List Of Contents | Contents of Utopia of Usurers and other Essays
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out.  The war upon Dickens was part of the general war on all democrats,
about the eighties and nineties, which ushered in the brazen plutocracy of
to-day.  And one of the things that it was fashionable to say of Dickens
in drawing-rooms was that he had no subtlety, and could not describe a
complex frame of mind.  Like most other things that are said in
drawing-rooms, it was a lie.  Dickens was a very unequal writer, and his
successes alternate with his failures; but his successes are subtle quite
as often as they are simple.  Thus, to take "Martin Chuzzlewit" alone, I
should call the joke about the Lord No-zoo a simple joke: but I should
call the joke about Mrs. Todgers's vision of a wooden leg a subtle joke.
And no frame of mind was ever so selfcontradictory and yet so realistic as
that which Dickens describes when he says, in effect, that, though Pinch
knew now that there had never been such a person as Pecksniff, in his
ideal sense, he could not bring himself to insult the very face and form
that had contained the legend.  The parallel with Liberal journalism is
not perfect; because it was once honest; and Pecksniff presumably never
was.  And even when I come to feel a final incompatibility of temper,
Pecksniff was not so Pecksniffian as he has since become.  But the
comparison is complete in so far as I share all the reluctance of Mr.
Pinch.  Some old heathen king was advised by one of the Celtic saints, I
think, to burn what he had adored and adore what he had burnt.  I am quite
ready, if anyone will prove I was wrong, to adore what I have burnt; but I
do really feel an unwillingness verging upon weakness to burning what I
have adored.  I think it is a weakness to be overcome in times as bad as
these, when (as Mr.  Orage wrote with something like splendid common sense
the other day) there is such a lot to do and so few people who will do it.
So I will devote this article to considering one case of the astounding
baseness to which Liberal journalism has sunk.

Mental Breakdown in Fleet Street

One of the two or three streaks of light on our horizon can be perceived
in this: that the moral breakdown of these papers has been accompanied by
a mental breakdown also.  The contemporary official paper, like the "Daily
News" or the "Daily Chronicle" (I mean in so far as it deals with
politics), simply cannot argue; and simply does not pretend to argue.  It
considers the solution which it imagines that wealthy people want, and it
signifies the same in the usual manner; which is not by holding up its
hand, but by falling on its face.  But there is no more curious quality in
its degradation than a sort of carelessness, at once of hurry and fatigue,
with which it flings down its argument--or rather its refusal to argue.
It does not even write sophistry: it writes anything.  It does not so much
poison the reader's mind as simply assume that the reader hasn't got one.
For instance, one of these papers printed an article on Sir Stuart Samuel,
who, having broken the great Liberal statute against corruption, will
actually, perhaps, be asked to pay his own fine--in spite of the fact that
he can well afford to do so.  The article says, if I remember aright, that
the decision will cause general surprise and some indignation.  That any
modern Government making a very rich capitalist obey the law will cause
general surprise, may be true.  Whether it will cause general indignation
rather depends on whether our social intercourse is entirely confined to
Park Lane, or any such pigsties built of gold.  But the journalist
proceeds to say, his neck rising higher and higher out of his collar, and
his hair rising higher and higher on his head, in short, his resemblance
to the Dickens' original increasing every instant, that he does not mean
that the law against corruption should be less stringent, but that the
burden should be borne by the whole community.  This may mean that
whenever a rich man breaks the law, all the poor men ought to be made to
pay his fine.  But I will suppose a slightly less insane meaning.  I will
suppose it means that the whole power of the commonwealth should be used
to prosecute an offender of this kind.  That, of course, can only mean
that the matter will be decided by that instrument which still pretends to
represent the whole power of the commonwealth.  In other words, the
Government will judge the Government.

Now this is a perfectly plain piece of brute logic.  We need not go into
the other delicious things in the article, as when it says that "in old
times Parliament had to be protected against Royal invasion by the man in
the street."  Parliament has to be protected now against the man in the
street.  Parliament is simply the most detested and the most detestable of
all our national institutions: all that is evident enough.  What is
interesting is the blank and staring fallacy of the attempted reply.

When the Journalist Is Ruined

A long while ago, before all the Liberals died, a Liberal introduced a
Bill to prevent Parliament being merely packed with the slaves of
financial interests.  For that purpose he established the excellent
democratic principle that the private citizen, as such, might protest
against public corruption.  He was called the Common Informer.  I believe
the miserable party papers are really reduced to playing on the
degradation of the two words in modern language.  Now the word "comnon" in
"Common Informer" means exactly what it means in "common sense" or "Book
of Common Prayer," or (above all) in "House of Commons."  It does not mean
anything low or vulgar; any more than they do.  The only difference is
that the House of Commons really is low and vulgar; and the Common
Informer isn't.  It is just the same with the word "Informer."  It does
not mean spy or sneak.  It means one who gives information.  It means what
"journalist" ought to mean.  The only difference is that the Common
Informer may be paid if he tells the truth.  The common journalist will be
ruined if he does.

Now the quite plain point before the party journalist is this: If he
really means that a corrupt bargain between a Government and a contractor
ought to be judged by public opinion, he must (nowadays) mean Parliament;
that is, the caucus that controls Parliament.  And he must decide between
one of two views.  Either he means that there Can be no such thing as a
corrupt Government.  Or he means that it is one of the characteristic
qualities of a corrupt Government to denounce its own corruption.  I laugh;
and I leave him his choice.


Why is the modern party political journalism so bad?  It is worse even
than it intends to be.  It praises its preposterous party leaders through
thick and thin; but it somehow succeeds in making them look greater fools
than they are.  This clumsiness clings even to the photographs of public
men, as they are snapshotted at public meetings.  A sensitive politician
(if there is such a thing) would, I should think, want to murder the man
who snapshots him at those moments.  For our general impression of a man's
gesture or play of feature is made up of a series of vanishing instants,
at any one of which he may look worse than our general impression records.
Mr. Augustine Birrell may have made quite a sensible and amusing speech,
in the course of which his audience would hardly have noticed that he
resettled his necktie.  Snapshot him, and he appears as convulsively
clutching his throat in the agonies of strangulation, and with his head
twisted on one side as if he had been hanged.  Sir Edward Carson might
make a perfectly good speech, which no one thought wearisome, but might
himself be just tired enough to shift from one leg to the other.  Snapshot
him, and he appears as holding one leg stiffly in the air and yawning
enough to swallow the audience.  But it is in the prose narratives of the
Press that we find most manifestations of this strange ineptitude; this
knack of exhibiting your own favourites in an unlucky light.  It is not so
much that the party journalists do not tell the truth as that they tell
just enough of it to make it clear that they are telling lies.  One of
their favourite blunders is an amazing sort of bathos.  They begin by
telling you that some statesman said something brilliant in style or
biting in wit, at which his hearers thrilled with terror or thundered with
applause.  And then they tell you what it was that he said.  Silly asses!

Insane Exaggeration

Here is an example from a leading Liberal paper touching the debates on
Home Rule.  I am a Home Ruler; so my sympathies would be, if anything, on
the side of the Liberal paper upon that point.  I merely quote it as an
example of this ridiculous way of writing, which, by insane exaggeration,
actually makes its hero look smaller than he is.

This was strange language to use about the "hypocritical sham," and Mr.
Asquith, knowing that the biggest battle of his career was upon him, hit
back without mercy.  "I should like first to know," said he, with a glance
at his supporters, "whether my proposals are accepted?"

That's all.  And I really do not see why poor Mr. Asquith should be
represented as having violated the Christian virtue of mercy by saying
that.  I myself could compose a great many paragraphs upon the same model,
each containing its stinging and perhaps unscrupulous epigram.  As, for
example:--"The Archbishop of Canterbury, realising that his choice now lay
between denying God and earning the crown of martyrdom by dying in
torments, spoke with a frenzy of religious passion that might have seemed
fanatical under circumstances less intense.  'The Children's Service,' he
said firmly, with his face to the congregation, 'will be held at half-past
four this afternoon as usual.'"

Or, we might have:--"Lord Roberts, recognising that he had now to face
Armageddon, and that if he lost this last battle against overwhelming odds
the independence of England would be extinguished forever, addressed to
his soldiers (looking at them and not falling off his horse) a speech
which brought their national passions to boiling point, and might well
have seemed blood-thirsty in quieter times.  It ended with the celebrated
declaration that it was a fine day."

Or we might have the much greater excitement of reading something like
this:--"The Astronomer Royal, having realised that the earth would
certainly be smashed to pieces by a comet unless his requests in
connection with wireless telegraphy were seriously considered, gave an
address at the Royal Society which, under other circumstances, would have
seemed unduly dogmatic and emotional and deficient in scientific
agnosticism.  This address (which he delivered without any attempt to
stand on his head) included a fierce and even ferocious declaration that
it is generally easier to see the stars by night than by day."

Now, I cannot see, on my conscience and reason, that any one of my
imaginary paragraphs is more ridiculous than the real one.  Nobody can
believe that Mr. Asquith regards these belated and careful compromises
about Home Rule as "the biggest battle of his career."  It is only justice
to him to say that he has had bigger battles than that.  Nobody can
believe that any body of men, bodily present, either thundered or thrilled
at a man merely saying that he would like to know whether his proposals
were accepted.  No; it would be far better for Parliament if its doors
were shut again, and reporters were excluded.  In that case, the outer
public did hear genuine rumours of almost gigantic eloquence; such as that
which has perpetuated Pitt's reply against the charge of youth, or Fox's
bludgeoning of the idea of war as a compromise.  It would be much better
to follow the old fashion and let in no reporters at all than to follow
the new fashion and select the stupidest reporters you can find.

Their Load of Lies

Now, why do people in Fleet-street talk such tosh?  People in Fleet-street
are not fools.  Most of them have realised reality through work; some
through starvation; some through damnation, or something damnably like it.
I think it is simply and seriously true that they are tired of their job.
As the general said in M. Rostand's play, "la fatigue!"

I do really believe that this is one of the ways in which God (don't get
flurried, Nature if you like) is unexpectedly avenged on things infamous
and unreasonable.  And this method is that men's moral and even physical
tenacity actually give out under such a load of lies.  They go on writing
their leading articles and their Parliamentary reports.  They go on doing
it as a convict goes on picking oakum.  But the point is not that we are
bored with their articles; the point is that they are.  The work is done
worse because it is done weakly and without human enthusiasm.  And it is
done weakly because of the truth we have told so many times in this book:
that it is not done for monarchy, for which men will die; or for democracy,
for which men will die; or even for aristocracy, for which many men have
died.  It is done for a thing called Capitalism: which stands out quite
clearly in history in many curious ways.  But the most curious thing about
it is that no man has loved it; and no man died for it.


If there is to rise out of all this red ruin something like a republic of
justice, it is essential that our views should be real views; that is,
glimpses of lives and landscapes outside ourselves.  It is essential that
they should not be mere opium visions that begin and end in smoke--and so
often in cannon smoke.  I make no apology, therefore, for returning to the
purely practical and realistic point I urged last week: the fact that we
shall lose everything we might have gained if we lose the idea that the
responsible person is responsible.

For instance, it is almost specially so with the one or two things in
which the British Government, or the British public, really are behaving
badly.  The first, and worst of them, is the non-extension of the
Moratorium, or truce of debtor and creditor, to the very world where there
are the poorest debtors and thc cruellest creditors.  This is infamous:
and should be, if possible, more infamous to those who think the war right
than to those who think it wrong.  Everyone knows that the people who can
least pay their debts are the people who are always trying to.  Among the
poor a payment may be as rash as a speculation.  Among the rich a
bankruptcy may be as safe as a bank.  Considering the class from which
private soldiers are taken, there is an atrocious meanness in the idea of
buying their blood abroad, while we sell their sticks at home.  The
English language, by the way, is full of delicate paradoxes.  We talk of
the private soldiers because they are really public soldiers; and we talk
of the public schools because they are really private schools.  Anyhow,
the wrong is of the sort that ought to be resisted, as much in war as in

Ought to Be Hammered

But as long as we speak of it as a cloudy conclusion, come to by an
anonymous club called Parliament, or a masked tribunal called the Cabinet,

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