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JACOB'S ANSWER TO ESAU'S CRY.
December last I was permitted in these pages to speak of Esau's cry.
If Jacob heard it, he heard it without much compunction; he had got what he wanted, he could do without his brother. Later on in life, as the story tells us, Jacob found that he could not do without his brother. His training in individualism had left him wanting something. That something was not what he had before coveted, mere worldly wealth. Hard trial had made home life a precious possession, and nothing is more touching than the wail with which he ends his prayer of thanksgiving : "I fear him, lest he will come and smite me and the mother with the children." He had learnt, what England must learn, that not in the ascendancy of the individual or a class, but in the good of all, the common action of society, the drawing together of classes estranged, lies real happiness. An effort is being made to draw these classes estranged, as was Esau from Jacob, together. And this effort in the form of University Settlements is one which is, as it seems to me, worthy of all support. The pendulum which moves the hand of action swings backwards and forwards between the two extremes of individualism and corporate action. Jacob must be trained as an individual before he can rightly make use of the power which comes of co-operation. It is significant that in his new name of Israel he represents not a man but a nation. It might seem, however, at the first blush, as if the swing of the pendulum in our days were in the direction of individualism. In politics individualism makes the common action of party wellnigh impossible. A member of Parliament who wishes to preserve his independence, finds it hard to reckon with a number of specialists, each of whom wishes to make him a delegate to represent a particular nostrum. And recently it may be a sign of new life) individualism has reappeared in that party which was supposed to be exempt from such influence. It is unnecessary to trace the power of individualism in other domains, though we can hardly help glancing at the tremendous power it has exercised in religion. In that domain the notion of a corporate life, which was the foundation of Old Testament religion, and of New Testament Christianity, seemed but a few years ago well-nigh dead, never likely to exert an influence again among men. The religion of the Old Testament knew little of individual life. A man was regarded in life, was saved, by reason of belonging to a nation, or by reason of his birth in one of the tribes of that nation. The Jewish Archbishop was selected not because of individual merit, but because he belonged to the tribe of Levi. The severest penalty of the old law was couched in the language : “that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of his people.” The New Testament substituted for the kingdom of Israel the kingdom of God, and spoke of the church as a body. But the teaching founded on the New Testament almost obscured this view. The swing of the pendulum, which takes ages to reach either end of the arc, has been for this long while in the direction of individualism, From Augustine to Luther, from Luther to Wesley, the tendency has been mainly to dwell on the part the individual has in securing those privileges, which in old time were claimed for him by right of membership in the Christian body. But none the less the swing of the pendulum is, on more careful observation, seen to be tending towards the opposite end of the arc. It has not got far on the new course, but it has turned the point of rest. In political matters there is a marked revolt against individualism, despite the tyranny it still exercises. The most significant evidence of this is, as it seems to me, in the rise of that new force of socialism, which is claiming from the State the use of its great power, as representing the whole mass, to deliver the community from the tyranny of individuals. And in religion we have made some strides since Maurice began to teach us of the Kingdom. We are trying to realize the truth involved in the conception of a Divine Father, who is not ashamed to call us His children. The desire for co-operation, for united action, is in the air. Corporate action is supplanting the individualism of the past. Limited companies in business, institutes and colleges in art, societies in moral work, are the agencies which this nineteenth century calls to its aid.
The pendulum in its backward swing touches again the days of guilds and brotherhoods, of companies of merchant adventurers, and even that strange system, which in its title seems to involve a contradiction, monasticism. For true monasticism you must go back to the first efforts of individualism, and study the lives of the hermits. Monasticism of later days is founded on the principle of co-operation.
These preliminary remarks may serve to preface the consideration of two Brotherhoods to be established in East London to carry on social work. The two institutions of which I shall speak are called respectively “ The University Settlement," and the “Oxford House." The University Settlement will have a home in Whitechapel, in a house in St. Jude's parish to be called Toynbee Hall, after Arnold Toynbee, who has too early “joined the many." The Oxford House is to be placed in St. Andrew's, Bethnal Green. Two better spots could hardly have been found. Whitechapel is the most important of the “ Tower Hamlets.” It is the nucleus of a large colony of artisans and factory hands, which is being pushed further east, and has a large mass of that deplorable residuum crushed out of civilized life by the pressure of population and circumstances. In Bethnal Green you have a somewhat simllar population with a difference. There is less of the residuum, and more of a population which has grown up under conditions of exclusion from the influences of inner London life. In Whitechapel you have still houses of historical interest. Bethnal Green has no history before the eighteenth century. There is in some respects a more vigorous life in Bethnal Green, with its museum and free library. Whitechapel has, on the other hand, more touch with the world, and with the west. The two settlements are contemporaneous. But should their establishment form a new era in social progress, there will be no question as to the author of the plans. It will not be a matter of doubt as in the case of Le Verrier ard Adams, which of two independent discoverers first saw the new body. To Mr. S. A. Barnett is without question due the new idea. He planned an Oxford Settlement, and meant to make it an Oxford and Cambridge one. Cambridge has taken up the idea warmly under the guidance of Professor James Stuart, the author of another University extension scheme. Certain Oxford men, when the proposal was mooted, thought that it would be better to give the movement a more distinctly Church tone, and they developed the idea of an Oxford House. Toynbee Hall is, then, a University Settlement, to consist of Oxford and Cambridge men, and is to be worked under a committee of both Universities. Oxford House is a distinctly Oxford movement. There is no antagonism between the two, and Canon Scott Holland has, I believe, laboured hard to stifle any undue rivalry. “ The two movements hold common meetings, each sending a representative to speak.” It may be well to defer the consideration of the points of difference till we have examined their common purpose, and tried to estimate the practical value of the plans proposed. The object of both movements is to bring the educated classes face to face with that large mass of men and women in the East of London who seem to want something to brighten a life of toil. There is no doubt but that the districts which lie between the city and the suburban fringe of London are districts which have a life of their own, apart from ordinary London life. When Edward Denison, whose bread cast upon the waters has been found after many days, went to the East of London, and lived there, he was oppressed by the ugliness and the monotony of the surroundings. He speaks of “a walk down Piccadilly as a most delightful and exhilarating treat." The life in a circle drawn from St. Paul's south, east, and east by north, at a radius from one mile to one mile and a half is quite different to that to be found in the north and west. These parts are tenanted almost exclusively by the hand as opposed to the head workers. There is little mixture of classes, and the monotony of society and life seems to be projected on to the long lines of streets uniformly dull. The West End has its uniformity; but it is a uniformity of comfortable life. The East seems to have taken its tone from the landscape-that dead level which stretches from the City through the Essex marshes to the coast. The inner life of East London suffers from isolation, the outer life is cribbed, cabined, and confined. There is a great amount of political zeal, a very considerable earnestness in the discussion of religious and non-religious questions. The broad thoroughfares of Whitechapel and Mile-end, are the haunts of the preachers of all the “isms” and nostrums under the sun. But the discussion is coloured by the aforesaid isolation, and there is a pressing need for having the other side of the question put forward. Local self-government naturally suffers from the wants of wider views. “ Dans le royaume des aveugles, le borgne est Roi ;” and in this kingdom of the one-eyed, though the one eye be very keen, as indeed it is, the man who wins his way to the forefront, has after all but a limited range of vision. It is proposed to influence these districts by getting colonies of University men to live there, and to take part in the manifold forms of social enterprise which are the creation of the philanthropy and the earnestness of an age, singularly hopeless as to its future. It has always been the vice of enthusiasts that they painted their surroundings much worse than they in reality were, but never was there a time when society should more welcome one who could succeed in making his countrymen pass a vote of thanks to him because he had not despaired of the country. Despite the agnosticism of the present day, there never was a time when men were more eager to know about religion ; despite the luxury of a part of the nation there never was a time when so many of the leisurely class were engaged in social work ; despite the sepia drawings of the artisan and the labourer's life, there never was a time when the prospects of that class, in all but the outlook of the labour market, were so hopeful. If in the preceding remarks I have seemed to give any colour to the exaggerated statements of the condition of East London, I wish to point out that I have distinctly spoken only of the monotony of the life there, not of the degradation, and that I have advocated the plan of University settlements principally as bringing variety into these parts. And before I
go further, let me say at once that if I thought these two settlements would be the only efforts in this direction, I should deem the new project to be useless. I take interest in these settlements, as the pioneers of other and similar colonies. I sincerely trust that the movement may not become too fashionable; that it may be sufficiently unfashionable to attract only those whose heart is thoroughly in the work. But of the value of the idea I have no doubt. It is not so new as it seems. Fifteen years ago or so, when Edward Denison was living in East London, Mr. John Ruskin asked Denison, John R. Green, and myself (I cannot remember whether Edmund Holiond was of the party, if so he was the only other person present) to discuss with him in his house at Denmark Hill the possibility of doing something for the poor. Denison and Green hit out the idea of a University settlement, of a colony of men who should do what Denison and Hollond were doing. The proposal commended itself to us, mainly as enabling men of culture to influence the life of these parts by working on local boards, to do which they were to become ratepayers. Those were days when the work in East London was almost wholly religious, in the common acceptation of the term.
There was not then the same outlet for the philanthropy of men, who, whatever their religious views, may choose the field of non-religious work. The University settlements could not, I think, as now projected, fulfil the conditions entitling men to take part in municipal work, for the men are to live in a common house. But if the scheme has the life I venture to predict for it, we shall have other developments of the same idea. Already one might mention more than one case of University men who have lived in East London to carry on work, or take their place as citizens, and one is justified in hoping that when a nucleus of society has been formed others will follow their example. Why should not men live in the East and South-East of London just as readily as in the West ? Denison observed that he could read law in Stepney as well as in West End lodgings, and he might have added a good deal better. To a large number of men there is a definite attraction in the West End, its clubs, and its society. To a still larger number, who live in the Temple and elsewhere, and do not care for “ society," or the monotonous luxury of club life, the presence of a certain number of University men will be a sufficient reason for making their homes further from what is usually regarded as the centre of civilization. They will find living considerably cheaper than in the West, and not less agreeable, from the fact that instead of spending their leisure in solitude, or in the amusements in which they indulge for want of something better to do, they can find outlets for superabundant energy in such work as is contemplated.