal.
Mr. Booth has pithily characterized certain benevolent schemes as doing sixpennyworth of good and a shilling’s worth of harm. I grieve to say that, in my opinion, the definition exactly fits his own project. Few social evils are of greater magnitude than uninstructed and unchastened religious fanaticism; no personal habit more surely degrades the conscience and the intellect than blind and unhesitating obedience to unlimited authority. Undoubtedly harlotry and intemperance are sore evils, and starvation is hard to bear or even to know of; but the prostitution of the mind, the soddening of the conscience, the dwarfing of manhood are worse calamities. It is a greater evil to have the intellect of a nation put down by organized fanaticism, to see its political and industrial affairs at the mercy of a despot whose chief thought is to make that fanaticism prevail, to watch the degradation of men, who should feel themselves individually responsible for their own and their country’s fates, to mere brute instruments ready to the hand of a master for any use to which he may put them.
But that is the end to which, in my opinion, all such organizations as that to which kindly people, who do not look to the consequences of their acts, are now giving their thousands, inevitably tend. Unless clear proof that I am wrong is furnished, another thousand shall not be added by my instrumentality.
I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
Eastbourne, Nov. 27. T. H. HUXLEY.
The Times (9 December, 1890 - p. 13-14)
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir,—I have only just read, with feelings of mingled surprise and delight, Professor Huxley’s letter to The Times newspaper on the subject of the Salvation Army and General Booth. It is so sweet to find oneself a true prophet; and did I not prophesy some little time ago, in a contemporary that Professor Huxley would soon be converted, “like another Saul?” The archsociologist, the denier of the natural freedom and equality of men, the upholder of “statute of limitations in matters of wrongdoing,” the denouncer of freedom as laissez faire, the preacher of providence made easy and special governmental supervision in all departments, now wheels round in the very face of Mr. Spencer, and cries: “I said so; organization is dangerous; the safeguard of society lies in the freedom of the individual!” And all this because one man of untutored intellect, with limited reasoning powers and miraculous powers of organization, has done in a few short years what all the Churches, including the Church of Pragmatic Science, have utterly failed to do, has awakened the imagination of the British Philistines to the fact that the miseries of the social deposits must be reckoned with, and has, in a measure, pointed out “the way.” Why, only a little while ago the militant Professor was stumping the magazines and advocating the possibility of advancing evolution by force from without and from above; was “persecuting” the faithful who clamoured to be saved or damned in their own fashion; and here he is already, struck down by a light from heaven (or some other dwelling-place of the aristocracy) proclaiming that he, too, is of the faithful, of the poor persecuted remnant which “believes.”
I was severely rebuked when I dared to defend Mr: Herbert Spencer’s doctrine of absolute ethics against the savage attack of Professor Huxley, because I questioned the reasoning powers, while fully admitting the ingenuity, of my opponent. I am now, therefore, on the horns of a dilemma. Either Professor Huxley was always rational, or he was, all along the line, inconsistent. If he was rational, he failed to express his ideas logically, and if he was inconsistent, like most persecutors, he needed, besides logic, fuller light and edification. With what fervour did he argue (in his favourite metaphorical manner) against the fatuity which would place the guidance of a ship in the hands of the crew, instead of those of the captain; against the “reasoned savagery” of those who would, it seemed to him, uphold the natural “rights” of even the man-eating tiger! Then we wanted leadership, organization, espionage even, and scientific police; now all these things are perilous, and General Booth, with his tom-toms and his military orders, is threatening the lives of “individual” men. Yesterday Professor Huxley was championing that over-legislation which would mean the slavery of all mankind; to-day he is protesting against the strong men, and questioning the would-be legislators. A little while ago he was Mr. Herbert Spencer’s deadliest opponent, just a pirouette, and here he is at Mr. Spencer’s feet. Truly a miraculous conversion. All our fears were vain. The protector of the loaves and fishes, the peripatetic Providence incarnate, will harm us no more. Only a few steps further, and the Saul of the status quo will be the St. Paul of Individualism.
Frankly, however, I distrust both this Saul and that other of the New Testament as persons possessing neither great logic nor trustworthy insight into human nature. The converted persecutor is sure to lapse backwards during the very process of edification. And now, to my poor judgment, the Professor Huxley who refuses to disgorge his friend’s thousand pounds on the ground that he will not countenance any form of social or religious “tyranny” is fully as suspicious a figure as the Professor Huxley who avowed that “the equality of men before God was an equality either of insignificance or imperfection,” and that there was a strong argument for supposing that force, reasonably applied, was an indispensable factor of our civilization. Am I wrong in suggesting that now, as always, the pragmatic temperament and the anti-theological bias have far more to do with Professor Huxley’s attitude than any real conversion to the individualism he has hated so cordially and so long? I may be wronging a saint in posse, but I cannot help believing that Professor Huxley would be far less shocked by the Salvation Army if it used the shibboleth of science in lieu of that of Christianity; if it were beating its tom-toms in the name of David Hume instead of that of Jesus of Nazareth. Your scientist will endure a good deal of noise, a great deal of fussy organization, when the object is secular, and not religious.
It is no part of my purpose to uphold the scheme of General Booth; I have not studied it sufficiently to justify or condemn it. So far as it involves a tyrannous organization, an interference with the right of private judgment, an upholding of effete superstitions, it has no sympathy of mine, and not all the approval of all the Churches would induce me to utter one word on its behalf. But the merest tyro in history must see that Professor Huxley’s attempt to liken it to the schemes of Francis of Assisi and Ignatius Loyola is simply absurd, illogical, and uninstructed—worthy, in fact, of the mind which justified Jacob against Esau on the ground of “practical expedience.” For if one thing is clear, it is that the religion of General Booth, whatever its crude forms and ordinances may be, is at once unsectarian and beneficent, practical as opposed to dogmatic. The use of the Christian vocabulary is a detail. I have nowhere read that the General troubles himself about Christian dogmas. His cry has rather been—“A truce to your dogmas, and even to your moralities; let us see if we cannot save the ‘submerged tenth’ by making it conscious of happy responsibility, by enabling it to live.” The comparison with Mormonism is equally unfortunate; and, in any case, Mormonism is an institution which has existed with few or no crimes, no wars, no brothels, and no “hells”—all accredited ornaments of our higher civilization. Say what we may of General Booth, and I myself (horrified by the clamour in the street) have said some hard things, he has struck a chord of beneficence which vibrates round the world; he has cried to the rich and powerful, “Lo, these also are your brethren;” he has succeeded in startling the Bishops from their armchairs and the priests from their confessionals; he has said, “What you for 18 centuries have failed to do, what you have scarcely even cared to do, I, an individual, a man of the people, will at least try to do.” And in the face of this man, whose hand is open to the outcast and the fallen, who turns his back on no human creature however base, who knows the world far better than any scientist that was ever born, Professor Huxley buttons up his pockets, purses up his lips, and tries to escape from the imputation of inconsistency, of inhumanity, by avowing his adherence to principles which he has been opposing all his life.
But no; Professor Huxley is not inconsistent! He stands where he has always stood—among those who are by temperament deprived of the true philosophic vision and the real enthusiasm of humanity. A genuine scientific student, capable of much careful verification on a low plane of inquiry, he cannot generalize and cannot organize. He has vindicated centuries of wrongdoing, he has upheld the tyrannies of force and convention, he has sided with society against the individual on the ground of utility, and with the strong against the weak on the score of necessity; and so, after all, even this last “miraculous conversion,” a sham, like all things seemingly miraculous, cannot save him. He is condemned out of his own mouth as the Pharisee who passes by, while General Booth is justified by his own act as the Samaritan who, at least, endeavours to heal and bless.
I am, &c., ROBERT BUCHANAN.
25, Maresfield-gardens, South Hampstead, N.W.
The Times (9 December, 1890 - p. 13)
[Printed before Buchanan’s reply to Huxley’s first letter.]
“IN DARKEST ENGLAND.”
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir,—The purpose of my previous letter about Mr. Booth’s scheme was to arouse the contributors to the military chest of the Salvation Army to a clear sense of what they are doing. I thought it desirable that they should be distinctly aware that they are setting up and endowing a sect in many ways analogous to the “Ranters” and “Revivalists” of undeniable notoriety in former times, but with this immensely important difference, that it possesses a strong, far-reaching, centralized organization, the disposal of the physical, moral, and financial strength of which rests with an irresponsible chief, who, according to his own account, is assured of the blind obedience of nearly 10,000 subordinates. I wish them to ask themselves, Ought prudent men and good citizens to aid in the establishment of an organization which, under sundry, by no means improbable, contingencies, may easily become a worse and more dangerous nuisance than the mendicant Friars of the middle ages? If this is an academic question, I really do not know what questions deserve to be called practical. As you divined, I purposely omitted any consideration of the details of the Salvationist scheme, and of the principles which animate those who work it, because I desired that the public appreciation of the evils necessarily inherent in all such plans of despotic social and religious regimentation should not be obscured by the raising of points of less comparative, however great absolute, importance.
But it is now time to undertake a more particular criticism of “Darkest England.” At the outset of my examination of that work, I was startled to find that Mr. Booth had put forward his scheme with an almost incredibly imperfect knowledge of what had been done and is doing in the same direction. A simple reader might well imagine that the author of “Darkest England” posed as the Columbus, or at any rate the Cortez, of that region. ”Go to Mudie’s,” he tells us, and you will be surprised to see how few books there are upon the social problem. That may or may not be correct; but if Mr. Booth had gone to a certain reading room not far from Mudie’s, I undertake to say that the well-informed and obliging staff of the national library in Bloomsbury would have provided him with more books on this topic, in almost all European languages, than he would read in three months. Has socialism no literature? And what is Socialism but an incarnation of the social question? Moreover, I am persuaded that even “Mudie’s” resources could have furnished Mr. Booth with the “Life of Lord Shaftesbury” and Carlyle’s works. Mr. Booth seems to have undertaken to instruct the world without having heard of “Past and Present” or of “Latter-Day Pamphlets;” though, somewhat late in the day, a judicious friend called his attention to them. To those of my contemporaries on whom, as on myself, Carlyle’s writings on this topic made an ineffaceable impression 40 years ago, who know that for all that time hundreds of able and devoted men, both clerical and lay, have worked heart and soul for the permanent amendment of the condition of the poor, Mr. Booth’s “Go to Mudie’s” affords an apt measure of the depth of his preliminary studies. However, I am bound to admit that these earlier labourers in the field laboured in such a different fashion that the originality of the plan started by Mr. Booth remains largely unaffected. For them no drums have beat, no trombones brayed, no sanctified buffoonery, after the model of the oration of the Friar in Wallenstein’s Camp, dear to the readers of Schiller, has tickled the ears of the groundlings on their behalf. Sadly behind the great age of rowdy self-advertisement in which their lot has fallen, they seem not to have advanced one whit beyond John the Baptist and the Apostles, 1,800 years ago, in their notions of the way in which the metanoia, the change of mind of the ill-doer, is to be brought about. Yet the new model was there, ready for the imitation of those ancient savers of souls. The ranting and roaring mystagogues of some of the most venerable of Greek and Syrian cults also had their processions and banners, their fifes and cymbals and holy chants, their hierarchy of officers to whom the art of making collections was not wholly unknown, and who, as freely as their modern imitators, promised an Elysian future to contributory converts. The success of these antique Salvation armies was enormous. Simon Magus was quite as notorious a personage, and probably had as strong a following, as Mr. Booth. Yet the Apostles, with their old-fashioned ways, would not accept such success as a satisfactory sign of the Divine sanction, nor depart from their own methods of leading the way to the higher life. I deem it unessential to verify Mr. Booth’s statistics. The exact strength of the population of the realm of misery, be it one, two, or three millions, has nothing to do with the efficacy of any means proposed for the highly desirable end of reducing it to a minimum. The sole question for consideration at present is whether the scheme, keeping specially in view the spirit in which it is to be worked, is likely to do more good than harm.
Mr. Booth tells us with commendable frankness that “it is primarily and mainly for the sake of saving the soul that I seek the salvation of the body” (p. 45), which language, being interpreted, means that the propagation of the special Salvationist creed comes first, and the promotion of the physical, intellectual, and purely moral welfare of mankind second in his estimation. Men are to be made sober and industrious mainly that, as washed, shorn, and docile sheep, they may be driven into the narrow theological fold which Mr. Booth patronizes. If they refuse to enter, for all their moral cleanliness, they will have to take their place among the goats as sinners only less dirty than the rest.
I have been in the habit of thinking (and I believe the opinion is largely shared by reasonable men) that self-respect and thrift are the rungs of the ladder by which men may most surely climb out of the slough of despond of want; and I have regarded them as perhaps the most eminent of the practical virtues.
That is not Mr. Booth’s opinion. For him they are mere varnished sins—nothing better than “Pride rebaptized” (p. 46). Shutting his eyes to the necessary consequences of the struggle for life, the existence of which he accepts as fully as any Darwinian, Mr. Booth tells men whose evil case is one of those consequences that envy is a corner-stone of our competitive system. With thrift and self-respect denounced as sin, with the suffering of starving men referred to the sins of the capitalist, the gospel according to Mr. Booth may save souls, but it will hardly save society.
In estimating the social and political influence which the Salvation Army is likely to exert, it is important to reflect that the officers (pledged to blind obedience to their General) are not to confine themselves to the functions of mere deacons and catechists (though, under a General like Cyril, Alexandria knew to her cost what even they could effect); they are to be “tribunes of the people,” who are to act as their gratuitous legal advisers, and, when law is not sufficiently effective, the whole force of the army is to obtain what the said tribunes may conceive to be justice, by the practice of ruthless intimidation. Society, says Mr. Booth, needs “mothering”; and he sets forth, with much complacency, a variety of “cases,” by which we may estimate the sort of “mothering” to be expected at his parental hands. Those who study the materials thus set before them will, I think, be driven to the conclusion that the “mother” has already proved herself a most unscrupulous meddler, even if she has not fallen within reach of the arm of the law.
Consider this “case.” A, asserting herself to have been seduced twice, “applied to our people. We hunted up the man, followed him to the country, threatened him with public exposure, and forced from him the payment to his victim of £60 down, an allowance of £1 a week, and an insurance policy on his life for £450 in her favour” (p. 222).
Jedburgh justice this. “We” constitute ourselves prosecutor, judge, jury, sheriff’s officer, all in one; “we” practise intimidation as deftly as if we were a branch of another League; and, under threat of exposure, “we” extort a tolerably heavy hush-money in payment of our silence.
Well, really my poor moral sense is unable to distinguish these remarkable proceedings of the new popular tribunate from what in French is called chantage and in plain English blackmailing. And when we consider that anybody, for any reason of jealousy, or personal spite, or party hatred, might be thus “hunted,” “followed,” “threatened,” and financially squeezed or ruined, without a particle of legal investigation, at the will of a man whom the familiar charged with the inquisitorial business dare not hesitate to obey, surely it is not unreasonable to ask how far does the Salvation Army, in its “tribune of the people” aspect, differ from a Sicilian Mafia? I am no apologist of men guilty of the acts charged against the person who yet, I think, might be as fairly called a “victim” in this case as his partner in wrongdoing. It is possible that in so peculiar a case as this Solomon himself might have been puzzled to apportion the relative moral delinquency of the parties. However that may be, the man was morally and legally bound to support his child, and any one would have been justified in helping the woman to her legal rights, and the man to the legal consequences (in which exposure is included) of his fault.
The action of the General of the Salvation Army in extorting the heavy fine he chose to impose as the price of his silence, however excellent his motives, appears to me to be as immoral as I hope it is illegal.
So much for the Salvation Army as a teacher of questionable ethics and of eccentric economics, as the legal adviser who recommends and practises the extraction of money by intimidation, as the fairy godmother who proposes to “mother” society in a fashion which is not to my taste, however much it may commend itself to some of Mr. Booth’s subscribers.
I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
T. H. HUXLEY.
The Times (9 December, 1890 - p. 14)
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir,—I think that those who do not see their way to help General Booth should “not bless at all, nor curse at all.”
I agree that all the methods of the Salvation Army are not agreeable. I could not profit by them or enjoy them. But there are many who can.
For years past I have, as a magistrate of 25 years standing, made it my business to ask in strange places whether the Salvation Army had done good or harm. I have asked police officers. They have invariably told me that drunkards have ceased to kick their wives and starve their children, and have taken to processions, and early morning prayer-meetings, &c., instead. True, they make a great noise in the towns, but is it not better “they make a joyful noise unto the Lord” than unto the devil by drunken orgies and the results?
The end to me is this—we are not all constituted alike; more of the people of England will get good from General Booth’s methods than harm; and, putting religion aside, by way of argument, I cannot sit still in warmth and comfort when I know that many of my countrymen are wandering about London without food or shelter all through these inclement nights, and that General Booth and his corps of workers wish to help them, if only physically, and cannot get the means. If he had no religious aims he deserves help. My wife and I will give £300, so that we may sleep more comfortably in our warm beds this winter from the knowledge that our almoners are doing the difficult part of the work.
It is easy and “blessed to give.” Signing a cheque is not much trouble, but the real work is done by those officers who were in the procession at the funeral of that blessed woman, Mrs. Booth, and by such as they.
It is true others are working in the same way in the Church of England, the Wesleyan Society, and other denominations. It is true clergymen and others by scores have had the same or similar ideas to those of General Booth proposed in “In Darkest England;” but it is also true that “To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin,” and “Whoso hath this world’s goods and seeth his brother have need and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” and “Who is my brother or neighbour?”
Hundreds of them will be walking about the Thames Embankment, Trafalgar and Leicester squares, and the East-end, &c., houseless, homeless, friendless, and starving, to-night and every night this winter. Let us therefore give, and “give quickly,” for in so doing we “give twice.” Apologizing for the length of this “lay sermon,” as I fear I must call it, and assuring you I never intended to take up one-fourth of the space,
I am yours sincerely,
HENRY JOHN ATKINSON.
House of Commons, Dec. 5.
The Yorkshire Evening Post (9 December, 1890 - p.2)
General BOOTH’S scheme is now mainly heard of by the fury with which the disputants lash themselves over it. In to-day’s Times Professor HUXLEY returns to his attack on the General, and Mr. ROBERT BUCHANAN belabours the Professor. It is clear that Mr. BUCHANAN is not so much attracted by the scheme as by the temptation to have another blow at his old antagonist. He has discovered that Mr. HUXLEY is guilty of inconsistency, and is fast becoming an individualist. Mr. HUXLEY, on the other hand, gives no thought to Mr. BUCHANAN, but enters on a more particular criticism of “Darkest England.” He finds the Salvation Army a teacher of questionable ethics and of eccentric economics. But despite these criticisms General BOOTH’S subscription list continues to swell, and he is within measurable distance of securing the £100,000 which he sought. The principal effect of the letters of Messrs. HUXLEY and BUCHANAN is that those of the one advertise General BOOTH, and those of the other advertise himself.
From Buchanan’s The Coming Terror, and other essays and letters (London: William Heinemann, 1891 - pp. 342- 348). Originally published in the Daily Chronicle.
PROFESSOR HUXLEY’S MIRACULOUS CONVERSION (2).
In the Times of December 9, 1890, appeared another letter from Professor Huxley, written in the same vein as his first diatribe, on General Booth’s scheme, and attached to it was the letter from my pen, which was printed in the Daily Chronicle (and the Daily Chronicle only) on the previous day. Now, my letter was issued to the public Press on the previous Sunday, but several of the dailies passed it by without insertion, on the conventional ground that the letter of which it was a criticism ‘had not appeared in their columns.’ The Times, however, with characteristic unfairness, published it a day late, in order that, when my protest was seen and read, Professor Huxley might have another opportunity of raising false issues on the subject. These, as we all know, are the usual tactics of the great organ of British Philistia. It cannot be fair and honest, even in so small a matter as the printing of correspondence. From the day when it fought on the side of Slavery during the American Civil War to the day when it organized the Pigott forgery, and from that day to the present, when it lets loose the quasi-scientific Boanerges to fulminate against the Salvation Army and talk half-instructed twaddle about Simon Magus and the Mendicant Friars, it has been steadily posing as the enemy of human progress and human enlightenment.
It is not, however, with the Times I have to deal, but with the gentleman in full ‘useful-knowledge canonicals,’ who now, as heretofore, refuses to give General Booth his blessing—for which, I am sure, the General never prayed. By what right of achievement or attainment Professor Huxley assumes to speak authoritatively on social questions I have never been able to discover. Both he and Professor Tyndall, who steps forward to support him, have done very little to justify any faith in either their sympathy or their insight. But both, we have to bear in mind, have one mission in common—to translate the jargon of Carlyle into the easy patter of Cheap Science, so that ‘he who runs may read.’ Professor Huxley, on the grounds of his recent ‘miraculous conversion’ to Spencerian principles, now poses as an Individualist; but we must be careful to distinguish between such individualism as his and the deeply reasoned individualism of the Philosopher he has denounced so often and so long.We must remember that his warning is not philosophical, but empirical; that he has on previous occasions committed himself to a defence of the present social cosmos, or chaos, as opposed to the aspirations of human freedom; that, in a word, he embodies the kind of opinion which would oppose to the Enthusiasm of Humanity the dreary conventionalities of the Pragmatic Sanction.
For what, after all, has this self-canonized lecturer on useful knowledge to say on the subject at issue? What is his criticism of the Man who, like his great Prototype, has actually descended into Hell, hoping to snatch thence the submerged ‘tenth’ of our population? Firstly, that there are many philanthropies in the world, and that General Booth’s is only one of them. This, surely, we knew already. Secondly, that earlier labourers in the field of Socialism had no army organization, no beating drums, no general fanfaronade, and that such organization belongs rather to the raving mystagogues of the East than to the steady social workers of the West. In this connection, curiously enough, the empirical Professor, always inconsistent in argument, while ever consistent in temperament, sighs for the old-fashioned and quiet ways of the Apostles, about whose ‘quietness,’ by the way, he might have learned something by a few more visits to the British Museum. It is surely news to all the world that the early Christians were peaceful, non-revolutionary, non-organizing persons, in no way troublesome to persons of opposite opinion and lovers of laissez faire. Thirdly and finally, Professor Huxley, while recognising the fact of human misery, asserts that General Booth’s scheme to check it is likely to do ‘more harm than good.’
And then he begins to tell us ‘why.’ Then, for the first time, we begin to get at what he really does mean. ‘It is primarily and mainly for the sake of saving the Soul,’ writes General Booth, ‘that I seek the salvation of the Body.’ This means, according to Professor Huxley, that ‘men are to be made sober and industrious mainly that, as washed, shorn, and docile sheep, they may be driven into the narrow theological fold which Mr. Booth patronizes.’ Does it mean anything of the kind? I, for one, have about as much belief as Professor Huxley in any religious dogma or Christian formula, but I have never gathered from General Booth that he bases his scheme on any foundation of abstract theology. But, if he did, surely the man who, with any formula whatever, can make the wretched millions ‘sober and industrious,’ is achieving fully two-thirds of the objects of all human science, of all human regeneration. Here, again, Professor Huxley is illogical; for once make a man ‘sober and industrious’—once make him to some extent a rational creature—and be sure you will not ‘drive’ him very far. You have given eyes to the blind: those eyes will see.
‘I have been in the habit of thinking,’ proceeds Professor Huxley, ‘that self-respect and thrift are the rungs of the ladder by which men must surely climb out of the slough of the despond of want, and I have regarded them as perhaps the most eminent of the practical virtues.’ Après? Has General Booth ever denounced self-respect and thrift? No, admits the Professor; but he has said that ‘envy’ is the corner-stone of our competitive system, and that the sufferings of starving men are the consequence of ‘the sins of the capitalist’! Here we get a fine glimpse of the good Professor who defended the Status quo on the score of expediency, and who demanded for the landgrabber and the capitalist, enriched by centuries of wrong-doing, a certain statute of limitations. Does anyone but an empirical scientist, confusing the survival of the socially successful with the natural survival of the fittest, doubt for a moment that ‘envy’ and greed are the crying sins of our generation, and that many men starve because their fellow-men refuse to feel? Read, in this connection, the solemn and beautiful words of Mr. Henry John Atkinson, printed in the very number of the Times which contains the Professor’s grisly diatribe: ‘I cannot sit still in warmth and comfort when I know that many of my countrymen are wandering about London without food or shelter all through these inclement nights, and that General Booth and his corps of workers wish to help them, and cannot get the means. My wife and I will give £300’—while Professor Huxley, who would cheerfully, no doubt, contribute to a scheme for the extension of Vivisection, buttons up his trousers-pockets and keeps his friend’s ‘thousand pounds.’
Further on, Professor Huxley pushes his objection further home by citing a case of so-called ‘persecution.’ A girl was ‘seduced twice,’ and applied to the Salvationists, who thereupon ‘hunted up the man, threatened him with exposure, and forced from him the payment to his victim of £60 down, an allowance of £1 a week, and an assurance on his life of £450 in her favour.’ Intimidation with a vengeance, very Jedburgh justice, says the Professor. Let us not be quite sure. Let us not assume too hastily that the case was not fully investigated. Let us reflect at the same time what the precious Law would have done for the victim of this seducer. It would have enabled her to take out a summons, perhaps, and, if there were a child, secure a weekly sum of half a crown while that child was of tender years! Professor Huxley thinks that, in all possibility, it was a mere question of relative moral delinquency between the parties, and that the man, so brought to book, was as much a ‘victim’ as the woman. Excellent Professor! True upholder of masculine law-making and the survival of the culpable fittest! May we not in all seriousness wish Mr. Spencer joy of his last proselyte?
When all is said and done, all that Professor Huxley can advance against the Salvation Army is that it is ‘noisy’; that it uses the vocabulary of superstition; that it reproaches the rich for the sorrows of the poor; and that, whenever it can, it tries to bring delinquents to justice! Well, admit every one of the indictments, and what is proved? That every beneficent scheme has some little drawbacks, but that every such scheme must be judged by the totality, by the entire moral efficacy, of its influence. What the Salvation Army has done is this—it has, first of all, awakened the sleeping conscience of the world. It has told Dives that he must not sleep so long as Lazarus starves; it has proclaimed that there is hope for every man, even for the basest, if he will try to be ‘honest and industrious’; it has held out hands to the Penitent Thief (as it would hold out hands to the penitent Professor), and it has broken bread with the Magdalen. Then think for a moment what Cheap Science, with its demagogues of the dissecting-room, its peripatetic professors, has done, or tried to do. It has prattled glibly of Natural Law and the Survival of the Fittest; it has cast in its lot with the Times and the governing classes; it has paraded forged documents to enslave the Irish people and discredit a nationality; it has countenanced the ‘unco’ gude’ and joined in the holy horror against the destroyers of national institutions, such as War and Prostitution; it has contented itself with Carlyle’s Gospel according to the Printer’s Devil and the faith which confuses natural Freedom and Equality with ‘reasoned savagery’; and last, and greatest of its achievements, it has instituted the beneficent tortures of Vivisection. Well, if we have to choose between Simon Magus and Professor Huxley, or between General Booth and Professor Ferrier, let us give our vote to those who are the friends of both man and beast—with the workers who are tender to the weak and merciful to the fallen, not with those who turn with complacency to acts of beneficent legislation, and — let the lost go by! As for Professor Huxley, he is only our old friend the Priest in another guise, as unsympathetic, as bigoted, as retrograde as anyone who ever wore soutane or cowl. Even in his new aspect as a convert to Individualism, he will convince no sane man that Folly and Enthusiasm are synonymous terms.
The Times (11 December, 1890 - p. 13)
“IN DARKEST ENGLAND.”
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir,—When I first addressed you on the subject of the projected operations of the Salvation Army, all that I knew about that body was derived from the study of Mr. Booth’s book, from common repute, and from occasional attention to the sayings and doings of his noisy squadrons, with which my walks about London in past years have made me familiar. I was quite unaware of the existence of evidence respecting the present administration of the Salvation forces which would have enabled me to act upon the sagacious maxim of the American humourist, “Don’t prophesy unless you know.” The letter you were good enough to publish has brought upon me a swarm of letters and pamphlets. Some favour me with abuse; some thoughtful correspondents warmly agree with me, and then proceed to point out how much worthier certain schemes of their own are of my friend’s support; some contain valuable encouragement and support, for which I offer my hearty thanks, and ask them to excuse any more special acknowledgment. But that which I find most to the purpose just now is the revelation made by some of these documents which have reached me of a fact of which I was wholly ignorant—namely, that persons who have faithfully and zealously served in the Salvation Army, who express unchanged attachment to its original principle and practice, and who have been in close official relations with the “General,” have publicly declared that the process of degradation of the organization into a mere engine of fanatical intolerance and personal ambition, which I declared was inevitable, has already set in and is making rapid progress.
It is out of the question, Sir, that I should occupy the columns of The Times with a detailed exposition and criticism of these pièces justificatives of my forecast. I say criticism, because the assertions of persons who have quitted any society must, in fairness, be taken with the caution that is required in the case of all ex parte statements of hostile witnesses. But it is, at any rate, a notable fact that there are parts of my first letter, indicating the inherent and necessary evil consequences of any such organization, which might serve for abstracts of portions of this evidence, long since printed and published under the public responsibility of the witnesses.
Let me ask the attention of your readers, in the first place, to “An ex-Captain’s Experience of the Salvation Army,” by J. J. R. Redstone, the genuineness of which is guaranteed by the preface (dated April 5, 1888) which the Rev. Dr. Cunningham Geikie has supplied. Mr. Redstone’s story is well worth reading on its own account. Told in simple direct language, such as John Bunyan might have used, it permits no doubt of the singleminded sincerity of the man, who gave up everything to become an officer of the Salvation Army, but, exhibiting a sad want of that capacity for unhesitating and blind obedience on which Mr. Booth lays so much stress, was thrown aside, penniless—no, I am wrong, with 2s. 4d. for his last week’s salary—to shift, with his equally devoted wife, as he best might. I wish I could induce intending contributors to Mr. Booth’s army chest to read Mr. Redstone’s story. I would particularly ask them to contrast the pure simplicity of his plain tale with the artificial pietism and slobbering unction of the letters which Mr. Ballington Booth addresses to his “dear boy” (a married man apparently older than himself), so long as the said “dear boy” is facing brickbats and starvation as per order.
I confess that my opinion of the chiefs of the Salvation Army has been so distinctly modified by the perusal of this pamphlet that I am glad to be relieved from the necessity of expressing it. It will be much better that I should cite a few sentences from the preface written by Dr. Cunningham Geikie, who expresses warm admiration for the early and uncorrupted work of the Salvation Army, and cannot possibly be accused of prejudice against it on religious grounds:—
(1) The Salvation Army “is emphatically a family concern. Mr. Booth, sen., is General; one son is chief of the staff, and the remaining sons and daughters engross the other chief positions. It is Booth all over; indeed, like the sun in your eyes, you can see nothing else wherever you turn.” And, as Dr. Geikie shrewdly remarks, “to be the head of a widely- spread sect carries with it many advantages—not all exclusively spiritual.”
(2) “Whoever becomes a Salvation officer is henceforth a slave, helplessly exposed to the caprice of his superiors.”
“Mr. Redstone bore and excellent character both before he entered the army and when he left it. To join it, though a married man, he gave up a situation which he had held for five years and he served Mr. Booth two years, working hard in most difficult posts. His one fault, Major Lawley tells us, was, that he was ‘too straight’—that is, too honest, truthful, and manly—or, in other words, too real a Christian. Yet without trial, without formulated charges, on the strength of secret complaints which were never, apparently, tested, he was dismissed with less courtesy than most people would show a beggar—with 2s. 4d. for his last week’s salary. If there be any mistake in this matter I shall be glad to learn it.”
(3) Dr. Geikie confirms, on the ground of information given confidentially by other officers, Mr. Redstone’s assertion that they are watched and reported by spies from headquarters.
(4) Mr. Booth refuses to guarantee his officers any fixed amount of salary. While he and his family of high officials live in comfort, if not in luxury, the pledged slaves whose devotion is the foundation of any true success the Army has met with often have “hardly food enough to sustain life. One good fellow frankly told me that when he had nothing he just went and begged.”
At this point, it is proper that I should interpose an apology for having hastily spoken of such men as Francis of Assisi, even for purposes of warning, in connexion with Mr. Booth. Whatever may be thought of the wisdom of the plans of the founders of the great monastic orders of the Middle Ages, they took their full share of suffering and privation; and never shirked in their own persons the sacrifice they imposed on their followers.
I have already expressed the opinion that, whatever the ostensible purpose of the scheme under discussion, one of its consequences will be the setting up and endowment of a new Ranter-Socialist sect; I may now add that another effect will be, indeed has been, to set up and endow the Booth dynasty with unlimited control of the physical, moral, and financial resources of the sect. Mr. Booth is already a printer and publisher, who, it is plainly declared, utilizes the officers of the Army as agents for advertising and selling his publications; and some of them are so strongly impressed with the belief that active pushing of Mr. Booth’s business is the best road to their master’s favour, that, when the public obstinately refuse to purchase his papers, they buy them themselves and send the proceeds to headquarters. Mr. Booth is also a retail trader on a large scale; and the Dean of Wells has, most seasonably, drawn attention to the very notable banking project which he is trying to float. Any one who follows Dean Plumptre’s clear exposition of the principles of this financial operation can have little doubt that, whether they are or are not adequate to the attainment of the first and second of Mr. Booth’s ostensible objects, they may be trusted to effect a wide extension of any kingdom in which worldly possessions are of no value. We are, in fact, in sight of a financial catastrophe like that of Law, a century ago. Only it is the poor who will suffer.
I have already occupied too much of your space; and yet I have drawn upon only one of the sources of information about the inner working of the Salvation Army at my disposition. Far graver charges than any here dealt with are publicly brought in the others.
I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
Eastbourne, Dec. 9. T. H. HUXLEY.
P.S.—I have just read Mr. Buchanan’s letter in The Times of to-day. Mr. Buchanan is, I believe, an imaginative writer. I am not acquainted with his works; but nothing in the way of fiction he has yet achieved can well surpass his account of my opinions and of the purport of my writings.
The Independent and Nonconformist (12 December, 1890)
Professor Huxley, in the columns of The Times, returns to the charge on the advance movement of the Salvation Army. His letter is pervaded by the usual self-consciousness of a man delighted with the felicity of his own phrases, but is rather a poor performance for a professor of science. His “more particular criticism of Darkest England” amounts to charging General Booth (1) with ignorance of previous sociological literature—because he bade men “go to Mudie’s,” instead of to the British Museum; (2) with a desire to save souls first and bodies second; (3) with disparaging self-respect and thrift as re-baptized pride; (4) with exerting pressure apart from the law courts to compel seducers to make reparation to their victims. In the same issue of The Times Mr. Robert Buchanan answers this professor according to his professions, and brandishes a similar dialectical tomahawk.
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