Saturday, 22 April 2017

The Gospel of Simplicity by Godfrey Blount, Part 2

The Gospel of Simplicity’s influence can be seen in John Chiene’s book Looking Back, 1907-1860 
 “We want to get back to the time when we make the whole boot, and don’t spend our days in punching the eyeholes.  We want to get back to the gospel of simplicity, as preached by Godfrey Blount in No. 8 of the “Simple Life Series,” and by Dr Geo. Keith in his most valuable book, “Plea for a Simple Life.”

from The Herald of the Golden Age, November 1903

In the extract of The Gospel of Simplicity (Herald of the Golden Age, November 1903), in my previous post here, Blount continues “Politics can only seal, never initiate, reform.  They are therefore quite incompetent to cope with the increasing danger of substituting everywhere machinery for hand labour, dangerous because a nation’s prowess must consist in the number of her sons who can win their living from Nature unaided and direct.

What armies of the sword or plough do we imagine these fetid hives of manufacturing cities, which destroy the countryman in his third generation, will produce?

The truth is that the majority of us, in and out of Parliament, are too compromised with machinery in some form or other to question its necessity, to abstain from its convenience in private, or try to control its growth in public.  Hence our revolution must proceed on individual lines, by the conversion of persons here and there to the wisdom of ultimately adopting the more primitive, slower, simpler, but in the end more satisfactory and humane, methods of labour; and for a long time to come our movement must be ethical and patriotic in the best sense of the word, and appeal to sentiments with which politics have practically nothing to do. 

The popular cult of machinery is the saddest evidence of that hallucination that we can beat down the price Nature asks us for her fruits. 

from The Herald of the Golden Age, November 1903
If we cheapen her on one side, however, she is bound to compensate herself on another.  In spite of all the labour-saving inventions of the past century, one may venture to doubt if the ultimate cost of production has been lessened, when we come to calculate the social and moral condition their influence has had on the country, when we take into account our dependence on foreign nations for our food and clothing, the depopulation of the country, the growing danger of our big towns, and the increasing discontent, ignorance, and savagery, of the population that infests them.

In actual cost alone, it is doubtful if wholesome living, good food, clothes and accommodation are any cheaper to-day than they ever were; doubtful indeed if beyond a fairly defineable limit machinery can possibly lighten the average labour or conduct to the average happiness.

We tamper at our risk with a certain standard of effort, of personal hard work that Nature asks us in return for her gift of Life, just as we tamper at our risk with the physical and spiritual mysteries of that gift.

Machinery, in fact, has been making slaves and savages while it has been making fortunes.  It is owing to machinery that unskilled labour is superseding skilled, that the countryman has forgotten his lore, and the craftsman his cunning. 

In bringing this broad accusation against machinery I recognise of course that it is itself a result and not the cause of the disease we are suffering from, and the evil we have to fight against; the sin of greed, the love of money, the wish to gain more of the world’s wealth than is natural or healthy for us, this is the real root of the trouble, whether it takes the form of monopoly in land or capital, the means of distribution and production, or any other method in the vast field of human selfishness which remains to be exploited…

from The Herald of the Golden Age, November 1903
We cannot preach the faith that is in us unless we act it as well, by practising in what we do, and in how we live, that simplicity and directness which will keep us in loving touch with the great Nature of which we are a part.

There are many ways of doing this, of which agriculture must always come first.  But while land is difficult to come by, tools are easy to buy, and while the tenure of land is surrounded by uncertainties, there are no restrictions to our making things by hand.

We can all help to encourage the revival of handicraft without waiting for Parliament to protect us, and help individually to hasten a better day, or avert a worse.

"We conceive at present of labour as a disagreeable factor in our existence; our main object is to avoid the necessity for doing any of it ourselves and to shuffle it by hook or crook on to somebody else’s back, or to get it done by “labour-saving” machines, whereas it is labour alone, backed by a good conscience, that keeps us healthy, happy, and sane."

from The Herald of the Golden Age, November 1903

Friday, 14 April 2017

The Gospel of Simplicity by Godfrey Blount, Part 1

The Herald of the Golden Age journal,
November 1903

In November 1903 the journal The Herald of the Golden Age (online here) wrote about ‘Books Received’ on Godfrey Blount's ‘The Gospel of Simplicity’: “This powerful plea for a return to country life and handicraft, written by one of the Members of our Order, sounds note that is much needed at this present tie, and it deserves the widest circulation.  In order to give our readers a comprehensive idea of the contents of the booklet, some lengthy extract are printed on page 129.”

In fact the edition prints devotes over two full pages to the work.  This is where I have taken the extract below from.  Blount's The Gospel of Simplicity was printed as part of Arthur Fifield's "The Simple Life Press":

“A gospel of simplicity is obviously what age of complexity requires.  But it is not easy to define simplicity: to put it onto practice is the hardest task in the world.  The greatest art is the simplest and the most uncommon.

The Herald of the Golden Age,
November 1903

Could we dare to suggest an epitome of the Sermon on the Mount it might be, “Blessed are the simple for they know what Life means.”  And in his own way Socrates said, “The less we want the nearer we shall be to the gods who want nothing.”

But do not credit what I mean by Simplicity with bad manners and want of sensitiveness or taste.  On the contrary it is for its very want of taste that we condemn society.  Simplicity, because it faces the problems of Life and knows what can be known about Nature, sets eternal fashions.  Society, losing touch with these things, plunges into the bottomless pit of ever-increasing luxury.  But that is prostitution, not good taste. 

Nor does Simplicity involve a puritanical asceticism: far from that, it believes that all our pleasures are keen in proportion to their purity, and sacred if they have been honestly earned and involve no unkindness to our fellow creatures. 

Our duty as reformers then has a material and spiritual aspect as well as a person and public one.  No mere reform by Act of Parliament or philanthropic association aristocratically patronised can alter the fact that we cannot lead simple lives before we have simple wants and thoughts, nor hope to see clearly through the tangled social conditions that surround us before we have set our own lives in order.  It is fortunate perhaps that the tangle involves us all, because in trying to tread our way out of this Cretan labyrinth each one of us will be doing his best for all.

Illustration from The Herald of the Golden Age extract,
November 1903

My object is consequently to plead for a revival of Hand Craft, which carried out to a thorough and logical conclusion would involve a return to the country and agricultural pursuits.  These are the first of all handicrafts, for if we could revert to hand labour as the method of gaining our daily bread it would be the fitting counterpart of that desire for simplicity and aspiration which we are anxious to effect in our ideas about life as well as in our domestic matters.

Most reformers would I am sure demur at my inclusion of the land question under the, to them, less important question of a revival of Handicrafts, and would assume that greater facility for the acquisition of land must precede every other material reform.  I venture to partially disagree with them; not that this, too, is not urgently required – I am sure it must be – but that in the present absence of all worthy ambition the mere giving people an opportunity of leading healthy and innocent lives does not, unfortunately, ensure their doing so.

What we have to do is to create the feeling anew, to educate a new peasantry who will come to the country as emigrants to a new land, keen to face new experiences and learn new lessons, with no alternative in the background in case of failure.  The question, in fact, is a far greater one than mere land reform, it s one of education, of building suitable characters for a great nation that is to be.”
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