Friday, 24 September 2010

Leisure in a Democracy

A very short extract from the first page of "Leisure in a Democracy" by Viscount Samuel. This was The Sixth Annual Lecture of the National Book League given on November 23, 1948.

The nineteenth century had a poor opinion of the eighteenth; and no doubt, on the whole, its strictures were justified. Yet there was a certain atmosphere about the eighteenth century which we in these days may recall with some regret, even with a little envy. The England of the Vicar of Wakefield and Jane Austen; the London of Canaletto; Georgian architecture and gardens, furniture and pictures, and silver in the candle-light; the prose of Addison and Steele and Gibbon, the poetry of Gray and Cowper; families on Sundays, tranquil and neatly dressed, walking along the footpaths decently to Church. We look around us, and we feel there is something that we are missing.
That way of life could not last. There came the French Revolution, the Terror, the Marseillaise; the armies of Napoleon sweeping over Europe; at one moment poised menacingly close there at Boulogne. La carriere ouverte aux talents; also freedom of thought - opportunity open to ideas. There came science, invention, machines, and the Industrial Revolution: vast, shapeless factory towns, hastily built; millions of working-people, early in the morning, late in the evening, crowding in and out of the gates of the mills, mines, ironworks, shipyards. Afterwards came the Second Industrial Revolution - with electricity, chemical processes, the internal combustion engine, motorcars and airplanes. And now we hear the first rumblings of the Third Industrial Revolution, destined perhaps to be even more subversive than either of the others, tapping for man's service the primal energy of the universe.
We draw breath and look around us, and we are aware of the kind of civilisation that we have. We find in this island six times as many people living as there were in the middle of the eighteenth century. We find cramped homes, congested cities, rush-hour travel, hurry and strain; nature crowded out. As Emerson said;
Things are in the saddle
And ride mankind.