ENGLAND IN 1910
By R. H. GRETTON
IT was an uneasy realm to which King George suc- ceeded in 1910. The air was full of threats and bad temper in public affairs, which had never recovered front the wild upset of the balance in the 1906 Election. Liberals, accused of nervous haste in exploiting their triumph, retorted that Conservatives were a little too shameless in thanking God for a House of Lords. Plat- form oratory was heated, and Mr. Lloyd George's advo- cacy of his Land-Tax Budget, especially an attack in the East End of London on ground-landlords, had put " Limchouse " into the place of " Billingsgate" _as a synonym for abusive language.. Foreign policy seemed all on edge, for the ordinary man's comfortable feelings about King Edward's influence abroad had faded away ; and nerves were beginning to betray themselves in a new kind of talk about "aliens." In industry there was a restive insecurity. And the worst of it was that not only circumstances, but the national character itself appeared to be changing. The social structure was riddled with restlessness, lowered standards, loosening holds and racketiness. It is, perhaps, typical that the craze of the moment was for the Russian Ballet, with its high colours, surging movement, strongly marked music, and violent stories like Thamar and Scheherazade.
It is, indeed, extraordinary on looking back to discover how much of what was later on attributed to the War and War nerves is visible in 1910. Motor cars, few as they were by modern standards, were already producing a sense of rushing about and inability to sit still. Enter- taining had deserted quiet dining-rooms for the glare of restaurants. Dancing was becoming, to the older eyes, rowdy and vulgar before ever jazz reached us, though the modern woman might well think it impossible to have danced rowdily in the sheath skirts of that time. As if to set the key of it all, taxis and motor 'buses were at last dominating the London traffic, and their primitive engines and gears were filling the streets with a roaring rattle which rose like the very sound of the changing: quarrelsome, impatient world we were living in.
There seemed to be no decent half-shades left. The struggle between the two Houses of Parliament, the rela- tion between the two sides in industry, the women's agitation for the vote, had all become deplorably open pitched battles. The Lords had run counter to a long tradition in finance, and thrown out a Budget. Liberals, jubilant at the manoeuvre which had let them appeal to the country against the Lords as defenders of the un- written rights of the Commons as well as champions of social reform, were making no bones about "mending or ending" the recalcitrant House. It remained, however, defiant, refusing to accept the double character which Liberals had given to the recent Election, and ready to force the issue singly upon an electorate which, stirred up twice in a twelvemonth, might prove sluggish enough and perhaps irritable enough to let the Liberals down. Talk about creation of Peers to over-ride opposition, even when a carefully guarded statement by Mr. Asquith in the Commons had made clear that it was not all talk, merely exasperated the hostilities. That which could have been achieved in 1832, the famous precedent, by a score or two of new creations would now require hundreds. Was that really conceivable ? And in any case how in- vidious a crisis to force upon a King just come to the Throne ! For the moment his accession brought a lull. A conference was arranged between representatives of the two Houses which carried the struggle out of sight until the autumn. But it was only out of sight. No one had much hope of averting a fight to a finish.
Industry was talking about another. Worried by a succession of more or less serious strikes, masters were less and less inclined to arbitration here and arbitration there. Better hold out, drive things on to some big explosion and try conclusions on a scale that would teach the Unions a lesson once for all. They had just had an unpleasant one in the Osborne Judgement, which had stopped the use of Trade Union Funds for political pur- poses. But that only began another fight. And the Woman Suffrage movement was fast nearing its most violent stage. A "Conciliation Bill" introduced in the spring of 1910 had in the end only made matters worse. Designed to meet the objection to an enormous influx of women into the electorate, it proposed such a limited enfranchisement that the party in power had little enthusiasm for it, and laid themselves open to accusations of quibbling and dishonesty. So the women, too, gathered themselves for a fight to a finish, and before the year was out two of their wildest struggles with the police had taken place in Parliament Square.
The King's accession could not do much to give people's minds a rest and change, for, of course, it had not the novelty and excitement of King Edward's, when few people living could remember such an event and when, moreover, it was not merely an accession but a restora- tion of the pomp and parade of Royalty which had de- plorably dropped out of knowledge. Still, there was the Ballet ; there were young George Grossmith, Miss Gertie Miller, Alfred Lester, in musical comedy ; there was Galsworthy's Justice, with its prompt effect on some prison regulations ; and Sir Herbert Tree with a flamboyantly gorgeous setting of Henry VIII to flout the bare-stage Shakespearean purists.. And the summer just then always revived excitement about flying. The summer— for flying in spite of Bleriot's crossing of the Channel the year before, was still in the main a fair-weather per- formance round and round a course at "Aviation Meetings " ; it was at such a meeting at Bournemouth this year that Mr. C. S. Rolls, who had turned from the making of his famous cars to this new world to conquer, lost his life crashing from the sky. There were some more " daring " performances to record ; the Channel was crossed again ; Mr. Robert Loraine flew to Ireland ; and another aviator actually attained the speed of 75-95 miles an hour. On the whole, however, " practical " flying seemed to be better demonstrated by Mr. Willows, who flew a one-man dirigible balloon from Cardiff to London and there circled the dome of St. Paul's.
Another new power over the air gave a more startling proof of its possibilities. The captain of a steamer in mid- Atlantic on the way. to Canada had informed Scotland Yard by " wireless" (we still used inverted commas) that he believed himself to have on board two people wanted on a murder charge in London—the notorious Crippen case. The detective-inspector in charge of the case, catching a faster boat, was on his way to arrest them on landing, and for days the public watched, as it were, the incredible spectacle of these two people believing them- selves to be still freely breathing an air that had already given them into custody. The evidence in the case wa of a kind to keep up interest to the full when the trial came on. In the end Crippen's companion was acquitted, having been defended by a young barrister already becoming famous—Mr. F. E. Smith.
It had all been very exciting—yes, but it added also to the feeling that the familiar walls of life were becoming shaky. Social legislation, with Liberals in a hurry after twenty years of ineffectiveness, was promising heavy budgets ; Old Age Pensions were in existence and Health and Unemployment Insurance was to come with other expensive possibilities. And this with our Fleet more threatened every year by a fast-growing rival across the North Sea, and battleships and cruisers since the Dread- nought development costing sums that a little while before would have seemed colossal. Taxation must inevitably grow heavier, and incessant strikes menaced us with less dividends to tax. What, too, in so uncertain a world would be the effect of the women's votes, if Liberals gave in to them and created an electorate that would naturally vote with its mind on the children at school and the kitchen cupboard, rather than on the German Fleet ? And as to that, was anyone paying enough attention to what was going on under our noses ? A spy scare was running a kind of sporadic career, to break out virulently when the Sidney Street affair at the incoming of the next year, and a sordid murder case involving two foreigners, led to an agitation about our unconsidering admission of aliens.
There is little in the post-War years that was not brewing in 1910. Yet there remains this great difference— nobody in 1910, however gloomy and apprehensive his talk, really envisaged the life and the social order he had known coming utterly to an end.