Problems of a Great City

White, Arnold


CHAPTER I: The Whited Wall


CHAPTER I: The Whited Wall




INHABITANTS of the British Islands are prone to plume themselves on the spectacle they present to gods and men. It is, nevertheless, a question whether the texture of British civilization is sufficiently tough to stand examination; or whether the organization of society will compare with the sociology of certain among the Himalayan tribes, or with the Basuto, Zulu, or Amatonga nations, upon whose conversion we are annually wont to lay out a portion of our savings. Such is the falling off from the ideal set forth in the Sermon on the. Mount, that our thirty-eight millions of


nominal Christians are not only no better, but, in certain characteristics, are distinctly inferior to a like number of Buddhists or Mahommedans. Drunkenness and pauperism, organized villainy, secret crimes, adulteration, fraud and cruelty in England are perpetrated with a lustiness and resolve foreign to the Asiatic mind. It is true that certain forms of vice are more perfectly developed in Asia than in England. But it is no less true that Eastern society is free from the taint of organized hypocrisy which, in our own case, drugs the national conscience, if it do not impose on the public opinion of the rest of mankind.

In the books of the three a code of ethics is laid down which finds no followers in practice. The ideal is unattainable. The motive for sacrifice is of phantom-fabric. It exists only in theory. The beatitudes of are not well known, and they are less followed.

Not to serve the foolish, But to serve the wise; To honour those worthy of honour: This is the greatest blessing.

To dwell in a pleasant land, Good works done in a former birth, Right desires in the heart: This is the greatest blessing. Much insight and education, Self-control and pleasant speech, And whatever word be well spoken: This is the greatest blessing. To support father and mother, To cherish wife and child, To follow a peaceful calling: This is the greatest blessing, To bestow alms and live righteously, To give help to kindred, Deeds which cannot be blamed: These are the greatest blessing. To abhor, and cease from sin, Abstinence from strong drink, Not to be weary in well doing, These are the greatest blessing. Reverence and lowliness, Contentment and gratitude, The hearing of the Law at due seasons, This is the greatest blessing. To be long-suffering and meek, To associate with the tranquil Religious talk at due seasons, This is the greatest blessing.

Self-restraint and purity, The knowledge of the Noble Truths, The realization of Nirvana, This is the greatest blessing. Beneath the stroke of life's changes, The mind that shaketh not, Without grief or passion, and secure, This is the greatest blessing. On every side are invincible, They who do acts like these, On every side they walk in safety, And theirs is the greatest blessing.

As a necessary result of the contrast between profession and practice it is found that when the conventional Buddhist encounters reverses, or confronts a serious crisis in his life, he abandons the philosophy of Gautama, and betakes himself, under the storm of necessity, to the establishment of relations with the powers of evil.

Not otherwise is the method of the conventional Christian of the West. The lives and characters of the main body of those who assert, and of those who professionally explain the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, are a strange study to an orthodox Moslem or pious Hindoo. With an assured income, proceeding


from safe investments returning four and a quarter per cent., it is difficult for a prosperous Christian to be poor in spirit. He is neither reviled nor persecuted. So far from any man saying all manner of evil against him for Christ's sake, the reputation of "goodness" carries with it a professional advantage. To be accounted as an "earnest" man; to occupy a seat on the ; to hold views on the sanctity of the Sabbath; to be the author of a luscious hymn, are proved methods of mundane advancement. To agree with his adversary quickly, is an archaic form of stating the advantages of compromise.

The struggling trader finds it a harder matter to maintain the ideal of the Mount. Discounts and drawbacks, the relation of samples to deliveries, the statements of advertisements, the representations of commercial travellers, and the exigencies of competition, and of the adulteration which Mr. Bright holds to be one of the forms of competition, place him in a position of strained relations with the Socialism of his Teacher.

Difficulties, all but insuperable to rich men,


are overcome with no greater ease by those in humbler station. As the conscience becomes tender and the convictions strong, the work of common life trenches on the region that is Tabu. If A surrenders his brewery and a fortune for conscience' sake, because he will not face the responsibility of the death and degradation awaiting some, at all events, of the clients of the family tap, how can B, the conscientious vatman, retain his employment ? He knows that the beer which he assists to brew, judiciously blended with salt and indicus cocculus by needy middle-men, will bemuse and degrade a certain number of his brothers and sisters in blood.

Cutting off the right hand, and mutilating the eyesight, would now subject the convert to the charge of fanaticism, if not to seclusion in an establishment for the insane. To refrain from doing our alms before men would deprive example of half its force, besides impairing the security of many a seat in Parliament. To abandon the defence of private rights would give to , and to men like the late , too favourable a field for


the exercise of their abilities. Strict obedience to the command, "Take no thought what ye shall eat," would subject many an honoured saint to claret a shade too warm. Is he to kill the "old man" until he is indifferent to the catastrophe of an overdressed canvas-back duck? Who among the comfortable classes can feel that the triumph of mind and spirit over body and matter is such that he cares not whether his wine be Cape claret or Clos Vougeot: whether he smoke shag tobacco or Partagas Imperiales; or, if a woman, whether she have that sense of being perfectly well dressed-a sense which, as the French cynic tells us, confers a sense of peace religion itself is powerless to bestowor whether she is a frump ?

Nonconformist objections restrict the enjoyment to be obtained from rioting in religious statistics. It is revealed, however, by the faithful Whitaker, that the forms of faith followed in the British Islands number at least one hundred and ninety-one. Among them they have founded societies to assuage every evil, and to combat every error. Lost


dogs and lost women, other folks' servants, equatorial Africans, and English Jews, tons of tracts, and bewildered emigrants, engage the confused energies of thousands of firstclass hearts and fourth-class heads. From time to time society is stirred by a movement of wider influence; and, as in the case of 's enterprise, receives the blessings and the anathemas which are equally effectual in conferring the desired notoriety and in obtaining the necessary cash. As the upper classes lounge and travel, dress, bet, shoot, race and struggle through the miasmatic lowlands of ennui with more or less success, without being driven to the practice of an active faith, the middle and lower classes find in the vocabulary and emotion of religion cheap and effectual antidotes to the dreary monotony of their unlovely lives. Or, as a sage puts it, "the lower classes care as little for the dogmas of religion as the upper classes care for its practice." They are palsied eyes, however, that cannot discover here and there on the prairie of convention, flower-souls reflecting the glory of the blue sky in all its beauty and simplicity,


adorned with the greatness of unselfish life, because they live to abandon the aim and end of personal ease and personal fame. Such a one was Gordon. His legacy to the English people is not fully understood, because the legatees can enjoy it only by a personal administration of the trust.

Since the Sermon on the Mount has been sub-edited by English society and its teachers in accordance with the requirements of a high standard of comfort, the luxury of the few confronts the misery of millions with a sharpness of contrast hitherto achieved by no nation since the story of mankind was first written. Religion has become a thing of words and buildings. Religion endowed so that the carriage of the Cross is ofttimes the means to win high place and high comfort, nas converted the Narrow Way into a path to the as well as to the Place of a Skull. Were Christ the Teacher to return to London, how long would He remain aloof from an attack on the problems of a great City? Responsibility exists, and cannot be explained away. On our rulers and on our teachers the heavy burden lies; but there are


few whose rest is troubled by the thought of the things undone that ought to be done, or by the shame that would drive away all sleep from their eyes if those eyes could see and understand the remediable wrongs inflicted on a stricken and a feeble folk.