Yeast: a Problem, by Charles Kingsley

Preface to the Fourth Edition

This book was written nearly twelve years ago; and so many things have changed since then, that it is hardly fair to send it into the world afresh, without some notice of the improvement — if such there be-which has taken place meanwhile in those southern counties of England, with which alone this book deals.

I believe that things are improved. Twelve years more of the new Poor Law have taught the labouring men greater self-help and independence; I hope that those virtues may not be destroyed in them once more, by the boundless and indiscriminate almsgiving which has become the fashion of the day, in most parishes where there are resident gentry. If half the money which is now given away in different forms to the agricultural poor could be spent in making their dwellings fit for honest men to live in, then life, morals, and poor-rates, would be saved to an immense amount. But as I do not see how to carry out such a plan, I have no right to complain of others for not seeing.

Meanwhile cottage improvement, and sanitary reform, throughout the country districts, are going on at a fearfully slow rate. Here and there high-hearted landlords, like the Duke of Bedford, are doing their duty like men; but in general, the apathy of the educated classes is most disgraceful.

But the labourers, during the last ten years, are altogether better off. Free trade has increased their food, without lessening their employment. The politician who wishes to know the effect on agricultural life of that wise and just measure, may find it in Mr. Grey of Dilston’s answers to the queries of the French Government. The country parson will not need to seek so far. He will see it (if he be an observant man) in the faces and figures of his school-children. He will see a rosier, fatter, bigger-boned race growing up, which bids fair to surpass in bulk the puny and ill-fed generation of 1815–45, and equal, perhaps, in thew and sinew, to the men who saved Europe in the old French war.

If it should be so (as God grant it may), there is little fear but that the labouring men of England will find their aristocracy able to lead them in the battle-field, and to develop the agriculture of the land at home, even better than did their grandfathers of the old war time.

To a thoughtful man, no point of the social horizon is more full of light, than the altered temper of the young gentlemen. They have their faults and follies still — for when will young blood be other than hot blood? But when one finds, more and more, swearing banished from the hunting-field, foul songs from the universities, drunkenness and gambling from the barracks; when one finds everywhere, whether at college, in camp, or by the cover-side, more and more, young men desirous to learn their duty as Englishmen, and if possible to do it; when one hears their altered tone toward the middle classes, and that word ‘snob’ (thanks very much to Mr. Thackeray) used by them in its true sense, without regard of rank; when one watches, as at Aldershott, the care and kindness of officers toward their men; and over and above all this, when one finds in every profession (in that of the soldier as much as any) young men who are not only ‘in the world,’ but (in religious phraseology) ‘of the world,’ living God-fearing, virtuous, and useful lives, as Christian men should: then indeed one looks forward with hope and confidence to the day when these men shall settle down in life, and become, as holders of the land, the leaders of agricultural progress, and the guides and guardians of the labouring man.

I am bound to speak of the farmer, as I know him in the South of England. In the North he is a man of altogether higher education and breeding: but he is, even in the South, a much better man than it is the fashion to believe him. No doubt, he has given heavy cause of complaint. He was demoralised, as surely, if not as deeply, as his own labourers, by the old Poor Law. He was bewildered — to use the mildest term — by promises of Protection from men who knew better. But his worst fault after all has been, that young or old, he has copied his landlord too closely, and acted on his maxims and example. And now that his landlord is growing wiser, he is growing wiser too. Experience of the new Poor Law, and experience of Free-trade, are helping him to show himself what he always was at heart, an honest Englishman. All his brave persistence and industry, his sturdy independence and self-help, and last, but not least, his strong sense of justice, and his vast good-nature, are coming out more and more, and working better and better upon the land and the labourer; while among his sons I see many growing up brave, manly, prudent young men, with a steadily increasing knowledge of what is required of them, both as manufacturers of food, and employers of human labour.

The country clergy, again, are steadily improving. I do not mean merely in morality — for public opinion now demands that as a sine qua non — but in actual efficiency. Every fresh appointment seems to me, on the whole, a better one than the last. They are gaining more and more the love and respect of their flocks; they are becoming more and more centres of civilisation and morality to their parishes; they are working, for the most part, very hard, each in his own way; indeed their great danger is, that they should trust too much in that outward ‘business’ work which they do so heartily; that they should fancy that the administration of schools and charities is their chief business, and literally leave the Word of God to serve tables. Would that we clergymen could learn (some of us are learning already) that influence over our people is not to be gained by perpetual interference in their private affairs, too often inquisitorial, irritating, and degrading to both parties, but by showing ourselves their personal friends, of like passions with them. Let a priest do that. Let us make our people feel that we speak to them, and feel to them, as men to men, and then the more cottages we enter the better. If we go into our neighbours’ houses only as judges, inquisitors, or at best gossips, we are best — as too many are — at home in our studies. Would, too, that we would recollect this — that our duty is, among other things, to preach the Gospel; and consider firstly whether what we commonly preach be any Gospel or good news at all, and not rather the worst possible news; and secondly, whether we preach at all; whether our sermons are not utterly unintelligible (being delivered in an unknown tongue), and also of a dulness not to be surpassed; and whether, therefore, it might not be worth our while to spend a little time in studying the English tongue, and the art of touching human hearts and minds.

But to return: this improved tone (if the truth must be told) is owing, far more than people themselves are aware, to the triumphs of those liberal principles, for which the Whigs have fought for the last forty years, and of that sounder natural philosophy of which they have been the consistent patrons. England has become Whig; and the death of the Whig party is the best proof of its victory. It has ceased to exist, because it has done its work; because its principles are accepted by its ancient enemies; because the political economy and the physical science, which grew up under its patronage, are leavening the thoughts and acts of Anglican and of Evangelical alike, and supplying them with methods for carrying out their own schemes. Lord Shaftesbury’s truly noble speech on Sanitary Reform at Liverpool is a striking proof of the extent to which the Evangelical leaders have given in their adherence to those scientific laws, the original preachers of which have been called by his Lordship’s party heretics and infidels, materialists and rationalists. Be it so. Provided truth be preached, what matter who preaches it? Provided the leaven of sound inductive science leaven the whole lump, what matter who sets it working? Better, perhaps, because more likely to produce practical success, that these novel truths should be instilled into the minds of the educated classes by men who share somewhat in their prejudices and superstitions, and doled out to them in such measure as will not terrify or disgust them. The child will take its medicine from the nurse’s hand trustfully enough, when it would scream itself into convulsions at the sight of the doctor, and so do itself more harm than the medicine would do it good. The doctor meanwhile (unless he be one of Hesiod’s ‘fools, who know not how much more half is than the whole’) is content enough to see any part of his prescription got down, by any hands whatsoever.

But there is another cause for the improved tone of the Landlord class, and of the young men of what is commonly called the aristocracy; and that is, a growing moral earnestness; which is in great part owing (that justice may be done on all sides) to the Anglican movement. How much soever Neo–Anglicanism may have failed as an Ecclesiastical or Theological system; how much soever it may have proved itself, both by the national dislike of it, and by the defection of all its master-minds, to be radically unEnglish, it has at least awakened hundreds, perhaps thousands, of cultivated men and women to ask themselves whether God sent them into the world merely to eat, drink, and be merry, and to have ‘their souls saved’ upon the Spurgeon method, after they die; and has taught them an answer to that question not unworthy of English Christians.

The Anglican movement, when it dies out, will leave behind at least a legacy of grand old authors disinterred, of art, of music; of churches too, schools, cottages, and charitable institutions, which will form so many centres of future civilisation, and will entitle it to the respect, if not to the allegiance, of the future generation. And more than this; it has sown in the hearts of young gentlemen and young ladies seed which will not perish; which, though it may develop into forms little expected by those who sowed it, will develop at least into a virtue more stately and reverent, more chivalrous and self-sacrificing, more genial and human, than can be learnt from that religion of the Stock Exchange, which reigned triumphant — for a year and a day — in the popular pulpits.

I have said, that Neo–Anglicanism has proved a failure, as seventeenth-century Anglicanism did. The causes of that failure this book has tried to point out: and not one word which is spoken of it therein, but has been drawn from personal and too-intimate experience. But now — peace to its ashes. Is it so great a sin, to have been dazzled by the splendour of an impossible ideal? Is it so great a sin, to have had courage and conduct enough to attempt the enforcing of that ideal, in the face of the prejudices of a whole nation? And if that ideal was too narrow for the English nation, and for the modern needs of mankind, is that either so great a sin? Are other extant ideals, then, so very comprehensive? Does Mr. Spurgeon, then, take so much broader or nobler views of the capacities and destinies of his race, than that great genius, John Henry Newman? If the world cannot answer that question now, it will answer it promptly enough in another five-and-twenty years. And meanwhile let not the party and the system which has conquered boast itself too loudly. Let it take warning by the Whigs; and suspect (as many a looker-on more than suspects) that its triumph may be, as with the Whigs, its ruin; and that, having done the work for which it was sent into the world, there may only remain for it, to decay and die.

And die it surely will, if (as seems too probable) there succeeds to this late thirty years of peace a thirty years of storm.

For it has lost all hold upon the young, the active, the daring. It has sunk into a compromise between originally opposite dogmas. It has become a religion for Jacob the smooth man; adapted to the maxims of the market, and leaving him full liberty to supplant his brother by all methods lawful in that market. No longer can it embrace and explain all known facts of God and man, in heaven and earth, and satisfy utterly such minds and hearts as those of Cromwell’s Ironsides, or the Scotch Covenanters, or even of a Newton and a Colonel Gardiner. Let it make the most of its Hedley Vicars and its Havelock, and sound its own trumpet as loudly as it can, in sounding theirs; for they are the last specimens of heroism which it is likely to beget — if indeed it did in any true sense beget them, and if their gallantry was really owing to their creed, and not to the simple fact of their being — like others — English gentlemen. Well may Jacob’s chaplains cackle in delighted surprise over their noble memories, like geese who have unwittingly hatched a swan!

But on Esau in general:— on poor rough Esau, who sails Jacob’s ships, digs Jacob’s mines, founds Jacob’s colonies, pours out his blood for him in those wars which Jacob himself has stirred up — while his sleek brother sits at home in his counting-house, enjoying at once ‘the means of grace’ and the produce of Esau’s labour — on him Jacob’s chaplains have less and less influence; for him they have less and less good news. He is afraid of them, and they of him; the two do not comprehend one another, sympathise with one another; they do not even understand one another’s speech. The same social and moral gulf has opened between them, as parted the cultivated and wealthy Pharisee of Jerusalem from the rough fishers of the Galilaean Lake: and yet the Galilaean fishers (if we are to trust Josephus and the Gospels) were trusty, generous, affectionate — and it was not from among the Pharisees, it is said, that the Apostles were chosen.

Be that as it may, Esau has a birthright; and this book, like all books which I have ever written, is written to tell him so; and, I trust, has not been written in vain. But it is not this book, or any man’s book, or any man at all, who can tell Esau the whole truth about himself, his powers, his duty, and his God. Woman must do it, and not man. His mother, his sister, the maid whom he may love; and failing all these (as they often will fail him, in the wild wandering life which he must live), those human angels of whom it is written —‘The barren hath many more children than she who has an husband.’ And such will not be wanting. As long as England can produce at once two such women as Florence Nightingale and Catherine Marsh, there is good hope that Esau will not be defrauded of his birthright; and that by the time that Jacob comes crouching to him, to defend him against the enemies who are near at hand, Esau, instead of borrowing Jacob’s religion, may be able to teach Jacob his; and the two brothers face together the superstition and anarchy of Europe, in the strength of a lofty and enlightened Christianity, which shall be thoroughly human, and therefore thoroughly divine.

C. K. February 17th, 1859.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56