THE JOURNALIST

I am dealing here with the English journalist, because in my opinion,
after the English sportsman and the English man of business, there is
nothing under the sun so wonderfully English and so fearfully foolish.
The elegant and austere writer who gave us _The Unspeakable Scot_ has
said much which he no doubt hoped would lead people to believe that
the British Press was entirely in the hands of Scotsmen, and that this
accounted at once for its dulness and its continual advertisement of
Scottish virtues. For my own part, I have no hesitation in asserting
that Mr. Crosland’s view of the situation is quite a mistaken one.
In any case, it is obvious that, even if Fleet Street be, as Mr.
Crosland suggests, eaten up with louts from over the Border, the
English journalist is not yet wholly extinct, and somewhere in the land
the remnant of him stands valiantly to its guns. It is well known,
however, that, as a fact, the remnant very largely outnumbers its
hated rival, the proportion of Scots to the proportion of Englishmen
on the staffs of most newspapers being probably no higher than as one
is to three. So that for the stodginess and flat-footedness of the
English newspaper–the epithets are Mr. Crosland’s own–the Englishman
is at least equally to blame with the Scot. Mr. Crosland’s main
complaint against the newspaper press of his country is that it lacks
brilliance. So far as I am aware, it has never before been asserted
that the function of a newspaper is to be brilliant. News is news all
over the world. To write brilliantly of a dog-fight or of the suicide
of a defaulting clerk may be Mr. Crosland’s ambition in life, but
most persons possessing such an ambition would transfer their finical
attentions from the field of journalism to that of belles-lettres. No
doubt, if Mr. Crosland had his way, the morning papers, in which the
soul of the average Englishman so delighteth, would be published from
the Bodley Head or at the Sign of the Unicorn, or haply at Mr. Grant
Richards’s.

It is not my intention, however, to enter into a sort of ten nights’
discussion with Mr. Crosland. He has had his say and taken the whipping
he deserved. My business is with the English journalist; and while I
shall not descend to personalities in dealing with him, I hope to show
that his brilliance and liveliness and smartness, though much vaunted,
are neither a boon nor a blessing either to journalism as a force or
to society at large. I think that it may be fairly set down for a fact
that the fine flower and consummate expression of English journalism
is the halfpenny newspaper. At any rate, nobody would pretend to find
in the halfpenny newspaper the sententious dulness and flat-footedness
which are supposed to characterise the journalistic work of the Scot.
The smartness of the halfpenny press is indeed not even American.
There is but one epithet for it, and that is English. Broadly speaking,
its appeal is directly and exclusively to the bathotic. In England
the bathotic has always had the majority in its grip. The majority
notoriously has no mind. It is a thing of one emotion, an instrument
of one stop. On that stop–the bathotic stop–the English journalist
makes a point of playing. There has been a time in his history when he
believed in the educative possibilities and duties of his profession.
He long held with the Scot that the Press was a power, and that it was
becoming that it should glory in being a power for the betterment of
the race. After many shrewd searchings and commercial gropings, the
English journalist discovered that the way to fame and fortune lay in
the mastery of the bathotic stop. He learned to sing songs of Araby
in one squalid key every morning, and he has since been able to keep
a gig and out-circulate everything that considers itself possessed of
circulation. He has played, as one might say, old Harvey with the
_Daily Telegraph_. He has put the _Times_ to the shame of being a
journal that “nobody reads.” More than all, he has said flatly to the
English people, “You are a rabbit-brained crowd, and here for your
delectation and your coppers is the worst that can be written for you.”

When England comes to her day of reckoning, in the hour when she
shall see her own mischance and is fain to remember the names of her
destroyers, none of them will seem to her so flagrant and so to be
deprecated as the English journalist. “Behold,” she will say, “the
monster who convinced me that it was beautiful to split infinitives;
that it was elegant to begin six paragraphs on one page with the
blessed statement, ‘A dramatic scene was enacted in Mr. Thingamybob’s
court yesterday’; that good books are to be worthily pronounced upon by
sub-editors in the intervals of waiting for the three o’clock winner;
and that, so far from being a reproach to one, the bathotic was the
only honourable and creditable attitude of mind.”

If a man wish to perceive to what degraded passes the art of writing
may come and yet retain the qualities of intelligibility and apparent
reasonableness, let him peruse the morning papers and die the death.
The reek and offence of them smells to heaven. They are a sure
indication of the decadence of the English mind and of the cupidity
and unscrupulousness of the English journalist. There has been nothing
like them, nothing to compare with them, for cheapness and futility and
banality in the history of the world. They are more to be fearful of
than the pestilence, inasmuch as they spell intellectual debasement,
the corruption of the public taste, and the defilement of the public
spirit. Their very literal innocuousness condemns them. It is their
boast that they may be read in the family without a blush. Their
assumption of morality and puritanical straitlacedness is admirable.
Beneath it there lie a licentiousness of purpose, a disregard for
what is just, and a contempt for what is decent and of good report
which are calculated to make the angels weep. When one inquires into
the personnel of the staffs by which these papers are run, one is
confronted with exactly the kind of man one expects to meet. First
of all, he is English, and as shallow and flippant and irresponsible
as only an Englishman can be. The saving touch of seriousness does
not enter into his composition. He neither reads nor thinks. Beer,
billiards, and free lunches, free entry to the less edifying places of
amusement, a minimum of work and a maximum of pay, constitute his ideal
of the journalist’s career, and he is always doing his best to live
up to it. Of responsibility to anybody save his immediate chief, who,
after all, is only himself at a little higher salary, he has not the
smallest notion. His duty is neither by himself nor by the public. All
that is expected of him is loyalty to his chief and to his paper, and
it is his pride and joy that this loyalty is invariably forthcoming.

Very occasionally one hears that, in consequence of a change in
the political policy of a newspaper, the editor of that paper has
considered it to be his duty to resign his editorship. Probably not
more than two such resignations have occurred in English journalism
during the past twenty years. In both instances the self-denying
editors have been held up by the English papers as sublime examples of
honour and martyrdom. That there is nothing extraordinary in sticking
to one’s principles, even though it means loss of livelihood, does not
appear to have dawned upon the lively English mind. Of course, it will
be said that, if every member of the staff of a newspaper, down even
to the junior reporters, were allowed to have beliefs and principles,
and were not expected to write anything in antagonism to them, an
exceedingly remarkable kind of newspaper would result. Compromise, at
any rate on established matters, must be the rule of the journalist’s
life. On the other hand, I incline to the opinion that the English
journalist is far too swift to acquiesce in doubtful procedure, and
that where the morals, good report, and high character of a paper are
concerned it is better to have a Scotch staff than an English one.
Nothing is more characteristic of the English journalist of to-day than
the circumstance that he is literally without opinions of his own.
He takes his opinions from his chiefs, just as his chiefs take their
opinions from their proprietors, or from the wire-pullers with whose
party the paper happens to be associated. In a sense it is impossible
that it should be otherwise. Yet you will find that in the main
Scottish journalists do have opinions of their own, and that somehow
they manage to be loyal to them. For weal or woe the Scot is immovable
and unchangeable as the granite of his own hills. You can never get him
to see that half-measures are either desirable or necessary. He will
not stretch his conscience nor palter with his soul for any man or any
man’s money. The Englishman is all the other way–that is why he makes
such a nimble and even brilliant journalist.

The English are a nation of employed persons. Wherever you go, from
Berwick to Land’s End, you will find that in the main the men you
meet are somebody’s employees. The better kind of them possibly write
“manager” on their cards; some of them even are managing directors;
others, again, are partners in wealthy houses or heads of such houses.
Yet, as I have said, they strike you almost to a man as being in
somebody’s employment. Even the most prosperous of them have the
strained, repressed, furtive look which comes of the long turning of
other people’s little wheels; while the masses, the employed English
masses, give you, as regards appearance, physique, and habit of mind
alike, an excellent notion of what a galley-slave must have been. The
fact of being employed is indeed the only big and abiding fact in the
average Englishman’s life. It has its effect on the whole man from the
time of his youth to the time of his death; it influences his actions
and the trend of his thoughts to a far greater extent than any other
force–love and religion included. In the Englishman’s view, to be
employed is the only road to subsistence, and, if one be ambitious, the
only road to honour. He must work for somebody, otherwise he cannot
be happy. The notion of working for himself appals him; and if by any
chance he be persuaded to take the plunge, the consideration that
he has no master weighs so heavily upon him that his end is usually
speedy ruin of one sort or another. That is to say, he either takes
advantage of his freedom to the extent of doing no work at all, or,
in the absence of the guiding hand, he loses his judgment and throws
to the winds the caution that kept him his place. It is a pity, there
can be no doubt; but the thing is in the English blood. If you are
an Englishman, you must be employed; if you are unemployed, you are
unhappy, and worse. For a full century the rich merchants, enterprising
manufacturers, colliery-owners, mill-owners, and what not, in whom
the English put their trust, have been preaching and fomenting this
doctrine by every means in their power. To their aid in spreading
the glorious truth they have brought the moralists and the Churches:
“‘if a man will not work, neither shall he eat.’ ‘Servants, obey your
masters.’ Punctuality is the soul of business. Be faithful over a few
things. Begin at the bottom rung of the ladder. Mr. So-and-so, the
notorious billionaire, was once a poor working-boy in Manchester.
Furthermore, if you _don’t_ work and at our price–well, to say the
least of it, God will not love you.”

And the English–poor bodies!–carry on their lives accordingly.
The whole scheme of things is arranged to fit in with the ideas of
employers as to what work means, under what conditions it should
be performed, and what should be its rewards. To live in the manner
pronounced to be respectable by the moralists and the Churches, you
must take upon yourself exactly the labours, and no others, prescribed
by the employers. In other words, to keep an eight-roomed house with a
piano in it, a wife with blouses and four new hats a year, and a little
family who can go to church on Sunday mornings dressed as well as any
of them, you must keep Messrs. Reachemdown’s books, and pass through
your hands many thousands of Messrs. Reachemdown’s moneys, for a salary
of £150 a year. When you get old and half blind through years of poring
over Reachemdown’s figures, they will pension you off at a pound a
week, and get a younger man to do the work for the other £2. You, good,
easy Englishman, will, in your heart of hearts, be exceedingly grateful
to Reachemdown & Reachemdown, and count it not the least of your many
blessings that you have never wanted good work and kind employers.
You will say to your English son, “My boy, make up your mind to serve
people well, and in your old age they will never forget you. Always be
industrious, obliging, and respectful. Remember that a rolling stone
gathers no moss, and never forsake the substance for the shadow.” And
the chances are that your fine English boy will do exactly what you,
his fine English father, have done. Indeed, if he be old enough at the
time of your “retirement,” he might very appropriately take your place
at Reachemdown & Reachemdown’s; then he will marry, he will live in a
house with a piano in it, his wife will have four new hats a year, and
his children will go to church on Sundays as well dressed as any of
them.

On the whole, I should be sorry to say that this sort of thing was
not desirable. If a nation is to be great, it is essential that it
should contain a large body of workers, and the more industrious and
dependable and trustworthy that body of workers, the better it is for
the State and for the pillars and props of the State, the employers
included. But the point is that the English take too much credit for
it and get too much ease out of it. It has been complained by Mr.
Crosland and other masters of elegant English that the Scot goes
to London and the smaller industrial markets and there enters into
successful competition with the English employed, and it appears to
annoy Mr. Crosland that the Scot should not be content with good work,
say book-keeping from nine to six, good wages, say £150 per annum, and
kind employers, say Messrs. Reachemdown & Reachemdown, all his life.
It seems to annoy him, too, that the Scot never acquires that pathetic
satisfaction in being employed which permeates the beautiful spirit of
his English competitor. You will meet hoary and bald-headed Englishmen
who will tell you with a quaver that they have been in the employment
of one and the same house, man and boy, for over half a century, sir!
Somehow the Englishman tells you this with a look of pride, and rather
expects you to regard him as a sort of marvel. It never occurs to
him that he is really bragging of his own ineptitude,–to use Mr.
Crosland’s favourite abstraction,–his own lack of enterprise. The
number of Scots who have been in the employment of one house for forty
years, least of all the number of Scots who brag about it, is probably
not a round dozen. As a general rule, when a Scot has been in a house
forty years, it is his house.

Another matter in which the English employee appears to me to err
mightily is his treatment of his employer. In concerns of great
magnitude personal relations between employer and employed are often
impossible, because the employer seldom comes near the place where his
money is made for him. Quite frequently, however, he is accessible;
yet the employee knows him not. He would no more think of walking up
and shaking hands with him than he would think of casting himself from
the top of the factory chimney-stack. It is the unwritten law of the
English that the employer is a better man than the employed. For the
employee to say “How do!” to the employer; for the employee to meet
the employer in the street and omit to make respectful obeisances;
for the employee to assert anywhere outside his favourite pot-house
that Jack’s as good as his master, would never do. If you are paid
wages, you must be grateful and respectful; and though you know quite
well that your employer is paying you just as little as ever he can,
you must still respect him. Broadly speaking, we manage these things
better in Scotland; and, for that matter, the Scot manages them
better in England. The English employee quirks and crawls before his
employer, because he knows that his employer can exercise over him
powers which, if they do not mean exactly life and death, do mean a
possibly long period of out-of-workness. And out-of-workness is, as a
rule, the most fearful thing in life that can happen to an Englishman,
for the simple reason that he never has anything behind him. If he
has been earning fifty pounds a year, he has spent it all; if he has
been earning a thousand a year, he has spent it all and more to it.
With the Scot it is different. No matter how small his earnings, he
invariably contrives to save a portion of them. When he has saved a
hundred pounds, he is practically an independent man, for a Scot with
a hundred pounds at his disposal can defy, and can afford to defy, any
employer that ever breathed the breath of life. Besides, hundred pounds
or no hundred pounds, the Scot will not grovel. He does his work and
his duty, and the rest can go hang. His days are not spent in blissful
contemplation of the joys of being in good work; he has no anxieties
as to how long it is going to last; he admits no superiorities; he is
afraid of no man. Some day, perhaps, the Englishman will learn to take
a leaf out of his book. The Englishman will learn that to be employed,
excepting with a view to greater things than subsistence, is to be in
a condition which borders very closely on degradation. He will learn
that services rendered and energies expended for long periods of years
without adequate reward, and with only a pretence at advancement, are a
discredit and not an honour. He will learn that a man’s a man, and that
it is no man’s business to be so faithful to another man that he cannot
be faithful to himself.