Sunday, 19 January 2014

NEWS FROM NOWHERE.

FROM a Socialist who is also a poet great things may be looked for in the way of a contribution to the literature of the socialistic movement. When that poet is so accomplished a writer and so charming a dreamer as William Morris, the author of "The Earthly Paradise," however, one's recollections of the literary successes of such a graceful legend-weaver encourage one to hope for something quite unique of its kind, and bearing the impress of the stamp of imaginative genius about it, when he takes up the task of throwing the theories of the Socialist into literary form and definite shape. It is for those who will read his just published "News from Nowhere" to say how far this expectation has been realised. He has given us a tale as entertaining and almost as delightfully improbable as that old-time effort in which he discoursed of the mysterious " Land East of the Sun and West of the Moon," or the story of  " The Man who never Laughed again." Those fanciful titles will be recalled to the mind of the reader of this book. Indeed, it would seem as though the fascinating storyteller of "The Earthly Paradise," his day of mere verse-spinning and verse-dreaming being over, had addressed himself to the duty of investing the slight and somewhat gossamer like theories of the sentimental Socialist with the airy substantiality of one of his own old legends.
 It is clear that William Morris had Bellamy's" Looking Backward" before his mind when the form of this little book was decided on It opens with a reference to a discussion by some members of 'The League," and we follow one of the noisiest of the disputants home, listening to the musings of his discontent, and his muttered desire to see the morrow of the Revolution. He goes to sleep in Hammersmith much as the hero of "Looking backward' does, and wakes up in the Utopia of Socialism. The London of to-day has disappeared; the soap-works, with their smoke-vomiting chimneys, the engineers' works, the lead-works are all gone. In their place is a limpid stream with bridges that excels the Florentine Ponte Vecchio in artistic delicacy and grace, over whose parapets show quaint and fanciful booths and shops with painted and gilded vanes and spirelets. The houses that line the banks of this remediƦvialised Thames are of warm-looking red brick, and roofed with tiles; and there is "a continuous garden in front of them, going down to the water's edge in which flowers are blooming luxuriantly, and sending. delicious waves of summer scent over the eddying stream." There is no money in this Arcadia, for people only work to please themselves or, give pleasure to others, outside that quantum of "labour time" with which Karl Marx has familiarised us. There is a guest house, in which travellers and strangers are entertained —a goodly edifice, with traceried windows   and marble mosaic floors and frescoed walls, and that "exhilarating sense of freedom which satisactory architecture always gives to an unanxious man who is in the habit of using his eyes." The then are all young looking add healthy, bearing no trace of worry on their countenances ; and, like the women, dressed in costumes somewhat between those of the ancient classic dress and the simpler forms of the nineteenth century garments. "As to the women themselves," we read, it is pleasant indeed to see them, so kind and happy looking in expression of face, so shapely and well-knit of body, and thoroughly healthy looking and strong."
 As the story goes on one sees that the writer is throwing into shape his notion of the manner in which the theories of the Socialist would work out in actual practice, and incidentally answering the objections that are most commonly raised against their actual working. As is well known, William Morris is now as enthusiastic a Socialist as he was formerly an art-poet, and he has thrown into this romantic pursuit of his later life all that wealth of fancy that in his youth was consecrated to the service of the Muse. This present essay is at times a quaint combination of romance and realism— of the practical and the ideal He describes a Utopian market place like a page out of his old Norse legends, his young men and maidens are all possible Kiaratans and Gudruns; and his greybeards talk at times like the characters in those early poems in which he told their story. It is impossible to go over all the ground he covers in a paper like this; and, indeed three-fourths of its interest lies in the manner of its telling. Her discourses of a state of things wherein children never go to school, but grow up under a system of technical education which makes them masters and mistresses of all the arts of life while mental education is a result of easy lives and daily surroundings. By familiar illustrations he combats the charge that all those little luxuries and individual habits of thought, study, dress, recreation, which differentiate one man from another to day will be lost in a dead level of uniformity in the socialist state. All this as he describes it,is rather intensified in his Utopia. Idleness is spoken of as an almost forgotten hereditary disease, or existing only in such at mild farm that a short course of aperient medicine carries it off. Crime as a form of insanity resulting from as state of things when every man wrested his living from everybody else by force or fraud, is also unknown, prisons are only remembered as signs of the barbarism of the period that used them. "Such lunatic affairs as divorce-courts" are forgotten, because "all the cases that came into them were matters of property quarrels," and, as one of the citizens of this Utopia says to our dreamer, "You can see from the mere outside look of our world that quarrels about private property could not go on amongst us in our days." As a contrast to that over-sensitiveness and morbid sentimentality which is nothing more than the result of over-selfishness, in its turn the consequence of life's competitive conditions, we read that, in Utopia, "it is a point of honour with us not to be self-centred; not to suppose that the world must cease because one man is sorry; therefore we should think it foolish, or if you will, criminal, to exaggerate these matter of sentiment and sensibility, and we are no more inclined to eke out our sentimental sorrows than to cherish our bodily pains." Speaking of the London of this nineteenth century, and of its crowded slums, we read here of a Utopian May-day festival, called "The Clearing of Misery," when there are music and dancing, and merry games and happy feasting on the sites of some of the worst of these stews for rearing and breeding men and women in such degradation that their daily torture seemed to them mere ordinary and natural life. The custom is—we read—for the prettiest girl to sing some of the old revolutionary songs and those which were the groans of the discontent, once so hopeless, on the very spots where those terrible crimes of class-murder were committed day by day for so many years. " To a man like me," the speaker is made to say, " who has studied the past so diligently it is a curious and touching sight to see some beautiful girl, daintily clad, and crowded with flowers from the neighbouring meadows, standing amongst the happy people on some mound where of old time stood the wretched apology for a house, a den in which men and women lived packed amongst the filth like pilchards in a cask; lived in such a way that they would only endure it, as I said just now, by being degraded out of humanity—to hear the terrible words of threatening and lamentation coming from her sweet and beautiful lips, and she unconscious of their real meaning; to hear her, for instance, singing Hood's ' Song of the Shirt,' and to think that all the time she does not understand what it is all about—a tragedy grown inconceivable to her and her listeners. Think of that, if you can and how glorious life has grown !"
 It would be interesting to follow out the details of this fanciful picture of life in the new Utopia, and the easy and natural conditions of life so lived when all the instruments of production were in common, and no ceaseless round of toil was necessary for the bare means of subsistence, and to dwell on the idyllic touches of description of the life of men and women under such circumstances; but it would take too long. Not less interesting, however, and perhaps somewhat more instructive, is the part of this little brochure —for it is not much more—which treats of how the change came about. The great motive power, we read, was a longing for freedom and equality, a sickness of heart that rejected with loathing the aimless, solitary life of the well-to-do, educated man of that time. The men so affected aimed at so altering the machinery of production as to so over tax the rich for their privilege of ascendency that the condition of riches would be no longer valuable. So the scheme of State Socialism was set in motion, but it did not work smoothly. It tended to upset the commercial system, without providing anything really effective effective in its place. But the power of the upper classes lessened as their command over wealth production lessened, and the masses had learnt to combine after a long period of mistakes and disasters. They had acquired enormous strike-funds, and outgrown the foolish tactics of partial strikes. A minimum price for labour and a maximum price for wares were fixed by law, and society was getting perilously near the later Roman poor-rates and the doles of bread to the proletariat, long predicted as the inevitable slough of State Socialism in the end. Under these circumstances trade broke down, and Government factories took the place of its depĆ“ts; and when in 1952 these also gave way society found itself face to face with chaos. The combined workers demanded the management of the whole natural resources of the country, with the machinery for using them, and the reduction of the privileged classes into the position of pensioners on their pleasure. The latter class accepted this challenge of war, and the great social revolution of the 20th century was launched. It was said amongst the privileged class that it had been a great mistake of the various Governments not to have resisted sooner; and "one Glad stone, or Gledstein (probably, judging by this name, of Scandinavin descent), a notable politician of the 19th century, was especially..... The military were called out, and the workers massacred in Trafalgar-square. The Committee of Public Safety, as the leaders of the combined workers were called, were arrested, and for a moment it seemed as if the Social Revolution was at an end. But the workers now played their master stroke, and a general strike paralysed all production and distribution at a blow. Society was dependent on the charity of the revolutionists, who alone had prepared supplies for such a contingency. As a natural result, terms of peace had to be arranged between the authorities and the combined workers, but the classes and the masses still carried on the war in town and country, while the Government neither helped nor put them down, but stood by, hoping that something might come of it. "It was seen clearly that there must be hopeless slavery for all but the privileged, or a system of life founded on equality and communism," we read, and on this issue the battle was fought out, and the new Utopia rendered possible.
 Of course this is all very fanciful. But it is curiously suggestive of the stages of the industrial movement as we know it, just as the life the writer describes is an attempt to apply the theories and answer the critics of Socialism. There is much to interest the mind and set it thinking in these pages, and not the less because they are only the fanciful embodiment of a school of thought that assumes greater prominence every day. That proper exercise of the body is a powerful factor in the development of the mind is no paradox, but a plain physiological truth. Without a sufficient supply of pure blood the brain can no more do its work efficiently than a steam engine without coal; and without muscular exercise purification of the blood is incomplete and inadequate for the needs of the intellectual machine when it is subjected to any extraordinary strain. A nation of laggards in the flesh will also be sluggish in spirit, and brains half asphyxiated by imperfectly aerated blood will breed nothing but unwholesome mysticism; criticism of life in Count Tolstoi's later style, and schemes for the regeneration of society akin to that by which Medea tried to renew the youth of her father. The "long-haired men and the short haired women," whose chief notion of social reform seems to be the abolition of self restraint, would be healthier in mind as well as in body if they would ventilate the close chambers of their brains by regular outdoor exercise. If, amidst the hysterical sentimentalism which is one of the "notes" of these fin de sciel days, the English mind yet retains a good deal of its old robust virility, this is principally due to the healthy love of field sports which is still the "badge of all our tribe." —Sir MORELL MACKENZIE, in the New Review.

The Bacchus Marsh Express 24 October 1891, 

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