Dora B. Montefiore, New Age 16 March 1905
Source: New Age, p. 170-171, 16 March 1905;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
There is little doubt but that valuable experiences of an intellectual and of a spiritual nature may be obtained by residing from time to time in another country, and observing from foreign shores the “Sturm und Drang” of the political and social life of our own particular microcosm. For all that the ordinary French halfpenny newspaper has to say on the subject, “les Iles Britaianiques” might be submerged beneath the waters of the Channel; they give no hint of daily Parliamentary news, no suggestion of an approaching General Election, no criticism of absentee Liberal members. Occasionally, in a remote corner, among some score of press telegrams, one may discover an allusion to a speech of Lord Rosebery’s, criticising the arrangements concluded between Lord Lansdowne and M. Cambon; or an announcement of three lines, recording the fact that Mr. Walter Long has succeeded Mr. George Wyndham in the English Cabinet; but as far as any synthesis of English political and social questions is concerned, the Parisian “man in the street” is as uninformed as would be the London “man in the street,” if it were not to the interests of rival politicians to give him sufficient instruction to bias one way or another his voting power. The French newspaper has naturally also the same sacred duty to perform towards the French voter, and it has also to follow the desperate fortunes of its once powerful ally, Russia – and feed, day by day, the popular craving for the ghastly details of one of the most bloody wars the world has ever witnessed.
If one wishes to measure the indirect evils that dog the footsteps of war, one has only to study a collection of illustrated and non-illustrated newspapers, culled at random on the boulevard. The imagination of the French man and woman in the street has been caught and fascinated by the sumptuous carnage of Manchuria and of internal Russia, and French yellow journalism is spattered and drenched with splashes of vermillion, representing the life-blood of the victims of war and of revolution. The kiosks on the boulevards are hung with portraits of the Czar, his white uniform stained with ghastly red clots the newsvendors in the suburbs shout late at night the latest details of military horrors; while the excited student or news-craving concierge rushes out to buy the halfpenny rag, which tells of the incredible bravery and endurance of thousands of half-famished, half-frozen troops, and of their slaughter and mutilation by shell, shrapnel, and bayonets. The horrible internal troubles of France’s ally, not being so intoxicating by their magnitude and ghastliness, receive, at the present moment, less attention than do the details of the battles and retreats in Manchuria; but, as a specimen of supreme bad taste on the part of an ally, the February number of the comic paper, L'Assiette au Beurre (which appeared soon after the St. Petersburg massacres) would be difficult to beat. The Czar is caricatured in every page in the most cynical and outrageous fashion; whilst the red blood-spots, which the Parisian nowadays demands as a form of decoration to the colourless letter press, which in the present crisis seems to him lacking in stimulating realism, is conspicuous by its presence on almost every page. From the woman, from the motherhood point of view (the point of view which typifies the giving and the conserving of life), can anything be more demoralising, more anti social, than this blood-orgie of non-combatants? One’s imagination can help one to understand how, in the heat of action, in the rush of a cavalry charge, or the pressure of an infantry bayonet attack, men may “see red” and may slaughter and be slaughtered, as in a sanguinary dream; but this armchair gloating over suffering and death, this base appeal to passions and prejudices through artificial stimulation, this symbolic wading in the blood of others without the attendant dangers which the reality of the action would imply, is the negation of civilisation, of the social instinct it has cost us so many generations and so many tears to evolve; and is the triumph of the Nietzsche, super-man in all his hideousness of non-morality.
Mr. Balfour, it would seem by his reply to a question in Parliament, cannot see his way towards helping forward legislation which shall enable the State to feed the bodies and brains of the children on whom it forces abstract knowledge. It is possible that in the distant realms of thought and fancy in which he lives apart the crude fact of there being any immediate necessity for such feeding may not yet have pierced the cerulean blue of his day dreams, and that in this as in other matters, he has “no information on the subject.” But as he is said to be much given to the reading of French novels, he might find instruction, as well as artistic pleasure, in perusing the pages of a recently published and most striking work by Léon Frapié called La Maternelle. It has been crowned by the “Prix Goncourt,” and the editions have already run to 6,000 copies. The writer has no illusions, and no sentimentality about the conditions in which the working. classes under capitalism live – conditions which are focussed and intensified in the lives of the workers’ children. La Maternelle is one of the “admirable” institutions of a masculine government, which makes use of women as badly-paid tools to carry out the one sided and eventually useless system of sham maternity which the male mind by itself has imagined and devised. The reason why La Maternelle by itself cannot succeed is the same reason as that why motherhood, even the good home, is only half a success. That reason is that male legislation and male administration cause the influence of motherhood to cease or to be stultified on the threshold of the home. The influences and condition’s that reign outside the home, in the streets, public houses, places of amusement, etc., and the material conditions that force the majority of a nation to live in tenements of one or two rooms, militate against all the best traditions of motherhood, and destroy the very foundations of the ideal of maternal influence. “La Maternelle” in France is an infants’ school, which trains, amuses, partly feeds, and (as far as it can) mothers the children of the worker from the age of two till six, when they pass on to l'école communale. The story of the school, as set forth by M. Frapié, is told by one of the “femmes de service,” who would correspond in an English school of the same description to a domestic servant under the orders of the trained teachers. This young girl is of good family, well-educated, and possesses more than one teaching diploma; but through family misfortunes and disappointments is reduced to taking a situation as an untrained worker, whose duties are light the fire, scrub the floors, and perform all the humbler duties of maternity towards the tiny pupils. She is naturally thrown into the closest contact with these little unfortunates, and her experiences, her philosophisings, her psychological obervations on the phenomena that come under her notice, and on the tendencies of defective and degenerate children, are of the highest scientific value. It is a. book that deserves to be translated into English, and read by all those who are interested in child psychology.
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.