Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Our Hard-working Royal Family

The happy couple
Non-fiction ~ article
Published in The Yorkshire Evening Post, 29th November 1934¹
835 words
(First read 24/09/2014)

In language that teeters on the brink of being 'gushy' EFB treats us to a gooey dollop of pro-royal blancmange, published on the day of the nuptials of Prince George, Duke of Kent (1900-42) and Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark (1906-68).  He begins, for no particularly good reason, with a reminiscence of Queen Victoria's golden jubilee in 1887, and more stuff about Her Royal and Imperial Dumpiness, before moving on to a very brief mention of what hard workers the royals of the day are, and finishing off with a paean² to the bride and groom of the day.  His parting shot (as it were) is this slightly astonishing statement:
... on both [bride and groom] has [sic] been shed those gifts of beauty and of charm to which all surrender.
Need I say more?

¹ And possibly elsewhere.  
² I had to look this word up.

The article is reproduced below.  To the best of my knowledge this is the first time it's been put before a WWW readership, in full (more or less) and free of charge, so the first time it's seen light of day in 80 years.

Our Hard-working Royal Family by E. F. Benson
There are those who are old enough to remember Queen Victoria's Jubilee in 1887, and who were fortunate enough to have been inside Westminster Abbey on that day in June. The Queen had not been inside it for any great function since her Coronation, and then she was decked in Crown and robes of State, and she carried sceptre and orb and found them very heavy.
But on this second appearance, when the glittering company of kings and queens, and of her sons and daughters, her sons-in-law and daughters-in-law and grandchildren had passed up the nave, then came a little old lady leaning on a stick.
She was dressed in black satin with a white front, and on her head was a white bonnet with a black velvet band, and she had come to church to thank God for his loving kindness to her and her people during the 50 years of her reign. The choir sang the 'Te Deum' which the Prince Consort had composed, and in the anthem was embodied the Chorale which he had played to Mendelssohn on his new organ at Buckingham Palace.

Changed Opinion
An immense change had come over the nation's view of the Sovereign and the Royal family generally in those fifty years. Never had the Throne been held in such low esteem as when she succeeded to her two uncles, and a third, the most sinister of all, the Duke of Cumberland, was still the next heir. Then had followed 20 years of her blissful married life with Prince Albert, a man of the highest nobility of character, and those years utterly effaced the tradition of the uncles.
After his death came years in which, stricken and shattered in nerves, the Queen had almost completely withdrawn herself from the public view, and became to the mass of her subjects a legendary figure, till, gradually emerging from that gloomy evening of eclipse she passed, as if the sun had stood still for her, into a blaze of noonday. Through all those years she had worked unremittingly for her people, and though invisible, had admitted them to the naïve record of her private life, and the masses had learned to think of her not only as Queen and Empress, but a woman who sketched and went for picnics on the hill, and popped into the village shop, and bought shawls for the aged tenants of her cottages.

Real Workers
With that immense change came another hardly less significant in the whole temper of the nation towards the Royal Family. They found that they were not drones, supported in luxurious idleness by public funds, but hard-worked people, rushing about to open docks and libraries and schools and hospitals.
Their benevolent activities increased and increased, until to-day it is scarcely possible to open the daily paper without seeing that some member of the Royal House has been presiding at a philanthropic gathering or charitable committee, or perhaps flying to Lancashire in the morning to see for himself the conditions in a district where unemployment is eating out the hearts of those who long for work; and then flying back to London again to speak at some dinner in aid of a hospital.
A succession of such days would seem to most folk a foretaste of purgatory, or, at any rate, a guarantee against it; but such does not appear to be their view. It is just a duty, eagerly and genially performed, and its reward is devotion.
Nearly 50 years have elapsed since that day in June when Queen Victoria came up the nave of Westminster in her black satin dress, but the enthusiasm and loyalty that greeted her then are of a very similar quality to that that [sic] have inspired the rejoicings of this auspicious day. For the last week during these foggy November days London has been humming with the excitement of bees about to swarm in the sunshine of summer, and an indescribable delirium has invaded its streets and its conversations.

Loyalty to Throne
One still looks back to the Queen as the builder of those imperishable foundations on which the present loyalty to the Throne and to her House are based, for she set the Throne in the hearts and the affections of her people. It stands solid as ever, while the Thrones of Europe have tottered and fallen, and the devotion of the nation to the Royal Family and the joy of [illegible, probably the nation again] in their rejoicings are of the [two words illegible].
And even as the [illegible] Princess Alexandra took by storm the imagination of the English and retained it to the end when she came from Denmark to wed the grandfather of the bridegroom of to-day, even so has the Princess Marina* established herself with us.
The link of blood connects the two, for the Princess Marina's grandfather, George King of Greece, was brother to Queen Alexandra, and on both has [sic] been shed those gifts of beauty and of charm to which all surrender. Is it any wonder that the nation has succumbed?

Reproduced from The Yorkshire Evening Post, 29/11/1934

Friday, 19 September 2014

Like a Grammarian

Fiction ~ short story
Published in Six Common Things, November 1893
(First read 19/09/2014)

More death, I'm afraid.  In this little character sketch (kind of) our Unnamed Narrator meets, as a bookish boy, an elderly scholar who takes his fancy.  Said gent is engaged on the task of compiling an encyclopedia of Greek mythology, as Victorian gents were wont to do: there are very distinct shades of Mr Casaubon in Middlemarch here ~ he who spent a lifetime preparing to write a book on mythology.  Anyway, half a dozen or so years pass as in a dream and UN goes to stay with the scholar, now definitely in Last-Legs-Land ... and the inevitable comes to pass.  And lo! it turns out that he's spent so long on writing his book that it's become hopelessly out-of-date, old-fashioned, unpublishable.
So, more meditative musings on the futility of human endeavour, told in EFB's most wistful/melancholy style ~ if you like this kind of thing (as I do), you'll be in clover.  It can be found online here.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Liberty of Law

Subtitled: Enlarging Individual Freedom
Non-fiction ~ article/essay
Published in Aberdeen Press and Journal¹, 16th January 1928
1,185 words
(First read 17/09/2014)

This is the second of two EFB articles I've dug up which bear the legend 'Copyright of the Freedom Association' ~ the other is Governments Who Dig Their Own Graves (1930).  In this one Benson talks about how human laws, though on the surface they appear to restrict our lives, are in fact designed to ensure that we can go about our business freely ~ without, for example, the fear of being murdered by our neighbours because we allow our vile filthy nasty dogs to bark incessantly all day while I'm trying to concentrate².  He also talks about 'another vast set of ordinances [that are] not legally binding on him', namely religious or moral law ... this is where it gets a bit hazy.  He finishes off by apparently saying that while human law has its uses, it is only by following moral/religious³ law that civilization can hope to advance.

¹ And ~ most likely ~ elsewhere.  This is just where I happened to find it.
² Oops, wandering off the point a bit here.
³ He actually calls it 'the Christian code' but of course I'm far too PC to mention that.

The article is reproduced below.  As far as I'm aware, this is the first time in 96 years that it's appeared before a potentially worldwide readership, in full and free of charge.

Liberty of Law by E. F. Benson
It is only the very inefficient and pretentious writer who habitually uses paradox in order to convey what he has to say, and on the whole the more largely he deals in paradox, the less, so we usually find, he has to tell us, for most truths can be stated very simply. Nothing, moreover, is so exasperating to the reader as paradoxical periods: such an author is like a man who insists on doing conjuring tricks, when all that we ask of him is normal and rational behaviour; he palms the matches when you want a light, and pretends to produce them from his neighbour's nose; he appears, with patter and fumblings, to take an egg out of the coal scuttle, and finds the evening paper much crumpled in the sugar-basin. He delights in puzzling us on the one hand, and in showing us how it is done on the other, and we only hope that when he has at last left the room, he will not subsequently emerge from the piano.

Making for Freedom

Occasionally, however, the truth seems at first sight to be genuinely paradoxical; it is impossible to state it otherwise than by an apparent contradiction in terms, and thus I claim the reader's indulgence for the proposition that the laws of civilised nations generally, which on the surface look like an encompassing palisade of prohibitions, devised to limit our liberty of action in every direction, are really a highly elaborate system framed to increase and extend it.
The law against stealing, for instance, though it curtails a thief's freedom of action, is designed to enable us all to enjoy and use our possessions without the fear of having them snatched from us, and this is the root-reason why stealing is illegal. Similarly the law against murder was not framed primarily in order to break the necks of murderers, but to enable the community in general (who are more numerous than murderers), to go about their business without being seriously afraid of being stabbed in the back; and certain laws against transgressions of the moral code afford other protection for the young and defenceless. In all such cases, law, which appears to limit the liberty of each individual to do what he likes, in reality ensures the liberty of a far larger body of persons, and thus makes for freedom and not for fettering.

Prevention of Bullying

There is not, probably a single ordinance in the whole body of the law of civilised nations which is not based on this principle: law which at first seems to be designed to bully us is in reality a careful and comprehensive code devised to prevent our being bullied. For this reason every individual is assumed to have a complete knowledge of the laws of this country, and if he transgresses any one of them, no plea of his that he was ignorant of its existence is held to be a valid excuse. If by his action he was directly or indirectly injuring somebody else, he ought to have known that he was breaking some law, though he was not aware that there was such a law.
Though it is open to the cynically-minded to say that this complete acquaintance with the law is a good deal to expect of the layman, when the experts, counsel and judges alike, so often rage furiously together in their administration of it, and so constantly instruct the jury who are supposed to know all about it, the basic principle of all law is clear enough.

As You Please

Laws are not arbitrary. They were not invented, like the rules that govern Rugby football or the moves of the pieces on the chess-board, in order to render a game an agreeable mental or physical pastime, and their intricacies, the interpretation of which sets highly-trained intellects at loggerheads and renders the course of justice so slow and expensive a process, are due to the aims of successive generations of legislators to afford the community the utmost possible security and freedom. Provided that a man does not injure another individual or the community at large, as he is held to do if he commits suicide (thus robbing the State of a citizen), the law jealously guards his right to do exactly what he pleases. He is not bound nor even expected to advance anybody's interest but his own, except in times of common peril. Law only requires of him that he should not injure others.

Liberty in Obedience

But even in the most materialistic age every man, down to the most selfish and vicious, is conscious intermittently of another vast set of ordinances which are not inscribed in any statute-book that is legally binding on him. He has (occasionally) impulses of kindness and generosity which he feels he must obey, and which, if transgressed, will bring their own penalties of internal uneasiness; in fact, he punishes himself. These form the code of religious or moral law, and though any individual is free to repudiate it, he finds, as a matter of fact, that for his own sake, though he considers himself wholly independent, he prefers to obey it.
More oddly yet, and more paradoxically, he observes that the more constantly that he obeys this code, the greater grows his liberty. Provided that he acts in accordance with it, he gains, too, an essential immunity from the authority of human legislation, for when once he makes friends with the principle that underlies this other code, he not only does not want to secure advantages for himself at the cost of others but the idea of injuring others becomes highly repugnant to him. He perceives, moreover, that what he thought was a vast volume of strait-laced ascetic ordinances concern him no longer, and that if he has the welfare of others at heart, he can do exactly what he chooses. If he loves, in fact, as St Augustine says, he has entire liberty of action.

Clearing the Weeds

We find therefore that human law, which consists entirely of prohibitions, and the Christian code, which consists of one injunction, are both based on the same principle, namely that of securing and enlarging individual freedom. In neither case does the law fetter, and the limitations imposed by the first are, so to speak, the negative side of the one injunction of the second. But, however perfectly and universally observed, these prohibitions will never bring us a definite step nearer to the realisation of Utopia, for the prevention of crime cannot do more than weed the ground where the seed of progress is to be sown. No doubt the ground must be cleared of such weeds, but the second code with its one injunction automatically does that, for no weed will live in ground that has been turned up by the harrow of love.
Judging from the general experience of the human race, and the sorry results of its civilisations, no other instrument will serve the purpose; human law with its penalties and retributions may check the growth of weeds, but will never extirpate them.

Reproduced from the Aberdeen Press and Journal, 16/01/1928

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Governments Who Dig Their Own Graves

Ramsay MacDonald (1866-1937)
Remind you of anyone?
Non-fiction ~ article/essay
Published in the Western Daily Press [Bristol], 13th January 1930*
1,130 words
(First read 16/09/2014)

Mr Benson has a reet good dig at the political establishment of the day ~ a mildly diverting read, even if (like me) you know absolutely nothing about the subject.  While he's wittily scornful of the as-good-as-defunct Conservative and Liberal Parties, who lie in adjoining graves from which 'faint and unexplained tappings' can sometimes be heard, he's most cutting about the recently(ish) elected Labour government of Ramsay MacDonald, which he characterizes as a bunch of self-seeking betrayers of the class who elected them ~ not to mention everyone else who didn't.

* As with quite a few of these articles, I dare say this one was published elsewhere too: this just happens to be where I found it.  It says at the end "Copyright of the Freedom Association" ... which I'm afraid I'm too lazy to be bothered to look in to just at present ~ for another article marked thus see Liberty of Law (1928).

The full article is reproduced below.  As far as I know, this is the first time it's appeared in full, free of charge and for all the world to see, since 1930.

Governments Who Dig Their Own Graves by E. F. Benson
Among the first and best established duties of every new Government is that of digging is own grave. Whatever its life may be it sets about the business of its latter end, and a Party has no sooner got into office than it puts some business in hand which if persevered in will render its position untenable.
Sometimes, if it has but a feeble sense of this duty, it puts off the necessary task, but its conscience always awakes before long, and it shovels away with the praiseworthy notion of making up for lost time. The Protectionist policy of the Conservative Government before Labour first came into office is an instance of this. Its efforts were brilliantly successful on that occasion, the party was rent, like the veil of the Temple from top to bottom, and with a sense of a task happily accomplished, it attained its minority.
Its industry met with less lasting success than it deserved, for in a year's time the party was in power again with a majority that was almost impossible to fritter away in the course of its natural life. But, when middle-aged, it began, as was so right and proper, to turn its attention to grave-digging, and introduced what is irreverently known as the 'flapper-vote', which, as is universally recognised now, could not, from the point of view of burial, have been bettered. This time its grave was well and deeply dug, and in it for the present it lies satisfactorily interred and at such a depth that it may well be excused form hearing the last trump.
The Liberal Party
In the grave next it repose the remains of all that was immortal of the Liberal Party, and though faint and unexplained tappings are believed to be going on between the coffins containing their late leaders, there is no evidence that they are really in communication with each other. They may only be turning in their graves in posthumous horror at their proximity. They sleep, perchance to dream, but no veridical vision appears to have visited them. Probably they should be considered as dead, and the efforts of the younger members of the Conservative Party will be unable to galvanise the lost leader into life.
Meantime the third party is buzzing like a swarm of bees in May, and it is most sincerely to be hoped that they will be left to buzz in peace, for any attempt just now on the part of others to smoke them out would be foredoomed to failure, and an appeal to the electorate would only cause them “to o'erbrim their clammy cells,” and issue in overwhelming number. It is most important that they should be left to themselves.
They began operations by a series of measures long overdue, and the voice from the latest tomb sepulchrally reminded them that they were only carrying out the policy of their predecessors. Their rejoinder that they were only wiping up the mess which had been bequeathed them, and which should have been finished with long ago, seemed unanswerable.
The Rights of Musicians
But then, as all good Governments should, they began to take steps for their own interest. This they should be allowed to do without any interference, for no one can do it so well. They put forward a Bill about the rights of musicians over the fruits of their own work, and its object seemed to be that of depriving workers of their small wage in order to make music cheap for the middleman and the millions.
Peter was being robbed not to pay Paul alone bu to tip the rest of the apostles, including Judas. This was a very laudable effort on the part of Labour, whose contention it is that the worker should reap the due harvest of his toil, and not have to sell it at starvation rates to the exploiter. But this grave was dug, so to speak, in sandy soil, and the side fell in; in other words, this rank recantation of their mandate affected only a very small body of workers, and though Mr Bernard Shaw whooped and whistled on his fingers, this first attempt at grave-digging was not truly successful.
Income of Cabinet Ministers
But very soon the Government got to work again, and foreshadowed a measure for the increase of the incomes of Cabinet Ministers. That was more like serious grave-digging, and we hear that, with a due regard to the spirit of the season, they are hoping to secure the support of an influential committee drawn from other parties, so that this little Christmas-box with which they present themselves will be a symbol of peace and harmony.
Of course the cost of it will be a mere bagatelle: the purchasers, who are the tax-payers, will surely, they imagine, be only too delighted to contribute towards so small a gift. But they could scarcely have devised a scheme which, so inexpensive in itself, was symptomatic of a more cynical indifference to the principles they profess. Economy, they rightly insisted was one of the very first duties of the Government, for the industries of the country were crippled by taxation, and that burden must at once be lightened.
They resemble, in fact, a newly appointed Board of Directors of some great public company, whose energies are paralysed for want of funds; so, in order to bring relief, their first business has been to vote an increase in their own salaries. “Clever men like us,” they frankly said, “could be earning far larger incomes if we attended to our own affairs, instead of kindly consenting to manage yours, and it is not worth our while to do so, unless we are better paid. Do you think we esteem it an honour to be Directors of the British Empire Company? You are quite mistaken if you do. A successful book-maker earns more than any of us, not to mention the fun he has in attending race mettings.”
Imagine the Fulminations
Such is the light in which this measure presents itself to those who have to pay for the Christmas-box. It is indeed lucky (supposing that the leaders of the Conservative Party are in accord with it) that they did not introduce the measure themselves. What a slogan the Labour Party would have made of it at the last elections! One can imagine their fulminations against a Government which from motives of the meanest personal greed, seeks to enrich a handful of wealthy men at the expense of the workers, and of industries already withering under taxation.
The Conservatives had been blamed for the slackness and inaction; but deeper yet would have been their grave if they had exerted themselves in such a cause.
As it is, the sextons are delving for others.

Reproduced from the Western Daily Press [Bristol, UK], 13/01/1930

Sunday, 14 September 2014

House of Help

Non-fiction ~ article
Published in the Aberdeen Press and Journal, 11th November 1924*
1,165 words
(First read 16/09/14)

A brief outline of the history and work of the League of Remembrance, a charitable organization founded during the First World War "as a living memorial to those who gave their lives in the service of their country" and still going a hundred years later. The article ends with a call for new subscribers.

*Undoubtedly published elsewhere too, but this is where I stumbled across it. 

The article is reproduced below.  As far as I know, this is the first time it's appeared in full and free of charge before a (theoretically) worldwide audience in 90 years.

House of Help by E. F. Benson
There are a great many things in the lives of most of us which we would do well to forget; we need some anti-Pelman aid to oblivion with regard to them.
Prominent and conspicuous among these are injuries and slights which, rightly or wrongly, we believe that others have inflicted on us, but by the perversity of human nature it is precisely such things as these of which our memory shows itself so amazingly tenacious. Most of us need no memory-system to enable us to preserve the vividness of them; we are able to recollect them with a wealth of detail, we dwell on them with secret gusto, and refresh their roots with water-cans of malice to encourage more luxuriant growth.
It is by the same perversity of human nature that the recollections which we should be proud to cherish, the roots of which, instead of impoverishing, sweeten and enrich our minds, are precisely those which we leave to take care of themselves, for when we have reason to be grateful to those who have done something for us, the dear debt is not one that we naturally remember; we have to remind ourselves of it.
There was a time not so very long ago, when our national gratitude was alive and eager, and to do us all justice we responded pretty well. The war was in the foreground and the middle distance and the background of our daily existence, we could not get away from its immediate presence, nor from the thought of those who were our living shield and defence. We were in consequence quite industrious and generous for the million needs of those who were fighting, and for the alleviation and comfort of the wounded.
Wise Forgetting
And then when the war was won and the shattering shells screamed no more, we all, with good sens, tried to forget the horrors of it and start again. That was wise: forgetfulness was best for much that the nation had been through, but into that nightmare rubbish-heap we threw certain things that should have been saved.
There were some, however, who when they started again, and when the burden of their war-work slipped from their shoulders, did not let slip with it the burden of their gratitude, but clung to it as to a staff for their steps, and a sacrament for their spiritual refreshment. They did not abandon their task or tell themselves that they needed and deserved a complete holiday, but transmuted their activities into a work for the living, in memory of the dead.
Among these were the workers and organisers of the War Hospital Supply Depots, who throughout the war had been making for the hospitals garments and bandages and all those things which the wounded needed. They when the war was over did not say “Our work is done,” but with the memory of those for whom they had done it alive in their hearts, turned themselves into the League of Remembrance, and from that day to this, in remembrance of the dead, they devoted themselves to the succour of the suffering of the living, and testify to the sincerity of their gratitude by their industry in aid of hospitals and infant welfare centres.
The Ever-Burning Light
Their headquarters are at 1 Marlborough Gate, a couple of minutes' walk from Lancaster Gate Tube Station, and five minutes on a 'bus from the Marble Arch. The memory of the dead imperishably burns there, like a lamp set before a shrine; on the walls of the staircases are numberless little metal plaques given by the friends and relatives of the fallen to commemorate their sacrifice, and there, too, is inscribed the message sent by the King to the nearest relatives of the dead.
But more brightly than that burns the work that goes on daily for the relief of the suffering sick, for this is no sentimental shrine, but one that is built of practical industry. Instead of the war hospitals which the works of the League supplied, they now supply the hospitals which are always with us and always in need, and to all parts of the country go out their merciful bales. All hospitals are invited to send the bare materials and patterns of what they want for their patients, blankets, lint and linen, and they receive in return the finished articles; bed-jackets, night-gowns, sheets, baby garments for maternity-wards, bandages, overalls ~ whatever they ask for. They pay nothing for [the] work involved, and those who know what, nowadays, is the expense of such manufacture, and its cost, if purchased, will best appreciate the value of such an institution. The demand for such work is enormous, but never yet has the League of Remembrance refused to execute an order.
The organisation is of the simplest and most efficient. The workers are all voluntary and unpaid. Some come every day, others who have ties which cannot be neglected, for a day or two every week, other who are busier, for an hour or two. But all give their time and their industry for the sake of the living who are suffering, in remembrance of the dead. Each workroom is presided over by the widow or dependent of some officer fallen in the war who needs help, and these are paid. The main running expenses therefore of the establishment form part of the tribute of gratitude and remembrance.
Direct Service
This House of Help is extremely practical; it has also its social side. There are sitting-room, library and dining-room for its members, there are weekly entertainments and concerts (paid for out of an earmarked fund) for men wounded in the war and still in hospital. Six years have elapsed since the armistice, and it is probably news to many that there are hundreds of men who have spent six years at least in hospital, and are still undischarged. But when you once know that, it is not easy to forget it: six years is a long time, and the League does not forget.
What the League needs is a wider membership that shall bring in more funds. It needs them not only because it lacks endowment of any kind, and at present can only continue its work at all on current subscriptions, but because it needs more workers for whom is necessary a larger accommodation. There is not a foot of space in its present premises which is not used, and if they were doubled there would be workers enough to fill them, and thus the orders from the hospitals would be more speedily executed. Workers there are in plenty; what is needed is members of the League, men and women alike, who by their subscriptions will enable it to extend its activities. The subscription for London members is two guineas a year, for other members one guinea, and these small sums entitle the subscriber to all Club privileges. It is not necessary to be a worker to join the League.

Reproduced from the Aberdeen Press and Journal, 11/11/1924

Friday, 5 September 2014

Winter Pastimes

Non-fiction ~ essay
Published in The Windsor Magazine, Winter 1910*
Approx. 2,300 words
(First read 05/09/2014)

EFB was a keen devotee of winter sports: here he writes a hymn of praise to skating, tobogganing, and skiing.  The tone is nice and light and fairly amusing in parts.  He later expanded his essay into a full length book: Winter Sports in Switzerland (1913).

Available online here 

*Late November, early December, probably.


Among the other well-known contributors [to the Christmas number of the Windsor magazine is] the accomplished novelist E. F. Benson, who writes eloquently on Winter Sports [sic].
~Hastings and St Leonards Observer, 17/12/1910