What are all these business prospects, these steamships, these fat sub-treasuries, and our profitable trade?
Making money, plodding on, and on, and on,
The money making spirit, a gold-scraping and a wealth-hunting fiend—
The abandonment of such a great being as man to the toss and pallor of years of moneymaking, with all their scorching days and icy nights, and all their stifling deceits and underhanded dodgings, is the great fraud upon modern civilization.
The really important point of all is, Into whose pockets does this plunder really go?
It would be some excuse and satisfaction if even a fair proportion of it went to the masses of laboring-men. A fair division and generous average to those workmen and workwomen—that would be something. But the fact itself is nothing of the kind. The profits go altogether to a few score select persons,
A dollar dearer to them than Christ’s blessing,
All love, all hopes, less than the thought of gain.
The throes of heroes,
Great deeds at which the gods might stand appalled,
The shriek of a drowned world,
Would touch them never in the heart,
But only in the pocket.
What business, profit, wealth, without a taint?
Legislators, lawyers, the priests, and the educated and pious prefer certain advantages to themselves over the vast retinues of the poor, the laboring, ignorant man, black men, sinners, and so on.
Many sweating, ploughing, thrashing, and then the chaff for payment receiving,
A few idly owning, and they the wheat continually claiming,
Those who jog along their solid, easy way, and are not in danger of falling, know very little of the shifts and frequent desperations of the existence of the poor;
There are plenty of hard-up fellows in this city, and out in the mines, and all over. You have no idea how many run ashore, get sick from exposure, poor grub, etc. Many young men, some old chaps, some boys of I5 or I6—I met them everywhere.
Have you heard the gurgle of the vast ganglions of bankers and merchant princes or shameless gluttons perfectly willing to stuff themselves,
To feed the greed of the belly the brains liberally spooning,
While they laugh at the good fun of the starvation of others?
I see a smoucher grabbing the good dishes exclusively to himself and grinning at the starvation of others as if it were funny,
I gaze on the greedy hog; he snorts as he roots in the delicate greenhouse.
The money-maker plotted all day,
Worming from his simplicity the poor man’s wages,
But when the gaunt and the starved awkwardly come for their slice,
The quiet changes to angry hysterics.
Did you ever think, for a moment, how so many young men, full of the stuff to make the noblest heroes of the earth, really pass their lives, year after year?
Constant toil—ever alert to keep the wolf back from the door—no development—no rational pleasure—sleeping in some cramped and dirty place—never knowing once a beautiful happy home—
And so till death.
In the mechanical nature of most kinds of labor, a series of repeated experiences, no new lessons are learned, no new volitions made,
Routine baffles the powers of thought; attention flags amidst unvarying toil; and reason is dizzied by the perpetual recurrence of the same petty details.
Incessant, monotonous drudgery produces an exhaustion of the muscular and nervous system; the sense of weariness which follows excessive labor is almost insufferable.
What wonder they are tempted to kindle within their sluggish systems some sparkles of genial life by transient exhilaration?
The natural cure is some powerful excitant, that worst form of practical atheism, which makes illicit pleasure the sole end of existence:
The gambling-board with its devilish winnings and losings,
Artificial stimulants to waken an enthusiasm,
Drunkenness, the fiery fountain which bubbles up from hell.
Exciting drinks seem to set free prisoned talents, open wide prospects, and break up the plodding crowd of common thoughts,
And blame for the drunkenness, so common among the working classes of all countries, may fairly be referred back to the task-masters, who compel this violation of natural laws by the repugnant toil they impose.
The payment for women’s labor is miserably poor—
The gauntish woman was quite young, a rag-bundled, half-starv’d infant in her arms—her figure and gait told misery, terror, destitution. Her voice, and everything, seem’d queer, terrified; eyes, voice, and manner were those of a corpse, animated by electricity. Poor woman—what story was it, out of her fortunes, to account for that inexpressibly scared way, those glassy eyes, and that hollow voice?
I am hungry and with my last dime get me some meat and bread, and have appetite enough to relish it all,
But then, like a phantom at my side, suddenly appears a starved face, either human or brute, uttering not a word,
Now do I talk of mine and his?
Has my heart no more passion than a squid or clam shell has?
When out of a feast I eat only corn and roast potatoes for my dinner, through my own voluntary choice, it is very well and I much content,
But if some arrogant head of the table prevent me by force from touching anything but corn and potatoes, then is my anger roused.
Rapacious! I take up your challenge!
I fight, whether I win or lose, and hereby pass the feud to them that succeed me,
For I prophecy that there will never come a time when the rapacious tongue will not be heard, each age in its own dialect.
Do the feasters gluttonous feast?
Do the corpulent sleepers sleep? have they lock’d and bolted doors?
The rich owners and pious and distinguish’d may be well,
But there is more account than that, there is strict account of all.
The poets of the kosmos dissolve poverty from its need and riches from its conceit,
You large proprietor, they say, do you know so much yourself that you call the meanest ignorant?
Do you think matter has cohered together from its diffuse float, and the soil is on the surface, and water runs and vegetation sprouts, for you only, and not for him and her?
You shall not realize or perceive more than anyone else,
Each belongs here or anywhere just as much as the well-off—just as much as you.
Of course I find I’m a good deal more of a socialist than I thought I was; maybe not technically, politically, but intrinsically in my meanings.
Beneath the whole political world, what most presses and perplexes today, sending vastest results affecting the future, is the question of the treatment of working people by employers, and all that goes along with it—not only the wages-payment part, but a certain spirit and principle, to vivify anew these relations—
The male and female many laboring not shall ever confront the laboring many,
With precious benefits to both.
If the moneys of the people only go plentifully for the great purposes of benevolence and education, no matter how heavy the taxes or how large the loans, they will be like bread cast upon the waters, and we shall indeed find it again after many days.
The true gravitation-hold of liberalism will be a more universal ownership of property, general homesteads, general comfort—a vast, intertwining reticulation of wealth.
The true prosperity of a nation is not in the great wealth of a special class, but is only to be really attain’d in the production and perennial establishment of millions of comfortable city homesteads and moderate-sized farms, healthy and independent, single separate ownership.
It is in some sense true that a man is not a whole and complete man unless he owns a house and the ground it stands on. It is indicated by the universal instinctive desire for landed property, and by the fuller sense of independent manhood which comes from the possession of it.
A great and varied nationality were firmest held and knit by the principle of the safety and endurance of the aggregate of its middling property owners—
They are not easily induced to worry themselves with the course of affairs, so long as they have their health and a good living, and see their friends in the enjoyment of the same blessings,
They are very well satisfied; the employment just suits them, and the income is neither more or less than they want.
The family, parentage, childhood, husband and wife,
The old, old practical burdens, interests, joys,
The house-comforts, the house itself and all its belongings,
Life in them complete but cheap, within reach of all,
Women’s, men’s, and children’s, their wants provided for, and tinged for once with joy—
This may not be the best show, but it is the best reality.