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A sportive friend of mine, a mighty golfer, is fond of saying, "You
Radicals want to play the game without the rules." To which I am
accustomed mildly to retort, "Not at all; but we think the rules unfair,
and so we want to see them altered."
Now life is a very peculiar game, which differs in many important
respects even from compulsory football. The Rugby scrimmage is mere
child's play by the side of it. There's no possibility of shirking it. A
medical certificate won't get you off; whether you like it or not, play
you must in your appointed order. We are all unwilling competitors.
Nobody asks our naked little souls beforehand whether they would prefer
to be born into the game or to remain, unfleshed, in the limbo of
non-existence. Willy nilly, every one of us is thrust into the world by
an irresponsible act of two previous players; and once there, we must
play out the set as best we may to the bitter end, however little we
like it or the rules that order it.
That, it must be admitted, makes a grave distinction from the very
outset between the game of human life and any other game with which we
are commonly acquainted. It also makes it imperative upon the framers of
the rules so to frame them that no one player shall have an unfair or
unjust advantage over any of the others. And since the penalty of bad
play, or bad success in the match, is death, misery, starvation, it
behoves the rule-makers to be more scrupulously particular as to
fairness and equity than in any other game like cricket or tennis. It
behoves them to see that all start fair, and that no hapless beginner is
unduly handicapped. To compel men to take part in a match for dear life,
whether they wish it or not, and then to insist that some of them shall
wield bats and some mere broom-sticks, irrespective of height, weight,
age, or bodily infirmity, is surely not fair. It justifies the committee
in calling for a revision.
But things are far worse than even that in the game as actually played
in Europe. What shall we say of rules which decide dogmatically that one
set of players are hereditarily entitled to be always batting, while
another set, less lucky, have to field for ever, and to be fined or
imprisoned for not catching? What shall we say of rules which give one
group a perpetual right to free lunch in the tent, while the remainder
have to pick up what they can for themselves by gleaning among the
stubble? How justify the principle in accordance with which the captain
on one side has an exclusive claim to the common ground of the club, and
may charge every player exactly what he likes for the right to play upon
it?--especially when the choice lies between playing on such terms, or
being cast into the void, yourself and your family. And then to think
that the ground thus tabooed by one particular member may be all
Sutherlandshire, or, still worse, all Westminster! Decidedly, these
rules call for instant revision; and the unprivileged players must be
submissive indeed who consent to put up with them.
Friends and fellow-members, let us cry with one voice, "The links for
Once more, just look at the singular rule in our own All England club,
by which certain assorted members possess a hereditary right to veto all
decisions of the elective committee, merely because they happen to be
their fathers' sons, and the club long ago very foolishly permitted the
like privilege to their ancestors! That is an irrational interference
with the liberty of the players which hardly anybody nowadays ventures
to defend in principle, and which is only upheld in some half-hearted
way (save in the case of that fossil anachronism, the Duke of Argyll) by
supposed arguments of convenience. It won't last long now; there is talk
in the committee of "mending or ending it." It shows the long-suffering
nature of the poor blind players at this compulsory game of national
football that they should ever for one moment permit so monstrous an
assumption--permit the idea that one single player may wield a
substantive voice and vote to outweigh tens of thousands of his
These questions of procedure, however, are after all small matters. It
is the real hardships of the game that most need to be tackled. Why
should one player be born into the sport with a prescriptive right to
fill some easy place in the field, while another has to fag on from
morning to night in the most uninteresting and fatiguing position? Why
should _pâté de foie gras_ and champagne-cup in the tent be so unequally
distributed? Why should those who have made fewest runs and done no
fielding be admitted to partake of these luxuries, free of charge, while
those who have borne the brunt of the fight, those who have suffered
from the heat of the day, those who have contributed most to the honour
of the victory, are turned loose, unfed, to do as they can for
themselves by hook or by crook somehow? These are the questions some of
us players are now beginning to ask ourselves; and we don't find them
efficiently answered by the bald statement that we "want to play the
game without the rules," and that we ought to be precious glad the
legislators of the club haven't made them a hundred times harder against
No, no; the rules themselves must be altered. Time was, indeed, when
people used to think they were made and ordained by divine authority.
"Cum privilegio" was the motto of the captains. But we know very well
now that every club settles its own standing orders, and that it can
alter and modify them as fundamentally as it pleases. Lots of funny old
saws are still uttered upon this subject--"There must always be rich and
poor;" "You can't interfere with economical laws;" "If you were to
divide up everything to-morrow, at the end of a fortnight you'd find the
same differences and inequalities as ever." The last-named argument (I
believe it considers itself by courtesy an argument) is one which no
self-respecting Radical should so much as deign to answer. Nobody that I
ever heard of for one moment proposed to "divide up everything," or, for
that matter, anything: and the imputation that somebody did or does is a
proof either of intentional malevolence or of crass stupidity. Neither
should be encouraged; and you encourage them by pretending to take them
seriously. It is the initial injustices of the game that we Radicals
object to--the injustices which prevent us from all starting fair and
having our even chance of picking up a livelihood. We don't want to
"divide up everything"--a most futile proceeding; but we do want to
untie the legs and release the arms of the handicapped players. To drop
metaphor at last, it is the conditions we complain about. Alter the
conditions, and there would be no need for division, summary or gradual.
The game would work itself out spontaneously without your intervention.
The injustice of the existing set of rules simply appals the Radical.
Yet oddly enough, this injustice itself appeals rather to the
comparative looker-on than to the heavily-handicapped players in person.
They, poor creatures, dragging their log in patience, have grown so
accustomed to regarding the world as another man's oyster, that they put
up uncomplainingly for the most part with the most patent inequalities.
Perhaps 'tis their want of imagination that makes them unable to
conceive any other state of things as even possible--like the dog who
accepts kicking as the natural fate of doghood. At any rate, you will
find, if you look about you, that the chief reformers are not, as a
rule, the ill-used classes themselves, but the sensitive and thinking
souls who hate and loathe the injustice with which others are treated.
Most of the best Radicals I have known were men of gentle birth and
breeding. Not all: others, just as earnest, just as eager, just as
chivalrous, sprang from the masses. Yet the gently-reared preponderate.
It is a common Tory taunt to say that the battle is one between the
Haves and the Have-nots. That is by no means true. It is between the
selfish Haves, on one side, and the unselfish Haves, who wish to see
something done for the Have-nots, on the other. As for the poor
Have-nots themselves, they are mostly inarticulate. Indeed, the Tory
almost admits as much when he alters his tone and describes the
sympathising and active few as "paid agitators."
For myself, however, I am a born Conservative. I hate to see any old
custom or practice changed; unless, indeed, it is either foolish or
wicked--like most existing ones.
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