A Commentary (Apr 1937)
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466 ] A Commentary The Criterion: A Literary Review, 16 (Apr 1937) 469-74 What most strikes me, in reading the selection of Political and Economic Writings (Nott: 5s. net) of A. R. Orage, is the liveliness and interest of the passages from The New Age dated August, 1912.1 The bulk of the book consists of selections from his editorial contributions to The New English Weekly from 1932 to 1934, and will serve as a useful refresher, and convenient reference. But it deals with issues which are as actual now as they were from five to three years ago, and we re-read it without any feeling of surprise. What does come with a shock of contemporaneity is Orage’s criticism in 1912, on the occasion of what now seems as remote as Chartism, or the rebellion of Jack Cade:2 the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Ordinarily the good journalist suffers, and the bad journalist benefits, by the ephemerality of his writing and the general indifference to what anyone said a fortnight ago. True prophecies and false are alike forgotten; oblivion, ungrateful to some, is generous to others. Those who have been the first to recognize genius, and those who have lavished flattery on fools, meet the same reward. Posterity, capricious in wreathing the tombs of politicians with obloquy or adulation, treats journalists alike. This injustice might in part be remedied if the memory of every journalist important in his own time – and I mean by journalists those who influence opinion by keeping the printing press in perpetual motion – could be preserved by some judicious selection from his daily or weekly writings. Few would endure this test as well as Orage. Think of Mr. Shaw and Mr. Wells: of whom Orage said in 1912 that he hoped “that they may both live long enough to see themselves derided and their accursed doctrines numbered among the fads of the early twentieth century” [49]. And there are always others, on that fringe of journalism proper, in the intellectual twilight of which most popular “serious” reading matter is prepared, who should be condemned after death to the penance of the florilegium: the Trevelyan-historians, the Laskisociologists , the Stamp-economists.3 But bad poets should be left in peace. Orage’s remarks on Women’s Suffrage in 1912 are as well worth reading after twenty-five years as they were at the time. They are as defiant of public opinion now as they were then. They are very well worth reading in [ 467 A Commentary (APR) connexion with a problem of which, it is obvious, we shall hear more: the decline of the birth-rate. I do not think that anything in the statistics – The Times newspaper is evidently determined to keep the matter before our eyes – would have astonished Orage in 1912.4 They follow very naturally from the change in the position of women that was then his concern. But what is interesting at the moment is to ask why this declining birth-rate – we have heard for some time that it is declining – should be suddenly put forward in such a way as to suggest that it is a cause for alarm. Why are people alarmed? It is not so very long ago that I heard a man whose name I have forgotten – he was described to me as a knight and an economist, but he was not one of the well-known economic knights – declare at a meeting that the decline in the birthrate was something to be welcomed, considering that there were so many unemployed. If it is now a cause of anxiety, we need not presume a sudden desire that there should be more souls to glorify God and enjoy him forever,5 or even an admission that there is something to be said for families. There is probably some connexion with the present anxiety about the “fitness” of the nation, and the desire to supply gymnasiums and playing-fields. The first cause is likely to be military: the insufficiency, and the physical inferiority, of applicants for the army. And the second cause is likely to be economic: an eventual deficiency of consumers , of the goods that we can produce and of the goods that other nations produce to pay for what they buy from us. The great danger of any alarm about depopulation is, that instead of trying simply to remove obstacles, so that the natural desire of people to have children may be satisfied, we shall...