A Social Comedy
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A SOCIAL COMEDY.
(An old lady reading the Bible.)
Old lady:--God be praised! I shall have fine weather for going to my castle at Windsor. The sky is blue, the air is mild. The Irish are quiet, and so are the unemployed. The Lord is very good! England has never been so flourishing as at present. Mr. Gladstone said to me only this morning that during the past week only ten suicides from destitution had been officially reported in London. Even my son is growing orderly; he has not spent more than two thousand pounds at play during the last month. Lord! Continue, we beseech thee, to pour thy blessings abundantly upon us: continue to maintain peace and prosperity throughout the kingdom.
One of the unemployed:--A penny if you please, for bread: A penny, kind ladies and gentlemen! I have had nothing for two days.
A “gentleman:”—For shame! Begging! A man of your age ought to be working.
(In his indignation he throws away the cigar he had been smoking. A poor devil eagerly picks it up and runs away with it.)
The unemployed:—I would be glad enough to work, but the want of employment is general in my trade: there are several thousands of us in the street.
The gentleman:—That makes no difference. One must respect oneself. There is no distinction between honest people. One should not beg.
An Anarchist:—No, one should not beg: one should rebel! Poor famished slave, see the fruits of labor around you,—the houses, the factories, the railways, the clothing, the corn,—none of these have been created by the virtuous idler who was just speaking to you, no, nor by people like him. You, who have certainly worked more in a week but he has done in his whole life, you have a right to your share of happiness. Take it. Come, first, and have some breakfast with me at a coffee room, you are in need of it; and meanwhile I will make you understand the causes of your poverty; four, look you, I am a working man too, and suffer; and if all of us were as thoroughly convinced and decided as I am, we should not work much longer for these vampires.
The gentleman:—“Idler!” “Parasite!” “Vampire!” He insults me! He dares to insult me, a gentleman, a landowner, a member of the Liberal Club!
(Beckons a policeman.)
Here, constable, do your duty; take these two agitators in charge; they have outraged me!
The unemployed:—That’s good! It is not enough that I am perishing with hunger. Now I must be locked up too!
The Anarchist:—Yes, that is all in order,—the middle class “order” which you help to support. The police, like the army and the magistracy, are there, not to protect the right, but to serve these rascals. But I will tell you a good remedy.
(To the policeman.) We have nothing to do with you; we don’t know you. If you try to take us up in this way with no sort of right, why then, we are two against you; we will fight you, and there’s no chance that this stout party will come to your assistance.
Policeman:—(Aside) Upon my word, he’s right.
Anarchist: (To the unemployed) Do you see, old man? There is only one way not to be exploited and oppressed, and that is to show some spirit. If all the workers, who are immensely numerous, were to make a great stand against their employers in the government, as I have just made a little stand against that policeman, then we should soon all be free men.
The unemployed:—But what should we do if there were no more employers and no government?
The Anarchist:—Associate to work in common, exchange our products, and govern ourselves.
The Right Honorable W. E. Gladstone:—(To the Marquis of Salisbury) You know, my dear marquis, you must not bear me a grudge for my lively expressions in my last speech. If I spoke of you as incendiary, as perfidious and ferocious, and so on, it was only because policy required it. But you cannot doubt the esteem in which I hold you.
Lord Salisbury:—Of course! I know well enough that you don’t at bottom care a jot about Home Rule, the Registration Bill, or the disendowment of churches. You are in power, you want to stay there: it is very natural. There are never more than two parties, those who hold the government and those who desire to do so.
An Anarchist voice:—And those who desire to break it up.
(Cries heard; at first distant, then nearer: “Hurrah off for the Social Revolution! Hurrah for Anarchy!” Crash. Detonations. Collapse of palaces and prisons. Mr. Gladstone makes his escape, seizing Lord Salisbury’s overcoat. Lord Salisbury runs away, seizing Mr. Gladstone’s hat.)
From The Commonweal, 1893.