Ah, God, for an open mind,
Ready to lose and to find;
Teachable, quick to discern
And brave to unlearn as to learn
Evermore facing the light,
Let it come from the left or the right;
Striving nothing to screen,
Neither the foul nor the clean
Eager to know yet as patient to wait
Whether the truth appear early or late;
Praying for growth but at rest in the knowing
That knowledge does come, and comes only, with growing’ (110-111).
This poem, was written by Jack at a point in his life when disillusioned by the ‘unspoken and unwritten but nevertheless shackling creed’ (102) of the church, he ‘began to grasp the fact that the only authority given to man is the internal authority, that unseen judge in us that insists upon being consulted in all matters that come before us’ (92-93).
Jack’s disillusionment regarding the doctrines of religion coincided with his reading habits. His introduction to the writings of Carlyle, Whitman and the abolitionist James Russell Lowell, had set Jack on a political path of discovery that would culminate, after reading Tolstoy, in his becoming a member of a socialist club situated in Holborn central London. This is not to say that religion played no part in Victorian socialism – Catholic socialists often linked their political convictions to an incarnational and sacramental theology…Anglo-Catholic Christian Socialism was also part of the Catholic polemic against supposed Protestant individualism and puritanism (and capitalism) [i].
The club, despite being a small establishment provided cheap meals for its many members – not necessarily working class – of whom many were already either well-known for their political beliefs or became well-known later on. The list is impressive; Jack was certainly moving within an illustrious circle; many of whom Jack could count on as being close friends, notably R. B. Suthers and W. T. Wilkinson of The Clarion and F. R. Wilkinson of the anarchist bookshop The Bomb Shop. Other members to come within Jack’s radar included: Miss Gladstone (later Mrs Ramsay MacDonald, Harry Snell (Lord Snell of MacDonald’s Labour cabinet) [i], Rev. Percy
Dearmer (lifelong socialist and later Canon of Westminster Abbey 1931-1936), Poets Ernest and Dollie Radford (supporters of William Morris, plus Dollie regularly contributed to The Yellow Book) [ii], Halliday Sperling (secretary of The Socialist League and married to William Morris’s youngest daughter, May), Richard and Emmeline Pankhurst, Sidney Webb (co-founder of the London School of Economics), Edward Fay (aka ‘The Bounder’ of The Clarion) and J. C. Kenworthy (of the Croydon Brotherhood) to name but a few.
However, it was definitely Tolstoy who had the greatest influence on Jack; both politically and personally – even ‘more than the Clarion men, whose socialism…had left its mark upon my thinking’ (160). Tolstoy seemed to encompass a total ‘package’ of political, personal and religious belief that Jack found attractive; thus allowing him the freedom to create his own class identity and role within society without completely ostracising himself through rebellion and anarchy.
This change in viewpoint did not happen overnight. Jack had read Tolstoy’s 1884 text of The Kingdom of God is Within You (a key text for conscientious objectors), yet still struggled to come to terms with these new ideas in relation to his old Christian teachings – ‘I was frankly more astonished that I should have been a member at the time of a Christian church. With consummate nerve I started in my mind to prove that the idea was absurd but, I don’t know how long it took, I discovered that the absurdity was mine and Tolstoy’s conclusions perfectly sound’ (211). Jack’s interest in Tolstoy was further bolstered by engaging in discussions with other members of the Holborn Socialist club, and could, given the wide range of its membership, be seen in terms of an educational facility. The Victorian ethos of self-help and individualism lead to self-education and knowledge that in turn became a collectivist activity – Jack, it would seem, had found his new church – As the last line of his poem says ‘knowledge does come, and comes only, with growing’
274 Goring, Jack, Autobiographical notes, MS, pp.332 (c. 27,000 words). Brunel University Library.