(An Open Letter to J.—B.—, A Young Gentleman with Desires)
You say you are at sea with a pen; and that anyhow, Fleet Street, not to say Little Essex Street, is in no need of recruits. You feel that Distributist modelling and designing has been well and truly done; but that the modellers and designers will have wasted their brains if some simple folk like you don’t attempt to carry out the designs. You ask dramatically, ‘Don’t tell me what to think for I subscribe to G.K.’s. But tell me what to do.’
I will therefore set down fifteen things, any one of which would be good to do. They shall be fifteen for two reasons. Because if I set down the hundred and one things you might do, it would fill a whole issue and not just one article in G. K.’s. Fifteen gives a choice such as a man has, say, in choosing a cravat, a livelihood, or a wife.
I will not begin at the beginning. I will begin anywhere and go on anyhow. But, indeed, when things have come to such a state of social untidiness as they are at present, a beginning can be made anywhere and anyhow. The one things necessary is to begin.
1. If you have a mantelpiece, remove everything from it except perhaps the clock. If you are fortunate enough to have no mantelpiece, remove from the walls of your home all pictures and such like, except a crucific. This will teach you the Poverty of Thrift. It may be called an empiric approach to Economics.
2. Clean out your own room daily. Clean it if possible on your knees. This will teach you the Poverty of Work. It will also prevent paralysis of the knees. But a paralysis which has reached the knees will soon reach the hands and the brain, if not the tongue.
3. For forty days or more—say, during Lent—do not smoke (and neither grouse about it nor boast about it). This will also improve your eyesight. It will also improve your insight into the tangled economics question: (tobacco) combines and how to smash them.
4. Buy some hand-woven cloth. Wear it. Buy some more. Wear that too. Remember the noble advice on how to eat cucumber, cut it into two parts (equal or unequal). Eat one part. Then eat the other. Your home-spun will instruct you better than the Declaration of Independence will instruct you on the dignity and rights of man.
5. Buy boots you can walk in. Walk in them. Even if you lessen the income of the General Omnibus Company, or your family doctor; you will discover the human foot. On discovering it, your joy will be as great as if you had invented it. But this joy is the greatest, because no human invention even of Mr. Ford or Mr. Marconi is within a mile of a foot.
6. Find another young Distributist, with our without University education, but with brains and feet1. Invite him to use his feet by tramping with you across any English county, say, water-logged Staffordshire during the summer holidays. Invite him to use his brains by standing on his feet, but not on his dignity, in market-places, telling the village-folk what is the matter with Staffordshire. This will lead him to tell them what is the matter with himself.
If you will keep at it for three weeks or a month, your advice on How to Save England will be more valuable, though, I admit, less valued than that of the entire Board of Directors of the Old Woman of Threadneedle Street.
7. If you fail to find a fellow-tramp, or if you covet the heroism of the dug-outs in a time of peace, spend your summer holiday as a farm-hand. You will not be worth your keep; but it will be worth your while. If Babylondon has not befogged your ‘intellectus agens’—your active intellect, in the noble phrase of Scholasticism, you will gradually see the Poverty of Work. This is the other empiric approach to Economics.
8. If through the machinations of Beelzebub or his fellow-devil Mammon, your house is in suburbia, plant your garden not with things lovely to see like roses, or sweet to smell like lavender; but good to eat like potatoes or French beans. At the end of two years you will have done three things: (1) You will have a higher appreciation of yokel-intelligence; (2), you will have a wider knowledge of Natural History (especially of slugs and the like); and (3), You will have a sardonic scorn for the economics of our present Sewage System. In other words you will have had the beginnings of a liberal education.
9. I wil not approach a matter or your reputation. If you take the advice offered, you may be accounted a fanatic. But fanatic or no fanatic, here is the advice. For twelve months, if possible, or at least for twelve days, do not use anything ‘canned’, neither canned meat nor canned music.
This will throw you back on what is called Home Produce. This in its turn will show you the right expression to put into your singing of Rule Britannia.
10. I will now appeal to the artist that is within every one of us. Art, as you know, is the right way of making a good thing. There is no right way of making a bad things. Not only something, but make something—a cup of tea, a boiled egg, a hatpeg (from a fallen branch), a chair!
This heroic attempt to make something will enable your friends to practise their wit by saying you have only made an ass of your yourself. In order to hear this gibe stolidly, read up about ‘the ass’s colt at the crossways.’
11. Talk your young architect friend into spending two weeks of his holiday making an abode (formerly called a house1). He is thinking in terms of Brick-combine bricks, Timber-combine timber, Steel-combine steel, Cement-combine cement, Building materials-combine building materials. Drag him out into England that still grows oak, elm, ash, beech, fir, larch, etc. Give him a wood axe, a hatchet, and adze, and a few tools. Tell him from me that if in two weeks and for less that 100 pounds you and he cannot make an abode more spacious and sanitary than ninety per cent of the dwellings in the Borough of Westminster or St. Pancras, your should be certified. This may be called the Strain Test, enabling you to know whether he has brains enough to be your friend, even if he has brains enough to be an architect.
12. Set down for the information and inspiration of young Distributists one hundred answers to the usually despairing question: ‘How can I get out of London?‘ Begin with the simplest answer: ‘Walk out.’ You may find that some of your most promising Distributists will walk no more with you. Do not be despondent at this; because it may make your own Distributism more sea-worthy.
13. As you are not yet married, and as marriage is the fundamental state of life as well as the unit of the Commonwealth, make up your mind whether your are called to this state. If you make up your mind to marry, do not marry merely a good wife: marry a good mother to your children. A wife that is a good mother to your children ist the Angel of the House; the other sort is the very devil.
14. Before asking her hand and her heart, tell her how to test you. Advise her to ask herself not whether you would make her a good husband, but whether you would make a good father to her and your children. A wife that is not a house-wife, and husband that is not a good house-band are heading for Admiralty Probate and Divorce!
15. If you do not feel called to the state of marriage vows, there is another state of vows—where mysticism and asceticism prove themselves the redemption of Economics.
But—well—God-speed you, as they say in lands of the old culture.
note 1. Do not believe X.—, who says they are not to be found. The truth is that X.— has lived so long in stunt circles for the last six months that he has become prematurely infantile.)
note 1. The word house is now becoming obsolete. Collections of flats are not a house. For the moment the genius of the English language seems unequal to the task of giving these collections a name.