Billeder på siden

'I shall get strong after I have been out of town a little,' she went on; which remained to be proved.

Up till quite recently her health had been wonderful; but the change to Palace Gardens and the life she led there did not seem quite to suit her. She appeared to dread solitude; a fiercer restlessness than even her youth had known began to evidence itself. She was never happy save when on the move-driving, visiting, walking, and receiving visitors. She did

not sleep well; her appetite grew fanciful and capricious; but she felt certain change of air was all she needed.

The air of Scarborough, a place she had never yet visited, but of which her new friend gave most glowing descriptions, would, she declared, effect wonders; so when once the season was over to Scarborough she repaired, and her sons and her youngest daughter and her maid and Miss Banks went with her.


[blocks in formation]

it is most difficult of all things to disengage oneself from a crowd. 'O, that the desert were my dwelling-place!' cried Byron; and 'O for a lodge in some vast wilderness !' sighed Cowper. I think there was something rather rhetorical in Byron's lamentation, for he loved man in his heart of hearts, and woman still more; but poor Cowper threw away his earthly fortunes rather than face the publicity of the House of Lords. Most of us have to live in a crowd all our days, and there are none that have not to live in a crowd at times; and that being the case, the great ethical question naturally emerges, how ought we to behave in a crowd?

Locke commences the chapter on Words in his immortal Essay by stating that man is a sociable animal. To this aphorism no intelligent opposition can be fairly offered. But still it is quite possible to have too much of a good thing. When the sociable element takes the form of a crowd, the effect is not pleasant. I remember that on a certain occasion a gentleman invited six thousand persons to an evening-party, and provided claret-cup and champagne-cup for " all. We found curselves very had liveedged up in a crowd in

the vast rooms in which those refreshing beverages were dispensed. Evening-parties in London, where the guests cannot find seats, and are crowded into conservatories, and sit on staircases, are, I think, rather a mistake. A little of them goes a long way. Even dinner-parties, where the guests extend to too great a number, and big epergnes hide most of your opposite neighbours from you, approach too near to the nature of a crowd to be pleasant. In crowded churches one can sympathise with the man who took two seats, one for himself and one for his hat. But to be really in the centre of a real crowd is one of the most horrible things in nature. To be wallowing in the midst of a seething mass of humanity; to be hemmed-in ly the iron rings of ever-widening circles; to feel that you cannot move your limbs, and can hardly breathe properly; to know that if you fell into a fit, or had a sudden attack of illness, relief would be wellnigh impossible; to remember that if a sudden panic arose you would be trampled or crushed to death,the thought of such a combination of evils comes over one like a horrible nightmare. The other day I experienced something of the kind. Horresco referens. I was passing by Marlborough House, on my way to Victoria Station to catch a particular train to Brighton. I thought the people very dense on the pavement, but I threaded my way through them as quickly and quietly as I could. At last I was stopped by a thick crowd. Looking back I observed that the

road which I had just traversed and found tolerably free was now densely crammed. I found that my pet horror had come to pass, that I was really in the middle of a crowd. The occasion of the dense gathering was that the Prince and Princess of Wales were to be visible in the course of a few minutes. I suddenly thought of the fact that a London crowd is supposed to be the happy hunting-ground of the metropolitan pickpocket. I took a rapid survey of the situation. The crowd seemed a loyal, well-dressed, goodtempered crowd. There was only one exception, one mean-faced fellow, of whom one could believe anything bad. At that moment I felt my purse gone, the purse containing an uncommon event in the career of a literary man-more than fifty pounds. I seized by the arm the ill-favoured fellow whose sinister aspect had excited my attention; a gentleman seized the hand hidden beneath his coat; luckily the purse was found there, and I recovered it without the loss of a farthing.


It so happened that a policeman was within hail. It is astonishing how easily a mob divides for a policeman when he is about to hale an offender to justice. policeman requested that I would accompany him and the prisoner to a sitting magistrate.' The policeman's idea seemed to be that I should walk from St. James's Palace to Bow-street, in company of the culprit, the hero of an admiring mob, who would be in a state of pleasing uncertainty as to which was the prosecutor or which the pickpocket. The guardian of the law also suggested that I should hand over the pocket-book and its contents as constituting the corpus delicti. I declined both propositions, not caring to accompany a perambulating crowd

or to leave myself without money in the streets of London. The policeman heard with gloomy countenance, and turned it over in his mind what he had better do with me. Ultimately he accepted my asseveration that I would be at the police-court as soon as he was, and intended to go there in a hansom. The wretched culprit, caught redhanded, had very little to say for himself; but I made an oration to the worthy magistrate, pointing out that I had lost nothing, and recommending the culprit to mercy, so that he got off with a month. The whole affair, from its inception in the crowd to its finish by the sentence, did not take much more than an hour. So much for my last practical acquaintance with a crowd.

Now, even in a crowd like this, it is possible to gather up some lessons in behaviour. The lesson of walking the crowded streets is a very common one. We learn the lessons of tact, forbearance, quickness, and quietness. 'I don't give the wall to every snob'-if I may be permitted to repeat a time-honoured anecdote for its ethical value-said a hectoring fellow, who was forcing his way along, to a harmless passenger. 'I do,' was the calm cutting answer. The adept in chaff is the best hand at carving his way through a crowd. There is something in an English crowd that is manly and good-tempered-A crowd,' says Macaulay, 'where the meanest person cries "Shame!" if you strike a man on the ground;' a crowd with humour, quick perceptions, and good sense. 'The honest shoulders of the crowd,' is one of Mr. Tennyson's happy expressions. People from abroad look with dismay and curiosity upon an English crowd. There is no sublimer sight in the world than London when it turns out of

doors. Such a sight seen once or twice in a life-time is ever to be remembered. A tithe of such a crowd would portend a revolution ina continental capital. A Parisian crowd would always give plenty of occupation to the Parisian police. The revolution in Paris, after the news of the capitulation of Sedan, was virtually achieved in half an hour. It was primarily the work of half a dozen resolute spirits that led the crowd, which always wants leaders. Of course there must have been a magazine of gunpowder ready before the lighting of a match could cause such an explosion. Revolutions in Paris have been so frequent, that I have heard the story of honest citizens in a distant faubourg hearing the firing and shouting, and one says to another, 'What's going on down there, Pierre ?' and Pierre announces that it is a revolution, whereupon, being tired with their work, they all turn into bed with the philosophic remark, that they will know all about it in the morning. An English crowd is never revolutionary, at least not in the same way or to the same extent. Still, there have been several awkward historical crowds in which English people have not fallen so very far short of Gallic precedents. The wholesome element, the safety valve of a crowd, is the good example that may be set. Happily, a good example is as infectious and efficacious as a bad one. As a matter of social ethics every man ought to have made up his mind what will be his conduct if he happens to be in a crowd. It is impossible altogether to eliminate the explosiveness of a mob. A crowd very soon forms, and puts into expression a popular judgment. If a member of it shows any shortness of temper or badness of conduct, he is speedily

hustled and bonneted, and so left to form his own conclusions on the nature and character of a democracy.

There are always elements of danger stored up in a crowd. Not without reason Socrates spoke of the Athenian crowd as a kind of wild-beast that required watching and studying. Often enough a crowd has proved itself a kind of wild-beast that will tear its

[ocr errors]

victim to pieces. That great moralist, Mr. Pickwick, has given us an important lesson on behaviour in a crowd. When he arrived in the borough of Eatanswill and found it in a state of uproarious excitement, his friends asked him what they had better do. 'Shout with the crowd,' was that truly great man's ready response. 'But if there are two crowds?' they inquired. Shout with the largest.' 'Volumes,' says Dickens, 'could have said no more;' if, indeed, they could say as much. Unfortunately truth is not dependent on majorities. It is not to be ascertained by any method of the mere counting of noses. An historical essay might be written, which might prove very sad and terrible reading, on the enormities of crowds. A crowd is peculiarly liable to be acted upon disastrously by panics. In a panic more people are killed by the terror than by the circumstances that inspire the terror. A mob will go utterly mad with fright. It will prove itself utterly deficient in caution, coolness, and courage. Thus, on board a sinking or burning ship, some people will go mad with frenzy, and others break into the spiritroom. I once heard of the case of a clergyman who, just before preaching, discovered that the church


on fire. He nevertheless ascended the pulpit, gave out a text, and delivered what was the

shortest sermon in the world. He then dismissed them in a quiet and orderly fashion. The reverend gentleman had an admirable instinct respecting behaviour in a crowd.

I don't wish to speak disrespectfully of King Mob. Like old

King Cole, this other royalty has a taste for a pipe, a fiddle, and a glass. If you analyse a mob cry you will generally find that it is based on some broad and even generous principle; but the cry is applied on totally wrong grounds to totally wrong people. I think of that utterly absurd mob, who, for the space of two hours, cried out, 'Great is Diana of the Ephesians! Quoth Walpole, when the multitude was rejoiced at the declaration of war against Spain, 'They are ringing the bells now; they will be wringing their hands by and by.' Think of the mob who clamoured for the death of Socrates, of that other mob who clamoured for the death of One infinitely greater than Socrates. Think of the mob that hustled and insulted King Charles of blessed, but unhappy, memory. Think of the mob that burned down so many houses of London to the cry of No Popery!' and the mob that nearly made a conflagration of Bristol at the time of the Reform Bill. The London mob was so fierce that the Duke of Wellington had iron shutters put up to his windows to show his contempt for the popular applause that is always so lightly won and lightly lost. We think of the noble brothers De Witt, who were torn in pieces by the ungrateful Dutch mob. We think of the awful cruelties of the French Revolution, of the massacres perpetrated by the mob at the Abbaye, and at many another time. Truly are we warned not to follow a multitude to do evil! Truly might

[blocks in formation]

and poets and preachers have sighed the wish that the desert were their dwelling-place. But no man ever lived so remote from towns that he was altogether able to escape their influence. There is a subtle atmosphere, as if of an interstellar space, between those who are ever so much removed in their social orbits. We act and react upon each other. We might as well endeavour to get rid of our shadows as to get rid of this influence.

'Our echoes roll from soul to soul,
And spread for ever and for ever.'

When we speak cynically of the 'sweet voices of the multitude,' we must recollect that our own voices help to swell the chorus. The great corrective of our behaviour in a crowd is our behaviour as individuals. The great corrective to misbehaviour in a crowd is the cultivation of individual freedom and energy. Let no man think that he will ever be really lost in a crowd. The great value of such a book as Mr. Mill's essay on Liberty is, that it vindicates our personal liberty against mere convention, or the tyranny of popular opinion. It is the private capacity that should rule the public capacity. It is the private life that determines public life. There is no

« ForrigeFortsæt »