Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968). rn The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest. 1915.

Is It Nothing to You?
(From “Merrie England”)

Robert Blatchford

(This book is probably the most widely-circulated of Socialist books in English. Over two million copies have been sold in Great Britain, and probably a million in America. The author is the editor of the London Clarion; born 1851)

GO out into the streets of any big English town, and use your eyes, John. What do you find? You find some rich and idle, wasting unearned wealth to their own shame and injury, and the shame and injury of others. You find hard-working people packed away in vile, unhealthy streets. You find little children, famished, dirty, and half naked outside the luxurious clubs, shops, hotels, and theatres. You find men and women overworked and underpaid. You find vice and want and disease cheek by jowl with religion and culture and wealth. You find the usurer, the gambler, the fop, the finnikin fine lady, and you find the starveling, the slave, the vagrant, the drunkard, and the harlot.

Is it nothing to you, John Smith? Are you a citizen? Are you a man? And will not strike a blow for the right nor lift a hand to save the fallen, nor make the smallest sacrifice for the sake of your brothers and your sisters! John, I am not trying to work upon your feelings. This is not rhetoric, it is hard fact. Throughout these letters I have tried to be plain and practical, and moderate. I have never so much as offered you a glimpse of the higher regions of thought. I have suffered no hint of idealism to escape me. I have kept as close to the earth as I could. I am only now talking street talk about the common sights of the common town. I say that wrong and sorrow are here crushing the life out of our brothers and sisters. I say that you, in common with all men, are responsible for the things that are. I say that it is your duty to seek the remedy; and I say that if you seek it you will find it.

These common sights of the common streets, John, are very terrible to me. To a man of a nervous temperament, at once thoughtful and imaginative, those sights must be terrible. The prostitute under the lamps, the baby beggar in the gutter, the broken pauper in his livery of shame, the weary worker stifling in his filthy slums, the wage slave toiling at his task, the sweater’s victim “sewing at once, with a double thread, a shroud as well as a shirt,” these are dreadful, ghastly, shameful facts which long since seared themselves upon my heart.

All this sin, all this wretchedness, all this pain, in spite of the smiling fields and the laughing waters, under the awful and unsullied sky. And no remedy!

These things I saw, and I knew that I was responsible as a man. Then I tried to find out the causes of the wrong and the remedy therefor. It has taken me some years, John. But I think I understand it now, and I want you to understand it, and to help in your turn to teach the truth to others.

Sometimes while I have been writing these letters I have felt bitter and angry. More than once I have thought that when I got through the work I would ease my heart with a few lines of irony or invective. But I have thought better of it. Looking back now I remember my own weakness, folly, cowardice. I have no heart to scorn or censure other men. Charity, John, mercy, John, humility, John. We are poor creatures, all of us.