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A good work of this kind has long been needed. I have not had time, nor health, nor opportunity, to do it thoroughly, but I thought it better to do it as well as I could than to wait until I could take a whole year in which to do it more thoroughly.
Perhaps some day I will set to work and do it all over again. Meanwhile I ask you to believe that there is a great deal more to be said for socialism than these papers of mine contain, and I suggest to you that it would be well to read the books I have recommended; firstly, because knowledge is always valuable, and secondly, because it is your duty as a man and a citizen to understand the society you live in, and to mend it if you can.
There are very many well-meaning people who, while owning that much wrong and misery exist, deny their own responsibility for any part of them.
Very commonly we hear men say, “Yes, it is a pity that things are so bad; but it is no fault of ours, and nothing we can do will mend them.”
Now, John, that is a cowardly and dishonest excuse. It is the old plea of Cain, “Am I my brother's keeper?” No one can shirk his responsibility. We are none of us guiltless when wrong is done. We are all responsible in some degree for every crime and sin, and for every grief and shame, for which or by which our fellow-creatures suffer.
If, for instance, the filthy condition of the Salford docks should cause sickness and loss of life, every citizen, from the highest to the lowest, would be responsible for the wrong.
When injustice is done, it avails not for a man to plead that he cannot prevent it. The fact is he has not tried to revent it, and therein lies his sin,
The average citizen sees the slums and the sweaters; he sees the wretched and the destitute; he knows that the weak and innocent are systematically robbed and slain; and his one excuse is that he “cannot help it.” Now, John, I ask you, have you tried to help it; or have you only lied to yourself by saying no help was possible ?
Your duty, it seems to me, is clear enough. First of all, hay. ing seen that misery and wrong exist, it is your duty to find out why they exist. Having found out why they exist, it is your duty to seek for means to abolish them. Having found out the means to abolish them, it is your duty to apply these means, or, if you have not yourself the power, it is your duty to persuade others to help you.
Do your duty, John. Do not lie to your soul any more. Long have you known that injustice and misery are rife among the peeple. If you have not acted upon the knowledge, it is not because you knew it to be useless so to act, but because you were lazy and preferred your ease, or because you were selfish and feared to lose your own advantage, or because you were heartless and did not really feel any pang at sight of the sufferings of others.
Let us have the truth, John, howsoever painful it may be; let us have justice, no matter what the cost.
Go out into the streets of any big English town, and use your eyes, John. What do you find? You find some rich and idle, wasting unearned wealth, to their own shame and injury and the shame and injury of others. You find hard-working people packed away in vile, unhealthy streets. You find little children famished, dirty, and half naked outside the luxurious clubs, shops, hotels, and theaters. You find men and women overworked and nnderpaid. You find vice and want and disease cheek by jowl with religion and culture and wealth. You find the usurer, the gambler, the fop, the finnikin fine lady, and you find the starveling, the slave, the vagrant, the drunkard, and the harlot.
Is it nothing to you, John Sinith ? Are you a citizen? Are you a man? And will not strike a blow for the right, nor lift a hand to save the fallen, nor make the smallest sacrifice for the sake of your brothers and your sisters! John, I am not trying to work upon your feelings. This is not rhetoric; it is hard fact. Throughout these letters I have tried to be plain and practical, and moderate. I have never so much as offered you a glimpse of the higher regions of thought. I have suffered no hint of idealism to escape me. I have kept as close to the earth as I could. I am only now talking street talk about the common sights of the common town. I say that wrong and sorrow are here crushing the life out of our brothers and sisters. I say that you, in common with all men, are responsible for the things that
I say that it is your duty to seek the remedy; and I say that if you seek it, you will find it.
These common sights of the common streets, John, are very terrible to me. To a man of a nervous temperament, at once thoughtful and imaginative, those sights must be terrible. The prostitute under the lamps, the baby beggar in the gutter, the broken pauper in his livery of shame, the weary worker stilling in his filthy slums, the wage slave toiling at his task, the sweater's victim, “sewing at once, with a double thread, a shroud as well as shirt,” these are dreadful, ghastly, shameful facts which long since seared themselves upon my heart.
All this sin, all this wretchedness, all this pain, in spite of the smiling fields and the laughing waters, under the awful and unsullied sky. And no remedy!
These things I saw, and I knew that I was responsible as a
Then I tried to find out the causes of the wrong and the remedy therefor. It has taken me some years, John. But I think I understand it now, and I want you to understand it, and to help in your turn to teach the truth to others.
Sometimes while I have been writing these letters I have felt very bitter and very angry. More than once I have thought that when I had got through the work I would ease my heart with a few lines of irony or invective. But I have thought better of it. Looking back now I remember my own weakness, folly, cowardice. I have no heart to scorn or censure other men. Charity, John; mercy, John; humility, John. We are poor creatures, all of us.
So here is “Merrie England;" the earnest though weak effort of this poor clod of wayward marl, this little pinch of valiant dust. If it does good-well; if not-well. I will try again.
Also, some day, perhaps, I will talk to you not as a practical man, but as a human being. I will ask you to feel with me the pulsing of the universal heart, to see with me the awful eyes of the universal soul, gazing upward, dim and blurred and weary, but full of a wistful yearning for the unrevealed and unspeakable glory which men call God.
But these are "practical” letters, written with a practical object, and addressed to practical people. They are here republished as a book; and as they have cost me some time and trouble in the writing, I ask you, on your part, to give a little time and trouble to the reading; and, further, if, after that, you think them worth what they have cost you, I shall be glad if you will help me by recommending them to your friends.
APPENDIX. In case you should desire to go into these matters more fully, Mr. Smith, I recommend you to get Fabian Tract No. 29, “ What to Read," price 10 cents. I should also advise you to read the following pamphlets, each 5 cents, except where price is given, or, together, 60 cents:
Facts for Socialists; Capital and Land; Society Classified; Simple Division; Mining Rents and Royalties; Wage, Labor and Capital, 10c.; Useful Work and Useless Toil; True and False Society ; Rights of the Worker According to Ruskin; The Living Wage; Socialism Made Plain; Milk and Postage Stamps; Constitutional Socialism, 12c.; The Pope's Socialism; The Socialist Catechism; A King's Lesson.
I can also recommend the following books:
Dickens Child's History of England, 25C.; Dickens' Hard Times, 25C.; Thackeray's Snob Papers, 500.; Carpenter's England's Ideal, $1; Whitman's Poems, $2; Carlyle's Past and Present, 25c.; Carlyle's Latter-Day Pamphlets, 300.; Evans' Our Old Nobility, 400. ;Ruskin's Unto this Last, 25C.; Gibbins' Indus. trial History of England, $1.25; Thoreau's Walden, $1.25; Fairman's Socialism Made Plain, 400.; Fabian Essays, 25C.; Hyndman's England for All, 150.; Plato's, More's, Bacon's, and others' Ideal Commonwealths, 40c.; Gronlund's Co-oporative Commonwealth, 50c.; H. George's Social Problems, 35C.; H. George's Progress and Poverty, 350.; William Morris' Signs of Change, $2; E. Carpenter's Civilization-Its Cause and Cure, 150.; Morris' News from Nowhere, 50c.; Jefferies' Story of My Heart, $1.50; Olive Schreiner's Dreams, 250.; Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, $1.
I recommend you to read the above works in the order in which I have placed them, because I think that you will then more fully enter into the spirit of “Merrie England.”
I should, however, like you to read many other books besides those, and among them, Cobbett's Grammar, Whately's Logic, Eliot's Silas Marner, Emerson's Essays, Dickens' Tale of Two Cities and Christmas Stories, and all the works of Ruskin (particularly Fors Clavigera) and Carlyle. There are also a few poems: Jenny, by G. D. Rossetti; One Among so Many and Aux Ternes, from Songs of the Army of the Night, by Francis Adams; The Song of the Shirt, by Hood; The Cry of the Children, by Mrs. Browning; and The Fourth Psalm, by Milton. And if you read, in Fantasias, My Sister, and Bogeyland, I should not be offended.
Commonwealth Co. hope to be able to furnish the books and pamphlets mentioned in “Merrie England."
LIST OF AUTHORS, ETC., QUOTED.
PAGE AUTHOR Adams, Francis 165 Hospital
35-6 Argyll, Duke of 142 Hyndman, H. M.
104 Arnold, Matthew 24 Ingersoll, R. G.
118-19 Atkinson, Edward 24. Isaiah
12, 54 Bax, Belfort 45 Jefferies, Richard
24 Beddoe, Dr. 23 Khayyam, Omar
106 Besant, Annie 154-5 Krapotkin, Peter
26 Bossuet 141 Levy
136 Bradlaugh, Charles 110-11, 115 Macaulay, T. B.
135 Bright, John 106 Mallock, W. H.
148 Browning, Robert. 90 Marshall, Dr.
23 Cicero 81 Mechi
25 Carlyle, Thomas 76, 90, 99, 162 Mill, J. S. 46, 54, 58-9, 151 Clarion 118, 128, 141, 152 More, Sir Thomas
81 Cobden, Richard 28 Morley, John
II2 Confucius 129, 165 Morris, William
31, 38 De Balzac 54 New Nation
106 Emerson, R. W. 17 Ogilvey, John
25 Evans (Our Old Nobility) 49-50 Pall Mall Gazette
52 Fairman, Frank 103 Plutarch
60 Fantasias 128-9 Review of Reviews
23 Rogers, Thorold
31, 128, 135 George, Henry
45-6 Ruskin, John - 17, 38, 54, 72, 99, Gibbins, H. de B. (Industrial
110, 123, 141, 157 Hist. of England) - 28, 139-40 Russell, Dr.
117 Giffen, Levi and Mulholland, 47 Shaftesbury, Lord
140 Girdlestone, Canon 146 Smith, Adam 45, 55, 59-60, 141 Greg, W. R. 65 Spencer, Herbert
137 Hart, C. 102-3, 150 Swinburne, A. G,
165 Herbert, Auberon 137 Thompson, Prof.
27 Hobson, J. A.
40 Thoreau, H. D.
31-2, 38 Holmes, O. W.
158 Thucydides Holyoake, G. J.
40 Washington, S. (“Elihu") - 102 Hood, Thomas 76 Whitman, Walt