HE asked me of my friend — 'a clever man;
Such various talent, business, journalism;
A pen that might some day have sent out ‘leaders’
From our greatest newspapers.' — 'Yes, all this,
All this,' I said, — 'And yet he will not rise?
He'll stay a ‘comp.,’ a printer all his life?' —
I said: 'Just that, a workman all his life.'
But, as my questioner was a business man,
One of the sons of Capital, a sage
Whose Practicality saw (I can suppose)
Quite to his nose-tip or even his finger-ends,
I vouchsafed explanation. 'This young man,
My friend, was born and bred a workman. All
His heart and soul (and men have souls and hearts
Other than those the doctor proses of,
The parson prates of, and both make their trade)
Were centred in his comradeship and love.
His friends, his ‘mates’ were workmen, and the girl
He wooed, and made a happy wife and mother,
Had heart and soul like him in whence she sprung.
Observe now! When he came to think and read,
He saw (it seemed to him he saw) in what
Capitalists, Employers, men like you,
Think and call ‘justice’ in your inter-dealings,
Some slight mistakes (I fancy he'd say ‘wrongs’)
Whereby his order suffered. So he wonders:
‘Cannot we change this?’ And he tries and tries,
Knowing his fellows and adapting all
His effort in the channels that they know.
You understand? He's ‘only an Unionist!’
Now for the second point. This man believes
That these mistakes — these wrongs (we'll pass the word)
Spring from a certain thing called ‘competition’
Which you (and I) know is a God-given thing
Whereby the fittest get up to the top
(That's I — or you) and tread down all the others.
Well, this man sees how by this God-given thing
He has the chance to use his extra wits
And clamber up: he sees how others have —
(Like you — or me; my father's father's father
Was a market-gardener and, I trust, a good one).
He sees, moreover, how perpetually
Each of his fellows who has extra wits
Has used them as the fox fallen in the well
Used the confiding goat, and how the goats
More and more wallow there and stupefy,
Robbed of the little wit the hapless crowd
Had in their general haplessness. Well, then
This man of mine (this is against all law,
Human, divine and natural, I admit)
Prefers to wallow there and not get out,
Except they all can! I've made quite a tale
About what is quite simple. Yet 'tis curious,
As I see you hold. Now frankly tell me, will you,
What do you think of him?' — 'He is a fool!'
'He is a fool? There is no doubt of it!
But I am told that it was some such fool
Came once from Galilee, and ended on
A criminal's cross outside Jerusalem, —
And that this fool, he and his criminal's cross,
Broke up an Empire that seemed adamant,
And made a new world, which, renewed again,
Is Europe still.
He is a fool! And it was some such fool
Drudged up and down the earth these later years,
And wrote a Book the other fools bought up
In tens of thousands, calling it a Gospel.
And this fool too, and the fools that follow him,
Or hold with him, why, he and they shall all
End in the mad-house, or the gutter, where
They'll chew the husk of their mad dreams and die!'
'Well, what are their follies but dreams? They have done nothing,
And never will!' . . .
'One moment! I have just a word to say.
How comes it, tell me, friend, six weeks ago
A ‘comp.’ was sent a-packing for a cause
His fellows thought unjust, and that same night
(Or, rather, the next morning) in comes one
To tell you (quite politely) that unless
That ‘comp.’ was setting at his frame they feared
One of our greatest newspapers would not go
That day a harbinger of light and leading
To gladden and instruct its thousands? And,
If I remember right, it did — and so did he,
That wretched ‘comp.’ set at his frame, and does!
How came it also that three months ago
Your brother, the shipowner, ‘sacked’ a man
Out of his ship, and bade him go to hell?
And in the evening up came two or three,
Discreetly asking him to state the cause?
And when he said he'd see them with the other,
(Videlicet, in hell), they said they feared,
Unless the other came thence (if he was there),
And was upon his ship to-morrow morning,
It would not sail. It did not sail till noon,
And he sailed with it!
But this is all beside the point! Our ‘comp.,’
Who sweats there, and who will not write you ‘leaders’
Except to help a friend who's fallen ill,
Why, he, beyond a doubt he is — a fool!'
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