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Chapter 13


NEWSPAPERS AND DEMOCRACY


Let it be granted that, as the loud-voiced herald hired by the Eolithic
tribe to cry the news of the coming day along the caves, preceded the
chosen Tribal Bard who sang the more picturesque history of the tribe,
so is Journalism senior to Literature, in that Journalism meets the
first tribal need after warmth, food, and women.

In new countries it shows clear trace of its descent from the Tribal
Herald. A tribe thinly occupying large spaces feels lonely. It desires
to hear the roll-call of its members cried often and loudly; to comfort
itself with the knowledge that there are companions just below the
horizon. It employs, therefore, heralds to name and describe all who
pass. That is why newspapers of new countries seem often so outrageously
personal. The tribe, moreover, needs quick and sure knowledge of
everything that touches on its daily life in the big spaces--earth, air,
and water news which the Older Peoples have put behind them. That is why
its newspapers so often seem so laboriously trivial.

For example, a red-nosed member of the tribe, Pete O'Halloran, comes in
thirty miles to have his horse shod, and incidentally smashes the
king-bolt of his buckboard at a bad place in the road. The Tribal
Herald--a thin weekly, with a patent inside--connects the red nose and
the breakdown with an innuendo which, to the outsider, is clumsy libel.
But the Tribal Herald understands that two-and-seventy families of the
tribe may use that road weekly. It concerns them to discover whether the
accident was due to Pete being drunk or, as Pete protests, to the
neglected state of the road. Fifteen men happen to know that Pete's nose
is an affliction, not an indication. One of them loafs across and
explains to the Tribal Herald, who, next week, cries aloud that the road
ought to be mended. Meantime Pete, warmed to the marrow at having
focussed the attention of his tribe for a few moments, retires thirty
miles up-stage, pursued by advertisements of buckboards guaranteed not
to break their king-bolts, and later (which is what the tribe were after
all the time) some tribal authority or other mends the road.

This is only a big-scale diagram, but with a little attention you can
see the tribal instinct of self-preservation quite logically
underrunning all sorts of queer modern developments.

As the tribe grows, and men do not behold the horizon from edge to
unbroken edge, their desire to know all about the next man weakens a
little--but not much. Outside the cities are still the long distances,
the 'vast, unoccupied areas' of the advertisements; and the men who come
and go yearn to keep touch with and report themselves as of old to
their lodges. A man stepping out of the dark into the circle of the
fires naturally, if he be a true man, holds up his hands and says, 'I,
So-and-So, am here.' You can watch the ritual in full swing at any hotel
when the reporter (_pro_ Tribal Herald) runs his eyes down the list of
arrivals, and before he can turn from the register is met by the
newcomer, who, without special desire for notoriety, explains his
business and intentions. Observe, it is always at evening that the
reporter concerns himself with strangers. By day he follows the
activities of his own city and the doings of nearby chiefs; but when it
is time to close the stockade, to laager the wagons, to draw the
thorn-bush back into the gap, then in all lands he reverts to the Tribal
Herald, who is also the tribal Outer Guard.

There are countries where a man is indecently pawed over by chattering
heralds who bob their foul torches in his face till he is singed and
smoked at once. In Canada the necessary 'Stand and deliver your
sentiments' goes through with the large decency that stamps all the
Dominion. A stranger's words are passed on to the tribe quite
accurately; no dirt is put into his mouth, and where the heralds judge
that it would be better not to translate certain remarks they
courteously explain why.

It was always delightful to meet the reporters, for they were men
interested in their land, with the keen, unselfish interest that one
finds in young house-surgeons or civilians. Thanks to the (Boer) war,
many of them had reached out to the ends of our earth, and spoke of the
sister nations as it did one good to hear. Consequently the
interviews--which are as dreary for the reporter as the reported--often
turned into pleasant and unpublished talks. One felt at every turn of
the quick sentences to be dealing with made and trained players of the
game--balanced men who believed in decencies not to be disregarded,
confidences not to be violated, and honour not to be mocked. (This may
explain what men and women have told me--that there is very little of
the brutal domestic terrorism of the Press in Canada, and not much
blackmailing.) They neither spat nor wriggled; they interpolated no
juicy anecdotes of murder or theft among their acquaintance; and not
once between either ocean did they or any other fellow-subjects
volunteer that their country was 'law-abiding.'

You know the First Sign-post on the Great Main Road? 'When a Woman
advertises that she is virtuous, a Man that he is a gentleman, a
Community that it is loyal, or a Country that it is law-abiding--go the
other way!'

Yet, while the men's talk was so good and new, their written word seemed
to be cast in conventional, not to say old-fashioned, moulds. A quarter
of a century ago a sub-editor, opening his mail, could identify the
Melbourne _Argus_, the Sydney _Morning Herald_, or the Cape _Times_ as
far as he could see them. Even unheaded clippings from them declared
their origin as a piece of hide betrays the beast that wore it. But he
noticed then that Canadian journals left neither spoor nor scent--might
have blown in from anywhere between thirty degrees of latitude--and had
to be carefully identified by hand. To-day, the spacing, the headlines,
the advertising of Canadian papers, the chessboard-like look of the open
page which should be a daily beautiful study in black and white, the
brittle pulp-paper, the machine-set type, are all as standardised as the
railway cars of the Continent. Indeed, looking through a mass of
Canadian journals is like trying to find one's own sleeper in a corridor
train. Newspaper offices are among the most conservative organisations
in the world; but surely after twenty-five years some changes might be
permitted to creep in; some original convention of expression or
assembly might be developed.

I drew up to this idea cautiously among a knot of fellow-craftsmen. 'You
mean,' said one straight-eyed youth, 'that we are a back-number copying
back-numbers?'

It was precisely what I did mean, so I made haste to deny it. 'We know
that,' he said cheerfully. 'Remember we haven't the sea all round
us--and the postal rates to England have only just been lowered. It will
all come right.'

Surely it will; but meantime one hates to think of these splendid people
using second-class words to express first-class emotions.

And so naturally from Journalism to Democracy. Every country is entitled
to her reservations, and pretences, but the more 'democratic' a land
is, the more make-believes must the stranger respect. Some of the Tribal
Heralds were very good to me in this matter, and, as it were, nudged me
when it was time to duck in the House of Rimmon. During their office
hours they professed an unflinching belief in the blessed word
'Democracy,' which means any crowd on the move--that is to say, the
helpless thing which breaks through floors and falls into cellars;
overturns pleasure-boats by rushing from port to starboard; stamps men
into pulp because it thinks it has lost sixpence, and jams and grills in
the doorways of blazing theatres. Out of office, like every one else,
they relaxed. Many winked, a few were flippant, but they all agreed that
the only drawback to Democracy was Demos--a jealous God of primitive
tastes and despotic tendencies. I received a faithful portrait of him
from a politician who had worshipped him all his life. It was
practically the Epistle of Jeremy--the sixth chapter of Baruch--done
into unquotable English.

But Canada is not yet an ideal Democracy. For one thing she has had to
work hard among rough-edged surroundings which carry inevitable
consequences. For another, the law in Canada exists and is administered,
not as a surprise, a joke, a favour, a bribe, or a Wrestling Turk
exhibition, but as an integral part of the national character--no more
to be forgotten or talked about than one's trousers. If you kill, you
hang. If you steal, you go to jail. This has worked toward peace,
self-respect, and, I think, the innate dignity of the people. On the
other hand--which is where the trouble will begin--railways and steamers
make it possible nowadays to bring in persons who need never lose touch
of hot and cold water-taps, spread tables, and crockery till they are
turned out, much surprised, into the wilderness. They clean miss the
long weeks of salt-water and the slow passage across the plains which
pickled and tanned the early emigrants. They arrive with soft bodies and
unaired souls. I had this vividly brought home to me by a man on a train
among the Selkirks. He stood on the safely railed rear-platform, looked
at the gigantic pine-furred shoulder round which men at their lives'
risk had led every yard of the track, and chirruped: 'I say, why can't
all this be nationalised?' There was nothing under heaven except the
snows and the steep to prevent him from dropping off the cars and
hunting a mine for himself. Instead of which he went into the
dining-car. That is one type.

A man told me the old tale of a crowd of Russian immigrants who at a big
fire in a city 'verted to the ancestral type, and blocked the streets
yelling, 'Down with the Czar!' That is another type. A few days later I
was shown a wire stating that a community of Doukhobors--Russians
again--had, not for the first time, undressed themselves, and were
fleeing up the track to meet the Messiah before the snow fell. Police
were pursuing them with warm underclothing, and trains would please
take care not to run over them.

So there you have three sort of steam-borne unfitness--soft, savage, and
mad. There is a fourth brand, which may be either home-grown or
imported, but democracies do not recognise it, of downright bad
folk--grown, healthy men and women who honestly rejoice in doing evil.
These four classes acting together might conceivably produce a rather
pernicious democracy; alien hysteria, blood-craze, and the like,
reinforcing local ignorance, sloth, and arrogance. For example, I read a
letter in a paper sympathising with these same Doukhobors. The writer
knew a community of excellent people in England (you see where the rot
starts!) who lived barefoot, paid no taxes, ate nuts, and were above
marriage. They were a soulful folk, living pure lives. The Doukhobors
were also pure and soulful, entitled in a free country to live their own
lives, and not to be oppressed, etc. etc. (Imported soft, observe,
playing up to Imported mad.) Meantime, disgusted police were chasing the
Doukhobors into flannels that they might live to produce children fit to
consort with the sons of the man who wrote that letter and the daughters
of the crowd that lost their heads at the fire.

'All of which,' men and women answered, 'we admit. But what can we do?
We want people.' And they showed vast and well-equipped schools, where
the children of Slav immigrants are taught English and the songs of
Canada. 'When they grow up,' people said, 'you can't tell them from
Canadians.' It was a wonderful work. The teacher holds up pens, reels,
and so forth, giving the name in English; the children repeating Chinese
fashion. Presently when they have enough words they can bridge back to
the knowledge they learned in their own country, so that a boy of
twelve, at, say, the end of a year, will produce a well-written English
account of his journey from Russia, how much his mother paid for food by
the way, and where his father got his first job. He will also lay his
hand on his heart, and say, 'I--am--a--Canadian.' This gratifies the
Canadian, who naturally purrs over an emigrant owing everything to the
land which adopted him and set him on his feet. The Lady Bountiful of an
English village takes the same interest in a child she has helped on in
the world. And the child repays by his gratitude and good behaviour?

Personally, one cannot care much for those who have renounced their own
country. They may have had good reason, but they have broken the rules
of the game, and ought to be penalised instead of adding to their score.
Nor is it true, as men pretend, that a few full meals and fine clothes
obliterate all taint of alien instinct and reversion. A thousand years
cannot be as yesterday for mankind; and one has only to glance at the
races across the Border to realise how in outlook, manner, expression,
and morale the South and South-east profoundly and fatally affects the
North and North-west. That was why the sight of the beady-eyed,
muddy-skinned, aproned women, with handkerchiefs on their heads and
Oriental bundles in their hands, always distressed one.

'But _why_ must you get this stuff?' I asked. 'You know it is not your
equal, and it knows that it is not your equal; and that is bad for you
both. What is the matter with the English as immigrants?'

The answers were explicit: 'Because the English do not work. Because we
are sick of Remittance-men and loafers sent out here. Because the
English are rotten with Socialism. Because the English don't fit with
our life. They kick at our way of doing things. They are always telling
us how things are done in England. They carry frills! Don't you know the
story of the Englishman who lost his way and was found half-dead of
thirst beside a river? When he was asked why he didn't drink, he said,
"How the deuce can I without a glass?"'

'But,' I argued over three thousand miles of country, 'all these are
excellent reasons for bringing in the Englishman. It is true that in his
own country he is taught to shirk work, because kind, silly people fall
over each other to help and debauch and amuse him. Here, General January
will stiffen him up. Remittance-men are an affliction to every branch of
the Family, but your manners and morals can't be so tender as to suffer
from a few thousand of them among your six millions. As to the
Englishman's Socialism, he is, by nature, the most unsocial animal
alive. What you call Socialism is his intellectual equivalent for
Diabolo and Limerick competitions. As to his criticisms, you surely
wouldn't marry a woman who agreed with you in everything, and you ought
to choose your immigrants on the same lines. You admit that the Canadian
is too busy to kick at anything. The Englishman is a born kicker. ("Yes,
he is all that," they said.) He kicks on principle, and that is what
makes for civilisation. So did your Englishman's instinct about the
glass. Every new country needs--vitally needs--one-half of one per cent
of its population trained to die of thirst rather than drink out of
their hands. You are always talking of the second generation of your
Smyrniotes and Bessarabians. Think what the second generation of the
English are!'

They thought--quite visibly--but they did not much seem to relish it.
There was a queer stringhalt in their talk--a conversational shy across
the road--when one touched on these subjects. After a while I went to a
Tribal Herald whom I could trust, and demanded of him point-blank where
the trouble really lay, and who was behind it.

'It is Labour,' he said. 'You had better leave it alone.'


Rudyard Kipling

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