Book Reviews: The Origin of Life, Women as Barmaids

Some publications

THE ORIGIN OF LIFE, by Joseph McCabe. (Watts & Co.,) 6d.

Professor Oliver Lodge is a gentleman with whose name the churches delight to conjure. He is one of the very few persons of intellectual standing upon whose help the churches, in their strenuous battle against extinction, always rely. He is their stand-by, the straw at which they catch in their efforts to keep their heads above the waters of oblivion which threaten to engulf them. He is a brake to their feet slipping dangerously upon a sharply deflected path. He enables them to dig their toes into the projections (of ignorance) and hang on.

Nevertheless the gospel according to St. Lodge differs from the gospels of that shadowy quartet of New Testament worthies as the proverbial chalk differs from the proverbial cheese. The god in whom his faith finds lodgement (no joke) is as intangible and elusive as the god of the churches is tangible and well defined—to that eye of faith exclusively the property of the church (and chapel) man. The Churches either don’t understand this, or do understand—and bury the difference in their quaking hearts. But to our even churchman Professor Lodge is ‘”agin” the “atheist” (a term embracing everything ” agin” the Church’), and is therefore roped in for the defence of the “faith of our fathers.” Hence the alacrity with which the Professor’s last book. “Life and Matter.” is seized upon and hurled in the face of the presumptuous layman in whose sight “miserable and degraded Monism” and the “extravagant, pretensions” and ”rather fly-blown productions ” of Professor Haeckel find favour. (It should be mentioned here in fairness to Professor Lodge that the chaste descriptions and the gravel” scientific language in quotation marks are his own).

Life and Matter” purports to be a criticism of the well-known “Riddle of the Universe” by Professor Haeckel, whose name and work have become a haunting horror—a sort of unholy ghost—to those who sit in the darkness of clerical enlightenment. Mr. Joseph McCabe’s brochure is a reply to Professor Lodge. Mr. McCabe is the English translator of Haeckel and one of his most doughty champions. His style, while perfectly fair and courteous, is delightfully trenchant, and the manner in which he “goes for” Professor Lodge affords us who are accustomed to, and if the truth must out, rejoice in, the dialectical “rough and tumble,” much satisfaction. He finds small difficulty in disposing of Professor Lodge’s anti-Haeckel diatribes and effectively establishes the charge he brings against the Lodge method by showing it to be based upon unblushing misquotation. As is moderately well known, Professor Lodge has been repudiated by biologists of established repute, while his dogmatism (the particular failing he alleges with little justification against Haeckel) was recently very roundly censured and his pretensions to biological knowledge crushed by a vigorously worded intervention from Professor Ray Lankester. Mr. McCabe presents the problem which Haeckel has made such valuable contribution to the solution of, very ably and summarises the arguments for the monistic position with considerable skill. We cordially commend his book to the consideration of our readers.

WOMEN AS BARMAIDS (P. S. king & Sons,) l/- nett.

An essay in legislative tinkering, endorsed by the Rt. Rev. the Lord Bishop of Southwark. Of a total of 4,171,751 women engaged in various occupations, 27,707 are barmaids. The argument is that the moral atmosphere of a public house is highly reprehensible and results in a larger proportion of assaults, suicides and murders in the barmaid business than in any other. Because of this reprehensible atmosphere and its effects “The Joint Committee on the Employment of Barmaids” (of whose existence we hear for the first time) recommends a bill for the abolition of women in public houses, except when they are the wives or daughters of licence holders when the relationship may, presumably, be expected to counteract the evils of the environment—although if it is the atmosphere which is at fault, relationships with the publican could not greatly affect the results complained of. Wives and daughters would still be exposed to the dangers referred to, as for example, assault for refusing to serve a customer alleged to be drunk. (It is a quite common we understand in such cases, for thr irate customer to demonstrate his or her sobriety by flinging a glass at the barmaid.)

The Joint Committee will not endeavour to ascertain why the atmosphere of a public house is as bad as they have concluded it to be. They will not attempt to lay bare the roots of the disease. They will simply turn 27,707 women out on to an already over-crowded female labour market and then congratulate themselves that these women at any rate, will no longer be affected by the lewd and alcoholically stimulated sensuality of places of call within the meaning of the Act. And the women will, if they are lucky, get other employment where, as in the Potteries, sexual inebriation is stated to be as bad as it can be anywhere, or failing that, may go to recruit the ranks of prostitution or increase the general proportion of suicides. Which is as perfect an example of an endeavour to kill time by putting the hands of the clock forward as it is possible to meet.

The Joint Committee seem to have missed the fact that they are merely pottering with an effect without reference to its cause, and that the only purpose that can be served by prohibiting the sale of drink by women is to shift the problem, not to deal with it. If alcoholic and sexual excitement is the cause of the trouble (of course such excitement is itself merely an effect) it will not be allayed by the absence of barmaids to any notable extent. Failing gratification in the bars, it will go outside. Then we presume the Joint Committee on Barmaids will become the Joint Committee on something else and promote another bill. It is very tiring.

(Socialist Standard, April 1906)