The War Is Over
AFTER the war, England faced the hardest problem of her history. The men were being demobilized and there was no work for them. I think I knew something of the mind of the soldier, and I feel certain that the dole saved England from a debacle. When I saw thousands of men marching through the streets of London rattling tin cans and begging from the passers-by, I was afraid that they would recognize me. I had painted in glowing words another kind of England.
The workers, employed and unemployed, were seething with discontent. They were a barrel of gunpowder, only waiting for a provocation to act as a match to set it off.
I was getting ready to go on another ‘Y’ mission, to the Rhine. Mr. Lloyd George sent for me. He said the situation in industrial centres was acute and he believed I was the man to handle it. He hoped I could remain a year in England and do in the industries what I had done on the western front.
My words were few. I accepted the invitation. He told me to see an officer of the Treasury concerning remuneration. That, I told him, I could not do. I never could talk to Labor and be in the pay of the government. I must be absolutely untrammeled. A few friends would provide me with car fare and food. He promised to back me personally in any way I needed him.
Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, and the mining regions of South Wales were the first stopping places on this part of the pilgrimage. The Prime Minister wrote personal letters to newspapers and manufacturers. All factory gates were open to me, and the newspapers noised abroad my message. I did not confine myself to factories and shops. I spoke in churches and halls and wherever working people forgathered.
In one of these large cities I was arrested and taken before a high police official, charged with neglecting, as an alien, to report myself. During the war I had observed these alien restrictions with meticulous care. I had suffered much in so doing. Now it was over, such formalities seemed absurd and outrageous. Before the official I was boiling with indignation.
‘Does the name of Inspector Javert recall anything to your mind, sir?’ I asked.
‘Then any reference to him would be wasted. Let me say, sir, I am doing England a service that no man in England could do. I am the personal representative of the British Government in your district and I have been too busy to call at a police station every time I go around a corner; and I want calmly and quietly to tell you that I’m sick of this snooping suspicion and will report no more anywhere, nor to anybody!'
He sat at a desk. When I finished he arose and gave me one of the most stinging rebukes I had ever received. It startled me.
‘I thoroughly agree with you,’he said quite pleasantly, ‘and I shall write at once to the Home Secretary and have you excused!’
In those days the Clyde shipbuilding yards and the coal-mining region of South Wales were the red-flag spots of the Labor discontent. Lloyd George asked me which of these places I would visit first. I said, ‘Your fellow countrymen, sir; they are the worst.’ A newspaper in Cardiff heralded my coming. That a reactionary newspaper should welcome a man who was a friend of Labor was quite puzzling to the miners. I had more difficulty in overcoming the good will of the paper than I had in giving the miners a new point of view.
A veteran Labor leader had asked one of the old Labor ‘war horses’ to preside at one big meeting. He did so, but I could see opposition in his attitude from the start. The hall was packed with men.
‘Tom Richards asked me to preside here,’ he began; ‘but I notice that this speaker is recommended by a newspaper that has no use for us, and we have none for it. Something strange about that. This paper says this man is interested in a better England. We are not. We are interested in a better Wales. The gentleman who is to speak is a mystery man. How can he be any good to us who comes with such a rotten endorsement?’ In this tone and manner he went on for about fifteen minutes.
This sort of introduction was providential. It fanned into a flame all the smouldering fires of my Celtic nature.
‘I’m sorry for your chairman,’I began. ‘ I’m sorry for this audience and Tom Richards and the newspaper. I’m sorry for everybody concerned — except myself. Before I begin my address I want to iron out a few things. I want to take the brick out of the chairman’s bouquet! He has been brutally frank. I will be just as frank without the brutality.
‘When a man says he is a friend of Labor, or a champion of Labor principles, what would you consider a fair test of his loyalty? I venture to say that not a man in this hall will disagree with me when I say that service to Labor is the surest and best test. We are agreed on that. Well, then, if that be true, I challenge your chairman, I challenge any man in this audience or any man in South Wales, to lay his cards on the table before a committee selected by your chairman. I will lay mine beside them, and if that committee does not decide that I have a better right to address Labor than your chairman has, I will apologize for being here — I will apologize for my existence.
’By service to Labor I do not mean holding down a Labor job, nor do I mean union membership for personal benefits through group organization. I mean service rendered and sacrifices made without money payments and without any material benefits whatever.
‘These hands of mine are white now. They used to be black and gnarled and chipped. I worked in a coal pit in the old days for a shilling a day. Keir Hardie and I worked in the same pit. He was skilled. I was only a mucker. I was stupid, ignorant, and dirty. No slave with ball and chain ever felt his slavery more keenly than I felt the slavery of ignorance and dirt. I escaped.
I became a soldier that I might learn to read.
‘The necessity of a higher education drove me from these British Isles. I secured a university degree; but instead of divorcing me from the working class, it knit me close to them. Without knowing anything more than a cat about Socialism, I joined the movement. I am an American citizen. The American Socialists elected me to the National Executive Committee. I am an honorary member of six great labor unions. I have been a minister and have been kicked out of many churches because of my loyalty to the working class. I have had the real-estate agents of an entire city combine to prevent me from renting a home. I have had newspaper opposition all through my career. I know what it is to go hungry for Labor, to be misunderstood, to be maligned and persecuted for it, and yet, Mr. Chairman and miners of South Wales, I have never been on Labor’s pay roll!
“I gave up a position to come over here and lend a hand. I am against war. I learned to hate it on the battlefields of Egypt. But when men are suffering and dying by the hundreds of thousands I refuse to stand aside. So I’ve been in France. I gave cheer to over a million men over there. If Socialism or Unionism or any other ism interfered with that service I would throw them aside and do it again! Men who hold down cushy jobs at home may not appreciate that, but the lads who lie in the soil of France and Flanders did, and their appreciation is my reward. I seek no other —'
Here the audience broke into cheers. I raised my voice to proceed and they stood up and cheered. There were yells of approval by men who had heard me in France.
‘Let me conclude the challenge and stop,’ I said. “I might have used my brains and ability to make money. I am a poor man. I have no property, no capital, and I am in that position because I have given my life and influence to the oppressed, the poor, and the under dog!’
Only in a small measure can these words convey here what they meant to that audience. The Welsh are a fiery people and are passionately fond of good singing and speech touched with fire. I called for an answer to the challenge and was greeted with cheers. There was no answer, and I went on with what I went there to say. When I sat down the chairman arose and said: —
‘The gentleman is no longer a man of mystery. I will entertain a motion that we call him back to lecture to us on any topic he likes, and we will pay him for coming.'
A full report of the meeting opened up to me the whole Rhondda Valley, where there was much fire underneath the surface of things, ready to burst forth at any minute. Once a Welsh choir of male voices came and sang for me at several big gatherings.
My message to the workers was an appeal to the spirit — a plea for patience. I was one of them, analyzing national and international situations and pointing out the tremendous difficulties involved in building a new structure on the ruins of the old. I contended that we could best serve the world and our own particular movements by playing the national game in a way best suited to national needs. Britain was short of ships, short of goods, and short of raw material. She could only survive by supplying the world with what British hands produced. Any attempt to make a radical change would inevitably turn Britain into a shambles of chaos, disorder, and blood.
With the miners in Wales I was successful. It was with the politicians, profiteers, and capitalists that I seemed to fail. At the close of an arduous campaign, two mass meetings were arranged for Sunday in the largest theatre in Cardiff. It was suggested that a Labor leader preside in the afternoon and a capitalist in the evening. That suited me. At both meetings I made a strong plea for a unity of spiritual forces. By the bare hands of British workingmen was British equilibrium to be achieved. Would the workers shelve their propaganda, put aside their class antagonism, and declare an armistice? The workers said, ‘Yes.'
The afternoon meeting was presided over by a Labor leader and was all that I could desire. The chairman in the evening was a capitalist who was a parvenu, an ill-bred, uneducated man, who had made an immense fortune out of the war and whose money had carried him into Parliament. My plea for coöperation and the expression of the finer aspects of the spirit in man during the period of reconstruction was received by the vast audience with enthusiasm. To my utter amazement the chairman turned the meeting into a protest against the United States. After my address he told the audience that the United States had demanded 500,000 tons of shipping. That, he said, was unfair. He boasted that he was trying to persuade the House of Commons to refuse the demand. Turning to me, he asked me to carry his protest to the President. Then he introduced two men he had brought from London for the purpose of backing him up. They were both discredited Labor leaders and renegades who had sold out to the highest bidder. For me the situation was difficult. I did n’t want to lose the influence I had already gained, nor could I let him get away with an insult.
‘I am a stranger in your city,’I began, ‘and your guest. It would ill become a guest to argue with his host, but in view of this most extraordinary proceeding I am sure you would not expect me to keep silent. I think this audience understands me. I am sure you know that what I plead for is the only thing that will see Britain through.
‘As to my taking the gentleman’s protest to President Wilson — don’t you think it would be rather stupid in me if I asked the gentleman to take such a message from me to King George? Do you do that sort of thing over here? With us it is not done. As to the shipping, my country had no understanding, treaty, or bargain for any of the swag. If now we are asking for ships, I am ashamed. I think, however, I can mitigate the severity of the critics on the platform when I tell them that when we entered the war the crews of German ships in our harbors blew the machinery out of them, and it took millions to blow it in again. As Uncle Sam has no more love for taxation than John Bull has, I am inclined to believe that if he is demanding the ships he refitted he wants them as souvenirs!
‘The chairman suggests that we came into the war late. That is true, and we shall not be permitted for some time to forget it. But may I ask the gentleman behind me to consider for a moment what would have happened if we had n’t come in at all! The Germans know, if he does n’t. The British generals also know. Finally, I don’t believe this audience will permit political strategy to dull the fine edge of our attempt to-night to appeal to the nobler qualities and values of the spirit.’
Thunderous applause was the answer.
Over large areas in congested industrial centres I went to the workers, and they received me gladly. Then a call came from the Y to render assistance in raising money to provide Y tents for the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who were in the devastated areas in France. Great numbers of very wealthy English people were on the Riviera, and three of us went there, two to arrange the details and I to address parlor meetings in the fashionable hotels around Cannes, Nice, Monte Carlo, and Mentone.
The Duke of Connaught was staying at Cannes. If he would consent to preside at some meetings the aristocracy would flock around him. We went to Cannes. My two companions saw the Duke’s secretary and he turned them down. I waited for them in the lounge. Just as we were leaving I saw a face familiar to me. The man recognized me and we advanced toward each other. He was a captain of the Guards.
‘Well, well,’ I said. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘I am the Duke’s secretary.’
‘Heavens! How fortunate for us! You turned these fellows down, but you must n’t turn me down!’
‘Still morale raising?’ he asked, smiling.
‘Yes. I’m here to raise the morale of dukes, lords, and commons, but I can’t even raise the wind without the Duke!'
He laughed and told us to wait. Five minutes later he returned and took me upstairs to meet His Royal Highness.
‘My secretary has been telling me wonderful things about you,’ the Duke said, ‘and I thought you would n’t mind talking while I dress for dinner.’
‘I am delighted, sir. I was shipmates with your brother the Duke of Edinburgh in the Mediterranean when I was a boy.’
We talked, as he dressed, on many topics. He consented at once to preside and help in getting people out.
‘I am informed,’ he said in introducing me at our first meeting, ‘that in the great crisis when we were with our backs to the wall this man’s burning words were of more service to our cause than a whole division of soldiers.’
The enterprise, however, was not a financial success. The aristocrats were perfectly willing, now that the war was over, to let the soldiers go without the comfort of a place where they could get a cup of tea and a smoke. Of all the people I met down there, the Duke was the most human, the most gentlemanly, and the most democratic. To me, personally, he was more than kind. He read some of my books and took the trouble to write me several letters about them afterward.
While on the Riviera I wrote a series of articles on Monte Carlo for a London paper. In order to get color and thrill I went into the Casino. What a strange crowd of devotees at the altars of the god of chance! I played the tables. I wanted the whole gamut of sensations and I got them all but one—I just did n’t seem to be able to lose, no matter what colors or combinations I chose. I came out with fifteen hundred francs of their money. Next day I bought three good paintings and brought them away as souvenirs. I had an idea that if I played long enough I might win sufficient to sustain the soldiers’ huts myself; but I could n’t stay.
In one of my articles I alluded to the army of the Prince of Monaco in the following sentence: ‘Yesterday I saw a parade of the Prince’s army. They were both in full-dress uniform.’ The editor could n’t see the joke and deleted it.
When the League of Nations Union was launched in the Royal Albert Hall I was selected to ‘put the snapper on the whip.’ When an Englishman, chairman of the committee, put it to me in just that way, I warned him against the use of such picturesque phrases, lest he be accused of being an American. To the English people this was a great occasion — an audience of ten thousand and, on the platform, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. John Clifford, Professor Gilbert Murray, Lord Robert Cecil, Sir Edward Grey, and the Right Honorable J. R. Clynes. After these statesmen, orators, and churchmen had spent their force in explaining this spiritual auxiliary of the League of Nations, I was to come on and in a tenor fifteen-minute speech persuade that audience to join it then and there. The situation looked like that of a marksman with the last bullet in his rifle, when accuracy or inaccuracy of aim meant success or failure. To fail here would be signal, dismal failure. But fortunately I did not fail. After an impassioned appeal, I asked those who would back the movement to stand up, and the audience arose as one man.
When the Irish were copying Cromwell’s methods of wholesale murder, when rebellion, arson, terror, and bloodshed were at their worst, I was invited by General Wood — with whom I had served in France — to visit the men under his command, the Auxiliary Force, in Ireland. Wood was second in command to a man who hated the Irish, and the Irish attitude toward the latter may be judged by the fact that he went to the golf links in an armored car! That he did n’t join the ‘hole-inone club’ was n’t the fault of the Irish sharpshooters. Some of them told me, when peace came, that they never thought of him as a soldier — they looked upon him as a rat and would have shot him as one if they had ever had a chance.
What could I do in Ireland? Wood thought he knew. Every member of the Auxiliary had been a British officer. I could give these men some idea of Irish psychology — something the British had been shy of for seven centuries. I could tell them that they were not there to fight the Irish, but to preserve peace. It was a thankless, dangerous job, and every man engaged in it would have thrown it aside instantly if he could have gotten anything else to do.
So I joined General Wood at Beggar’s Bush Barracks in Dublin. When he set out on a tour of inspection I went with him.
I had dedicated My Lady of the Chimney Corner to Lady Gregory and the players of the Abbey Theatre, but I was not very sanguine about its reception in Ireland, where many books are written and few bought. I found, however, that it was well known in Dublin. It was a good introduction to the leaders of the rebellion. I wanted to meet them, especially Michael Collins. I was warned not to go on that trip, but I went. I rode always with the general in his car. An armored car in front and one behind gave some sense of security. I refused to carry a revolver. When stopping in a hotel, as we sometimes did, the general had my room guarded throughout the night. I addressed the Auxiliary units throughout the disturbed counties and areas. In Longford I wandered through the homes and haunts of Oliver Goldsmith.
We encountered difficulties. Roads were made impassable, high stone barricades were thrown up, huge trees were felled across our path. I saw the last round-up by the English in Ireland. A regiment of Lancers formed a circle around an area of several square miles. Then they closed in toward a centre, bringing with them all the men and boys within the circle. It was one of the most distressing sights I have ever witnessed. The men were haggard from hunger. They were clad in rags, and there they stood before their armed conquerors, sullen, silent, defiant , ready to suffer death for the things they believed to be right.
At another place I witnessed an incident which was a miniature picture of Irish history. There was a stone barricade across a road. We stopped, of course, and the soldiers spread out over the countryside like a fan. It was a small sort of round-up. The only result was an Irish farmer in shirt and trousers.
‘How long has this been here?’ asked the general sternly.
‘About a month, more or less, yer honor.’
‘You lie!’ said the general. ‘It’s only been here a few days.’
‘ Whut fur do ye be talkin’ like that, now? Shure it don’t matter to me if it’s been up a year or a day. It’s th’ thruth I’m afther tellin’ ye.’
Threats of prison, mere bluff on the general’s part, did n’t move him. He stood there looking bewildered. Then something happened. A little willywagtail fluttered from her nest on the top of the barricade. We looked at each other and then at the farmer. We peeped into the nest and found four eggs.
’Well,’ said a Dublin Castle man, ‘it must have taken her about a month to lay four eggs, Pat.’
‘Gad, I’m thinkin’ ye’re about right, yer honor,’ he said. ‘She’d be afther layin’ about wan a week.’
It was an acted parable, a bird’snest view of Ireland, the meaning of which was not lost on those who witnessed it.
Perhaps I helped a little on this journey. I made men laugh. I made them think. I was detached and disinterested. The general said I put hope into the hearts of his men. My own hope was that their work would soon come to an end.
When I returned to London I wrote an article on my observations in Ireland. It was three thousand words long. The Evening News rarely prints long articles. I told the editor he might take out of it anything he wanted and throw the rest into the waste-paper basket. I was never more astonished in my life than when my name in huge letters covered the billboards of London next day. The article was printed just as I wrote it. It was widely advertised as ‘the greatest article ever written on Ireland.’ Why? ‘Well,’the editor said, ‘you tell the truth; you tell it simply and plainly. You see things in their true proportion and your comment at the close that “ guns cannot kill the spirit of a people” is so sane and so unanswerable that reactionary men were moved by it.’
All Fleet Street took notice of that article, and several offers of journalistic work of a permanent sort came to me as a result. Perhaps the most important notice of it was taken by churchmen. I was waited upon and asked to elaborate the spiritual implications in it at a mass meeting of churchmen which they would call for that special purpose. At that meeting the present Archbishop of York, Dr. Temple, spoke, and the Bishop of Peterborough took part. My plea was for the recognition of that which is imperishable in the Celtic temperament. It was the single sentence on that point in my article that attracted the attention of spiritually-minded churchmen.
As the guest of Lord and Lady Aberdeen I made a tour of North Britain on behalf of the League of Nations Union. The Aberdeens were of that inner circle of friends I made during those years — friends whose fellowship remains a permanent element in my life. In the city of Aberdeen I made eight addresses in one day. The Aberdeen Free Press said that was a record. The addresses were given to high schools, training schools, the University, the Chamber of Commerce, and a mass meeting in the evening. Of course, it is what a man has to say that is important — not the number of times he says it; but the Aberdeen papers bore testimony to the enthusiasm created for the spiritual force behind the League of Nations at Geneva.
A little later I was the guest of Lord and Lady Aberdeen in their Dublin house and became acquainted with Lady Aberdeen’s work for the poor — than which I know of no greater work by a single person in any city of the world.
In the early part of Victoria’s reign 33 per cent of English men were unable to write their names. The percentage among women was 49. England has traveled a long distance since Gladstone and Disraeli joined hands to defeat Lord John Russell’s proposals for popular education.
One of my last adventures in England was to do some pioneer work in education for Manchester University. The authorities wanted money for extension. I could go to the working class and interest them in the work of an institution which, if it was not directly benefiting them now, would benefit their children.
University bonds were printed and I sold them at a shilling apiece in the large manufacturing plants. This was the first time in the history of England, or perhaps anywhere else, that a university had made such an appeal. The interest I created, perhaps, faded away; but it was a foundation upon which the University could have built an extension course at small expense. This also was a morale raising. To attract the attention of the rich, however, a dynamic was needed. In the council somebody suggested that a royal visit would serve the purpose. Any member of the royal family would do, but they had tried many times to secure such a visit and had always failed.
I asked it His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught would do! The words had hardly escaped my lips when I felt the air cool. I was an American —a little painfully conscious of it just at that moment. The question was not put to the council, a body I had never met with, but to a prominent member, by whom the question was sidetracked at once.
I was told by a less august personage that they had tried to get the Duke but had failed; as they had failed to get the Prince and others. Being always possessed of a reckless desire to attempt impossibilities, I made the suggestion where it would receive some serious recognition. When all the dignity of high officials had failed, my suggestion seemed a joke. I went off to London, called up the Duke’s secretary, and was invited to take tea with the Duke at St. James’s Palace.
I suppose there must be an unwritten law as to what men wear when they take tea with royalty. I did n’t know what the correct attire was, and I should have gone as I was anyway, for the simple reason that I had no money to buy clothes for such a purpose. I was royally received, just as I was. After a pleasant half hour I put the request to him. He said he had refused a year ago, but he told me the reason. His mother, Queen Victoria, had a hatred of trains, and all his life he also had dreaded them. Besides, Manchester was a depressing place and he was getting old. I came back with a personal plea. As a stranger I had given England five years of my life. This was the first time I had asked for a boon. Would he, as a personal favor, make the visit?
‘ Well, after all,’ he said, ‘it’s a small matter and I don’t see how I can refuse you.’
‘Yes. Tell the Vice Chancellor and the Lord Mayor to visit me here for details.’
I took my leave, and as soon as I was out on St. James’s Street I wired his acceptance to the University authorities.
Then I rounded a corner in my pilgrimage and turned my face toward home. I had given five years. During that time I had been an alien to the people I served and forgotten by my own. I was not a candidate for medals or honors. The Prime Minister wrote me a letter of thanks on behalf of himself and his government.
It was an interesting adventure. I did it because it was the thing to do. My reward is the memories I have and the consciousness that I did what I could.
- Earlier chapters of Dr. Irvine’s history appeared in December and January. — EDITOR↩