The Egoist: No. 12, Vol. 1, June 15th 1914.
by Dora Marsden
LONG years ago-five perhaps-there existed in Manchester a colony of suffragettes, real ones, faithful of the faithful, who sped to do Mrs. Pankhurst's will before she had well breathed it forth. And at the very kernel of the community was a tiny group which in its intimate moments and as an unholy joke called itself the S. O. S. They were Sick of Suffrage, and meant nothing more than a scarce-whispered weariness at the interminable reiteration of threadbare arguments and probably a definite wearying of the unending donkey-work of the gutter and pavement. As a joke it was considered quite enormous: but the element which gave it all the humour it possessed was that it was true, and by as much as it was true of the "true soldiers in the cause" in that springtime of the "movement" it can be safely gauged how much it was and has been true of those suffragists who reluctantly made themselves suffragists afresh because of all that "these brave women are suffering for the Cause." If ever a generation were fed on seeming good food which refused to go down it is this female one which has had the "principle of the suffrage" thrust upon it as an urgent issue.
The fact of the matter is that the modern suffrage "movement" has been only nominally concerned with suffrage: a fact doubly unfortunate for suffrage. Not only does the genuine impulse in the direction of a certain "something" fail to derive its force from the suffrage, but by filling a false position in the "Cause" the suffrage becomes embarrassed by an attention which is really fired by something else. By a bad misnomer the suffrage finds itself in the unenviable position of a makeshift thrust forward to fill the gap made by the non-appearance of a celebrity. Which explains how Mrs. Pankhurst has, unwittingly, led tens of thousands of women out on a wild-goose chase. She organised so exhilarating a hunt that the value of the quarry was taken for granted. That the hunt was everything and the spoil next to nothing-the "good fight which justifies any cause" --unfortunately did not dawn upon her or them. The "suffragists on principle" whose interests in their principles was quickened with life only by Mrs. Pankhurst's "good fight," the "constitutionals," were left with the shell from which Mrs. Pankhurst's host had withdrawn the nut. These last were wisely "rejoicing by the way," leaving to the suffragists on principle the straining towards "an end" to be enjoyed when won.
That Mrs. Pankhurst had struck her rich vein by accident and was only vaguely aware of what constituted her good fortune is of course amply shown by almost everything she has said, and likewise by most of what she has done in her personal relations with her own devoted host. She was as much deceived by her rallying-cry of Suffrage as any constitutionalist who hastened reluctantly to the "Cause" to claim her vested interest in it and challenge Mrs. Pankhurst's large utterances in speaking in its name. Moreover, it was the "vote" she wanted-not the "good fight." The vote was necessary to her if she was to make herself count among the crowd of Labour-politicians, all scrambling to make themselves a position of importance out of the rich mud of politics. Her lack of a vote placed so heavy a handicap on her that she was unable to make distances with men who were hopelessly her inferiors as politicians. Mrs. Pankhurst was and is a politician. All her interests are political as are Miss Pankhurst's. But alongside only very ordinary intelligence she possesses a biting, enduring aggressive temper-a rare feature among public women. Miss Christabel Pankhurst's dramatic first arrest and subsequent stupid imprisonment (Miss Pankhurst is an enigma: no one knows what she is: she has lived in the public eye for eight years, she is setting well towards forty and has been known to express only two candid opinions: one on Mr. Asquith and one on the White Slave Trade. One watches with interest for the third,) drew to them crowds of women too intelligent to be politicians: but too little politicians to be a match for the Pankhursts. They combined like natural affinities. All women who thought at all considered their proposals seriously: the majority were prepared to give them support. Thereupon, the Pankhursts selected from the best available, what was necessary and then pre-themselves to be exclusive, since Mrs. Pankhurst had her political axe to grind. She required at the outset, for the sake of backing, women with money and with some capacity: when she had obtained these she drew the limiting line which would keep out women with accepted followings and too much ability: that is unless they came with ashes in their hair, repentance in one hand and passivity in the other. Then on the principle of the Eastern potentate who illustrated the practice of good government by lopping off the heads of all the stalks of grain which grew higher than the rest, she by one means or another rid her group of all its members unlikely by virtue of personality, conspicuous ability, or undocile temper, to prove flexible material in the great cause. The gaps thus made she filled up with units of stock size. These readjustments of course took time but there resulted no harm from that, for before the talented or the conspicuous had shown sufficient signs of restiveness to make it wiser to clear them off, they were tractable enough to allow their talents to be exploited. Thus all was grist to the mill and the "great cause" went marching on.
As one learns from that mournful and monotonous institution, the suffrage-speech, Mrs. Pankhurst's nominal movement is not the first woman-suffrage movement. There existed one before which fortunately fizzled out, and it is mainly those associated with this former genuinely-suffrage venture and their connections who remain the non-Pankhurst suffragists. Their holding aloof is due partly to the fact that having questioned Mrs. Pankhurst's authority to speak in the name of the Suffrage movement, they roused that lady's implacable ire, and as we have said they could make their entry into her ranks only in abject terms. On the other hand their policy of separation is partly explained by the feeling that they might very well regard the suffrage propaganda as a sort of vested interest of their own, and that if show and interest were to be made out of it, they might as well endeavour to share in the credit. Hence they become as little willing to sink the goodwill of their tradition in Mrs. Pankhurst's organisation as Mrs. Pankhurst is willing to allow them to share in the authority over hers. Two camps therefore-old and new, "constitutionals" and "militants," the former saddled with a white-elephant in the shape of worn-out untrustworthy, specious tricked-out arguments in favour of the "principle of woman-suffrage," who can rouse no feeling, but are given a respectful hearing from the people among whom conviction bites no sharper. And they can do nothing to help themselves. They are afraid to try anything beyond the most superficial of arguments for fear of being entangled in the entire theory of Representative Government. It is a sheer accident which the suffragists can merely deplore without being able to alter, that all the high hopes set a century ago upon the working of the Representative System should be finally petering out just as a few ardent women are waking up to the fact that the system exists and that they are not in it. On the level of intelligence at which the suffragists tell their sad story they can get no effective opposition: their audience are not capable of thinking out just the right refutation of the plausibilities: on the other hand they cannot attract any mental force, and as for the crude emotional force, that goes straight past them to the militants. Their least little sparkle is secured only when they manage to manoeuvre themselves within the shine of their rivals' halos: a dubious manoeuvre since they can never be quite sure in which regions these halos will shine as halos, and where as false lights. Moreover, they stand in danger of being warned off rudely, as Mrs. Pankhurst's band feels always that they are reaping unearned advantage: that their waste-land of dead suffrage propaganda has become valuable only through the fact that it lies adjacent to the centre of an interest with the creation of which their suffrage-principle has had nothing to do.
This is the reason why for all suffragists who do not begin and end with, simply "the vote and Mrs. Pankhurst" there is a never-ending fluctuation. The suffrage argument, taken neat, is hopeless: broken down beyond hope of putting together. All that it can hope for is to be towed along the track behind some interest which gets its supplies from another source. The commonest way is to get behind the militant organisation: the societies which are non-militant but which are friendly to the militants are all of this order. They are innumerable: their motives are identical: pledged to support a boring subject, they gravitate naturally towards the only visible halo, the only point at which interest seethes. They flirt with the militants-if they are only on good terms enough: the Actresses' Society, the New Constitutional, the "Fellowship," the Freedom League, the Church League, the Conservative Women's League, and the rest. The traditional society, Mrs. Fawcett's, is not sufficiently friendly: it therefore is left to make a different shift for itself. It pledges itself to give the pious sniff and denounce the ways and works of its rival: that doesn't carry it far: then, it makes alliance with a very curious party: the very people to grapple with whom Mrs. Pankhurst was inspired to make her bold bid for the vote: the party which by its ways and works has unconsciously added the last touch to the farce of representative government: the Parliamentary Labour Party. This makes a doleful combination and it is small wonder that they are constantly on the look-out for "ideas" to stiffen things up a little. The constitutionals would like to be, if they dared be, the "intellectual" party: unfortunately strict suffrage and intellect will not lie down together. Their experience with the "White Slave" business will do something to teach them how wise was Mrs. Pankhurst in the early days when she directed all argumentation to be strictly on the vote, and nothing but the vote. "Give us the vote, never mind why, or we'll burn your house down if you don't"-that is the only safe argument intellectually speaking. Deviate into this notion or into that, no matter what, and a watchful opponent will catch you out. It was what happened when certain official English "constitutionals" were sufficiently ill-advised as to have truck with such a journal as the former "Freewoman." Mrs. Humphry Ward promptly caught them out. But for our own compunction at their woeful case, we might have enabled her to lay their twists and subterfuges barer than she managed to do by her unassisted observation. Apparently, judging by our correspondence columns, a precisely similar episode is now being enacted in America. If suffragists will accept our well-meant advice, they will postpone their thinking until they feel less deeply pledged to their suffrage opinions. The two together can only end in difficulties- for them. They must be prepared to leave the one and cleave to the other: it is the price they pay for loyalty to be content to say as in the jingle "we want, we want, we want the vote," with as little as possible about "why" and "what for."
We might here reply to the American correspondent who asks for a statement as to where the "Freewoman" (now the EGOIST) stands in relation to woman-suffrage. Replying on impulse, we would say "Nowhere," since the suffrage is wholly a matter of indifference. We should, for instance, hear of the existence-of a Party Compact to withhold votes from women for an indefinite period with the same absence of feeling with which we should hear that the measure was to be put through next week. That as regards the "principle."
As for the genesis and development of the FREEWOMAN-EGOIST: the 'Freewoman' marked the term of an emotion: the militant suffrage enthusiasm. It was a seeking for the seat of the illusion which is all powerful while heat is in it: but which becomes quite ludicrously patent with a lowering of temperature. The zest there is in a good fight when one is in the mind for it explains something, but not, one felt, everything. There must be something besides the joy of a good fight to explain why men and women set out hot-headed after first one hunt and then another: the long list of good "Causes." The first clue led in the direction of the hypnotic words, the words saturated with the associations of the zeal of centuries for other-causes: Morality, Freedom, Right, Justice. The source of illusion lay perhaps in a misinterpretation of these: therefore re-interpret and illusion will vanish in "True Reality." So !
However, the closer scrutiny which re-interpretation of these words demanded promptly revealed that it was not re-interpretation they required: they had received interpretations enough and to spare: what was required was a comprehension of their nature and function and the confusing of intelligence to which their use led. The exposition of "The New Morality" turned into a study of the words Morality and Moral; the New Freedom, into an inquiry as to what one meant by being "Free." Far from being erratic the development of the FREEWOMAN- EGOIST has been in one unbroken line: a line of inquiry which has gnawed its way straight through difficulties where the "faithful," the "loyal" would have broken down or turned back. It is not a "new" morality which is required, but an understanding of the "moral" in order to put it in its proper place. (It is to be remarked that when the journal was gibbeting existent "morals" and proposing a new set, it was called "immoral"-and was dearly beloved of the suffragists. When it limited itself to explaining what everyone means by "moral," and left both existent and new morality to find what status they were able, the cry of "immorality" ceased: and the love of the suffragists ceased with it. For the change was going to rob them of their thunder and at the same time burst their halos of self-conscious virtue.) Moral conduct, it became clear, was nothing more than the habitual conduct of the great majority: sometimes' hurtful habitual conduct, sometimes beneficial: requiring to be varied with time, person and place: above all it is varied by the intelligence of the person. The habit intensifies only for the unintelligent: and it is the dead weight of the latter's support which secures it respect. An intelligent man resists the habit and holds himself ready and alert for readjustment. To call him "moral," is to class him with the herd: to call him immoral, is to prejudge him: it may just suit him to fall in with the custom. Both descriptions for him are idle terms, indicating a silly and useless division, like water-drinkers and not. It is no use, since we all drink water at times, because it suits us, or it just happens. An intelligent man is moral and immoral in the same way.
The "New Freedom" goes the way of the "New Morality." The term Freedom (foolishly objectivised, like Morality, Rights, and the rest), the term apart, an unswerving inquiry dissolved the glamour which hung about being "free." When we say "One is free to do" . . . whatever one may have in mind, we mean "One has the power to do" . . . such and such. We cannot be "freer" than we have power to be. So-called freedom is entirely a matter of power and popular speech about being free is merely confusion. To be aware of the confusion is a first step towards acquiring that which is essential- power. It prevents one wasting energy and breath claiming to be "free": that one needs to claim and cannot act as such, proves the absurdity of the claim. Such claimants are, in fact, asking for protection, i.e. that others should forego the exercise of their power in order to give them an appearance of power. Claims are the reproaches of the powerless: whines for protection. All the suffragists' "claims" are of this order, and it was to disentangle the journal from association with these and with the long list of whines, Free Speech, Free Love, Free Assembly and what-not, that "Freewoman" became EGOIST, which title is a sign hung out above the seat of authority: the centre of power: the self. One has the "freedom" if one has the "power," and the measure of one's power is one's own concern.
We must not leave the subject of suffrage without reference to militant affairs, since the periodic agitation which the press works up in the public mind is just now at its height. The newspapers skillfully agitate the question as to which side appeal shall be made: and should both sides fail to respond, what shall be done. We think it should be clear by this that it is waste of breath appealing to the militants themselves: as-by the way-it is idle to talk of the work of destruction being perpetrated by paid persons. There would be just as much pertinence in saying that Mr. McKenna or the judges who convict the women are paid to do their jobs. Nor is much likely to be done by attacking the society's funds. The newspapers could do far more by ignoring the whole subject: a procedure which would necessitate the spending of funds on forms of publicity now freely provided them by their censors. To think that it will is to commit the childish error of under-rating an opponent. To be sure, the Pankhursts are not sincerely trying to get a vote: but then they are quite sincere in trying at all costs to make something else secure: they are backing their prestige-their own policy because it is their own, quite apart from suffrage considerations, exactly as a man would shout on the horse on which he had put his money without regard to the racing merits of its rivals. In this they are so deeply sincere that they are able to give an air of sincerity to all they say and do: and it gives the explanation why strictly they cannot be accounted charlatans, although in the name of one thing they acquire and use up support which was given them on considerations quite other. And as it is hopeless to appeal to the Pankhursts it is hopeless to appeal to any of their followers while the glamour of following is on them. It has to be realised that after full deduction has been made for sensational appeals upon minds confused by swollen rhetoric the suffragettes are enjoying themselves tremendously, and this in spite of the physical strain and horror and weariness. Militancy has, in fact, in the emotional life of those upon whom it takes firm hold answered a want in the lives of woman which is all the more insistent because it is but rarely put into words. Unless exceptional ability has opened up unusual avenues of interest, or unless they chance to be under the influence of some other satisfying emotion, women are haunted with the vague realisation that they do not count much otherwise than passively: they feel non-responsible and unnecessary save as accessories. Moreover, usually they are burdened with more undirected emotion than they can well carry-vague emotion continuously suppressed until it acquires the energy of a tightly-wound spring: and there is no prospect of securing its release save upon the initiative of some hypothetical person whose appearance even in imagination is still to make. To young women, educated perhaps not much, but still more than the scope of their activities seems to have any call for, to young women of this sort, and there are thousands, pleasant, emotional, untrained and untried, the Pankhurst call comes, having in it almost the sound of the inevitable "Thou art the young woman." Here is a sphere where she can count: action as simple as a child's with the ready flattery of the great leaders to put her easily among the line of the great. From Sappho to Joanne d 'Arc or Jesus Christ- anywhere she chooses she becomes one with them. From being nobody among very ordinary somebodies she feels she has become a person among those who count: name in papers, a celebrity: government solemnly discussing how by stretching its powers to the utmost it can deal with her: a problem. Secrecy, glamour, action, a cause, big phrases, leaders, she has carved out a niche for herself in the scheme of things. And no more suppressed emotion. Emotion stretches itself out to the utmost: there is the abandonment: the breaking of conventions: the stretching out to one's full height: the touch of the "O Altitudo." A very jolly time surely. Far from being paid to live it, it is worth being paid for. The physical distress is an under current: not wholly felt. It will be felt later, when the emotion has died down, but neither the determination nor the endurance will fail, as long as the emotion lasts. It is plain, therefore, that the suffragettes cannot, neither leaders and followers, be appealed to. We can take it for granted they are going to continue to the bitter end. As an object of appeal there remains the government. It is true that as far as the general public is concerned the pressure upon the government has never been so weak. The government's stubbornness in this matter in former times has often seemed inexplicable: it is for the present, at least, quite explicable. The women it is felt have tried bounce unsuccessfully, and it is a human commonplace that the reaction when bounce miscarries is always stubborn and unyielding. Still, the government has to keep in view the fact that the public temper is very fickle. That it is favourable to them to-day is no guarantee that it will be so to-morrow even should they follow the very course for which to-day it clamours. And it is not easy for the government suddenly to become harsh when it has from its own point of view shown itself hitherto very sensitive. It should have remained inflexible from the beginning if the cry "the law must be maintained" was to have any force. The present Home Secretary inherits the results of Mr. Herbert Gladstone's "flexible" policy in 1909. Otherwise it would have been easy considering the present state of public opinion to take the "heroic" course advised, i.e. to let the sentences run their usual course: throwing the responsibility for what may happen on those who cause it to happen. Moreover, in clamouring for a change of treatment of suffragists the public makes the mistake of imagining that there is only one question under consideration, whereas there are two. First there is the question of punishment used as a deterrent and second there is the question as to what course can be expected to minimise the probability of further damage. Now as a means of inflicting hardship the "Cat-and- Mouse" Act is certainly far better than the ordinary action of the law: for instance being subjected to resisted forcible feeding means greater suffering than being allowed to die if one really wants to. By first setting the prisoners free and then again imprisoning them after a brief interval is very deadly simply because it is a wearing down process and proportionately hard to bear. It also tends to depress onlookers, whereas a death or two would make all the supporters of the "victims" feel that they were bound in honour and consistency "to do something" in order to make the tragic events appear less futile. The "Cat-and- Mouse" Act is, as we have pointed out before, very good government indeed, well calculated with its waiting policy, depressing action and punitive features to break the strongest spirits. As regards the prevention of further misdemeanours-the notion which is actually agitating the public mind-no government, and no act of any government, can prevent them. Government rests upon an assumption that it possesses the assent of the governed, and the suffragettes have realised so much of political reality as to be aware of that. Against the recalcitrant individual, government can only defend itself. The power of government is built up from the acquiescence of the governed: which is why a people whining against its government presents so absurd a spectacle. If a person is determined to do as he likes in a certain anti-lawful way, the government is powerless to stop him. It can only kill him, a fact which the government well knows. The disturbing element in this present situation is that it doesn't want to be connected with the killing of these women-for entirely sentimental reasons. It is no good saying that it would treat men quite differently. Of course it would. It would treat them as men, but how can it treat women as men when they are women ? Men would, in fact, never put themselves in a like position unless they knew that strong public feeling would be with them: they would never rely upon a kindly regard for their beautiful eyes to save them from the legal consequences of their acts. Sir Edward Carson does not rely upon being soulful and of tender build when he defies the government. But the women do. It is, shall we say, humorous, that the crucial point about which the women have made their defiance of man-made laws turn should be just this ancient womanly one. The hunger-strike is a gamble- heavy stakes laid on the certitude of men's chivalry towards women. That is why it is so strong a card. Even if, in a fit of exasperated temper, it should happen to fail them just now, it will have to be brought into play in the long run when things have been allowed to get a few degrees worse. Well then, what? It requires some spokesmen of the Order of Masculine Chivalry who realises the lie of the case to give the cue for action. The person at whom the Fates obviously are pointing is Mrs. Humphry Ward. The role of the great Duke of Wellington is obviously destined for her: to advise a course which she distrusts and dislikes to put an end to a state of affairs which she dislikes and fears still more. Her creed rests on the maintenance of men's Chivalry towards women with, in addition, the acknowledgment in deed and word of a reciprocal attitude in women towards men to make it possible. There now exists therefore a unique opportunity of offering to the world a perfect working model. The anti- suffragist leader's most virulent opponents have in "Deeds not Words" actually hung the thread of their lives upon men's chivalry. They have, as Mrs. Ward declared they would, by their failure to adopt the reciprocal womanly attitude, made the working of chivalry almost impossible. The loss of their lives would merely demonstrate what can already be foreseen: the point at which exasperation brings chivalry to the breaking-point. They have put themselves into the delicate and painful position of drawing too largely upon the fund of interested kindness, and someone would do well to extricate them: the someone by preference: a woman. Mrs. Ward has her opportunity: that in consideration of the larger ideal of which her opposition to woman Suffrage is but a part, she waives the claims which the present strength of those considerations has given the predominance and beseeches the government anti suffragists to combine with the government suffragists to put through without delay a non-contentious measure which will confer on these women the parliamentary vote. If the womanly woman is returning, it would be fitting that her triumphal re-entry should be made in her best role: the subtle, courteous, persuasive, kind. Why not?
NOTE TO READERS.
After this issue of THE EGOIST my work in connection with the journal will be limited to that of contributing editor merely. The paragraphs which have appeared under the heading "Views and Comments" will be contributed by me as hitherto and with the next issue I hope to begin a series of articles on the "Philosophic Basis of Egoism." The paper will be edited by Miss Harriet Shaw Weaver, to whom in future editorial correspondence should be addressed at Oakley House, Bloomsbury Street, London, W.C. DORA MARSDEN.