Sunday, December 18, 2022

Songs of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists


This masterpiece by Clarion socialist Robert Noonan (pen name Robert Tressell) turns popular song into pathetic irony against the capitalist system and its enforcers — its employers, managers and Christian consolers.
* * *

Ch 19. The Filling of the Tank

The Old Dear now put a penny in the slot of the polyphone, and winding it up started it playing. It was some unfamiliar tune, but when the Semi-drunk Painter heard it he rose unsteadily to his feet and began shuffling and dancing about, singing:

Oh, we’ll inwite you to the wedding,
An’ we’ll ‘ave a glorious time!
Where the boys an’ girls is a-dancing,
An’ we’ll all get drunk on wine.

‘Ere! that’s quite enough o’ that!’ cried the landlord, roughly. ‘We don’t want that row ‘ere.’

* * *

While they were pouring this down their throats, Crass took a penny from his waistcoat pocket and put it in the slot of the polyphone. The landlord put a fresh disc into it and wound it up and it began to play ‘The Boys of the Bulldog Breed.’ The Semi-drunk happened to know the words of the chorus of this song, and when he heard the music he started unsteadily to his feet and with many fierce looks and gestures began to roar at the top of his voice:

They may build their ships, my lads,
And try to play the game,
But they can’t build the boys of the Bulldog breed,
Wot made ole Hingland’s—

”Ere! Stop that, will yer?’ cried the Old Dear, fiercely. ‘I told you once before that I don’t allow that sort of thing in my ‘ouse!’

* * *

Ch 21. The Reign of Terror. The Great Money Trick

‘Of course,’ continued the kind-hearted capitalist, ‘if it were not for foreign competition I should be able to sell these things that you have made, and then I should be able to give you Plenty of Work again: but until I have sold them to somebody or other, or until I have used them myself, you will have to remain idle.’
‘Well, this takes the bloody biskit, don’t it?’ said Harlow.
‘The only thing as I can see for it,’ said Philpot mournfully, ‘is to ‘ave a unemployed procession.’
‘That’s the idear,’ said Harlow, and the three began to march about the room in Indian file, singing:

We’ve got no work to do-oo-oo
We’ve got no work to do-oo-oo!
Just because we’ve been workin’ a dam sight too hard,
Now we’ve got no work to do.

As they marched round, the crowd jeered at them and made offensive remarks. Crass said that anyone could see that they were a lot of lazy, drunken loafers who had never done a fair day’s work in their lives and never intended to.

‘We shan’t never get nothing like this, you know,’ said Philpot. ‘Let’s try the religious dodge.’
‘All right,’ agreed Harlow. ‘What shall we give ’em?’
‘I know!’ cried Philpot after a moment’s deliberation. ‘”Let my lower lights be burning.” That always makes ’em part up.’
The three unemployed accordingly resumed their march round the room, singing mournfully and imitating the usual whine of street-singers:

Trim your fee-bil lamp me brither-in,
Some poor sail-er tempest torst,
Strugglin’ ‘ard to save the ‘arb-er,
Hin the dark-niss may be lorst,
So let try lower lights be burning,
Send ‘er gleam acrost the wave,
Some poor shipwrecked, struggling seaman,
You may rescue, you may save.

‘Kind frens,’ said Philpot, removing his cap and addressing the crowd, ‘we’re hall honest British workin’ men, but we’ve been hout of work for the last twenty years on account of foreign competition and over-production. We don’t come hout ‘ere because we’re too lazy to work; it’s because we can’t get a job.

* * *

Ch 22. The Phrenologist

They all felt pretty certain that Misery would return no more that day, and presently Harlow began to sing the old favourite. ‘Work! for the night is coming!’ the refrain of which was soon taken up by nearly everyone in the house:

Work! for the night is coming,
Work in the morning hours.
Work! for the night is coming,
Work ‘mid springing flowers.

Work while the dew is sparkling,
Work in the noonday sun!
Work! for the night is coming
When man’s work is done!

When this hymn was finished, someone else, imitating the whine of a street-singer, started, ‘Oh, where is my wandering boy tonight?’ and then Harlow—who by some strange chance had a penny—took it out of his pocket and dropped it on the floor, the ringing of the coin being greeted with shouts of ‘Thank you, kind lady,’ from several of the singers.

* * *

Ch 23. The “Open-air”

Evolution was not more satisfactory, because although it was undoubtedly true as far as it went, it only went part of the way, leaving the great question still unanswered by assuming the existence—in the beginning—of the elements of matter, without a cause! The question remained unanswered because it was unanswerable. Regarding this problem man was but—

An infant crying in the night,
An infant crying for the light
And with no language but a cry.

All the same, it did not follow, because one could not explain the mystery oneself, that it was right to try to believe an unreasonable explanation offered by someone else.

* * *

A bright light was burning inside this lantern and on the pane of white, obscured glass which formed the sides, visible from where Owen and Frankie were standing, was written in bold plain letters that were readable even at that distance, the text:

Be not deceived: God is not mocked!

The man whose voice had attracted Frankie’s attention was reading out a verse of a hymn:

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
Behold, I freely give,
The living water, thirsty one,
Stoop down and drink, and live.
I came to Jesus and I drank
Of that life giving stream,
My thirst was quenched,
My soul revived,
And now I live in Him.

The individual who gave out this hymn was a tall, thin man whose clothes hung loosely on the angles of his round-shouldered, bony form. His long, thin legs—about which the baggy trousers hung in ungraceful folds—were slightly knock-kneed, and terminated in large, flat feet.

* * *

Ch 25. The Oblong

‘Oh, of course everybody’s an idjit except you,’ sneered Crass, who was beginning to feel rather fogged.

‘I rise to a pint of order,’ said Easton.

‘And I rise to order a pint,’ cried Philpot.

* * *

Ch 29. The Pandorama

‘After a rather stormy passage we arrives safely at the beautiful city of Berlin, in Germany, just in time to see a procession of unemployed workmen being charged by the military police. This picture is hintitled “Tariff Reform means Work for All”.’

As an appropriate musical selection Bert played the tune of a well-known song, and the children sang the words:

To be there! to be there!
Oh, I knew what it was to be there!
And when they tore me clothes,
Blacked me eyes and broke me nose,
Then I knew what it was to be there!

While this picture was being rolled away the band played and the children sang with great enthusiasm:

Rule, Brittania, Brittania rules the waves!
Britons, never, never, never shall be slaves!

* * *

Again we turns the ‘andle and presently we comes to another very beautiful scene—”Early Morning in Trafalgar Square”. ‘Ere we see a lot of Englishmen who have been sleepin’ out all night because they ain’t got no ‘omes to go to.’

As a suitable selection for this picture, Bert played the tune of a music-hall song, the words of which were familiar to all the youngsters, who sang at the top of their voices:

I live in Trafalgar Square,
With four lions to guard me,
Pictures and statues all over the place,
Lord Nelson staring me straight in the face,
Of course it’s rather draughty,
But still I’m sure you’ll agree,
If it’s good enough for Lord Nelson,
It’s quite good enough for me.

* * *

The crowds of shabby-lookin’ chaps standin’ round the motor cars wavin’ their ‘ats and cheerin’ is workin’ men. Both the candidates is tellin’ ’em the same old story, and each of ’em is askin’ the workin’ men to elect ‘im to Parlimint, and promisin’ to do something or other to make things better for the lower horders.’

As an appropriate selection to go with this picture, Bert played the tune of a popular song, the words being well known to the children, who sang enthusiastically, clapping their hands and stamping their feet on the floor in time with the music:

We’ve both been there before,
Many a time, many a time!
We’ve both been there before,
Many a time!
Where many a gallon of beer has gone.
To colour his nose and mine,
We’ve both been there before,
Many a time, many a time!

* * *

The bloke on the ground is a Socialist, and the reason why they’re kickin’ ‘is face in is because ‘e said that the only difference between Slumrent and Mandriver was that they was both alike.’

While the audience were admiring this picture, Bert played another well-known tune, and the children sang the words:

Two lovely black eyes,
Oh what a surprise!
Only for telling a man he was wrong,
Two lovely black eyes.

* * *

The only one who had not come prepared in this respect was little Rosie, and even she—so as to be the same as the others—insisted on reciting the only piece she knew. Kneeling on the hearthrug, she put her hands together, palm to palm, and shutting her eyes very tightly she repeated the verse she always said every night before going to bed:

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look on me, a little child.
Pity my simplicity,
Suffer me to come to Thee.

Then she stood up and kissed everyone in turn, and Philpot crossed over and began looking out of the window, and coughed, and blew his nose, because a nut that he had been eating had gone down the wrong way.

* * *

Ch 43. The Good Old Summer-time

Then the chairman announced that they were coming there again next Sunday at the same time, when a comrade would speak on ‘Unemployment and Poverty, the Cause and the Remedy’, and then the strangers sang a song called ‘England Arise’, the first verse being:

England Arise, the long, long night is over,
Faint in the east, behold the Dawn appear
Out of your evil dream of toil and sorrow
Arise, O England! for the day is here!

During the progress of the meeting several of the strangers had been going out amongst the crowd giving away leaflets, which many of the people gloomily refused to accept, and selling penny pamphlets, of which they managed to dispose of about three dozen.

* * *

Ch 44. The Beano

As soon as silence was obtained, Misery said that he believed that everyone there present would agree with him, when he said that they should not let the occasion pass without drinking the ‘ealth of their esteemed and respected employer, Mr Rushton. (Hear, hear.) … Everyone rose.

‘Musical honours, chaps,’ shouted Crass, waving his glass and leading off the singing which was immediately joined in with great enthusiasm by most of the men, the Semi-drunk conducting the music with a table knife:

For he’s a jolly good fellow,
For he’s a jolly good fellow,
For he’s a jolly good fel-ell-O,
And so say all of us,
So ‘ip, ‘ip, ‘ip, ‘ooray!
So ‘ip, ‘ip, ‘ip, ‘ooray!
For he’s a jolly good fellow,
For ‘e’s a jolly good fellow
For ‘e’s a jolly good fel-ell-O,
And so say all of us.

‘Now three cheers!’ shouted Crass, leading off.

Hip, hip, hip, hooray!
Hip, hip, hip, hooray!
Hip, hip, hip, hooray!

Everyone present drank Rushton’s health, or at any rate went through the motions of doing so, but during the roar of cheering and singing that preceded it several of the men stood with expressions of contempt or uneasiness upon their faces, silently watching the enthusiasts or looking at the ceiling or on the floor.

* * *

The Semi-drunk’s suggestion that someone should sing a song was received with unqualified approbation by everybody, including Barrington and the other Socialists, who desired nothing better than that the time should be passed in a manner suitable to the occasion. The landlord’s daughter, a rosy girl of about twenty years of age, in a pink print dress, sat down at the piano, and the Semi-drunk, taking his place at the side of the instrument and facing the audience, sang the first song with appropriate gestures, the chorus being rendered enthusiastically by the full strength of the company, including Misery, who by this time was slightly drunk from drinking gin and ginger beer:

Come, come, come an’ ‘ave a drink with me
Down by the ole Bull and Bush.
Come, come, come an’ shake ‘ands with me
Down by the ole Bull and Bush.
Wot cheer me little Germin band!
Fol the diddle di do!
Come an’ take ‘old of me ‘and
Come, come, come an’ ‘ave a drink with me,
Down by the old Bull and Bush,
Bush! Bush!

Protracted knocking on the tables greeted the end of the song, but as the Semi-drunk knew no other except odd verses and choruses, he called upon Crass for the next, and that gentleman accordingly sang ‘Work, Boys, Work’ to the tune of ‘Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching’. As this song is the Marseillaise of the Tariff Reform Party, voicing as it does the highest ideals of the Tory workmen of this country, it was an unqualified success, for most of them were Conservatives.

Now I’m not a wealthy man,
But I lives upon a plan
Wot will render me as ‘appy as a King;
An’ if you will allow, I’ll sing it to you now,
For time you know is always on the wing.

Work, boys, work and be contented
So long as you’ve enough to buy a meal.
For if you will but try, you’ll be wealthy—bye and bye—
If you’ll only put yer shoulder to the wheel.

‘Altogether, boys,’ shouted Grinder, who was a strong Tariff Reformer, and was delighted to see that most of the men were of the same way of thinking; and the ‘boys’ roared out the chorus once more:

Work, boys, work and be contented
So long as you’ve enough to buy a meal
For if you will but try, you’ll be wealthy—bye and bye
If you’ll only put your shoulder to the wheel.

As they sang the words of this noble chorus the Tories seemed to become inspired with lofty enthusiasm. It is of course impossible to say for certain, but probably as they sang there arose before their exalted imaginations, a vision of the Past, and looking down the long vista of the years that were gone, they saw that from their childhood they had been years of poverty and joyless toil. They saw their fathers and mothers, weaned and broken with privation and excessive labour, sinking unhonoured into the welcome oblivion of the grave.

* * *

At the end of the song they gave three cheers for Tariff Reform and Plenty of Work, and then Crass, who, as the singer of the last song, had the right to call upon the next man, nominated Philpot, who received an ovation when he stood up, for he was a general favourite. He never did no harm to nobody, and he was always wiling to do anyone a good turn whenever he had the opportunity. Shouts of ‘Good old Joe’ resounded through the room as he crossed over to the piano, and in response to numerous requests for ‘The old song’ he began to sing ‘The Flower Show’:

Whilst walkin’ out the other night, not knowing where to go
I saw a bill upon a wall about a Flower Show.

So I thought the flowers I’d go and see to pass away the night.
And when I got into that Show it was a curious sight.
So with your kind intention and a little of your aid,
Tonight some flowers I’ll mention which I hope will never fade.

To-night some flowers I’ll mention which I hope will never fade.

There were several more verses, from which it appeared that the principal flowers in the Show were the Rose, the Thistle and the Shamrock.

* * *

When he had finished, the applause was so deafening and the demands for an encore so persistent that to satisfy them he sang another old favourite—’Won’t you buy my pretty flowers?’

Ever coming, ever going,
Men and women hurry by,
Heedless of the tear-drops gleaming,
In her sad and wistful eye
How her little heart is sighing
Thro’ the cold and dreary hours,
Only listen to her crying,
“Won’t you buy my pretty flowers?”

When the last verse of this sang had been sung five er six times, Philpot exercised his right of nominating the next singer, and called upon Dick Wantley, who with many suggestive gestures and grimaces sang ‘Put me amongst the girls’, and afterwards called upon Payne, the foreman carpenter, who gave ‘I’m the Marquis of Camberwell Green’.

* * *

This was followed by another Tory ballad, the chorus being as follows:

His clothes may be ragged, his hands may be soiled.
But where’s the disgrace if for bread he has toiled.
His ‘art is in the right place, deny it no one can
The backbone of Old England is the honest workin’ man.’

* * *

Crass’s fat face was pallid with fear as he clung trembling to his seat. Another man, very drunk and oblivious of everything, was leaning over the side of the brake, spewing into the road, while the remainder, taking no interest in the race, amused themselves by singing—conducted by the Semi-drunk—as loud as they could roar:

Has anyone seen a Germin band,
Germin Band, Germin Band?
I’ve been lookin’ about,
Pom—Pom, Pom, Pom, Pom!

‘I’ve searched every pub, both near and far,
Near and far, near and far,
I want my Fritz,
What plays tiddley bits
On the big trombone!

* * *

Ch 45. The Great Oration

The tune of ‘He’s a jolly good fellow’ was still buzzing in his head; he thrust his hands deep down in his trouser pockets, and began to polka round the room, humming softly:

I won’t do no more before breakfast!
I won’t do no more before breakfast!
I won’t do no more before breakfast!
So ‘ip ‘ip ‘ip ‘ooray!
So ‘ip ‘ip ‘ip ‘ooray So ‘ip ‘ip ‘ooray!
I won’t do no more before breakfast—etc.

‘No! and you won’t do but very little after breakfast, here!’ shouted Hunter, suddenly entering the room.

‘I’ve bin watchin’ of you through the crack of the door for the last ‘arf hour; and you’ve not done a dam’ stroke all the time. You make out yer time sheet, and go to the office at nine o’clock and git yer money; we can’t afford to pay you for playing the fool.’

* * *

‘Under existing circumstances the community is degenerating mentally and physically because the majority cannot afford to have decent houses to live in. Socialists say that the community should take in hand the business of providing proper houses for all its members, that the State should be the only landlord, that all the land and all the houses should belong to the whole people…

‘We must do this if we are to keep our old place in the van of human progress. A nation of ignorant, unintelligent, half-starved, broken-spirited degenerates cannot hope to lead humanity in its never-ceasing march onward to the conquest of the future.

Vain, mightiest fleet of iron framed;
Vain the all-shattering guns
Unless proud England keep, untamed,
The stout hearts of her sons.

‘All the evils that I have referred to are only symptoms of the one disease that is sapping the moral, mental and physical life of the nation, and all attempts to cure these symptoms are foredoomed to failure, simply because they are the symptoms and not the disease. All the talk of Temperance, and the attempts to compel temperance, are foredoomed to failure, because drunkenness is a symptom, and not the disease.’

* * *

‘A State wherein it will be possible to put into practice the teachings of Him whom so many now pretend to follow. A society which shall have justice and co-operation for its foundation, and International Brotherhood and love for its law.

Such are the days that shall be! but
What are the deeds of today,
In the days of the years we dwell in,
That wear our lives away?
Why, then, and for what we are waiting?
There are but three words to speak
“We will it,” and what is the foreman
but the dream strong wakened and weak?
‘Oh, why and for what are we waiting, while
our brothers droop and die?
And on every wind of the heavens, a
wasted life goes by.
‘How long shall they reproach us, where
crowd on crowd they dwell
Poor ghosts of the wicked city,
gold crushed, hungry hell?
‘Through squalid life they laboured in
sordid grief they died
Those sons of a mighty mother, those
props of England’s pride.
They are gone, there is none can undo
it, nor save our souls from the curse,
But many a million cometh, and shall
they be better or worse?

It is We must answer and hasten and open wide the door,
For the rich man’s hurrying terror, and the slow foot hope of the poor,
Yea, the voiceless wrath of the wretched and their unlearned discontent,
We must give it voice and wisdom, till the waiting tide be spent
Come then since all things call us, the living and the dead,
And o’er the weltering tangle a glimmering light is shed.

As Barrington descended from the Pulpit and walked back to his accustomed seat, a loud shout of applause burst from a few men in the crowd, who stood up and waved their caps and cheered again and again.

* * *

Ch 48. The Wise Men of the East

Then a rush was made to Sweater’s Emporium and several yards of cheap green ribbon were bought, and divided up into little pieces, which they tied into their buttonholes, and thus appropriately decorated, formed themselves into military order, four deep, and marched through all the principal streets, up and down the Grand Parade, round and round the Fountain, and finally over the hill to Windley, singing to the tune of ‘Tramp, tramp, tramp, the Boys are marching’:

Vote, Vote, Vote for Adam Sweater!
Hang old Closeland on a tree!
Adam Sweater is our man,
And we’ll have him if we can,
Then we’ll always have the biggest loaf for tea.

The spectacle presented by these men—some of them with grey heads and beards—as they marked time or tramped along singing this childish twaddle, would have been amusing if it had not been disgusting.

By way of variety they sang several other things, including:

We’ll hang ole Closeland
On a sour apple tree


Rally, Rally, men of Windley
For Sweater’s sure to win

As they passed the big church in Quality Street, the clock began to strike. It was one of those that strike four chimes at each quarter of the hour. It was now ten o’clock so there were sixteen musical chimes:

Ding, dong! Ding Dong!
Ding dong! Ding dong!
Ding dong! Ding dong!
Ding dong! Ding dong!

They all chanted A-dam Sweat-er’ in time with the striking clock. In the same way the Tories would chant:

Grab—all Close—land!
Grab—all Close—land!
Grab—all Close—land!
Grab—all Close—land!

This beautiful idea—’Plenty of Work’—appealed strongly to the Tory workmen. They seemed to regard themselves and their children as a sort of machines or beasts of burden, created for the purpose of working for the benefit of other people. They did not think it right that they should Live, and enjoy the benefits of civilization. All they desired for themselves and their children was ‘Plenty of Work’.

* * *

A free fight ensued. Both sides fought like savages, but as the Liberals were outnumbered by about three to one, they were driven off the field with great slaughter; most of the torch poles were taken from them, and the banner was torn to ribbons. Then the Tories went back to the Fountain carrying the captured torches, and singing to the tune of ‘Has anyone seen a German Band?’

Has anyone seen a Lib’ral Flag,
Lib’ral Flag, Lib’ral Flag?

* * *

Sir Featherstone Blood sat down amid a wild storm of cheering, and then the procession reformed, and, reinforced by the audience from the hall, they proceeded to march about the dreary streets, singing, to the tune of the ‘Men of Harlech’:

Vote for Sweater, Vote for Sweater!
Vote for Sweater, VOTE FOR SWEATER!
He’s the Man, who has a plan,
To liberate and reinstate the workers!
Men of Mugs’bro’, show your mettle,
Let them see that you’re in fettle!
Once for all this question settle
Sweater shall Prevail!

* * *

Every now and then some of these poor wretches—they were all paid speakers—were surrounded and savagely mauled and beaten by a hostile crowd. If they were Tariff Reformers the Liberals mobbed them, and vice versa. Lines of rowdies swaggered to and fro, arm in arm, singing, ‘Vote, Vote, Vote, for good ole Closeland’ or ‘good ole Sweater’, according as they were green or blue and yellow. Gangs of hooligans paraded up and down, armed with sticks, singing, howling, cursing and looking for someone to hit. Others stood in groups on the pavement with their hands thrust in their pockets, or leaned against walls or the shutters of the shops with expressions of ecstatic imbecility on their faces, chanting the mournful dirge to the tune of the church chimes,


* * *

Ch 54. The End

Rushton having concluded his address, Didlum stepped forward to give out the words of the hymn the former had quoted at the conclusion of his remarks:

Oh, come and jine this ‘oly band,
And hon to glory go.

Strange and incredible as it may appear to the reader, although none of them ever did any of the things Jesus said, the people who were conducting this meeting had the effrontery to claim to be followers of Christ— Christians!

Jesus said: ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasure upon earth’, ‘Love not the world nor the things of the world’, ‘Woe unto you that are rich—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.’ Yet all these self-styled ‘Followers’ of Christ made the accumulation of money the principal business of their lives.

Jesus said: ‘Be ye not called masters; for they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves will not touch them with one of their fingers. For one is your master, even Christ, and ye are all brethren.’ But nearly all these alleged followers of the humble Workman of Nazareth claimed to be other people’s masters or mistresses. And as for being all brethren, whilst most of these were arrayed in broadcloth and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day, they knew that all around them thousands of those they hypocritically called their ‘brethren’, men, women and little children, were slowly perishing of hunger and cold; and we have already seen how much brotherhood existed between Sweater and Rushton and the miserable, half-starved wretches in their employment.

Whenever they were asked why they did not practise the things Jesus preached, they replied that it is impossible to do so! They did not seem to realize that when they said this they were saying, in effect, that Jesus taught an impracticable religion; and they appeared to forget that Jesus said, ‘Wherefore call ye me Lord, Lord, when ye do not the things I say?…’ ‘Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them not, shall be likened to a foolish man who built his house upon the sand.’


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