This is part of a series


After Nestor: The Woes of an Anarchist

Instead of A Book, By A Man Too Busy to Write One

In a delightful display of trans-Atlantic libertarianism and radical individualism, Wordsworth Donisthorpe pours out his troubled soul.

Instead of a Book, By a Man Too Busy to Write One

Part Two: The Individual, Society, and the State


The Woes of an Anarchist. 

(first published in Liberty, January 25, 1890)


That barrel-organ outside my window goes near to driving me mad (I mean madder than I was before). What am I to do? I cannot ask the State, as embodied in the person of a blue-coated gentleman at the corner, to move him on; because I have given notice that I intend to move on the said blue-coated gentleman himself. In other words, I have given the State notice to quit. Ask the organ-grinder politely to carry his melody elsewhere? I have tried that, but he only executes a double-shuffle and puts out his tongue. Ought I to rush out and punch his head? But, firstly, that might be looked upon as an invasion of his personal liberty; and, secondly, he might punch mine; and the last state of this man would be worse than the first. Ought I to move out of the way myself? But I cannot conveniently take my house with me, or even my library. I tried another plan. I took out my cornet, and, standing by his side, executed a series of movements that would have moved the bowels of Cerberus. The only effect produced was a polite note from a neighbor (whom I respect) begging me to postpone my solo, as it interfered with the pleasing harmonies of the organ. Now Fate forbid that I should curtail the happiness of an esteemed fellow-streetsman. What then was I to do? I put on my hat and sallied forth into the streets with a heavy heart full of the difficulties of my individualist creed. The first person I met was a tramp who accosted me and exposed a tongue white with cancer,—whether real or artificial I do not know. It nearly made me sick, and I really do not think that persons ought to go about exposing disgusting objects with a view to gain. I did not hand him the expected penny, but I briefly—very briefly—expressed a hope that an infinite being would be pleased to consign him to infinite torture, and passed on. I wandered through street after street, all full of houses painted in different shades of custard-color, toned with London fog, and all just sufficiently like one another to make on wish that they were either quite alike or very different. And I wondered whether something might not be done to compel all the owners to paint at the same time and with the same tints. At last I reached a place where the road was rendered impassable by a crowd which had gathered to listen to an orator who was shouting from an inverted tub. He was explaining that many years ago Jesus died to save sinners like us, and therefore the best thing we could do was to deprive the publicans of their licenses without compensation. I ventured to remark that, although this might be perfectly true, still I wanted to get into the country along the common highway, and that the crowd he had collected prevented me from doing so. He replied that he knew my sort, whatever that may mean; but his words seem to have acted like magic on his hearers, for, although I did at last elbow my way through the throng, it was not without damage to the aforementioned hat. It was a relief to reach the country and to sit down by a stream and watch the children gathering blackberries. I was, however, surprised to find that the berries were still pink and far from ripe. “Why don’t you wait till they are ripe?” I asked. “Coz if we did there would be none left by then,” was the somewhat puzzling reply. “But surely, if you all agreed to wait, it could be managed,” I said. “Oh yes, sir,” responded a little girl, with a pitying laugh at my simplicity, but the others always come and gather then just before they are ripe.” I don’t quite know who the others are, but surely something ought to be done to put a stop to this extravagant haste and ruinous competition. The result of the present system is that nobody gets any ripe blackberries. I mentioned the subject to an old gentleman who was fishing in the rivulet; “Exactly so,” said he, “it is just the same with fish. You see there is a close season for salmon and some sorts; but those scoundrels are steadily destroying the rest by catching the immature fish, instead of waiting till they are fit for anything. I suppose they think that they will not have the luck to catch them again, and that a sprat in hand is worth a herring in the bush.” I admitted the force and beauty of the metaphor, and proceeded on my journey.

Beginning to feel hungry, I made tracks for the nearest village, where I knew I should find an inn. A few hundred yards from the houses I observed a party of hulking fellows stripping on the bank with a view to a plunge and a swim. It struck me they were rather close to the road, but I nevertheless thought it my duty to resent the interference of a policeman who appeared on the scene and rather roughly ordered the fellows off. “I suppose,” said I, “that free citizens have a right to wash in a free stream.” But the representative of law and order fixed upon me a pair of boiled eyes, and, without trusting his tongue, pointed to a blackboard stuck on a post some little way off. I guessed his meaning and went on. When I reached the inn, I ordered a chop and potatoes and a pint of bitter, and was surprised to find that some other persons were served before me, although they had come in later. Presently I observed one of them in the act of tipping the waiter. “Excuse me, sir,” said I, “but that is not fair; you are bribing that man to give you an undue share of attention. I presume you also tip porters at a railway station, and perhaps custom-house officers?” “Of course I do; what’s that to you? Mind your own business,” was the reply I received. I had evidently made myself unpopular with these gentlemen. One of them was chewing a quid and spitting about the floor. One was walking up and down the room in a pair of creaking boots, and taking snuff the while; and a third was voraciously tackling a steak, and removing lumps of gristle from his mouth to his plate in the palm of his hand. After each gulp of porter, he seemed to take a positive pride in yielding to the influence of flatulence in a series of reports which might have raised Lazarus. My own rations appeared at last, and I congratuled myself that, by the delay, I had been spared the torture of feeding in company with Æolus, who was already busy with the toothpick, when to my dismay he produced a small black clay pipe and proceeded to stuff it with black shag. “There is, I believe, a smoking-room in the house,” I remarked deprecatingly; “otherwise I would not ask you to allow me to finish my chop before lighting your pipe here: don’t you think tobacco rather spoils one’s appetite?” I thought I had spoken politely, but all the answer I got was this, “Look ‘ere, governor, if this ‘ere shanty ain’t good enough for the like of you, you’d better walk on to the Star and Garter.” And, awaiting my reply with an expression of mingled contempt and defiance, he proceeded to emphasize his argument by boisterously coughing across the table without so much as raising his hand. I am not particularly squeamish, but I draw the line at victuals that have been coughed over. To all practical purposes, my lunch was gone,—stolen. I looked round for sympathy, but the feeling of the company was clearly against me. The gentleman in the creaking boots laughed, and, walking up to the table, laid his hand upon it in the manner of an orator in labor. He paused to marshal his thoughts, and I had an opportunity of observing him with several senses at once. His nails were in deep mourning, his clothes reeked of stale tobacco and perspiration, and his breath of onions and beer. His face was broad and rubicund, but not ill-featured, and his expressions bore the stamp of honesty and independence. No one could mistake him for other than he was,—a sturdy British farmer. After about half a minute’s incubation, his ideas found utterance. “I’ll tell you what it is, sir,” he said. “I don’t know who you are, but this is a free country, and it’s market day an’ all.” I could not well dispute any of these propositions, and, inasmuch as they appeared to be conclusive to the minds of the company, my position was a difficult one. “I do not question your rights, friend,” I ventured to say at last, “but I think a little consideration for other people’s feelings … eh?” “Folks shouldn’t have feelings that isn’t usual and proper, and if they has, they should go where their feelings is usual and proper, that’s me,” was the reply; and it is not without philosophy. The same idea had already dimly shimmered in my own mind; besides, was I not an individualist? “You are right, friend,” said I, “so I will wish you good morning and betake myself elsewhere.” “Good morning,” said the farmer, offering his hand, and “Good riddance,” added the gentleman with the toothpick.

As I emerged from the inn, not a little crest-fallen, a cat shot across the road followed by a yelping terrier, who in his turn was urged on by two rosy little boys. “Stop that game,” I shouted, “what harm has pussy done you?” The lads did stop, but the merry twinkle in their eyes betokened a fixed intention to renew the sport as soon as old Marplot was out of the way. But the incident was not thrown away on a pale man with a long black coat and a visage to match. “It is of no use, my dear sir,” said he, shaking his head and smiling drearily, “it is the nature of the dog to worry cats; and it is the nature of the boys to urge on the dog; we are all born in sin and the children of wrath. I used to enjoy cat-hunts myself before I was born again. You must educate, sir, educate before you can reform. Mark my words, sir, the school-board is the ladder to the skies.” “The school-board!” I ejaculated; “you do not mean to say you approve of State-regulated education? May I ask whether you also approve of a State religion—a State church?” I thought this was a poser, but I was mistaken. “The two things are not in pari materia,” replied the Dissenting minister (for there was no mistaking his species); “the established church is the upas-tree which poisons the whole forest. It was planted by the hand of a deluded aristocracy. The school-board was planted by the people.” “I do not see that it much signifies who planted the tree, so long as it is planted; but, avoiding metaphor, the point is this,” said I emphatically: “is one fraction of the population to dictate to the other fraction what they are to believe, what they are to learn, what they are to do? And I do not care whether the dictating fraction is the minority or the majority. The principle is the same—despotism.” The man of God started. “What!” he cried, “are we to have no laws? Is every man to do that which is right in his own eyes? Are you aware, sir, that you are preaching Anarchy?” It was now my turn to double. “Anarchy is a strong expression,” said I, most disingenuously: “all I meant to say is that the less the State interferes between man and man, the better; surely you will admit that?” And now I saw from my interlocutor’s contracted brow and compressed lips that an answer was forthcoming which would knock all the wind out of me. And I was right. “Do you see that house with the flags on the roof and that sculptured group over the entrance representing the World, the Flesh, and the Devil?” “I see the house, but if you will pardon me, I think the group is intended for the Three Graces.” The parson shot an angry glance at me: he knew well enough what the figures were meant for; but even the godly have their sense of grim humor. He continued: “That is the porch of Hell; and there at the corner yawns Hell itself: they are commonly called Old Joe’s Theatre of Varities, and the Green Griffin: but we prefer to call them by their right names.” “Dear me!” I said, somewhat appalled by the earnestness of his manner, “are they very dreadful places?” I was beginning to feel quite “creepy,” and could almost smell the brimstone. But, without heeding my query, he continued: “Are we to look on with folded hands, while innocent young girls crowd into that sink of iniquity, listen to ribald and obscene songs, witness semi-nude and licentious dances, meet with dissolute characters, and finally enter the jaws of the Green Griffin to drink of the stream that maddens the soul, that deadens the conscience, and that fires the passions?” Here he paused for breath, and then in a sepulchral whisper he added: “And what follows? What follows?” This question he asked several times, each time in a lower key, with his eyes fixed on mine as though he expected to read the answer at the back of my skull on the inside. “I will tell you what follows,” he continued, to my great relief; “the end is Mrs. Fletcher’s.” There was something so grotesque in his anti-climax that I gave sudden vent to a short explosive laugh, like the snap of the electric spark. I could not help it, and I was truly sorry to be so rude, and, in order to avoid mutual embarrassment, I fairly bolted down the street, leaving my teacher transfixed with pious horror. To a denizen of the village, doubtless, long association had imbued the name of Mrs. Fletcher with a lurid connotation, like unto the soothing influence of that blessed word Mesopotamia,—only in the opposite direction.

I was now in the position of the happy man of fiction “with a pocket full of money and a cellar full of beer;” only my cellar was nine miles off and my money was inconvertible, to all practical intents and purposes. There was no other inn; I dare not try the Green Griffin, and I did not know the way to “Mrs. Fletcher’s.” I wanted to get back to town. “Is there a railway station anywhere near here?” I inquired of a bald-headed man, who was removing flower-pots from his front parlor window-sill. “Railway station?” he repeated with a snigger, not much: “how should there be a railway station?” “And pray why not?” I asked. “You may well ask,” replied the bald-headed man; “if you knew these parts, you would know that half the land between here and town belongs to Lord Brownmead; and he opposed the bill which the Company brought into Parliament; so of course the lords threw it out and refused the concession: that is why there is no railway station. That is why you and I may walk or creep or go in balloons. I wonder his lordship or his lordship’s ancestors ever allowed the high road to be made. Why should not you and I grub our way underground, like moles? It is good enough for us, I suppose. Railway station, indeed!” And down came a flower-pot with a crash, just to accentuate the absurdity of the idea. Lord Brownmead belongs to the Liberty and Property Defence League, you know, and he says no one has a right to interfere with his liberty to do what he likes with his own land. Quite right; quite right,” he continued in the same tone of bitter irony, “nothing like liberty and property!” This was an awkward dig for me. I had always believed in liberty, and I was thinking of joining Lord Brownmead’s association. “Perhaps there is a tramway or some other sufficient means of rapid communication,” I suggested, “in which case it may be that a railway is not imperatively necessary.” “Perhaps there is,” sneered the little man, “perhaps there is; only there isn’t, don’t you see, so that’s where it is is; and if you prefer walking or paying for a fly, I am sure I have no objection. You have my full permission, and Lord Brownmead’s too; only mind you don’t take the short cut by the bridle-path, because that is closed. It appears it is not a right of way. It is private, quite private. Don’t forget.” I did not want the irascible little man to take me for a toady, so I merely asked why there was no tramway. “Why?” he shouted, and I began to fear physical argument, “why? because Lord Brownmead and the carriage-folk say that tramways cut up the road and damage the wheels of their carriages: that’s why. Isn’t it a sufficient reason for you? We lower ten thousand must walk, for fear the upper ten should have to pay for an extra coat of paint at the carriage-builder’s. That’s reasonable, isn’t it?” “I do not know that it is, my dear sir,” I replied, “but after all you know we have a right to use the common road in any way for which it was originally intended. They can do no more. And it does seem to me that a tramway monopolizes for the benefit of a class (a large class, I grant you) more than its fair share of the common rights of way. Ordinary traffic is very much impeded by it, and the rails do certainly cause damage and annoyance to persons who never use the public vehicles. Trams may be expedient, friend, but they certainly are not just.” I thought this would have wound up the little man for at least another quarter of an hour, but who can read the human mind? Not another word did he utter. I fancy my last remark had satisfied him that I was a Tory or an aristocrat or one of the carriage-folk, and consequently beneath contempt and outside the pale of reason. After an awkward pause, I ventured to say: “Well, thank you, I wish you good morning,” but even that elicited no response, and I walked slowly off, feeling some slight loss of dignity. I presently ascertained that coaches ran every two hours from the Green Griffin to the Royal Oak in London, a fact which the bald-headed man had maliciously (as I thought) concealed from me. The line had been established, as the barman of the Griffin told me, by Lord Brownmead himself some years ago and was maintained at considerable loss for the benefit of his tenantry and his poorer neighbors: and, as some people thought, to make amends for his opposition to the tramway. “Sometimes,” added the barman, “his lordship drives hisself, and then, O lor!” there could be no doubt from the gusto with which the last words were pronounced that this individual derived a more tangible joy from these occasions than mere sympathy with the honored guest who occupied a seat on the box next the distinguished whip: and I accordingly slipped half a crown into his hand à propos de bottes. He expressed no surprise whatever, but just as the coach was about to start, I found myself the pampered ward of a posse of ostlers, grooms, and hangers-on, who literally lifted me into the envied seat and evinced the most touching concern for my comfort and safety. My knees were swathed in rugs and the apron was firmly buckled across to keep me warm and dry, without any effort on my part, and as the leaders straightened out the traces and Lord Brownmead cracked the whip, half-a-dozen pair of eyes “looked towards me,” while their owners drank what they were pleased to call my health, but which looked to me more like beer. As we dashed down the high street, a little man with a bald head cast a withering glance at the coach and its occupants, and when his eyes met mine, his expression said as plain as words: “I thought so.” I soon forgot him, and fell to reflecting on the curious circumstance that it should be in the power of a few potmen and stablemen to sell a nobleman’s company and conversation for the sum of half a crown. Yet so it undoubtedly was. And yet, after all, it is hardly stranger than that these same potmen and millions more of their own class should have the power of selling to the highest bidder a six-hundred-and-seventieth part of kingly prerogative. The divine right of kings is just what it ever was,—the right of the strong to trample on the weak, the absolute despotism of the effective majority. Only to-day, instead of being conferred in its entirety on a single person, it is cut up into six hundred and seventy little bits, and sold in lots to the highest bidder, by a ring of five millions of potmen and their like.

Such is the new democracy, I thought, and I might possibly have built up an essay on the reflection, when I was suddenly roused from my reverie by a grunt from the box-seat. “I beg your pardon,” said I, “I did not quite catch what you said.” “Fine bird,” repeated his lordship in a louder grunt, and jerking his thumb in the direction of a distant coppice. “Begin to-morrow: capital prospect,” he continued. “Begin what?” I asked, a little ashamed of my stupidity. “October to-morrow,” he replied: “forgotten, eh?” “Oh, ah! yes, of course, October the 1st, pheasant-shooting, I see,” I replied, as soon as I caught his meaning. “Done any good this season, sir?” he went on. “Good, how? what good? what in? I don’t quite understand,” said I. “Moors, moors,” explained Lord Brownmead; “grouse, sir, grouse: are you … er … er?” “Oh, I see,” I hastened to reply; “you mean have I shot many grouse this season: no. I have not been to Scotland this year; besides, I am short-sighted and do not shoot at all.” A man who did not shoot was hardly worth talking to, and a long silence ensued. At last our Jehu took pity on me. “Fish I suppose; can’t hunt all the year round.” I replied that I did not care for fishing, and that I had no horses and could not afford to hunt. I was fast becoming an object of keen interest. My last admission was followed by a series of grunts at intervals of about half a minute, and at last with a zeal and earnestness which he had not yet exhibited, and in a louder key than heretofore. Lord Brownmead turned upon me with this query: “Then what the doose do you do to kill time, dammy?” I explained that I should have no difficulty in killing double the quantity of that article, if I could get it. “Out of the 24 hours,” said I, “which is the usual allowance in a day, I sleep 7, I work 7, I spent about 2 over my meals, and that only leaves 8 for recreation.” “Ay, ay, but what do you mean by recreation, sir? That’s just it, dammy.” “Oh, sometimes I go to the theatre, sometimes to some music-hall; then I go and spend the evening with friends, and all that sort of thing.” “Balls, eh?” “No, I am not fond of dancing.” “Ha, humph! that’s better; the tenth don’t dance, you know; never went to a prancing party in my life.” “Then last night I went to the Agricultural Hall to hear Mr. Gladstone,” I continued. “Eh? what? Mr. who? Be good enough not to mention that man’s name in my presence, sir. He’s an underground fellow, sir, an underground fellow.” I was evidently on thin ice; so, in order to turn the conversation, I remarked: “Pretty country this, my lord.” “Pretty country be damned!” was the amiable response; “it is not like the same country since that infernal bill was passed.” “Indeed! What bill is that?” Lord Brownmead cast upon me a look of ineffable scorn. “What bill do you suppose, sir? Are you a foreigner? I should like to feed that fellow on hares and rabbits for the rest of his life, sir.” “Has the Hares and Rabbits Act done much harm?” I inquired. “Done much harm? Has it revolutionized the country? you mean; has it ruined the agriculturist? has it set class against class? has it turned honest farmers into poachers and vermin? See that spire in the trees over there? Well, that poor devil used to live on his glebe; he has about fifteen kids, all told; he used to have rabbit pie every Sunday. And now there isn’t a blessed rabbit in the place.” I presumed he was speaking of the pastor and not the steeple, so I expressed sympathy with the one who was so very much a father under the melancholy circumstances. “Still,” said I, “the rabbits used to eat up a good deal of the crops, I am told.” “Nonsense, sir, nonsense! don’t believe it,” growled his lordship; “they never ate a single blade mor than they were worth; and if they did, the devils got it back out of their rents.” Most of my companion’s neighbors appeared to be devils of one sort or another, but I think he was referring to the farmers on this occasion. “The devils have all got votes, sir, that’s what it is; they’ve all got votes. I remember the time when a decent tenant would as soon have shot his wife as a rabbit. The fact is, we are moving a deal too quickly; downhill, too, and no brake on.” I did not wish to express agreement with this sentiment, so I merely said: “I believe you are a member of the Liberty and Property Defence League?” “Very likely; very likely; if it is a good thing, got up to counteract that underground scoundrel. Yes, I think my secretary did put me down for £50 a year. He said they were going to block this Tenants’ Compensation Bill, or something or other. Good society, very: ought to be supported by honest men.” “Then would you not give a tenant compensation for unexhausted improvements?” I asked. “Compensation!” bawled Lord Brownmead; “compensation for what? Good God! If one of those fellows on my town property put up a conservatory, or raised his house a story, or built a new wing, do you suppose at the end of his lease he would ask for compensation? He would think himself mad to do it,—mad, sir. And why should the country be different from the town? eh? The devils go into the thing with their eyes open, I suppose. A bargain’s a bargain, isn’t it? What do they mean compensation? I’d compensate them. Clap them into the stocks. That’s what they want. Depend upon it, sir,” he added, lowering his voice to a husky whisper, “the old man is an unscrupulous agitator, and if I had my way, I would lock him up. If he’s loose much longer, he will ruin the country. Whoa, Jerry, steady my pet; damn that horse!” We were now drawing up to the Royal Oak, and, to say the truth, I was not altogether sorry to get out of the atmosphere of fine, old, crusted toryism, and walk along the street among my equals. And yet, there was about the man a rugged horror of mean meddling and State coddling which one could not but respect.” A bargain’s a bargain.” Well, that is not very original; but it argues a healthy moral tone. The rabbit-pie argument struck me as rather weak, but, take him for all in all, I have met politicians who have disgusted more than Lord Brownmead.

There was a good deal of choice. There always is in London, except on Sundays; and even then there is the choice between the church, the public-house, and the knocking-shop…While I was dwelling on the merits of these rival attractions, I heard a familiar voice at the door: “Come on, old fellow; come to the National Liberal; Stewart Headlam is going to open a debate on the County Council and the Music-halls. We will have a high old time. Come and speak.” As a rule, I fear the Trocadero or the Aquarium would have prevailed over the great Liberal Club as a place of after-dinner entertainment; but on this occasion I had a newly-aroused interest in all such questions as the one about to be discussed. So I put on my hat and jumped into the hansom which Jack had left at the door…

“National” was first used as a political term by the late Benjamin Disraeli to signify the patriotic as opposed to the cosmopolitan and anti-national. “Liberal” was first used in a political sense about 1815, to denote the advocates of liberty as opposed to the “serviles” who believed in State-control. And yet the members of the club avowedly uphold State-interference in all things, and dub the doctrine of laissez faire the creed of selfishness. Still the building is fine and commodious one, and what’s in a name, after all?

When we reached the political arena, Mr. Headlam, who is a Socialist, was in the middle of a very able individualistic harangue. Indeed, I have never heard the case for moral liberty better stated and more courageously advocated than on this occasion. I was anxious to hear what the censor party might have to say. I half-expected to see some weary ascetic—perhaps an austere cardinal—rise in his place and wade through some solemn passages from the sententious Hooker. I was agreeably disappointed when a chirpy little Scotchman with an amusing brogue and a moth-eaten appearance started off with prattle of this kind: “Gentlemen, there’s no one loves liberty more than me. But we’ve got to draw a line at decency, you see. I’ve been elected to sit on the Council and to see that that line is drawn at the right place. That is my duty, and my duty I mean to do. Everything which is calculated to bring a blush to the cheek of a pure maiden must be put down. And there’s another thing: I say that music-halls where intoxicating liquor is sold must be put down. We are not going to tolerate places what incites to fornication and drunkenness. But at the same time we are no foes to liberty,—that is, liberty to do right, and that’s the only liberty worth fighting for, depend upon it.”…

A whirl of arguments, relevant and irrelevant, followed his speech, which contained references to a pretty wide field of State-interferences, showing their invariable and inevitable failure all along the line. One apoplectic little man was loudly demanding an answer to his question “whether we were going to allow people to run down the street in a state of complete nudity.” That is what he wanted to know. Some one replied that in this climate the danger was remote, and that the roughs would provide a sufficient deterrent. Some one else wanted to know whether it was decent to hawk the Pall Mall Gazette in the streets, and a very earnest young man inquired whether his hearers had ever read the thirty-sixth chapter of Genesis, and whether, if so, it was calculated to raise a blush to the cheek of virtue. A wag replied: “There is no cheek about virtue.” And so the ball was kept rolling. And we left without having formed the faintest idea as to whether the State should interfere with the amusements of the people or not; whether it should limit its interference to the enforcement of decency and propriety; what those terms signify for the practical purpose; whether in any case it should delegate this duty to local authorities, and, if so, to what authorities; whether it should itself take the initiative, or leave it to persons considering themselves injured; whether such alleged injury should be direct or indirect, and, in either case, what those expressions mean. However, a good deal of dust had been kicked up, and even the most cocksure of those who had entered the lists went out, I doubt not, with a conviction that there was a good deal to be said on all sides of the question. That, in itself, was an unmixed good…

I reached home at last, and the events of the day battled with one another for precedence in my dreams. Freedom, order; order, freedom. Which is it to be? When I arose in the morning, I tried to record the previous day’s experiences just as they came to me, without offering any dogmatic opinion as to the rights and the wrongs of the several cases which arose. “I will send them,” I said, “to the organ of philosophic Anarchy in America, and, perhaps, in spite of their trivial character, they may be deemed to present points worthy of comment.” What a pity it is that we cannot put our London fogs in a bag and send them by parcel post to Boston for careful analysis!

“Wordsworth Donisthorpe.”


The Moral of Mr. Donisthorpe’s Woes.

(first published in Liberty, January 25, 1890)

The reader of Mr. Donisthorpe’s article in this issue on The Woes of an Anarchist may rise from its perusal with a feeling of confusion equal to that manifested by the author, but at least he will say to himself that for genuine humor he has seldom read anything that equals it. For myself I have read it twice in manuscript and twice in proof, and still wish that I might prolong my life by the laughter that four more readings would be sure to excite. Mr. Donisthorpe ought to write a novel. But when he asks Liberty to comment on his woes and dissipate the fog he condenses around himself, I am at a loss to know how to answer him. For what is the moral of this article, in which a day’s events are made to tell with equal vigor, now against State Socialism, now against capitalism, now against Anarchism, and now against Individualism? Simply this,—that in the mess in which we find ourselves, and perhaps in any state of things, all social theories involve their difficulties and disadvantages, and that there are some troubles from which mankind can never escape. Well, the Anarchists, despite the fact that Henry George calls them optimists, are pessimistic enough to accept this moral fully. They never have claimed that liberty will bring perfection; they simply say that its results are vastly preferable to those that follow authority. Under liberty Mr. Donisthorpe may have to listen for some minutes every day to the barrel-organ (though I really think that it will never lodge him in the mad-house), but at least he will have the privilege of going to the music-hall in the evening; whereas, under authority, even in its most honest and consistent form, he will get rid of the barrel-organ only at the expense of being deprived of the music-hall, and, in its less honest, less consistent, and more probable form, he may lose the music-hall at the same time that he is forced to endure the barrel-organ. As a choice of blessings, liberty is the greater; as a choice of evils, liberty is the smaller. Then liberty always, say the Anarchists. No use of force, except against the invader; and in those cases where it is difficult to tell whether the alleged offender is an invader or not, still no use of force except where the necessity of immediate solution is so imperative that we must use it to save ourselves. And in these few cases where we must use it, let us do so frankly and squarely, acknowledging it as a matter of necessity, without seeking to harmonize our action with any political ideal or constructing any far-fetched theory of a State or collectivity having prerogatives and rights superior to those of individuals and aggregations of individuals and exempted from the operation of the ethical principles which individuals are expected to observe. But to say all this to Mr. Donisthorpe is like carrying coals to Newcastle, despite his catalogue of doubts and woes. He knows as well as I do that “liberty is not the daughter, but the mother of order.”

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