The Land and the People: an Argument for an English Land League.
Four times has England been conquered: by the Komans, by the Saxons, by the Danes, and by the Normans. It must be conquered a fifth time; it has yet to be conquered by the People. We are ruled by an Oligarchy; and of all Governments from the remotest times, Oligarchies have been the most selfish. Our Oligarchy, while as selfish as any of its predecessors, is much more cunning. It always knows when to make trifling or sham concessions, that it may retain the only thing for which it really cares. The power of the Oligarchy will always be great, will always be invincible in England, as long as the Oligarchy remains the chief owner of the soil. If the People, therefore, instead of clamouring for their share in an idiotic talking apparatus, which brings forth endless Blue Books, were to demand a just and wise Agrarian Law, they would be leaving the emptiest rhetoric for the most substantial reality.
The reform I advocate, has immensely suffered through the blundering of Feargus O'Connor; and it has been concluded that because his land scheme failed, every land scheme must likewise be condemned. But numerous and notable were the objections to Feargus O'Connor's land scheme. In the first place, it set all financial considerations at defiance. Secondly, it had the aspect of a gambling affair. Thirdly, it was only capable of very limited application. Fourthly, it looked like a bribe to the Chartists as if none but them had a right to an acre or two of England's hills and valleys. And fifthly, it turned, or tried to turn, into cultivators, a class exceedingly unfitted for rural occupations. Feargus O'Connor was a singularly successful demagogue; but demagogues are seldom reformers, and reformer assuredly Feargus O'Connor was not. I am no demagogue—permit me to believe that I am a reformer.
To be a reformer, however, in politics, is to seek for not merely what is desirable, but what is possible. Into whatever else Utopias may be admitted, they are sternly excluded from politics. The politician deals with the tangible, with the definite. And the Statesman is no Idealist. He is a man doing with hard and honest weapons the work of the state. Political action is the stubbornest, nakedest page 2 kind of prose: and primordial statesmen have invariably been: prosaic. Who so prosaic as Peel? But what recent statesman comparable to Peel? 1 shall offer, therefore, the land question to you just in such a state as a second Peel could potently settle, exactly as the first Peel gave the fatal blow to the cruel bread monopoly.
There are three formidable hindrances to the entrance of the People on their noble heritage, the laud: the law of entail, the law of primogeniture, and the monstrous, the shameful expense connected with the transfer of landed property. I simply ask that the law of entail, that the law of primogeniture shall be abolished, and that the transfer of landed property shall be snatched from the greedy clutch of the odious pettifoggers who fatten on human folly and wretchedness.
It is dangerous ever by way of retaliation or amendment to substitute the artificial for the artificial. This, as regards the land, is-what has been done in France. In England we do not wish to see peasants starving on a small nook of ground, which they have the barren pleasure of calling their own; we wish to see a large host of independent yeomen, the bravest, the most intelligent, the most patriotic, the most prosperous of England's sons.
It is a wholly unnatural arrangement, that of the thirty millions of men in the three kingdoms, only one in a thousand is a lauded proprietor. One man out of every thousand has an ox roasted for his dinner: and the remaining nine hundred and ninety-nine have to look on with imploring eyes and famished cheeks. Some chattering adventurer, calling himself a Liberal, comes forward and tells the nine hundred and ninety-nine, that better than a slice of the ox is a jingle of the ballot box, and the nine hundred and ninety-nine are foolish enough to believe it. What is alike amusing and detestable is, that the one man in every thousand who has robbed the nine hundred and ninety-nine men of their land makes his crime an excuse for other robberies. He has grabbed the land for his eldest son, and he inquires with an air of injured innocence, what he is to do with his other sons unless the State provides for them. And the State—the generous mother, puts one blockhead of a son into the Church, and another blockhead of a son into the army or navy. The farce is too well known to be more that alluded to. Farce however as it is, how often has it proved a tragedy to the nation!
Far be it from me to fling commonplace declamation at our Patricians, some of whom have been the pride, the honour, the salvation of England. From our Patricians I ask but this—that they show page 3 some regard for that fair play which has always been boasted of as foremost and noblest among English characteristics. If an aristocracy is to be retained in England, and it will be retained as long as the people are so servile towards it, certain privileges cannot be denied it. But the privileges should be exclusively such as would leaven it with an exalted sense of chivalry. The privileges however which our aristocracy holds fast to the fiercest, are all of the huckstering sort. They are such as any brave and true man in this assembly would be asbamed to covet. What is the most arden appetite of our aristocracy? To obtain extravagantly paid situations in which no duty is done. Now, suppose any one of us were to hunt for a situation with an enormous salary yet imposing no toil, what would the world call him? A lazy, dishonest rascal. But a curled, perfumed, smirking dandy does not blush to be a Junior Lord of the Admiralty, or a Junior Lord of the Treasury, or some such thing, and to take a large sum quarterly for making himself generally useless.
It is sad and strange that often the higher you go m the social scale the lower are the motives. A Prince Consort put forth his dainty fingers to receive many thousands a year for being a sham soldier; and a Queen is mean enough to tolerate her husband's meanness. The very classes which should give an example of the loftiest disinterestedness, give an example of the basest, most insatiate, and most unscrupulous cupidity. It is an ugly spectacle but not uglier than many another which our toilworn brethren from their garrets and their cellars are called on to behold.
Now just when their heart is wounded the deepest and sorest by the sight of such abominations, I should like to summon them forth from their garrets and cellars to form a Land league—a League to achieve that fifth conquest of which I have spoken. I should complicate the action of the Land League with no socialisc theories: I should utter no threats; I should indulge in no violent denunciations; I should take the same determined attitude, pursue the same pertinacious course which the agitators for free trade in food so conspicuously and so victoriously took.
I should urge a potent claim first of all on the ground of the people's clear and divine right. It is the nation's labour which goes on doubling and trebling the value of the soil. Lana in Britain is much more valuable than land in France, because the English people work harder, and are more enterprising than the French people. Yet not one square yard of that to which your energies give all its worth are you permitted to call your own.page 4
Our English laws relating to land are a remnant of feudalism; and feudalism had its good as well as its evil. It was a natural remedy against the unstable and unfixed condition of things which arose from the incursions of the barbarians alter the downfall of the Roman Empire. Fastening populations to certain spots by bonds which, if brutal, were strong, it made an organic society again possible. But having been a civilised and extremely conservative community here in England for at least three hundred years, what have we to do with Feudalism?
I really cannot tell by how many different kinds of law we are ruled in England. But Roman Law we have to remind us that at one time we were the slaves of Rome. And Canonical Law we have to remind us that at one time we were the slaves of the Catholic Church. And Feudal Law we have to remind us that we were once serfs. How little of our law is the expression of English good sense! How little of it is in correspondence to existing English necessities! One of the greatest benefits conferred by Napoleon Bonaparte on the French people was in sweeping antique legal rubbish away, and in giving them that famous Code which goes by his name. "Would that we had also a Napoleon Bonaparte to sweep our antique legal rubbish away, and to dower us with a code concise, comprehensive, and thoroughly reasonable. This redemption however belongs to a future which we cannot consider near. Meanwhile the people should see what they can do to prepare the coming of a man—see whether working grimly and resolutely at this Land Question might not be the best mode of doing so.
The clear and divine right of the people to the land in contempt of feudal iniquity is potently enforced by the reflection that the strength and morality of a realm depend entirely on the spirit animating the agricultural population. It is confessed by those who know France best, that that unfortunate kingdom would go at once to destruction if the peasantry were as horribly vicious as the rest of the French. France is spared by the gods, because the French peasant keeps himself pure from pollutions which render France so unutterably loathsome. The agricultural element has the same fruitfulness of salvation in England. The chief of our journals made the discovery the other day that the thread of the national destiny is cotton. Heaven forbid! I should rejoice if never another pound of cotton were landed on the English shores. The cotton trade is England's curse, and if unchecked will prove England's overthrow. If England would be greater and still greater, she must think less of her cotton trade and more of agri- page 5 cultural improvement. Her two most important classes should be her sailors and her yeomen. Agriculture and commerce are natural allies. Unbounded manufactures are the foes of both, as they are of all national virtues. The more our manufactures vanished, the more we became a wholly commercial and agricultural people, the more would England grow a place of interchange for all the world. I should sweep away the custom-house, and raise taxes in some less clumsy and expensive fashion. I should let everything pass freely out and in. And then England would be viewed as the universal market. When the Corn Laws were abolished, what happened? England became the market for corn to the nations. The example is instructive and suggestive if we had statesmen to gaze wise y upon it. The monopoly of the land by a few, checks commerce, and creates and stimulates unhealthy manufactures. Why has there lately been so much commercial dishonesty? Because there has from the beginning of the century been so much commercial gambling at Liverpool and Manchester. The cotton lords and the lords of the soil give each other the hand. They know how indispensable they are to each other. Hence the leading assailants of the Corn Laws, instead of demanding free trade in land after obtaining free trade in food, contented themselves with a triumph which they had fought for mainly from regard to their own interests, and they played the odious part of obstructives at an hour when England needed the valour and the counsel of all her sons.
In the front rank I place the relations of agriculture to morality and patriotism, because patriotism and morality are the real riches of a people. But it would be easy to demonstrate that if we had ten or twenty landed proprietors where we have now one, the soil would be much more productive. Large tracts are lying waste—large tracts are surrendered to the game—large tracts are wretchedly cultivated because the owners are engulphed in debt. Lee the land be free, and these mischiefs disappear. I have no desire to see small estates chiefly—small estates only. With such an arrangement the beauty of English landscape would depart. Small estates and large estates intermingling—that is my idea and ideal of what should be. On the one hand estates of considerable magnitude are favourable to agricultural experiments on a colossal scale. On the other, there are districts where spade husbandry would be better than every aid of science. Here small estates would of course be preferable; and so far from lessening, they would as a variety in the midst of the large estates, increase the poetry of the landscape, Nor deem this a minor matter. The page 6 poetry that comes to the heart of the people from the grand countenance of nature forms with their own heroic and patriotic fire, one sublime force, the best bulwark of our cliffs, the best giver and guardian of our glory, A famous Socialist writer, Fourier, talked of rendering labour attractive. Not in the sensual modes which he advocated can it ever be attractive, or ought it ever to be so. We must go to labour as the soldier goes to battle, with resolute and energetic soul, not despising danger, but determined to win. "Working can never be child's play any more than fighting, and he is a dunce or a deluder who asserts that child's play it ever can be. Yet labour will always have a sacred joyousness if political arrangements do not violate natural relations. Now that sacred joyousness must generally be his, who from his small domain of twenty or thirty acres, beholds the sun rising every morning to cheer him. A home in the country which we can call our own, the Bights and sounds of the country, the gorgeous apocalypse of the seasons as they roll on, clothe us with the calm, make us taste the frankinsence of the music which belong to the universe as a whole. How could this rich and rounded existence be multiplied if human selfishness did not find it so easy to impose on human credulity?
Two points which the sophists known as Political Economists are continually debating, are the division of labour, and the results of machinery. Political Economists always prove to their own satisfaction, and to the satisfaction of their Whig masters, that the sinfinite division of labour is an infinite blessing, and that the rapidly extending use of machinery is productive of nothing but good. Neither doctrine finds me a believer. The infinite division of labour severs man from man, and the triumph of machinery converts man himself into a machine. Socialism is in a large measure a protest against the lies and fallacies of the Political Economists; and though I am no Socialist, I encourage Socialism to persist in its protest till the Political Economists are silenced. When the infinite division of labour and the progress of machinery are discoursed of, the changes which come as slow and healthy developments of nature, and those which come from mad and mischievous legislation, are invariably confounded. The division of labour, and the employment of machinery have been going on in England at a horribly unnatural rate. That is the woe, that is the wickedness.
One principal recommendation of a wise Agrarian Law is, that in farms of a moderate size, it the owner is himself the cultivator, there is always something for every member of the family to do.page 7
Nearly everything which the family requires is prepared—is provided by the family itself. The benefit of this is incalculable, is unspeakable. Every article of food is of the most wholesome—every article of clothing is of the most substantial kind. A disdain is inspired for vulgar luxuries, for sentimentalities and flimsinesses. And in the summer days, and in the winter evenings, the venerable old grandmother and the innocent little grandchild equally feel that they have a right to move in a paradise of toil, because they each contribute to the common store of rapture and prosperity.
A formidable difficulty with which the Political Economists never attempt to contend, is how to find suitable employment for women. Why are so many women unemployed? Why are so many women so wretchedly remunerated? Why are the ranks of prostitution so soon filled up, though death and misery are ever busy there? Why? I answer in a word. I answer—and I know not whether wrath or pity reigns more in my breast, when I say that it is our land system which brings forth such terrible tragedies. From our land system proceed manufactures unnaturally stimulated, unnaturally increased—and pauperism and prostitution are the leprous offspring of those manufactures. Under a natural land system there would be for women healthy, suitable, remunerative employment. And the sunshine and sanctity of a home as free from guilt, as the brook that runs by it, is free from stain, would drive sin and temptation far, far away. I maintain that these two hideous things, pauperism and prostitution, cannot be dealt with, cannot be even approached till our haughty, hypocritical oligarchy is compelled to be just—for more than just I do not ask it to be.
But instead of justice, what do the oligarchs always offer us? An immense show of being generous—an immense show of being philanthropic. They distribute doles at Christmas, and they babble at Exeter Hall about the elevation of the working classes. Now, it they were left to themselves, the working classes would be their own educators—their own redeemers. What stands in the way? Simply this—that if a working man begins to save money, which in a country like this is the first step to self-improvement, he never knows how to invest it. Not one of fifty speculations tempting him which is not likely to prove a swindle, whereupon he concludes that he may as well eat, drink, and be merry. If he saw, however, that he could buy a little bit of land, and again a little bit, till gradually a brave estate smiled to him as its owner, what strong inducements he would have to page 8 industry and frugality! The higher virtues must grow from the lower, and in the mass of the community the prudential must be habitually appealed to, even for the very reason that you wish the community to be noble and great. The more of persistent, self-denying thrift, the more of independence. Now the lords and parsons who declaim at Exeter Hall about the vices of the working man, overlook the fact that in the majority of instances the working man has no motive to persistent, self-denying thrift. You animate him with that motive, if you picture to him the happy home in the midst of fruitful fields, which he could conquer for himself by the valour of his own right arm. I am disgusted when I hear the current slang about the improvidence of the working classes, knowing well that their improvidence is as easily accounted for by any impartial inquirer, as it could be easily remedied by the very persons who raise so fierce a howl about it. The love of property is instinctive in the human breast, and the acquisition of property, so far from degrading, exalts, unless there is a diseased haste to be rich. This the middle classes admit for themselves. Why should they not equally admit it for the classes below them, from whom they are continually demanding an impossible excellence?
In setting forth, as it has been the main object and occupation of my life to set forth, primordial moral and religious truths, I have always striven to appeal to what is most God-like in my brethren. Conscious of nothing selfish and mercenary in my labours, to nothing selfish or mercenary have I spoken. But though man doth not live by bread alone, he is still compelled to live by bread. And let us, if we can, make his bread the nourisher of his virtues as well as the nourisher of his blood. After uniformly denouncing Utilitarianism, I am not now turning Utilitarian. That be far from me. But the growing corn and the sweat of the toilworn hand, which enriches, which sweetens, which ripens it, are no utilitarianisms. They are to us more holy than the books of the sages. I abhor palliatives and diletranteisms in reference to the condition of the people. I only marvel that the people can bear to be humbugged so patiently. Incomparable as is an Englishman's pith as a worker, incomparable is also his patience. He is, it appears, to go on drudging to the end; and he is told to look for his reward in a future world, where his spiritual advisers are too cunning to look for theirs.
Our reply and our rebuke to those Scribes and Pharisees, those hypocrites, are brief; they are contained in the words—England for the English. We are not so sure of going to that page 9 house where there are many mansions. But we are very sure that this is the solid earth, and that God did not give it to be the everlasting possession of the idlest, most frivolous, most foolish, and often most infamous class. We demand rather more of the soil than just suffices for our grave. We think this a rather small allowance. Ye would grudge us even this, most worthy Bishops and Lords—if, our body slain at last by poverty and pain, did not help to fatten clay heavy and heartless as your own nature. England for the English—not merely graves for the drudges when the drudges die!
Great is our country, spite of all her faults and follies, of all her sins and sorrows. There is no greater realm, for the flag of England waves untarnished and exultant over two hundred millions of men. But how much greater would our country be, if we had honest legislation, and if no class sought to live lazily, wickedly at the expense of another.
Once more I say—we ask no favour; we ask only fair play—we ask only justice. At Sparta the aristocracy fell because, instead of making concessions, it strove to render a land monopoly odious and oppressive. At Rome the aristocracy fell because it was deaf to the voice of Tiberius Gracchus and his brother, though these patriotic souls were themselves Patricians. It is said that history is philosophy teaching by example. But how seldom are the lessons of history regarded! What has history taught Louis Napoleon, whom however I should abandon not to assassins, but to the avenging furies that seize, sooner or later, every one who has rioted in falsehood, in filth, in cruelty like him. Will our aristocracy be wiser than the Spartan, than the Roman aristocracy? I know not; for as yet there has not been a direct, determined struggle between our aristocracy and the people. But if ever such a struggle should arise, it is certain to be about the land. There are dukes that I could name, who are only a few degrees from being fatuous, and who would be utterly insignificant if they were not the owners of a county or two. It is a huge luxury for these drivellers to expel a valiant race of men to make room for sheep, and then to expel the sheep to make room for deer. Will puny mortals of this sort relax their insatiate grip of Scottish mountains and of English plains? I am inclined to question it, though I have, no wish to see civil war in England. The possibility of civil war, however, should not hinder the people from creating a mighty Land League. Let us despise the bugbear of civil war. Every primordial reform which is demanded by the people, and refused; by a ruling and privileged class, involves the possibility of civil page 10 war. And better a short, sharp pang than the long agony of generations. Let there however be no childish chatter about pikes and barricades. Let civil war, and let revolution be always viewed, be always spoken of as grim and inevitable necessities. The brave boast the least, and the English oligarchy always knows that the people are not in earnest, when the leaders of the people boast and threaten.
In every contest of the English people with the English oligarchy the strength of the people is first, in the righteousness of their cause, secondly, in the unity of their idea, thirdly, in the temperance of their tone, and lastly in the determination to gain an English victory in an English fashion.
As to the righteousness of the cause in the formation of a Land League, not a word needs to be added to what has already been set forth. A nation Lackland, is a nation periodically robbed—a nation not only defrauded of its heritage, but compelled to be hewer of wood and drawer of water for the robbers.
Unity of idea speaks its own praise, it is of incalculable value in political tactics. In a Land League let nothing but the land question be treated of, and let the people engage in no other political movement while the Land League exists.
By temperance of tone, I mean the habit of being stronger in deed than in word. When the hour of action arrives, then let loose the energies so long mastered by sublime moderation.
Of English work done in English mode why should a single word be uttered in praise? The English cannot imitate, and they are greatest in the things wherein they make no attempt to imitate. After the last French Revolution how silly and ridiculous it was in many pretended friends of the people here in England, to repeat the jargon of the continental Ked Republicans. Let each country gain its freedom in its own way. We shall all rejoice when the despotism? of the Continent are crushed by the honest and majestic wrath of the millions they oppress. But these millions suffer from wrongs so unlike our own wrongs, that their combats for the right will be all the more successful, the less they resemble the combats in which we have to engage; ours the more successful the less they resemble theirs. We have unrivalled liberty of speech, but suffer from much practical injustice—practical injustice presses less upon our continental brethren, but liberty of speech they are insultingly refused. Let them burst through a leaden compression; let us overthrow a flagrant iniquity. The extent of the iniquity is hidden from us by that very freedom of speech which we so fully enjoy, and for which the nations on the continent are so profoundly page 11 yearning, so desperately striving. "We pine and we perish, but we can rend, as we list, the air with the wail of our misery. England is the country above all other countries, where if you are dying in a ditch, you are allowed the utmost latitude of lamentation. Fop this very reason, however, is every movement of the working classes in England such a complete failure. On the continent there is a concentrated tyranny, which provokes of course, a concentrated resistance. This simplifies matters on both sides. Now in England the only way for the working classes to learn the secret of concentrated resistance, is by having an object so tangible and so abiding, that not for a day, not for an hour, can they or their children lose sight of it. This is precisely what is offered by the assault on the land monopoly. The English have never made a fight, and never will make a fight for a principle. They turned Protestants mainly from rivalry with Spain, and because they wished to seize the empire of the ocean. The revolution which brought Charles I to the scaffold, began about ship money. British wars, both intestine and foreign, have always been about things the most substantial. This disposition is both a strength and a weakness, but in fine, we have to take it as it is, we have to deal with it. The English, in truth, are not by character reformers, and it might readily be demonstrated that they never carried through a perfect reform. They are men of business, and when anything becomes a huge obstacle to doing business comfortably and profitably, they thrust it with passionate pith out of the way. In vain you well them that a thing is absurd, and unjust, and impolitic. If it has had no damaging effect on their ledger, they retreat unmoved into their usual atmosphere of jobbery and snobbery. As examples, what so absurd, so unjust, so impolitic, as the sale of livings in the Church, and of commissions in the army? Is it the way to obtain pious clergymen and great generals? Yet whom does it rouse to indignation? The English dignify their apathy with the name of conservatism. But though bigotry may combine with the apathy, little of exalted poetic conservatism do we find in the combination. So is the English nature made; and wise are they who do not soar into idealisms far above it when seeking to regenerate England. If we have to choose in a nation between realism and idealism—realism, that is the adherence to what can be seen and touched, must be preferred. The foremost people of antiquity—the Romans—were the thoroughest realists of antiquity, But still more formidable would have been their exploits, and still more enduring their power, and still grander and purer their renown, if they had been more transfused and impelled by page 12 idealism. The thoroughest realists of modern times are the English, If more idealists they would not be a stronger, but thy would he a nobler and more heroic nation, and would have a catholic reign in human thought as well as an imperial reign in human deeds.
But these hints are in passing; our work meanwhile is with the formation of a Land League, and with the massive and persistent force which English realism can bring thereto. Let English working men therefore put forth their hand and annihilate this immense and horrible abomination. Let them simply think of the present land laws and land arrangements as a machinery by which they are hindered from getting an honest livelihood. It is no affair of the clouds: it is no phantom of the air; they have merely to look over a hedge the first fine day they go out to take a walk, and ask themselves why they stand with empty pockets on one side of the hedge, while some dullard with a preposterous paunch stands as owner on the other. They must ask that question of themselves; for the dullard with the preposterous paunch would be rather at a loss to answer it. He would perhaps refer them to his lawyer, or send for a policeman, or scowi fiercely while his dog fiercely barked. These three arguments are more effectual than convincing. It would still remain the fact that you are the wrong side of the hedge, because shut up in some dirty drawer the dullard with the preposterous paunch has sundry bits of paltry and prolix parchment. These he calls his title deeds. Rather his title instead of his deeds should he call them. You have better title deeds, I think; your worth and majesty as a man.
After all, you have to do not with the dullard who owns the land, but with the pettifoggers who defend it, the loathsome worms, the insatiate moths who sell paltry and prolix parchment to be devoured by worms and moths. We deem lords a nuisance in England, but parsons are a worse; we deem parsons a nuisance, but lawyers are a worse. If the vilest of our lawyers could be hanged to-morrow, how much more freely we should breathe in England! I should hang them with their own red tape, and out of their own paltry, prolix, putrid parchment make them a winding sheet. How humiliating to know that our slavery, terrible as it is, should be to a piece of sheepskin! There is plenty of nonsense talked about rights. But what is a right? Is it not what the individual can justly demand if he fulfills his duty to the community as a whole? No other right can I recognise than that. Whenever, therefore, you find any one not fulfilling his page 13 duty to the community as a whole, your right grows stronger than his, you have a right to cut him off from the community. But suppose that you are in the mood to be merciful, you simply cut him off from the land; and he ought to be thankful for getting off so easily. An English lord with two or three hundred thousand a year, spends the whole of that sum in Paris brothels or in Paris hells. He has a right to do so, the pettifoggers maintain. He has no right to do so, I, the hater of the pettifoggers, maintain. One of the favourite crotchets of the Political Economists is that absenteeism is no evil whatever. But who, except an idiot or a knave, would dare to aver that what is gained from the land is not best spent on the land? And this by the way is an important element in the entire question. The yeoman with a small estate cannot afford to be an absentee. As cultivator, as employer ho distributes in his immediate circle whatever he receives, while his moral influence as head of a family, as citizen, is never for a single instant interrupted.
Saint—Simon said that the golden age was to be sought, not in the past, but in the future. It must be sought both in the past and in the future. And it will grandly be found that whatever blessing we seek for our race has in some shape or another already existed. To give the land to the people is really to restore the land to the people. Not very remote is the time when the landed proprietors in this country were three times more numerous than they are now, and this in spite of the inequalities left by the Norman conquest. The yeoman class has been gradually effaced. Remember also that till the advent of Protestantism the vast possessions of the Roman Catholic Church were substantially the possessions of the people first, because the highest dignities in the Church were open to the lowliest born. Secondly, because the priestly offices in the main were occupied, and the monastic institutions crowded by the lowly born. And thirdly, because the Church practised, and inculcated unbounded generosity to the poor. We have paid rather an extravagant price, then, for the privilege of being able to read the Bible in our own tongue. Go back we cannot—nature and necessity are one—and history rejects contingencies. But so far, by the downfall of Feudalism and of the Roman Catholic Church, the gain has been the oligarchy's gain, and the loss has been the people's loss. So much only of Feudalism has been retained as the oligarchy could turn "to its own benefit; and when, to please an adulterous tyrant, the Roman Catholic Church was robbed, the spoil went exclusively into the pockets of the oligarchy. The reply of these patrician burglars, page 14 when we reproach them with robbing the people, and devouring the heritage of the poor, is that we have the Bible in our own tongue, and that we can go to the workhouse, to Canada, to Australia, or to the devil. This insolence is worse for helots and pariahs like ourselves to bear, than the injustice. O that the insolence could only cut keen enough, and deep enough, and that we could flash forth into the effulgent and irresistible valour of a magnificent revenge.
There is debate in these days as to what is, and what is not divine. I have never felt any difficulty in deciding that revenge is, among divine things, one of the divinest. No man should ever forgive either an insult or an injury. If he pretends to forgive, he is either a milksop or a hypocrite. But there are many different ways of taking revenge, and the least striking may be the most effectual. Barely have I forgiven either an insult or an injury. But seldom have I paid back insult with insult—never injury with injury. The true retaliation is the sublimity of contempt. But what does the sublimity of contempt imply? An immense growth of heroism. The working classes, therefore, in forming a Land League, should remember that their real strength is in the nobleness which each individual can bring. They should, therefore, reject everyone who is not grander than the cause whose triumph is sought. Their revenge on the oligarchy should be their own incomparable moral superiority. By this I do not mean mere abstinence from evil—mere pureism, but positive qualities such as every patriot, every battler, every martyr for freedom and truth must possess.
Working men throughout this isle, whose glory it is to have produced Shakspeare, make yourselves worthy of the land, and you will gain the land. A celebrated writer, Joseph de Maistre, has said that every country has as good a government as it deserves. May it not be that in Britain, while some classes have better positions than they deserve, all classes have as good a position as they deserve, and that thus it is the fault of the working classes themselves if they are in so bad a position? They toil harder than other working classes, and they have the ordinary virtues of Englishmen: but are they in majestic and invincible attitude what they easily might be? I do not echo the cant of the oligarchy and of the leprous cottonocracy against the working classes. Whatever the working classes may be, it does not become the oligarchy or the cottonocracy to say anything about them. But there are grave defects in the working classes, which I deplore—deplore especially in view of the mighty land reform for which I plead. They do page 9 not trust, they do not love each other as they ought, they are not banded together as they might be, they envy each other, they calumniate each other, they are not transfused and linked by a kindred and kingly spirit. So much the less they have faith in themselves or in each other, so much the mere have they faith in some bragging and bawling scoundrel, in some fellow all mouth, and cheek, and lungs, but in whom nature has forgotten to place either heart, or brain, or conscience, in some adventurer who is a compound of brass and blarney. If the sacrifices which the working classes make for a villain like this, they would make for their homes, it would be better for their wives and children, better for themselves, better for their country. I have never been popular with the working classes, simply because I have denounced their idols, and unmasked their own shortcomings and sins. The follies and faults of the working classes, however, narrow not by one hair's breadth the comprehensiveness of their claims. These remain, as remain the most stupendous peaks of the everlasting mountains. As for me, I pity the working classes the more for their very faults and follies, since these postpone so tragically their redemption. Yet postponed though that redemption may be, it must finally be achieved.
Remember, my brothers, remember that fifth conquest of England which I have pictured and prophesied. Remember, my brothers, remember your banner, your symbol, your war cry—England for the English. Yes—my brothers, that is well. But remember, likewise, what is perhaps better—The English for England. It is the English who have made England what it is, for, what with a far finer realm have the French made France? Establish, then, a Land League by all means. Let each of you become a yeoman. Next to love and home, yeoman is the most thrilling English word I know. But forget not, never forget, to fertilise with your virtues each furrow which you win. Let this be your pride, let this be your prowess. And in the first furrow you win, in the first furrow you fertilise with your virtues, I am willing to be buried, careless if, after having hastened your triumph by but an instant, it should be forgotten that I, the awkward and angular speaker, had ever been.
The National Land League.
|I.||The abolition of the Law of Primogeniture.|
|II.||The abolition of the Law of Entail.|
|III.||The promotion of every measure tending to facilitate Land sales, to render them inexpensive, and to establish on a firm basis the validity of titles.|
Limiting its aim and action to these objects, the National Land League disclaims all socialistic and revolutionary projects; all schemes of confiscation; all wish to interfere with the freedom of bequest.
Works by William MacCall.
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