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- Mark Rutherford's Deliverance - 1/17 -

Transcribed from the 1913 Hodder and Stoughton edition by David Price, email



When I had established myself in my new lodgings in Camden Town, I found I had ten pounds in my pocket, and again there was no outlook. I examined carefully every possibility. At last I remembered that a relative of mine, who held some office in the House of Commons, added to his income by writing descriptive accounts of the debates, throwing in by way of supplement any stray scraps of gossip which he was enabled to collect. The rules of the House as to the admission of strangers were not so strict then as they are now, and he assured me that if I could but secure a commission from a newspaper, he could pass me into one of the galleries, and, when there was nothing to be heard worth describing, I could remain in the lobby, where I should by degrees find many opportunities of picking up intelligence which would pay. So far, so good; but how to obtain the commission? I managed to get hold of a list of all the country papers, and I wrote to nearly every one, offering my services. I am afraid that I somewhat exaggerated them, for I had two answers, and, after a little correspondence, two engagements. This was an unexpected stroke of luck; but alas! both journals circulated in the same district. I never could get together more stuff than would fill about a column and a half, and consequently I was obliged, with infinite pains, to vary, so that it could not be recognised, the form of what, at bottom, was essentially the same matter. This was work which would have been disagreeable enough, if I had not now ceased in a great measure to demand what was agreeable. In years past I coveted a life, not of mere sensual enjoyment--for that I never cared--but a life which should be filled with activities of the noblest kind, and it was intolerable to me to reflect that all my waking hours were in the main passed in merest drudgery, and that only for a few moments at the beginning or end of the day could it be said that the higher sympathies were really operative. Existence to me was nothing but these few moments, and consequently flitted like a shadow. I was now, however, the better of what was half disease and half something healthy and good. In the first place, I had discovered that my appetite was far larger than my powers. Consumed by a longing for continuous intercourse with the best, I had no ability whatever to maintain it, and I had accepted as a fact, however mysterious it might be, that the human mind is created with the impulses of a seraph and the strength of a man. Furthermore, what was I that I should demand exceptional treatment? Thousands of men and women superior to myself, are condemned, if that is the proper word to use, to almost total absence from themselves. The roar of the world for them is never lulled to rest, nor can silence ever be secured in which the voice of the Divine can be heard.

My letters were written twice a week, and as each contained a column and a half, I had six columns weekly to manufacture. These I was in the habit of writing in the morning, my evenings being spent at the House. At first I was rather interested, but after a while the occupation became tedious beyond measure, and for this reason. In a discussion of any importance about fifty members perhaps would take part, and had made up their minds beforehand to speak. There could not possibly be more than three or four reasons for or against the motion, and as the knowledge that what the intending orator had to urge had been urged a dozen times before on that very night never deterred him from urging it again, the same arguments, diluted, muddled, and mispresented, recurred with the most wearisome iteration.

The public outside knew nothing or very little of the real House of Commons, and the manner in which time was squandered there, for the reports were all of them much abbreviated. In fact, I doubt whether anybody but the Speaker, and one or two other persons in the same position as myself, really felt with proper intensity what the waste was, and how profound was the vanity of members and the itch for expression; for even the reporters were relieved at stated intervals, and the impression on their minds was not continuous. Another evil result of these attendances at the House was a kind of political scepticism. Over and over again I have seen a Government arraigned for its conduct of foreign affairs. The evidence lay in masses of correspondence which it would have required some days to master, and the verdict, after knowing the facts, ought to have depended upon the application of principles, each of which admitted a contrary principle for which much might be pleaded. There were not fifty members in the House with the leisure or the ability to understand what it was which had actually happened, and if they had understood it, they would not have had the wit to see what was the rule which ought to have decided the case. Yet, whether they understood or not, they were obliged to vote, and what was worse, the constituencies also had to vote, and so the gravest matters were settled in utter ignorance. This has often been adduced as an argument against an extended suffrage, but, if it is an argument against anything, it is an argument against intrusting the aristocracy and even the House itself with the destinies of the nation; for no dock labourer could possibly be more entirely empty of all reasons for action than the noble lords, squires, lawyers, and railway directors whom I have seen troop to the division bell. There is something deeper than this scepticism, but the scepticism is the easiest and the most obvious conclusion to an open mind dealing so closely and practically with politics as it was my lot to do at this time of my life. Men must be governed, and when it comes to the question, by whom? I, for one, would far sooner in the long run trust the people at large than I would the few, who in everything which relates to Government are as little instructed as the many and more difficult to move. The very fickleness of the multitude, the theme of such constant declamation, is so far good that it proves a susceptibility to impressions to which men hedged round by impregnable conventionalities cannot yield. {1}

When I was living in the country, the pure sky and the landscape formed a large portion of my existence, so large that much of myself depended on it, and I wondered how men could be worth anything if they could never see the face of nature. For this belief my early training on the "Lyrical Ballads" is answerable. When I came to London the same creed survived, and I was for ever thirsting for intercourse with my ancient friend. Hope, faith, and God seemed impossible amidst the smoke of the streets. It was now very difficult for me, except at rare opportunities, to leave London, and it was necessary for me, therefore, to understand that all that was essential for me was obtainable there, even though I should never see anything more than was to be seen in journeying through the High Street, Camden Town, Tottenham Court Road, the Seven Dials, and Whitehall. I should have been guilty of a simple surrender to despair if I had not forced myself to make this discovery. I cannot help saying, with all my love for the literature of my own day, that it has an evil side to it which none know except the millions of sensitive persons who are condemned to exist in great towns. It might be imagined from much of this literature that true humanity and a belief in God are the offspring of the hills or the ocean; and by implication, if not expressly, the vast multitudes who hardly ever see the hills or the ocean must be without a religion. The long poems which turn altogether upon scenery, perhaps in foreign lands, and the passionate devotion to it which they breathe, may perhaps do good in keeping alive in the hearts of men a determination to preserve air, earth, and water from pollution; but speaking from experience as a Londoner, I can testify that they are most depressing, and I would counsel everybody whose position is what mine was to avoid these books and to associate with those which will help him in his own circumstances.

Half of my occupation soon came to an end. One of my editors sent me a petulant note telling me that all I wrote he could easily find out himself, and that he required something more "graphic and personal." I could do no better, or rather I ought to say, no worse than I had been doing. These letters were a great trouble to me. I was always conscious of writing so much of which I was not certain, and so much which was indifferent to me. The unfairness of parties haunted me. But I continued to write, because I saw no other way of getting a living, and surely it is a baser dishonesty to depend upon the charity of friends because some pleasant, clean, ideal employment has not presented itself, than to soil one's hands with a little of the inevitable mud. I don't think I ever felt anything more keenly than I did a sneer from an acquaintance of mine who was in the habit of borrowing money from me. He was a painter, whose pictures were never sold because he never worked hard enough to know how to draw, and it came to my ears indirectly that he had said that "he would rather live the life of a medieval ascetic than condescend to the degradation of scribbling a dozen columns weekly of utter trash on subjects with which he had no concern." At that very moment he owed me five pounds. God knows that I admitted my dozen columns to be utter trash, but it ought to have been forgiven by those who saw that I was struggling to save myself from the streets and to keep a roof over my head. Degraded, however, as I might be, I could not get down to the "graphic and personal," for it meant nothing less than the absolutely false. I therefore contrived to exist on the one letter, which, excepting the mechanical labour of writing a second, took up as much of my time as if I had to write two.

Never, but once or twice at the most, did my labours meet with the slightest recognition beyond payment. Once I remember that I accused a member of a discreditable manoeuvre to consume the time of the House, and as he represented a borough in my district, he wrote to the editor denying the charge. The editor without any inquiry--and I believe I was mistaken--instantly congratulated me on having "scored." At another time, when Parliament was not sitting, I ventured, by way of filling up my allotted space, to say a word on behalf of a now utterly forgotten novel. I had a letter from the authoress thanking me, but alas! the illusion vanished. I was tempted by this one novel to look into others which I found she had written, and I discovered that they were altogether silly. The attraction of the one of which I thought so highly, was due not to any real merit which it possessed, but to something I had put into it. It was dead, but it had served as a wall to re-echo my own voice. Excepting these two occasions, I don't think that one solitary human being ever applauded or condemned one solitary word of which I was the author. All my friends knew where my contributions were to be found, but I never heard that they looked at them. They were never worth reading, and yet such complete silence was rather lonely. The tradesman who makes a good coat enjoys the satisfaction of having fitted and pleased his customer, and a bricklayer, if he be diligent, is rewarded by knowing that his master understands his value, but I never knew what it was to receive a single response. I

Mark Rutherford's Deliverance - 1/17

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