Edward Carpenter's Autobiography
The Edward Carpenter Archive
by Simon Dawson

Chapter 8 TRADE AND PHILOSOPHY | Comment and Feedback

Forward to Chapter 9 - Millthorpe and Household Life

IN 1887 or 1888 I turned over the organization and commercial side of the garden at Millthorpe to my friend Albert Fearnehough. During the first four years or so I had taken the responsibility, and by many mistakes bought some valuable experience - but now I found that my literary and social work demanded so much time that I wanted my brain free from agricultural cares. So after this, while still contributing a fair amount of mental labour I left the organization alone.

I cannot say that, adopting the commercial standard, the experiment at Millthorpe could at any time be called paying. At the same time it was never (to me) disheartening. Taking strawberries as our main crop, we found, with several years experience, that £40 per acre was a fair estimate of the gross produce. (And I do not think that this is excessive since I know that £60 or £70 is a not uncommon estimate.) If we had put, say, 5 acres out of our 7 1/2 under strawberries, this would have yielded £200 a year, which, allowing for extra labour, manure, etc., would still have maintained a man and his family; 100 fowls would probably have paid the rent (if it had not been a freehold) and the 2 1/2 acres would have gone far to keep a horse or pony. But I had not the time to give to a complete organization, nor perhaps felt the necessary interest in it; and my friend had hardly the required energy so we just paddled along, keeping two or three acres only under spade cultivation, and making a small sum, but not sufficient to meet expenses. I think, as I say, that the thing might have been made to pay in the commercial sense - but there is no doubt that under prevailing conditions and prices in England, agriculture of any kind requires pretty hard work and long hours to make it fairly successful. One of the reasons of this is the want of a prosperous country population and the local markets which this would afford. With industrial villages scattered over the land, eggs, fruits, vegetables would be in great demand - even in country districts - prices would be fair, the middleman would be dispensed with; even the horse and cart might not be needed. But it is quite a different matter when the stuff has to be sent to a distant market, there to be bought by hucksters, and to feed middle-men and railway shareholders, before it feeds either the producer or consumer. This trouble is really one of the great troubles of modern civilization - and while there is no doubt a certain advantage gained by division of labour among nations and provinces, and by the raising of products in the most suitable localities, it is a matter quite open to question whether the enormous expenses of the present world-wide exchange and the maintenance of these swarms of merchants, traders, shipping and railroad companies, with their innumerable shareholders and employees, does not quite obliterate or absorb the advantage so gained. Indeed when one thinks of the immense numbers of people in this way withdrawn from any direct service in production and made systematically dependent on the others, one may question whether the gain does not at times come very near a loss and one ceases to wonder that the condition of the actual producers, agricultural and others, remains so poor and unimproved.

In '86 and '87 I prepared for the Press and published the volume called England's Ideal. The papers composing it had been written at different times during the two or three years preceding - some of them at Brighton, during intervals when family affairs had taken me back there for a time. Especially I remember writing Desirable Mansions in this way in an interval when I was tangled in family business and the idiotic life of the place - and with a kind of savage glee as I sought to tear the whole sickly web to pieces. Descended from the transcendental generative thought of Towards Democracy on the one hand, and my new-found acquaintance with intensely practical life on the other, these papers, though crude in some respects, bear I believe a certain impetus about them. Once or twice, by the violent opposition they have excited (always a reassuring thing for an author), I have had evidence of this. When Desirable Mansions was first issued, as a separate pamphlet, I received a copy, anonymously sent and written all over with most furious and scurrilous denials, challenges, abuse, etc.; and after the publication of England's Ideal as a volume, a friend of mine had a letter from a lady, in which she said that her husband had been reading the book, and that she had got hold of it and "poked it into the fire, as she found it was unsettling him so! I have always regretted that I did not get hold of that letter, with leave to publish it. It would have made such a splendid advertisement.

The influences of Ruskin, in style and moral bias, and of Marx in economics, are very apparent in the volume; and though I do not think that I ever gave myself hand and foot to Marx in his views; yet I was very willing to adopt his theory of surplus value as a working hypothesis. The truth is that though no exact measure of 'surplus value' or of the amount of which the workman is 'defrauded' by the capitalist, is possible - and though any theory which attempts to exactly define this amount is sure to be open to criticism; [Footnote 1] yet, the general fact of surplus value, namely that the workman does not get the full value of his labours, and that he is taken advantage of by the capitalist is obvious - and serious - enough. And it is on this general position that England's Ideal - like the whole Socialist movement - is founded. The seriousness of the matter may be seen from the fact that from this original falsity (of the appropriation of other folks' labour) are flowing to-day by a perfectly logical evolution two other great falsities or failures - Commercial Crises and shop-keeping Imperialism - which are now threatening ruin to all the Western Civilizations.

Commercial Crises, as has been often explained (see England's Ideal, pp. 42, 43) flow primarily from the fact that the working masses for their wages only receive a fraction of the value of the goods produced, and therefore can only buy back a fractional part of the same, while the capitalist classes (though with their share of the swag they could buy back the remainder) do not want more than a part of the remainder. Consequently there occurs every year on the one hand an accumulation of goods unused and on the other an accumulation of capital waiting for reinvestment; and these two things from time to time clog the Commercial Machine so as to render it hardly workable, and will probably in the end bring it to a standstill. As to modern Imperialism it is a logical outcome of the last-mentioned item, the accumulation of capital waiting for reinvestment. For all the openings for capital in the mother country having been filled up there remains nothing but invest it in manufactures abroad. And since other Western countries are similarly filled up, there further remains nothing but to go to savage and outlying nations and force them to become our employees and our customers. But to do this with safety requires military occupation and the country's flag. Hence in a nutshell the flag-waving and Imperialism of the day.

In 1889 I got off Civilization. its Cause and Cure - another series of reprints. And here too the philosophical position, though often crudely expressed, and with more attempt at suggestion than finish, is I think in the main well-founded and valuable. The attacks on Civilization and on Modern Science were both wrung from me, as it were by some inner evolution or conviction and against my will; but in both cases the position once taken became to me fully justified. In neither case did I take any great precautions to guard against misunderstanding, and in consequence I have been freely accused of blinding myself - in respect of Civilization - to modem progress, and of desiring to return to the state of primitive man; and in respect to Science - of preferring ignorance to intelligence. But no careful reader would make these mistakes. The monumental, patient, one may almost say heroic, work which has been done by Science during the nineteenth century, in the way of exact observation, classification, and detailed practical application, can never be ignored and can hardly be over-estimated. None the less the very decided criticism in Civilization: its Cause and Cure, of the limits of scientific theorizing and authority has been quite necessary; as well as the forcible insistence on the fact that Science only deals with the surface of life and not with its substance. As to Civilization the advances of Humanity during the Civilization period have been largely bound up with the advance of Science and have chiefly consisted perhaps in increase of technical mastery over Nature and materials. Like every increase of power this has led to greater opportunity of good and greater opportunity of evil. On the moral side however, we may believe that men's sympathies have broadened and widened during the civilization period - so that there is a larger and more general sense of Humanity. On the other hand during this period something of the intensity of the old tribal kinship and community of life has been lost, as well as something of the instinctive kinship of each individual to Nature. It is obvious enough that there can be no return to pre-scientific or pre-civilization conditions - though it may be hoped that a later age may combine some of the virtues of the more primitive man with the powers that have been gained during civilization.

In the year following [1890] something happened which in a curious vague way I had been expecting to happen for some time. It almost amounted to my making the acquaintance of a pre-civilization man of a very high type. I have mentioned how the Bhagavat Gita falling into my hands at a certain date, gave the clue to and precipitated the crystallization of Towards Democracy. From that time of course I was intensely interested in the wise men of the East, and that germinal thought which in various ages of the world has become the nucleus and impulse of new movements. During the years '80 to '90 there was a great deal of Theosophy and Oriental philosophy of various sorts current in England, and much talk and speculation, sometimes very ill-founded, about 'adepts,' 'mahatmas,' and 'gurus.' I too felt a great desire to see for myself one of these representatives of the ancient wisdom. But it did not seem very clear how the thing would come about. However at last there came a very pressing letter from my friend Arunáchalam in Ceylon (the very friend who had given me the Bhagavat Gita at an earlier date), asking me to come out and meet a certain Gñani to whose discourses and teaching he was himself already deeply indebted, and who was willing to give some time to me if should come. So the way was made plain, and I immediately made arrangements to go.

I have given a careful account of this Gñani, his personality and teaching, in my book Adam's Peak to Elephanta - and I need not repeat the material here. As I say, he was in some respects a high type of pre-civilization man. For, like most men of this class in India, he identified himself so closely with the ancient religious tradition that one could almost feel him to be one of the old Vedic race of two thousand or three thousand years back. His modes of thought, appearance, personality, all suggested this. And here in this man it was of absorbing interest to feel one came in contact with the root-thought of all existence - the intense consciousness not conviction merely) of the oneness of all life - the germinal idea which in one form or another has spread from nation to nation, and become the soul and impulse of religion after religion. However one might differ from him in points of detail, in matters of modern science or of politics, one felt that he, and his predecessors three thousand years ago, had seized the central stronghold, and were possessors of an outlook and of intuitions which the modern might truly envy. After seeing Whitman, the amazing representative of the same spirit in all its voluminous modem unfoldment - seven years before - this visit to the Eastern sage was like going back to the pure lucid intensely transparent source of some mighty and turbulent stream. It was a returning from West to East, and a completing of the circle of the Earth.

It is curious that his teacher (Tilleinathan Swamy) seems to have told this Gñani many years before that an Englishman or Englishmen would come to him. Probably he foresaw, from the growth of the English mind, that the time was not very far distant when the English would rise to an understanding of the great Indian tradition and would come over to study it.

Looking back now [1901] after ten years, on my personal experiences of the Eastern teachings, I seem to realize more and more that the true line is that (first adequately pointed out by Whitman) which consists in combining and harmonizing both body and soul, the outer and the inner. They are the eternal and needful complements of each other. The Eastern teaching has or has had a tendency to err on one side, the Western on the other. The Indian methods and attitude cause an ingathering and quiescence of the mind, accompanied often by great illumination but if carried to excess they result in over-quiescence, and even torpor. The Western habits tend towards an over-activity and external distraction of the mind, which may result in disintegration. The true line (as in other cases) is not in mediocrity, but in a bold and sane acceptance of both sides, so as to make them offset and balance each other, and indeed so that each shall make the extension of the other more and more possible. Growth is the method and the solution. The soul goes out and returns, goes out and returns; and this is its daily, almost hourly, action - just as it is an epitome of the aeonian life-history of every individual.

This visit to the East in some sense completed the circle of my experiences. It took two or three years for its results to soak and settle into my mind; but by that time I felt that my general attitude towards the world was not likely to change much, and that it only remained to secure and define what I had got hold of, and to get it decently built out if possible into actual life and utterance.

With regard to this process of "building out" into the actual world I should feel very ungrateful if I did not acknowledge my indebtedness to the Nature-conditions around me. For any sustained and more or less original work it seems almost necessary that one should have the quietude and strength of Nature at hand, like a great reservoir from which to draw. The open air, and the physical and mental health that goes with it, the sense of space and freedom in the Sky, the vitality and amplitude of the Earth - these are real things from which one can only cut oneself off at serious peril and risk to one's immortal soul. And there is somewhat of the same potency and vitality in the very life of the mass-peoples who are in touch with these foundation-facts and outdoor occupations. It was a true instinct or a gracious Fate - and I realized this more and more - which had compelled me to locate myself in the midst of such surroundings.

I should feel ungrateful too if I did not express my indebtedness to the lovely little stream which like a live thing ran night and day, winter and summer, full of grace and music at the foot of my garden. It entered into my life and became part of it. [Footnote 2] The hut, which I had built at Bradway to write the earlier part of Towards Democracy in, I transported with me to Millthorpe, and planked it down on the edge of the brook, facing the sun and the south; and thenceforth it served a double purpose - that of a study in which, a hundred yards away from the house, I could write in comparative safety from interruption; and that of a bathing shelter with its feet almost in the water. Here through uncounted hours I continued the production of Towards Democracy and my other books, avoiding always the act of writing within the house except when absolutely forced to retire by stress of weather or other causes, and rejoicing always to get the sentiment of the open free world into my pages; and here I came, either alone or with friends, to rest from labour in the garden, or to bathe and be refreshed after the heat of the day.



  1. See "The Value of the Value-theory," an article by myself in the little magazine To-day for June 1889 (published by W. Reeves). [Return to main text].
  2. See the last poem but one in Towards Democracy, p. 502.[Return to main text]
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