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9: Parents and Horses (part 1)


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« on: January 24, 2023, 08:42:51 am »

MOST of the country near London may be classed as Greater London. One is still among the factories or in a suburb. But the county of Ladbrokeshire is rural, remarkably intact, and only a county or two away from the capital. If I feel I have rotted long enough in Rotting Hill, if I want to be where the Machine Age has not dirtied the buttercups or choked the throat of a cow with soot, I go up into Ladbrokeshire.

Last summer I found myself in the ancient township of Blatchover, and at the top of the hill got out and entered Blatchover Church. I know nothing of the history of Ladbrokeshire and imagine that it must have had a period of great prosperity judging from its churches. The wool-trade probably would be responsible for this, around the time England was freeing itself from exploitation by the Hanseatic League and ceasing to be just a "wool-farm" for the Germans. Cloth merchants were responsible for the building of fine churches in other parts of England; their presence in Ladbrokeshire, in their burgess "halls", was doubtless the reason for this crop of rectories and vicarages. Blatchover was, seemingly, a skinners' town, and I suppose the church is the work of the Skinners' Guild.

Inside it is one of the most beautiful churches I know. Gilded banners of the apostles, showing their bearded figures in blues and blacks, with patches and strips of icy white, depend the entire length of the chancel, which has two ornate chapels on either side of it. Such embellishments, for there are many others, including a large and beautifully carved Pietà, and a Bavarian Madonna, bequeathed by a refugee, furnish it handsomely as well as visibly sanctify it. But without the hanging banners and carved pillars it would be a rich and splendid interior. In this church Robert Blaise, the former vicar, who was a peculiarly liberal cleric, at a certain moment installed the Red Flag—perhaps among these saintly banners, I do not know. On the South Wall is the chapel of John Ball, one of the inspirers of the Peasants' Revolt in 1381. History is full of rhymes, and one of the first to be impressed upon our infant memory is one that this aggressive priest borrowed from the German.

    When Adam delved and Eve span,
    Who was then the gentleman?


Dick Bartleton, the present incumbent, is almost as liberal as his predecessor. He follows Ball in believing that "Things will never go well in England so long as goods be not in common". Upon a table, not far from the Chapel of John Ball, is a great deal of inexpensive literature reflecting the same priestly abhorrence of property shown by Ball. You may buy, for a penny or two, little pamphlets explaining that socialism is identical with the teaching of Christ. (With this, I may say, I am in complete agreement.) Dick Bartleton, in a little brochure of his own, describes how a believer in Christ ought to vote. "Jesus was a partisan: he did not hesitate to take his stand with the weaker side. He ranged himself fearlessly upon the side of the oppressed and the exploited, and condemned the exploiter and the master-class. We, as Christians, must follow the example of Jesus Christ." As I have always hated any government, and despised any employer, and have always been exploited, I was of course glad to see Dick ranging Jesus on our side. I hoped he was not making any exceptions in favour of some governments.

Straight-from-the-shoulder Dick Bartleton preaches a grand sermon, they say. He has one of the saints of revolution in his South Wall and he, too, teaches that nothing will ever go well in England until goods are held a great deal more in common than is the case at present. In the social history of England in these years it is worthy of note how many clergy—both clergymen and ministers—are at least as economically "advanced" as is the present Government. Some even are open and declared members of the communist party. (How they reconcile Marxist materialism with the Christian idealism I cannot guess.) A socialist society exists of Anglican clergymen, whose delegate at a recent Paris conference was a Sheffield clergyman married to a Bishop's daughter. This phenomenon should be compared with the attitude of the French priesthood before the French Revolution.

I left Blatchover's beautiful church with regret. That night I passed at Meldrum not far away, and from that place drove over next morning to visit a clergyman of a very different type from the Vicar of Blatchover, yet equally, if not more, unconventional. It is this clergyman, the Reverend Matthew Laming, and the story of his rebellion, which are the subject of the present chapter. It is far more usual to find a contemporary clergyman agreeing with the powers that be, than to find one in active opposition. Matthew Laming is not unique, but he is one of a small number of country clergy attempting to stem the socialist tide. It is only worth while putting this episode on record because it demonstrates how futile any such resistance has become. It seems to me I am ideally suited to report objectively this conflict between a centralizing Government and a dissident country clergyman. For my part the English village is only a pathetic relic; it depresses me rather, so there is no sentiment to bias me there. Then centralization is not a thing to which I personally am averse. Further, I regard centralization as quite inevitable—which is of some importance. On the other hand I admire this resister: and many of his beliefs I share—his attitude to war, for instance, is almost identical with my own. I meet very few people in England who think intelligently about war. Most stick their chests out. Perhaps the best way to give an idea of Laming's quality would be to quote from the editorial of the Meldrum Deanery Magazine, which is from his pen. We have Dick Bartleton with his primitive interpretation of Christianity, and then Rymer elsewhere, with his highly personal version of the same religion; Laming is quite distinct from either of these—not primitive at all, holding more to the traditional substance of the Catholic Church: but in Laming's case, a minority economics of a most violent kind complicates his traditionalism, and, at the moment, causes him to occupy a far more revolutionary position than the popular leftism of Dick Bartleton. Yet in both his case and Dick's the aggravating cause and prime incentive is Christianity.

Here then are the passages from the editorial, headlined "Remembrance", for it is a short sermon for Flanders Poppy day.

"We misuse this solemn season unless we make the effort to reflect on some of the causes that produce the catastrophes. 'What is the use of experience if you do not reflect?' Anatole France's L'Ile des Pinguins had a great sale in France about 1908, but the lesson of the following extract was not understood: 'These are doubtless,' replied the interpreter, 'industrial wars. People without commerce and industry are not obliged to make war but business people must perforce have a policy of conquest. Our wars increase in number, necessarily, along with our productive activity. When one of our industries cannot dispose of its product you have to make a war to open new markets. Thus, this year, we have had a coal war, a copper war, and a cotton war. In Third-Zealand we have killed off two-thirds of the natives in order to force the remainder to buy umbrellas and braces.' The endeavour was made between two wars to explain why industries are unable to dispose of their products in the home market, but counter-efforts were made to suppress rather than to spread the truth that the chief reason was the restriction of buying-power.

"Murder, after all, is repellent to the Christian conscience, but through some natural or injected perversity it is too readily assumed that mass murder is justifiable and that any analysis of the causes of mass murder deeper than those of a hysterical press is indecent and irrelevant to the Church's work. Yet Christian ethics are no more confined to the Seventh Commandment (against adultery) than the American Constitution is confined to the Eighteenth Amendment (against alcohol).

"Here are some lines written in 1938 on 'The Silence in Britain'. The author believed it would be the last Silence:

   'A million of our dead to make us free,
   Whose dying marked the path of usury.
   Eight thousand million pounds they cost to kill
   Eight thousand pounds per man each grave to fill...
   And on that scale full interest we've paid:
   Six thousand million pounds in twenty years,
   Cash value of the Nation's blood and tears.
   As tribute from war's wild and bloody reek
   Each corpse still yields them seven pounds a week.'

"As the old fallacies are readily embraced by almost every politician, as the effort to stamp out small villages goes almost unchecked, as the 'first fruit and flower' who might put things right have been destroyed, the commonwealth defence system is liquidated from within and from without." He concludes as follows:

"The issue is put candidly by a well-known critic and reformer: 'It is clear beyond question that the gates of hell are wide open, and the torrent of evil will sweep away anything not intrinsically stronger than evil.' We need to search our own consciences to decide whether we are intrinsically stronger than evil and to turn our backs on tainted public 'servants' and tarnished principles that have bedevilled our land for so many, many years—the architects of ruin." The passage continues: "You know that long-distance air-pilots mark on their course-charts the 'point of non-return'—where you must go on, because you can't return to your base. The devil has passed the point of non-return and we had better recognize it."

Now of course this extract consists mainly of quotations. It is perhaps a vocational trick, but it is a method to which the Reverend Matthew Laming, Vicar of Ketwood, frequently has recourse. He will conceal himself in a cloud of quotations, in the way a clergyman's admonitions reach us in the form of a hail of judgements picked out of sacred texts. It is his voice, but the words are those of the saints and prophets, and of God Himself.

But there is another thing. Laming has no desire to say, "This is what I think, this is what I say." It is what IS that interests him, not what is Laming's, what a multitude of elect witnesses from the past and in the present day recognized as real. Such is the nature of his speech, for he is quite a modest man, and not interested to set up a personal mind: he prefers a common currency. He is a priest, that is enough for him. And in his principal work so far (unpublished, for it is one of those books which publishers recoil from at the impact of the first sentence and upon first sighting the subject-matter in the Contents page), The English Church and Usury, it is as a priest he writes. He is sometimes an almost embarrassingly unassuming man. He is no Prince Hamlet, to use a phrase of a contemporary poet, just a quiet background gentleman, coming on the scene with a deeply courteous aloofness. Then from this secondary figure, destined for silence it would seem, proceed to issue words—many words. These words lay bare the roguery of practically all the leading characters. This is not a Thersites act at all: this anomalous background gentleman in a quiet undertone carries on a shocked soliloquy. None of the other characters pay any attention to him. So in his writing he most exactly talks to himself—and perhaps to posterity. For one day I expect, his history of Usury may be unearthed, in a world grown liberal once more; a faded text, in the by then almost invisible typescript. I am supposing that it will come into the possession of a historian. "History" will not, of course, to the men of that time signify a fairy-tale of the past, composed as a department of propaganda, but be a matter of impartial factual research, as disinterested and unbiased as an ethnological treatise. Let us go a step farther with this imaginary historian of the future, and say that he has just completed a massive work, the title of which is to be Causes for the Eclipse of the Christian Nations of the West. It might well be that after perusing Laming's typewritten analytical account of the origin and development of Usury, this poor man would consign to the dustbin what he had written.

Here we have been assuming among many other things that to our historian of a distant future none of the Social Credit material of the past forty years is available. I hope I shall not be seeming to tone down my estimate of Laming's book if I say I am not claiming that it is a master-work. After all it is but an enlargement of a university "thesis". It is the subject-matter which is of such overwhelming significance, that alone is what would attract the historian, more especially when, as in this case, it is handled with exceptional skill. Finally, this is not to be understood as saying that I subscribe to the social theories of the "Creditors", or regard the solution they favour as valid, only that the condition to which they persistently call attention appears at least as blood-curdling to me as it does to them.

The word "usury", it must be realized, does not refer to that minor nuisance, the trade done beneath the familiar sign of a trinity of brass balls. The Banks and Insurance Companies, the coiners of false credit, the whole of the iniquitous Credit system, is what is involved—the chairman of your bank is an arch-usurer. And somewhere stands the Minotaur at the heart of the labyrinth. Obviously what Debt has done to ruin our civilization cannot possibly be exaggerated. A great War means a great Debt. And there is now so vast a mountain of Debt that we merely exist in order to pay it off, which, slave as we may, day and night, we can never do.

In the editorial I have quoted we saw the gates of Hell wide open, and out of them streaming the legions of the Fiend. "We need to search our conscience," he says, "to decide whether we are intrinsically stronger than evil." Evil is admittedly strong: have we in our moral nature enough of evil's opposite to overcome this enormous onslaught rushing at us out of the gates of Hell? That is the question. Up to a point, only, is "evil" for Laming what it is for Dick Bartleton. And I am sure the latter would be apt to welcome as a Saviour what in Laming's eyes would be the Fiend. Their resemblances and differences are equally striking, the simple—not to say simpliste—contrast of the rich man and the poor man—the Haves and the Have-nots would hardly suffice as a complete picture of the ills of the world for Laming: though (in the above quotation) the instigators of the coal wars, the copper wars, and the umbrella wars are the same as they would be for Bartleton. There, their villains would be the same villains. Laming is interested in many more things than the other and he worries about many more things. In the end, his economics do become hostile to any cut-and-dried "working-class-in-power" theorists. That is not because the working-class is not in his heart: but talking about that exclusively is a way of banishing so many other questions.

---

I stayed at "The Maid's Head" at Meldrum that night, having arranged for a car to call at ten, for the five- or six-mile drive to Ketwood. During breakfast a man at a neighbouring table addressed some remarks to me, and after a little he said he was a farmer. His farm was in Northampton. He had just returned from a holiday at Bournemouth. And now he had somehow got to Meldrum—perhaps sightseeing, hoping to see the famous Caves. It transpired that he was fond of music. We are all of course devoted to it—except when someone in the next flat turns on a radio—which is mostly off and on all day—and music is certainly the noisiest of the arts. But this man played himself.

His instrument was the violin which he practised from two to six hours daily. I asked him if he had any stock. No, he had no stock. "Not a horse?" At the word horse this musical farmer's big red shiny face (oval in shape with a small dark moustache) acquired an expression at once surprised and disgusted. "No, I would not have a horse on the place," he told me. When I asked why, the main reason seemed to be because it was an animal. Horses had to be fed and cleaned, at awkward hours—in the early morning for instance. A hired man had to get to the farm before anyone else was up if one had a horse (while one was still dreaming in a Heal bed of Beethoven Quartets) and the hired man didn't like it either.

It was a new experience for me encountering prosperous middle-aged farmers, with oiled hair but tight and ungainly clothes—far from their farms, drifting around the countryside en touriste with a favourite pet hound and (doubtless) a violin-case.

As to the driver of the car who took me to Ketwood after breakfast—a man of robust intelligence—his views on the modern farmer were extreme in character and communicated with great readiness. There was nothing he could find too bad to say about the modern farmer. When I enquired if there was much stock in these parts he exclaimed derisively: "Stock?" No, he said, no young farmer would have anything to do with stock. They did everything, the farmers of today, on their backsides on a machine. Sowing, reaping, hoeing, harrowing, ploughing, was all done with a machine. As to the combine harvester, there is no more criticised implement, and he had plenty to say about that. Only signing a cheque couldn't be done with a machine—and that was all the work a young farmer ever did, and it was as much as he could manage.

Rymer had insisted that the farms must be run as factories. Since the poetry of farming has vanished, or is vanishing, anyway, it does not seem to matter very much if collective farming is introduced at once. It would, of course, be more economic. I would never sacrifice poetry to economics. But since there is no poetry! To this, however, Laming would not agree, though he confirmed that the young farmers were very averse to having stock. Those large work-making quadrupeds, horses and cattle, were universally unpopular in this neighbourhood. But my driver was an almost Ruskinian "reactionary": of the new-fangled schools the Government were introducing he disapproved as much as did Laming, though no doubt for different reasons.

Ketwood Vicarage is not screened from the road. The front door was open and the sound of the car's arrival brought to the door a small shirt-sleeved reddish man—with the general working-class appearance imposed on a class whose stipend amounts to the earnings of a not very lucky railway porter. How much better, this, than the well-heeled patronising cleric of the past, who treated his villagers as if they were villeins and he a medieval abbot.

This shirt-sleeved man, standing just inside his door, looked at me as I came up with some severity, indeed with suspicion and animosity. (I had not announced my arrival.) He stood there, his small head thrust forward in displeased enquiry. "Yes?" he said. "Mr. Laming?" said I. "That is my name," said he, and stood frowning at me. And this is where I reach the part this young clergyman was playing in the civil war between the old order and the new order. He was in the midst of an encounter with the Socialist Government: the issue that of the continued existence of the Village School. In respect to that he stood for the old order: for the Family against the State, and he mistook me, at first, for an emissary of the Socialists. Such persons were often despatched from the offices of the local education Czar, and even from London itself, to harry, to intimidate or to cajole. How he received these officers might be judged from his bellicose attitude as in the present instance he stood on guard just inside his front door.

It is amusing to compare the weight of the respective parties to this battle. On the one side is the terrible colossus of socialism: on the other this frail, impecunious, clerc. It is extraordinary how this small animal, without I expect any serious backing, can defy the omnipotent State—even if it is only as yet omnipotent-in-the-making. But he is possessed of a great deal of will and his entire being has been hardened into a resistant human particle in the social body by the agency of an economic creed both aggressive and unorthodox. It is, of course, the Christian ethic, as interpreted by this professional of religion, which has produced an unbreakable belief, at once mystical and practical. He believes—in as radical a sense as that of physical apprehension—that it is an evil impulse on the part of the Government to break up the villages and to turn all of England into a factory—to break up the home of the peasant—to work for the destruction of the Family. Two creeds combine to assure him of the malignity of this action.

Laming is much younger than the other clergyman of whom I have written, much more the modern intellectual. His wife is a very handsome young woman, with the brave and simple carriage of the head, the fresh fair skin, of a pre-Raphaelite creation. So he is not, after all, alone in his village-school battle. And he has a perfect army of chickens, geese, ducks, and goats. This host is visible the moment you step out of the road into the Vicarage precinct. A background as reassuring as a private army. His wife rather weakened this impression for me, however, by complaining that he would never allow any of the birds to be killed!

---

The London papers had most of them carried accounts of the struggle going on in the villages—for the vicar of Ketwood was not the only resister—against the closing of the village schools and setting up in their place of the "Central Rural Primary Schools". Press photographs had made me familiar with the "dauntless breast" of this village champion. I had read how when the village school had been closed in accordance with the decree of the central authorities, the vicar, acting for the parents of the children, had set up a village school of his own in the Church House. That was about all I knew concerning my host (for as soon as we had reached his living-room he asked me if I would have lunch, and I most gratefully agreed to do so). My sociological curiosity had been aroused by this showdown between Family and State, one of the major issues in the present collectivization of our society, if it is not the greatest of all. Laming's own words may be quoted in this connection. "In this small matter of the Parents' School," he writes, "we can see huge issues at stake." And this is certainly no exaggeration.

Later I shall be making use of his circumstantial report more fully, but at this point I will quote from the opening pages. It will provide what is needed by way of background to this storm in a tea-cup. Here are his words:

"During the war, the village schoolmistress and her assistant were reinforced by a third teacher to deal with the evacuees. They had a hard struggle with the uncultivated city children. There is no one rich in the place, and the local people had known many years of acutest depression, but they retained a culture of the fields which had no trace of servility, or of city slickness. After the war, the headmistress was specially commended for her notable work. When we came to the village, the evacuees were leaving and the third teacher soon took another post. A scullery had been added and a sand-pit.

"It would have been in 1946 that the children over eleven were suddenly told that they were to attend a central school, at Blatchover, to which they would be driven by car. This event caused little stir in the village, and mothers felt that their children would have better opportunities at a larger school. As it turned out, we should probably have been wise to have made a strong protest at the time: this would have been, I suppose, good politics.

"This left about thirty children at the village school, and they were divided into two classes, the upper of which held children between seven and ten. The children left when they reached eleven. Several of the older children have told me, without being asked, that they would much rather have continued their education at Ketwood. I believe the head-master of Blatchover at the time, a man of great experience and ability, thought that they would have been as well in their own village. But working teachers have little say in educational policy. Some of the parents complained about their children having to wait for the car in bad weather. But parents have even less say in their children's education than the teachers. The whole organization is in the hands of a few experts, assisted by an army of clerks. We were to learn what 'Stateism' could mean, and to hear a great deal about the 'expert' whose word was law.

"But on the whole no one was very worried about the more distant education of the children over eleven. We still had our headmistress and her assistant, and the school was in excellent repair. When school time was over, the children had the freedom of many acres for their playground, and rarely abused it.

"Early in 1947 we read in a local newspaper that Ketwood Council School was scheduled for closure in the Ladbrokeshire Educational Committee's Development plan. This was the first warning, and the village reacted sharply.

"It might make matters clearer to explain briefly the educational set-up of this county. The County Council has many committees, and one of the most important is the Education Committee. The Education Committee has power to co-opt, and divides the county into three for educational administration. The committee appoints an Education Officer for the County, whom we will call Mr. Ladbrokeshire, and officers in charge of each division. Ketwood falls into the mid-Ladbrokeshire division, and the immediate supervisor for education is the Mid-Ladbrokeshire Education Officer. These officers, needless to say, have a tidy salary, and the mid-Ladbrokeshire officer alone—Mr. Mid, we can call him—has thirty-two secretaries, housed in a Georgian mansion.

"The teachers have no effective organization that deals with educational policy, nor do the parents. In other words, the children's education is in the hands of a few 'experts' with a nominal check that the committee can apply. Committees usually back their paid officials, we found. The teachers have, if not a fear, at least a great respect for these officials, in whose appointment they have no voice and over whose policy they have no control. This, of course, robs the teaching profession of its integrity, and the officials doubtless know how to indicate the big stick of finance in their cupboard. All of the committee might be, or have been, practising teachers, but this does not prevent the profoundest cleavage between 'expert-teacher' and 'working-teacher'. The expert is, in fact, master of the situation instead of servant, while the parents who might be allowed some 'representation' have no voice whatsoever.

"The announcement about Ketwood brought a crowd to the Parish Meeting in March. Ketwood was then considered too small to have a Parish Council, so an elected chairman presided over our civil affairs assisted by a clerk. The previous year the parish meeting had been drowsy and poorly attended: a few desultory remarks about drains, an unhopeful question about electricity, and the re-election of the chairman had practically completed the business. It was the shadow of a lost autonomy. But in 1947 we had a topic, and all agreed that the school ought not to be closed. The Welsh fire of the schoolmistress's husband had its rousing effect. He and I were selected to go into the matter. The meeting decided to send a protest to the Ladbrokeshire Education Authority, and to hold a parents' meeting."

For the documenting of this account of mine I have happily been able to avail myself of the log of the dissident young parson. And wherever I can with advantage use the authentic delivery of the central figure in this little drama I shall do so. The above extract shows us exactly how the storm broke. We see the official army of secretaries, in their Georgian mansion, on the one side, and the handful of villagers, and the ill-paid clergyman upon the other. For we cannot suppose that Matthew Laming received any very substantial support from his diocesan superiors, since his bishop advised the diocese in a speech that "the lion's tail must not be twisted too hard". The lion, of course, in this case, was Britannic socialism.

Let us now go back to the living-room of the embattled Vicar, where he sat curled up in a monstrous chair, like a squirrel in the bole of a tree, but unlike a squirrel surrounded, frame to frame, by a gallery of dismal Victorian portraits; there was not much in this poor Vicar's living-room, except for the panelling of the portraits. Outside the windows swarmed all the cook-pot animals he has collected but refuses to kill—which is why there are so many. He will devour their eggs, but declines to murder them, which relates this Ladbrokeshire divine to St. Francis and I suppose the "Sons of Freedom" (Canadian Doukobors). Alas he is thin, very much too thin. As I gazed at this aesthetic, under-nourished figure I hoped that Providence would strike down a goose with lightning and his wife, pouncing on it with alacrity, carry it in triumph to the kitchen. In a lengthy circumstantial report of his struggle with the Government over the village school, he writes that he was "cleaning out the chickens" when I arrived. He was taken off guard, looking as present-day clergymen must always do except when wearing their Sunday suit. At first he was shy. When a little later he learned from me that I knew other clergymen he was more at ease, and ceased endeavouring to conceal a hole in the elbow of his shirt. He actually smiled with a flicker of mischief while I was narrating the sartorial plight of Rymer—not of course revealing my friend's name nor the part of England where he has his vicarage.

"Are you proposing to go through with this?" I enquired.

He started as if I had awoken him by sticking a pin into his leg.

"With...? Yes. At—at least I hope I can, you know."

Under similar circumstances what would be the attitude of a minister in the United States? It is, of course, not difficult to imagine the pugnacious poses, the jutting chin, the eyes narrowed to slits, the boastful words. He would "lick the pants off" the administration. This little Ladbrokeshire vicar had with great determination and considerable skill disputed the right of a well-nigh totalitarian government to start the work of liquidating the family in his village. But he allowed no trace of aggressiveness to appear in the deprecating angle of his head and the quietest, almost apologetic expression of his personality.

His wife came in to say that lunch was ready. Her beauty looks as if it had been rarefied in the atmosphere of some mountain valley. We (which includes one of their two delightful children) ate our spam, an egg, an apple, very simple fare, though I was ashamed of eating it as I was well aware how limited was the larder of a poor clergyman in the Crippsian Ice Age. Battalions of geese waddled around outside, while fat hens pecked around the kitchen door, and the cocks crowed at the tops of their voices. Food on two legs was triumphantly vocal. It was like a meal with St. Francis in a time of dearth, but haunted by edible birds, which one knew to be a mischievous device of Satan.

"So Cotton is your M.P.?"

We were on our way back to the sitting-room, and I remembered I had intended to ask him about this.

"Unfortunately, yes," he said in a voice of resigned regret. "Cotton had a lot to do with framing the bill, in a pre-socialist administration, and with seeing that eventually it found its way into the statute book," he told me mildly, and a little sadly.

"However, there are just as many socialists all of whose instincts are Tory, as there are conservatives who would change England into a quite different country."

"I suppose so."

"Have you seen this mis-cast King's Man, this conservative with socialist leanings?" I asked.

"He came over here," he told me.

Apparently as a member for the Halchester division he thought he would come over and find out exactly what was happening in Ketwood. One day Laming found him on his doorstep. The politician asked the vicar to step outside and have a talk. Laming answered no—you come inside if you wish to speak to me. The politician preferred outside. He beckoned the frowning clergyman (for the Laming that is shown to me is not what a man whose foolishness had opened the gates to Abstraction would see). For some moments this "you-come-out—no-you-come-in" continued and then the "great man" became a little less great and went inside. There Laming reminded him of the part he had played in the passing of the Bill which decreed the centralizing of the rural schools. But here Mr. Cotton protested that he had not intended schools for the younger children to be interfered with. Subsequently in all Ladbrokeshire papers Cotton published the following statement: "In my view it is most undesirable that children of ten years old and under should be removed from their villages for instruction in regional Schools. It is most important that in those earliest years they should remain in the neighbourhood of their families, and not be taken away to an abstract centre where they become alienated from parental disciplines. This has always been my view: and it was the intention of those of us who were responsible for the act decreeing the new organization of rural education that the village schools where children of ten years and under receive their instruction should remain intact. It is for me a matter of great regret to see these original plans overridden."

Such was the defence of Mr. Cotton, and he repudiated any responsibility for the recent high-handed actions of the socialist government. This is what Mr. Cotton explained to the indignant young clergyman, standing outside the improvised class-room in the latter's house—headquarters of the revolt against socialism—with which revolt, of course, this politician wished to have no contacts, though he did wish (on the time-honoured English principle of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds) to disinculpate himself of so socialist an intention as nationalizing small children.

"Hell is paved with good intentions," I commented, and the Vicar of Ketwood agreed that the hell of totalitarian socialism must always be paved with Liberal altruism and Conservative attempts to steal the thunders of the Labour Opposition, or shall we say, as it is a question of a pavement, by planks stolen out of the socialists' platform.

"Autocratic state-socialism, a monster with great ugly teeth in it you say, is undeniably one of the most repulsive forms of government! Is any sort of socialism acceptable?" I enquired. Laming digests leading questions—from a friend—uneasily. I have a parson friend who is painfully reminiscent of a Gilbert and Sullivan or a Du Maurier curate who would cry if a friend seemed displeased with him, but with non-friends, if need be, is as tough as a Hemingway hero (if you cut out the bloody climax). Laming is an intellectual: and the answer was obvious. He only looked surprised.

"Religious communities are instances of a type of socialism of a very good kind. Christian society in the Middle Ages offers many examples of ... yes, communism."

"All true communisms are of a religious character. You come to a full stop when you try to think of any others. The communism existing in primitive societies is conditioned by supernatural pressures. I am aware that it might be said: 'What is the difference between pressure by supernatural agency and compulsion by terrorist police methods? Do they not boil down to the same thing?' The compulsion, however, is of an entirely different nature. Religion is as the communists say a drug. Men to whom this drug has been skilfully administered exist in a dream. They will live on bread and water gladly, anaesthetized by incantations and prayers. There is no substitute for some such drug. The artist, especially the musician would understand immediately what I mean. They administer drugs. Men die quite easily to the sound of the pipes. There are no spells and drugs in socialism of the same potency as a Bach Mass."

My young host was naturally shy of this talk of drugs. He nodded politely and said:

"No communism works."

His voice was full of decision. But we were approaching this question differently, it was plain.

"Only within the framework of a religion?" I sought his confirmation.

"That is so, I think. Yes."

"Without the appropriate drug the rational faculty breaks down the solidarity in a very short time."

"Not the reason, surely you do not mean that," he protested politely.

"You must not scorn stupefying agents. The human reason is merely a nuisance without—without——"

"I think I see what you mean."

I examined the massed portraits on the walls of nineteenth-century statesmen and soldiers. All of them might have been portraits of the same man—say a quick-change artist who disguised himself successively as some prominent general or politician. I rose and studied one carefully.

"My father painted all of them. When his army life was over—he was a soldier—he copied portraits as a hobby."

This of course accounted for the curious likeness. They served rather to empty the room than to fill it. This vacant look suited the vicar. He is a man who is quite indifferent to his personal surroundings, and the dark anonymous portrait gallery, for heaven knows who these soldiers and politicians were, was an ideal setting for him. To have a parent weave a pattern of anonymity in his ruminative old age of decorated nobodies, was for Laming a good arrangement. He is unquestionably somebody. He sits symbolically ringed with painted mediocrity. Lightly he rests there, a squirrel that plans. His worried head propped upon his hand, he spoke of the duplicity of the state.

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