Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet

[+] | [-] | reset

"I am not one of those who laugh at your petition of the 10th of April: I have no patience with those who do. Suppose there were but 250,000 honest names on that sheet—suppose the Charter itself were all stuff—yet you have still a right to fair play, a patient hearing, an honourable and courteous answer, whichever way it may be. But my only quarrel with the Charter is that it does not go far enough in reform. I want to see you free, but I do not see that what you ask for will give you what you want. I think you have fallen into just the same mistake as the rich, of whom you complain—the very mistake which has been our curse and our nightmare. I mean the mistake of fancying that legislative reform is social reform, or that men's hearts can be changed by Act of Parliament. If any one will tell me of a country where a Charter made the rogues honest, or the idle industrious, I will alter my opinion of the Charter, but not till then. It disappointed me bitterly when I read it. It seemed a harmless cry enough, but a poor, bald constitution-mongering cry as ever I heard. The French cry of 'organization of labour' is worth a thousand of it, but yet that does not go to the bottom of the matter by many a mile." And then, after telling how he went to buy a number of the Chartist newspaper, and found it in a shop which sold "flash songsters," "the Swell's Guide," and "dirty milksop French novels," and that these publications, and a work called "The Devil's Pulpit," were puffed in its columns, he goes on, "These are strange times. I thought the devil used to befriend tyrants and oppressors, but he seems to have profited by Burns' advice to 'tak a thought and mend.' I thought the struggling freeman's watchword was: 'God sees my wrongs.' 'He hath taken the matter into His own hands.' 'The poor committeth himself unto Him, for He is the helper of the friendless.' But now the devil seems all at once to have turned philanthropist and patriot, and to intend himself to fight the good cause, against which he has been fighting ever since Adam's time. I don't deny, my friends, it is much cheaper and pleasanter to be reformed by the devil than by God; for God will only reform society on the condition of our reforming every man his own self—while the devil is quite ready to help us to mend the laws and the parliament, earth and heaven, without ever starting such an impertinent and 'personal' request, as that a man should mend himself. That liberty of the subject he will always respect."—"But I say honestly, whomsoever I may offend, the more I have read of your convention speeches and newspaper articles, the more I am convinced that too many of you are trying to do God's work with the devil's tools. What is the use of brilliant language about peace, and the majesty of order, and universal love, though it may all be printed in letters a foot long, when it runs in the same train with ferocity, railing, mad, one-eyed excitement, talking itself into a passion like a street woman? Do you fancy that after a whole column spent in stirring men up to fury, a few twaddling copybook headings about 'the sacred duty of order' will lay the storm again? What spirit is there but the devil's spirit in bloodthirsty threats of revenge?"—"I denounce the weapons which you have been deluded into employing to gain you your rights, and the indecency and profligacy which you are letting be mixed up with them! Will you strengthen and justify your enemies? Will you disgust and cripple your friends? Will you go out of your way to do wrong? When you can be free by fair means will you try foul? When you might keep the name of Liberty as spotless as the Heaven from which she comes, will you defile her with blasphemy, beastliness, and blood? When the cause of the poor is the cause of Almighty God, will you take it out of His hands to entrust it to the devil? These are bitter questions, but as you answer them so will you prosper."

In Letter II. he tells them that if they have followed, a different "Reformer's Guide" from his, it is "mainly the fault of us parsons, who have never told you that the true 'Reformer's Guide,' the true poor man's book, the true 'Voice of God against tyrants, idlers, and humbugs, was the Bible.' The Bible demands for the poor as much, and more, than they demand for themselves; it expresses the deepest yearnings of the poor man's heart far more nobly, more searchingly, more daringly, more eloquently than any modern orator has done. I say, it gives a ray of hope—say rather a certain dawn of a glorious future, such as no universal suffrage, free trade, communism, organization of labour, or any other Morrison's-pill-measure can give—and yet of a future, which will embrace all that is good in these—a future of conscience, of justice, of freedom, when idlers and oppressors shall no more dare to plead parchments and Acts of Parliament for their iniquities. I say the Bible promises this, not in a few places only, but throughout; it is the thought which runs through the whole Bible, justice from God to those whom men oppress, glory from God to those whom men despise. Does that look like the invention of tyrants, and prelates? You may sneer, but give me a fair hearing, and if I do not prove my words, then call me the same hard name which I shall call any man, who having read the Bible, denies that it is the poor man's comfort and the rich man's warning."