The Divine Right of Capital. By Richard Jeffries

“This is the Divine Right of Capital. Look, the fierce sunshine beats down upon the white sand, or chalk, or hard clay of the railway cutting whose narrow sides focus the heat like a lens. Brawny arms swing the pick and drive the pointed spades into the soil. Clod by clod, inch by inch, the heavy earth is loosened, and the mountain removed by atoms at a time. Aching arms these, weary backs, stiffened limbs—brows black with dirt and perspiration. The glaring chalk blinds the eye with its whiteness; the slippery sand gives way beneath the footstep, or rises with the wind and fills the mouth with grit; the clay clings to the boot, weighing the leg down as lead. The hot sun scorches the back of the neck—the lips grow dry and parched; and—’Look out for yourself, mate !’ with a jarring rattle the clumsy trucks come jolting down the incline on the way to the ‘shoot’; then beware, for they will sometimes jump the ill-laid track, and crush human limbs like brittle icicles with tons of earth. Or a ‘shot’ is fired overhead, bellowing as the roar rushes from cliff to cliff as an angry bull, and huge stones and fragments hurtle in deadly shower. Or, worse than all, the treacherous clay slips—bulges, trembles, and thuds in an awful avalanche, burying men alive.

“But they are paid to do it, says Comfortable Respectability (which hates everything in the shape of a ‘question,’ glad to slur it over somehow). They are paid to do it ! Go down into the pit yourself, Comfortable Respectability, and try it as I have done, just one hour of a summer’s day; then you will know the preciousness of a vulgar pot of beer ! Three-and-sixpence a day is the price of these brawny muscles; the price of the rascally sherry you parade before your guests in such pseudo-generous profusion. One guinea a week—that is, one stall at the opera. But why do they do it ? Because Hunger and Thirst drive them; these are the fearful scourges, the whips worse than the knout, which lie at the back of Capital and give it its power. Do you suppose these human beings with minds and souls and feelings would not otherwise repose on the sweet sward, and hearken to the song-birds as you may do on your lawn at Cedar Villa ?

“The ‘financier,’ ‘director,’ ‘contractor,’ whatever his commercial title—perhaps all the three, who is floating this line, where is he? Rolling in his carriage right royally as a King of Spades should do, honoured for the benefits he has conferred upon mankind, toasted at banquets, knighted by an appreciative Throne, his lady shining in bright raiment by his side, glorious in silk and scarlet and ermine, smiling as her lord, voluble of speech, pours forth his unctuous harangue. One man whipped with Hunger toils half-naked in the Pit, face to face with death; the other is crowned by his fellows, sitting in state with fine wines and the sound of jubilee. This is the Divine Right of Capital.”


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