THE DISPARAGEMENT OF ENGLAND.
IF Englishmen were to believe all that has been said to their disadvantage by those who are displeased at the turn the voting has taken in the English county divisions, they would indeed have a dismal picture of themselves. They would believe that every man who is employed upon the land, or who, by living in some small county town, comes more con- sciously than is possible in the great industrial centres within the range and influence of a Peer or local territorial magnate, is only one of a flock of sheep who can be driven bleating in unison to the polling-booths. This man consents, according to the fashionable Radical view, to every kind of intimidation and social cajolery. He has not got a soul which he can call his own. And in contrast to all this, our attention is invited to the splendid spectacle of the Scotch, the Irish, and the Welsh electors. Behold the level-headedness, the shrewd sense, the cool logic, the independence and fidelity of the Scotch ! Mark the romantic constancy of the Irish ! Learn a lesson from the unchanging and fervid convictions of gallant little Wales!
A General Election is a harvest of exaggerated and unjust statements ; but we do not know that injustice has often been carried further without rebuke than it has during the past few weeks in the disparagement by Liberals and Liberal newspapers of all that part of England which is not included in the manufacturing districts of the North.—Remember too, as is pointed out by the writer of a letter in the Times, that in 1906, when the English counties went the other way, the Liberal Press found the rural voters of the South and West to be of almost heroic mould. Did feudalism, by some miracle, temporarily cease to exist in that year P—One thing, however, is more noticeable than the vigour with which the disparagement has been carried on, and that is the mildness with which Englishmen have accepted it. Their complacency cannot be wholly due to lethargy, nor can it be due to a belief that what is said of them is substantially 'true. The fact,. we fancy, is that Thiglishmen have long •
made it a practice to accept criticism for what it is worth and never to resent it. They are not, then, in the position of a man who is too lazy or too cowardly to answer an insult ; they note the hostile criticism, possibly profit by it if it contains any sense, and after examination reject it with amused indulgence if it does not. It may be said that people who quietly pass over such damaging statements as have been made are without proper pride. For our part, we prefer to believe that it is a very distinct virtue in an Englishman to be able to listen to injurious criticisms without flying into a passion. Of course there is another possible view which ought not to be forgotten,—that Englishmen have the pride which apes humility. This is, perhaps, the American view of Englishmen. Americans bold that it is just as blameworthy to underestimate your capacities as to overestimate them ; and the affectation of humility being on the whole a worse vice than boasting, they are tempted to avoid the mistake of slipping over on the wrong side of the line. But we cannot accept this view. We are persuaded that the Englishman listens patiently to criticism because he believes it to be quite conceivable, and indeed highly probable, that other races can do things better than himself. If we read the history of the Crimean War, for instance, we find that Englishmen believed that they had all the lessons in leadership and in the management of com- missariat to learn from the French. At a .certain period scarcely more than one voice was raised in protest against this distortion of the facts. And even after the war, when in a fuller light the minds of Englishmen were bent on reform, they desired nothing better than to have a Frenchified Army. After the Franco-German War they believed that the art of military organisation and strategy had been revealed only to the Germans ; and the demand went forth for a Germanised Army. No doubt the German Army is the most wonderful military machine in existence, but we still think there are many respects in which a less handsome willing- ness to assume the perfection of other people might serve Englishmen better.
In what we have just said we have been thinking, of course, rather of educated, articulate Englishmen who could instantly express their resentment at unfair criticism if they felt so inclined. But the chief victims of the present disparagement are those who cannot so easily make their displeasure known. As it is, however, we suspect that a good many agricultural voters have reached the point of genuinely resenting the repeated accusations that they have no spirit, and that they are all amenable to the combined influences of landlordism and beer. A disciplined nation, whose amiable habit it is to bow to authority, no doubt finds it difficult to disbelieve any statement which is impressed upon it ex cathedra with a sufficient number of repetitions. But we are bold enough to say that the familiar and sweeping assertion that the agricul- tural labourer dares not vote Radical for fear of losing his job is absolutely without foundation. Agricultural labourers, on the contrary, are, to their credit, a highly independent class. They do not like being asked too many questions, and we strongly suspect that most of them, if they felt that unfair pressure was being put upon them, would vote " wrong " if only to spite their employers. After all, the ballot is secret when a man chooses to keep it so.
Our assertion of the independence of agricultural labourers does not in the least disregard or exclude a certain amount of make-believe, and of currying of favour, by those who are conscious of the worldly advantages of "keeping in" with their employers. The present writer has a particular estate in mind where for a great many years at elections the labourers have gone ostentatiously to the poll liberally bedecked with the Tory colour. He happened to find out that all these men were Radicals. He also found out that they unfailingly voted Radical. The reason why they pretended to be Tories was, as one of them put it, "to please the Guv'nor." Their action was the result of a strange mixture of motives,—a certain native slyness, a recognition of the importance of making the best of both worlds, and a not wholly unamiable, if dishonest, desire to please. There was also probably some sort of vague feeling after good manners. To call their conduct the result of intimidation would be a preposterous misuse of language. Yet the owner of the estate used to be freely spoken of as a political bully. As a matter of fact, the present writer happens to' know that heiiad a still sounder conception than his "people" of what good manners required on his part, and so far from coercing them, he never even asked them which way they meant to vote. We wonder whether those who believe in the stories of intimidation could produce a single properly authenticated case in which a labourer has been required at this Election to vote Unionist on pain of being deprived of his job or turned out of his cottage. Has it occurred to them that it may conceivably require even more independence in a working man to vote Tory—which is considered some- thing of a paradox—than to follow the great and obedient army which votes permanently Radical?
It is not only in rural districts that the English Unionist elector is ridiculed as a sheep. In any town which does not happen to be "a great industrial centre" he is open to the same charge. The clerk with thirty shillings a week is also supposed to be guilty of treacherous subserviency to the great. The London clerk in particular is thought to be past praying for. But can the critics tell us who are the great persons, or what are the overwhelming influences, to which the London clerk yields his independence ? He might spend his whole life in London without ever knowingly looking upon the face of a Lord. Being about as poor as an artisan, he cannot aspire with confidence to the social heights which might make it worth his while to link himself with the party of respect- ability. Perhaps we shall be told that clerks have employers, and that there lies the explanation. Must we bel:eve that intimidation lurks in every commercial firm, in every solicitor's office, and in every bank ? As a matter of fact, the average London employer of clerks, who shares the general sense in London of being lost in the ocean and of being unable to keep track of anything in r articular, knows less about his employees than any one in the world. The great employers of manual labour, whose wives may supply bounties and delicacies to the sick families of employees, and who are as often as not Liberals, are in a position where it is much more difficult not to exercise a certain sway over their subordinates. But apparently no word should be said against them because they live in "great industrial centres" which have voted for the most part in the way that the disparagers of Englishmen require. An Australian once said to the present writer that in Australian politics you can criticise Englishmen as such with impunity, but you must look out for trouble if you speak disrespectfully of the Irish or the Scotch. Evidently the conditions which are manifest here are so durable that they can be transported across the sea intact. If we felt very friendly towards Radicals at this moment and wished to help them in their political struggle, we think we should whisper in their ear that though Englishmen stand a good deal because they are used to it, there is a point beyond which it is unwise for those to go who do not wish to injure themselves.