Problems of a Great City

White, Arnold





Upon the dark foundations of our human nature shines the mysterious light of natural law. Welded together, on a supernatural forge, the correlation between the various phenomena of our social life is so firmly established as to render the separate cure of isolated symptoms beyond the range of the possible. The law governing the correlation of social forces has not been formulated. But there is no ground for belief that universal law excepts from its dominion the phenomena displayed in the social life of man; or that isolated campaigns against objective evil are not productive of results both remoter and more important than are dreamed of in the philosophy of those who wage a guerilla warfare against it. Could


we but see painted on the wall a connected panorama of the effects on future generations produced by the remedies commonly administered from the pharmacy of civilization, we should leap with horror from the folly and the wrong we now commit with gladness and singleness of heart.

Statesmen, administrators, philanthropists, who live and labour for this generation and for the present year, mobilise an invincible array of enemies against the innocent unborn. In tropic countries, during the season of drought, certain forms of insect and fish life totally disappear from the land, and become apparently as extinct as the apteryx of Mauritius, or the Moa of New Zealand. When the first warm rains of the monsoon awaken the sleeping energies of mother earth, the microscopic eggs of insects and the tiny spawn of fishes and of leeches, lurking invisible and unsuspected in the sandy bottoms of evaporated lakes while the earth is iron and the sky is brass, leap into a lusty and a vigorous life, when the falling rain supplies the environment needful for their activity and for their perfection. Not otherwise is it with the imperishable fecundity of philanthropic and


legislative ova. The unfit are propagated, and posterity plagued if we ignore the stern conditions of natural law, which, so far as experience and research can guide us, are inexorable, continuous, and universal in their scope. Kindness by society to the individual is, as often as not, cruelty to potential individuals separated from us only by time, but who are as worthy to receive some of the enthusiasm of humanity as a fractional number of contemporary lives. Well it had been for us had our ancestors in some measure bethought themselves of the welfare of this generation, and had studied the consequences both of their neglect and of their primitive and emotional methods of beneficence. Had they surveyed from the higher standpoint of trustees for an improving race the methods of stamping out heredity of evil, and of extending to man himself the consideration that has long been given to improving the strain of dogs and the breed of horses, the task of solving the Problems of a Great City would neither be so dark nor so difficult as it now is. Like the lilies of the field, we, the ruling and imperial race among the nations of the earth, survive by


dint of a blundering and irregulated vitality, rather than by taking thought for the morrow. And the measure we have meted out to ourselves we have dealt unto others.

The production of the great tragedy that is shaping itself on the plains of India and in the valleys of the Ganges and the Indus (as the consequence of English rule), cannot long be postponed. The materials of a similar tragedy are preparing wherever the hoof of a godless and hypocritical civilization has trodden underfoot the operation of natural law. Under the reign of the Moguls periodic famines so regulated the population of Hindostan as to adjust the numbers of the people to the capacity of the soil for maintaining them. When, more than a century since, English rule was first generally established throughout the Indian Peninsula, an equilibrium between the numbers of the people and the normal food supply was roughly but firmly established. In good years the population increased. In bad years the numbers of the people diminished. Those who survived numbered in the year about two hundred million souls. From that time to this, human life has been fostered and maintained at the


sacrifice of all that makes life worth living. Internecine wars have been replaced by a universal passion for litigation between individuals. Famines have been minimised by Mansion House funds and by State aid, with such effect that the two hundred millions have been replaced by two hundred and fifty-seven millions of human beings. Those who would have died under the rougher and healthier rule of the Moguls, survive to a joyless and prolific existence. The pressure of population on the means of subsistence has destroyed the village arts that flourished for centuries before the baleful introduction of a sickly humanitarianism. Population and pressure increase after every famine, under the operation of law governing the abnormal fecundity of the unfit. Half-starved ryots survive the periodic death only to provide constituencies for future famines, of larger-and eventually, under present scientific and economic conditions-of unmanageable dimensions.

What is the humanity that feeds thousands, when the millions produced by feeding them must necessarily die a starving death of hopeless and unassuageable agony ? When the next great Indian famine arrives, accompanied


by abnormal modifications of the photosphere of the sun, dim suggestions will be offered as to the fatuity of attempting to confront the evidence of astronomical phenomena by the collection of a Mansion House fund.

The inference from such facts as these is, that we should attempt to harmonize our legislation and our public charities with the inexorable tendencies of natural law, that every member of society is irrevocably responsible for his or her contribution to the solution of the Problems of a Great City (which are the problems of the race), and cannot delegate them either to governments or to a clerical caste; and that the application of compassion alone, without the telescope of thought and judgment for those we have not seen, is to sow the dark seeds of poisonous and eternal evil.

When each of us admits the unsupportable burden of participation in the pollution and misery to which our wills have never consented, OEdipus has been found to answer the riddle propounded by the spirit of civilization. If each one answers Davus sum, non OEdipus, the mysterious monster will continue to levy


her tribute of human lives from the Bæotiaof civilization. As every soul leaving England for a foreign country is involuntarily a missionary from his countrymen, a representative of their habits, aspirations, and enjoyments-and as by him, his character, and his conduct will native races keenly assess the value and estimate the nature of the civilization and religion he represents-so in a complex form of Society, such as that of a great city, is each soul forming part of it trustee for the race and the destinies of the race. The lightest act, imponderable as gossamer, is the parent of boundless and eternal issues. The slightest impulse and the lightest words are fraught alike with the qualities of eternal destiny. The period of incubation may be prolonged, but the germs are never sterile. Life or death, alike unseen and unrestricted, may be the inseparable consequences of the tiniest action. Europe condemned M. Ollivier for entering on war with a light heart. As men and women reach maturity each is told off in a contest between the powers of evil and of pain, and the powers of life and of light. We do not know with assurance the nature of the


penalties following the betrayal of the trust reposed in us; but we do know the degradation and the corruption of national life that have resulted from the hollow profession of a perfect life, and from entering the terrible contest with a " light heart."

They are the most effectually solving the Problems of a Great City who by life and example add wisdom to the sacrifice of self. The tinkling cymbal of emotional and subsidized religion produces no large and permanent results on the lives and characters of the English people plunged in the sadness of a great city. Moral revolution in the individual is a panacea that cannot be replaced by legislation, nor by sermons, nor by alms. Such a revolution must begin among the comfortable classes, who alone enjoy the environment in which a moral change is generally possible, and the aim of the New revolution is the recognition by the comfortable classes of the fact that " pure religion and undefiled is to visit the fatherless and the widow in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world."