Dora B. Montefiore, New Age October 1905

Women’s Interests

“The Miserable Gospel of Comfort.”

Source: New Age, p. 681-2, 26 October 1905;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

According to the Morning Leader, the latest crusade to be undertaken by the Church of England, with the Bishop of London at its head, is against the “miserable gospel of comfort.” The worthy Bishop has been looking up statistics and drawing conclusions; he “views with dismay” the figures pointing to the fact that our birth rate is 28 per thousand, while that of Russia is 49.5; and then he quotes Ruskin, who wrote: “There is no wealth but life. That country is richest which nourishes the greatest number of noble and happy human beings.” It would be interesting to know whether the Bishop holds that “the number of noble and happy human beings” in a country depends upon the birth rate. To the lay intellect it would appear as if the general conditions of life, the laws of the country, and the wisdom and righteousness of the administrators of those laws, had a good deal to do with it. Then again, it might have helped the Bishop and the clergy and churchwardens he was addressing to form correct and useful views on the subject if he had at the same time set out a table of the comparative rates of mortality in the two countries, more especially the rates of infant mortality; because one can hardly designate as “noble and happy human beings” the infants who die under the age of 12 months, and whose exit from the world, it is as well to remind the Bishop, is usually hastened by the fact that they find on their arrival there is already in their immediate neighbourhood not enough of food, raiment, and oxygen to go round; so the weakest have naturally to retire to the wall. The waste of life, all throughout Russia from the lack of hygiene, from wrong economic and social conditions (such as the approaching famine, which will slay millions of people, who are always living on the verge of starvation), from the brutality, stupidity, and recklessness of the autocracy and its myrmidons, is stupendous. There is certainly in that country no cult of the “miserable gospel of comfort,” and human lives are maimed, wrecked, and destroyed, partly because with such a teeming population, with such resources in territory and in life, the governing powers can afford to waste life, just as through mismanagement and maladministration it wastes treasure and everything else. Ecclesiaticism whether in the Greek or Latin Church, has ever held that it had a right to preach to women the subjection of their bodies to men, and their duty to supply soldiers to the State. But modern science is setting free the mind and body of the woman, and is teaching her that her duty lies in giving to the community just as many healthy, well-developed citizens as she herself feels able and fitted to rear. The Bishop’s voice at the present day is crying in a wilderness of indifference to ecclesiastical rebuke.

The power of play in child culture.

This book, by an American writer, G. Hamilton Archibald, is an interesting contribution to the study of child psychology; and is written in such a popular form that it should find its place on the book-shelf of every mother. The author makes a strong plea for the cultivation of the play instinct as a ready means of training the child into right ways of living, and quotes many instances of distinguished men and women who in their childhood were more fond of play than of work, and who, as a consequence, were looked upon as backward in their studies. In this category we may note Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, George Eliot, and Herbert Spencer. After this, surely no mother with an idle boy or girl need despair. The child who does not play seems to the writer to present a more serious problem than the child who does nothing but play, and some sad but interesting cases of arrested child development are cited to show that many children who are punished over and over again for what appear faults, or repeated disobediences, are really suffering from some obscure form of deficiency which only a medical man, an expert in the matter, can detect. The following quotation from Bryan, another writer on child psychology who is more than once cited in the present book, should be suggestive reading to mothers who deplore what seems to them a lack of moral standard in their young children. “Many things,” writes Bryan, “which would be grossly immoral for the adult have no moral significance whatever for the child. The child’s standard of morality, as far as he can be said to have a standard, does not come to him so much by intuition as by precept, and not so much by precept as by unconscious suggestion and imitation. Nothing could be more deadening to the development of the child than an attempt to make it conform in every way to the moral standard of the adult. Because the naked child manifests no sense of shame, he is not therefore disgracefully immoral. Because the child, under the vividness of the imagination, does not adhere literally to the truth, he is not therefore a liar. Because the child strives in every conceivable way to attain some desirable end, he is not therefore a trickster; and because the child appropriates that which does not belong to him, he is not necessarily a thief, as his father would be under the same conditions.” The wise educator must also remember that with children there is virtue in many of the things we have hitherto called faults. “Probably the best way to teach selfishness is to try to teach unselfishness too early. The passion for ownership is co-extensive with life. It is an expression of ‘The Will to Live.’ It is as universal as hunger. It begins in the human series when an amoeba swallows a particle of food.... With man it is the foundation of government and of social organisation, as well as the chief incentive to labour, invention and discovery.” One more quotation, and I feel that every mother who has before her the difficult and complicated task of training young children will desire to read further: “Lengthen the childhood of the child. Keep him in the world of play and make-believe as long as you can, and teach him by and through his love of play.... Forced development is dangerous.... It is better to train children to be good children than to train them to be good men.”

Liberal leaders and the enfranchisement of women.

The real issue underlying the questions put by Miss Pankhurst and Miss Kenny at the recent Liberal meeting at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, was what is to be the policy of the Liberal leaders, when in power, as regards the question of the enfranchisement of women; bearing in view the fact that in March last, at the annual meeting of the National Liberal Federation, and in May at the annual meeting of the general council of that body, resolutions were carried by “overwhelming majorities” in favour of women suffrage. We have so long been kept quiet by promises from statesmen when out of office, and tricked by the same statesmen when in office, that it is not astonishing if the younger and less patient in our ranks attempt to force public answers from leaders of a party which expects confidently to be in the near future returned to power. In spite of the passing of the resolutions referred to, organs of the party, such as the Manchester Guardian, keep silence on our claims, while in their editorial columns they suggest “manhood suffrage.” Women are growing weary and exasperated, and these feelings culminated the other night when the two young and ardent women suffragists tried to insist on having their written questions (which they had sent up to the chairman) answered. I have seen letters from many of those present testifying to the brutality with which leading Liberals from the platform, temperance reformers and Passive Resisters, treated these two slight girls when ejecting them from the hall; and the large and crowded meeting held at the Free Trade Hall on the evening of the day that Miss Pankhurst was released from prison shows that public opinion was thoroughly roused against those who forced on a scene which, by the use of tact and fair play, might easily have been avoided. I may add that though Sir Edward Grey is reported to have said in explanation of his refusal to answer at his meeting the question about woman suffrage, that “when the question came up in the House of Commons he always gave the same vote”; yet, in 1897 and in 1904, when resolutions on the subject were discussed in the House, his name did not appear in either division list. A correspondent writes me that fully five thousand persons crowded the Free Trade Hall on Friday night at two day’ notice, and that amongst other letters read was one from a well-known Edinburgh lawyer pointing out the totally irregular and improper procedure of the magistrates who heard the case. This is not the first time in Manchester that women have suffered physically in the cause of liberty, and it is not the last time that protests will be made when women’s interests are persistently and insultingly ignored.