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William Morris in Scotland (2)

The Sequel of the Scotch Letter

 Commonweal, Vol 2, No. 26, 10 July 1886, p.114

On Sunday 27th June I lectured on the ‘Political Outlook’ at the Waterloo Rooms, Glasgow, the same place where my Thursday’s lecture was given; this was under the auspices of the Branch, and our comrade Muirhead took the chair. There was a larger attendance than on the Thursday; howbeit several got up and went out almost as soon as I began: it seems there was some mistake as to my subject, as there was a religious meeting elsewhere on the premises, and some of the proper audience thereof had wandered into our hall. Moreover I suspect that some found themselves ‘caught’ by my title, and expected the lecture to refer to the present election instead of the wider subject which it dealt with. The audience was over 600, I should think, and was attentive and sympathetic. Instead of the cut-and-dried, meaningless vote of thanks, our comrades arranged to try the effect of a resolution, which was thus worded: ‘That all political action which does not aim at placing the entire means of production in the hands of the community, to be used by it for the equal benefit of all, is totally inadequate to raise the present labouring classes to the level which they have a right to claim as human beings.’ Comrade Glasier put this resolution in a very able speech, and it was seconded by Mr Cunninghame; and to my surprise no one proposed an amendment, or spoke against it: some half-dozen hands were held up against it; the rest, for. We afterwards appealed to the audience to make their resolution good by joining the League, and got some names at any rate. Mr Bennet, once editor of the Radical, who said he had come in late by misadventure, made a sympathetic speech at the end of the meeting. The literature sold well.

The last lecture was on Monday 28th, at Bridgeton, the east end of Glasgow, and to speak plainly a most woeful abode of man, crying out from each miserable court and squalid, crowded house for the abolition of the tyranny of exploitation. But here we did not score a success. There were election meetings going on all about us; and I fear that our audience was just not that which we wanted — to wit the poor folk of the district, who, if they only knew it, do so sorely need showing what it is that has doomed them to their special form of hell-upon-earth — one of the worst forms in existence, I should think. The audience was about 200, in a large hall, but entirely on our side. The monotony of acquiescence was only broken by an eager religionist, who turned his question-time into a kind of sermon addressed to us, which the audience listened to rather impatiently. A clergyman who elicited from me the answer that service as well as actual production of commodities conferred the title of good citizenship upon a man, seemed satisfied that this admission safe-guarded his craft in future society; but as he did not openly champion that position, it was not discussed. Comrades Glasier and Greer moved and seconded a resolution, the wording of which has escaped my memory, but which was rather more complete in its Socialism than the one of Sunday, and no hand was held up against it. Several names were taken for the Branch before we left the hall.

This was the end of my work; but I should mention that I had a long conference with the Branch on the Sunday, and must say that though circumstances prevent their propaganda from being showy, it is sound, and especially that there seems every chance of their developing the sale of Commonweal. I must add that the Branch of the Social Democratic Federation is on very friendly terms with them, and that they co-operated heartily in trying to make our meetings a success; and the members that I came across were very cordial to me.

Altogether the condition of opinion in the Scotch towns that I have visited is encouraging. It must be remembered that it was a bad time of the year for the kind of work I had in hand; to which must be added the much more important stumbling-block days of the most exciting election time of our days and yet the halls were mostly well filled, and the audiences more than attentive — almost enthusiastic — and as above said, two of them passed Socialist resolutions. In short, not to make too much of outward tokens, one could not help feeling that the ideas of socialism are taking hold, and that people are beginning to feel the hollowness of that kind of politics in which all reforms pass by those who need them most. Nor will the attachment to puritanic religion, which has been held up as such a bugbear to us, be a very serious barrier to Socialism; the one or two appeals to it which were made in my hearing were received decidedly coldly. The Scotch, it seems, no longer care to mix religion with their politics, whatever influence genuine feeling, or habit, or respectability may have on them in the matter. I was told that when Henry George appealed to their old puritanic feeling on the occasion of his last visit, it fell very flat indeed; and I was not surprised to hear it, after my own small experience herein. Here, then, is good hope of harvest, and once again the labourers are few. Let us hope that will mend before long, and that Scotland will not be the last in the Revolution.

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