Skip to Content
Indiana University

Search Options

View Options

In a Walled Garden. Belloc, Bessie Rayner, 1829–1925.
page: 259


SINCE, then, we cannot set capital rolling up for our own use without the risk of creating frightful evils, what can we do with it? The old proverb that money breeds money is the text of all the books upon self‐help. Two shillings are certain to make twenty‐five pence. That little surplus produced by a day’s work overtime, or because my head is better than yours (or vice versâ), is like a stick which will grow thicker and longer till it quadruples the power of the hand which holds it. And it will not remain quadruple; it will increase manifold till, in the hand of a Napoleon, it becomes an engine capable of hunting a million men to their destruction. Consider the pins—how they are made and what is their profit. Look at a steel “J” pen, and remember that this little thing accumulated one of the greatest picture galleries of modern times. page: 260 We are in the midst of immense forces which it would require a far more powerful brain than mine, or than, I think, Count Tolstoi’s to define. But the thinkers have begun to analyze them, and the artists in merely following Ruskin have begun to paint their doings, and the thoughtful working man is crying out that they are devouring him and his brothers, and that their misdeeds must no longer be.

Of practical politics in this matter there seem to me to be but two. Some would throw the responsibility of the use of capital upon the State, and some have had faith in a sporadic movement, born of the popular conscience, and directed by a more educated popular thought. It is very difficult to see how the State could become an immense bureau, without frightful dangers occurring from any blow to the central power. In spite of the endless speculations of the Socialists of the type of Louis Blanc, it is plainly Fourier who will win the day. I cannot conceive the method by which all the complicated processes of victualling and clothing London could be organized by a central committee, and London is only one of many cities. page: 261 Let anyone ascend the dome of St. Paul’s, or stand upon the Shropshire Wrekin, or count for one twelve hours the people passing the sculptured “Griffin” at Temple Bar, or take any other method by which the imagination may be assisted to grasp the vastness of a million units, and I think that State Socialism will be felt to be an intellectual dream. In the army and navy results are obtained by strict coercion—the welfare of the individual is quite a secondary matter. In the French navy two deserters were, not long ago, chained down in the hold; a punishment from which men never recover. A serious State Socialism would require its police and its prisons to control its deserters, and its successes would demand a co‐ordination of parts in which no joint or screw or rivet could go wrong.

But the same objection does not apply to the gradual growth of a Socialistic conscience; and this it is which is really growing, springing up every day in the most unlikely places. The “all things in common” of the early Christians is a doctrine regaining its place in England after centuries of disuse. In the religious Orders page: 262 private property is deliberately laid aside; the dower of the nun is absorbed in the common fund. In the Salvation Army everything is given up—of the 9000 officers, many of whom are married couples with children, not one has retained any portion of their private property; they are sustained by a common fund, which often runs low and causes privations of a severe kind.

The old theory of nobility controlled by the mediæval Church, provided for the redistribution of the funds accumulated by the big baron. He had to keep the baroness and the little barons suitably, and in all honour; he had to feed and clothe his men‐at‐arms. He dined with his servants who sat below the salt; he had his chaplain and his leech; and up to past middle life he was generally bullied by his nurse. In all the old romances and plays a decent baron behaved as such, or otherwise a neighbouring baron came and put an end to him.

It is only the modern capitalist who is really irresponsible. He may plan and plot and undersell, and if he has only the shrewd wit to maintain strict personal respectability, no one page: 263 has any claim upon him. He may be a miser in the household; he may live in a flat and marry his cook, or build a suburban palace outside the town where he has heaped up his gold, and support all the local charities. He may keep twenty servants, or hire them in relays like post‐horses. He may live entirely on his yacht, like one millionaire who has made the solid earth of the civilized world too hot to hold him; or like another enormously wealthy gentleman who for some years dwelt on the high seas with his neighbour’s wife, being unable by reason of his nationality to pass any divorce court.

In England, it is true, the possession of immense wealth opens the way to nobler ambitions, but this is only because we have preserved the tattered fragments of the old flag, and they are still worth fighting for. The day may come when the capitalist can sit upon his pile, owning, even in England, no social master, and when his sole object will be to keep his equilibrium on an unstable heap of gold.

But though this picture be economically conceivable, there are other forces at work which threaten to abolish the cormorant, even as the page: 264 mediæval baron has been practically abolished; and more rapidly, for the modern sinner is much the worst, and his redeeming points are few. Power of brain and industry he must possess, and tenacious grip; but he appeals to none of the softer feelings or nobler emotions, and if he were got rid of, history would only remember him as a curious phenomenon of trade. Nobody will write romantic memoirs of him—the ruins of his dwelling will appeal to no tourist of the future—nor will the last capitalist be borne to his grave with any tribute of human tears.