1920s >> 1928 >> no-292-december-1928

The Rich Man’s Burden. A Defence of Mammon

Papa Smith must feel proud of his daughter! But these Smiths have always been a versatile and talented breed. The Earl of Birkenhead, K.C., P.C., F.C.B.* [*First-class Brains.] (affectionately dubbed Fat Fee Smith), erstwhile Galloper-in-Chief Extraordinary to the Ulster Invincibles, former occupant of the Woolsack, late H.M. Secretary of State for India, now forensic, literary, chemical, diamond and golden-syrup expert (with “glittering prizes” complete), all this and more; nevertheless, he must look to his laurels— he has a daughter! Lady Eleanor beyond doubt has inherited her father’s well-known intellectual and amiable qualities. Whether roaming the Continent or over the columns of the Sunday Dispatch without a chain, she is always “all there.” Dad can write what are purported to be histories of past heroes (Charlie Peace, Crippen, etc.), but his daughter writes only of the present great ones. Dad in his time has defended many rich people, but only as individuals; but Lady Eleanor has taken upon herself the gargantuan task of defending the rich as a class—the whole boiling of ’em as it were! But let Lady Eleanor speak for herself.

In the Sunday Dispatch for November 4th, in her customary weekly contribution, “From my window in Vanity Fair,” she throws down the gage of battle on behalf of the very rich. Attend now for the Overture!

   October, if it has achieved nothing else, has at any rate been a red-letter month for the leisured poor.
I suppose that over this year’s Cesarewitch and Cambridgeshire more money has been won in what the novelists call “Clubland” than at any time in the last 20 years.
Still, you must not run away with the idea that the proportion of Clubland which makes its living by betting and playing bridge for high stakes is a very considerable unit of the population.
Five per cent, of “Clubmen” ? Possibly.
And they are the idle poor, not the idle rich.
The more I think of that phrase, “the idle rich,” the more I come to realise that the idle are not the rich and the rich are not the idle.
Only the relatively poor can afford to be idle; wealth carries with it far too many responsibilities.
Consider the so-called “gilded youth” of England.
You will find that the “bright young sparks,” the ‘‘gay dogs-about-town,” whatever you like to call them, who lead a strictly butterfly existence, are, almost without exception, penniless and, moreover, always have been—is not a case of cause and effect.
I could mention to you at least two young Peers with a reputation for idleness who were born heir to the most impoverished titles in the country.
Well, you would hardly call them the idle rich, would you?

There now! It just shows you how prone we all are to mistake appearances for reality. In future we will know that Bond Street and Regent Street are kept going by the “idle poor.” Those people who chase the sun round the world in sumptuous yachts are not the rich. The people who flock to Cowes, Goodwood, Ascot and Henley are merely the impoverished ones! The swagger golf clubs, the participants in the Quorn and Pytchley Hunts for one-half of the year? pooh! mere Poor Law Institutions! The diners at the Ritz, Cecil or Berkeley?—-they “haven’t a bean ! ”

When next you hear that Lord Spondulicks is off to Cannes, Deauville, Egypt, or going big game hunting in Central Africa, you will be able to size him up at once as one of the very poor, almost on the “dole” !

Who are the rich, then? Lady Eleanor can tell you !

  When you come to the really rich young men it is a very different story.
I take three at random : Mr. Evan Morgan, whose father, Lord Tredegar, owns Newport, and must be one of the richest men in England; Lord Dumfries, son of Lord Bute, who is probably about the richest landowner in the country and owns a greater part of Cardiff Docks; and Sir Michael Duff-Assheton-Smith, who inherited over a million pounds on his 21st birthday the other day, and owns extensive slate quarries in Wales.

Not a bad kick-off, either? One is surprised, though, to find that he did not save this sum out of his school allowance ! (You, reader, if you work hard enough, and “put by” one pound per week, will be possessed of a similar sum round about A.D. 21158 !)

I am sure it would be a wonderful sight to see young Mike blasting his father’s slates (though this would come easier to him if, like the writer, he lived under a leaky roof!). And to think of young Lord Dumfries “humping” 2-cwt. sacks of sugar at his father’s docks—isn’t it too, too terrible?

But Lady Eleanor goes into more intimate and ghastly details of the hardships and toils of the really rich man’s life :—

  No one can say that landed youth shirks its responsibilities.
Take Lord Feversham.
Lord Feversham studied farming in South Africa first-hand, before taking over the management of his Yorkshire estates on his majority. On taking charge he promptly reduced the rents on the Duncombe estate by 15 per cent.

(Of course, nasty people, misled by those agitators, might say that old man Feversham must have been a bit of a Shylock, but we should speak well of the dead.)

  You will rarely see Lord Feversham in London; he has far too much work to do in Yorkshire, where, in addition, he is president of the Yorkshire Junior Conservative organisations.
I should say that Lord Feversham, at the age of 22, was one of the most popular landlords in England.

How he must envy the care-free ploughman tripping lightly about his congenial duties from sunrise to sunset. What would he not give to change places with the miner, recumbent in soft repose (and one foot of cool water), hewing gaily at a more or less responsive coal seam ! Oh, for the daily round and common task of the engine driver or fireman on an express passenger train !

With the approach of the season of goodwill and costivity we should remember these poor rich men toiling solely on our behalf— in Conservative Associations and elsewhere!

But, to continue :—

   A lot of these rich young men are going in for politics.
Sir Michael Duff-Assheton-Smith, when he is not concerned with his Welsh estate, works all day long in an office where he learns the business of politics under the guidance of Commander Oliver Locker-Lampson.

How does he stand the strain? Two days’ work in one is far too much for. one of such tender years! One would think that learning the arduous details of conducting campaigns of “Clear out the Reds,” or stampeding the electorate with the aid of “Red Letters,” would be a full-time job for anyone, but it seems the rich are real whales for work ! But there are other paragons of industry, it appears :— .

  Mr. Loel Guinness, Mr. Benjamin Guinness’s son, went so far in the direction of hard work that he even spent his honeymoon learning business in Pittsburg.
Now he is so busy nursing a constituency that he will be unable to visit his mother in her villa in Cannes this winter.

Stern duty first, and love a poor second! But what fearful news for all those ambitious youths who succumb to the allurements of the advertisements which promise them success in business and professional avocations! (You know the sort of thing I mean—”Let me be your father,” “I planned this man’s career! ” “Increase your salary!” etc., etc.) When these young fellows learn that they will have to compete with prodigies of this type—such a Collossus of energy and genius—despair will animate their bosoms and thoughts of destruction enter their hearts. But, then, ’twas ever thus! The battle is to the strong, the race to the swift.

Now for the penultimate spasm :—

  Then Mr. Evan Morgan.
Mr. Morgan contrives to fit into his life more strenuous and varied work than any young man I know.
He is in charge of Lord Tredegar’s Limehouse estate, and has done an amazing amount of good in the district, where he is standing as Conservative candidate.   Mr. Morgan is only one of a group of young men of the so-called “leisured classes” who work like slaves in the East End in the cause not only of Conservatism but of improvement in social conditions generally.
Mr. William Teeling, in Silvertown, is another. Colonel John Dodge, in Mile End, a third.

It is hoped that the ungrateful wretches who have so much done for them by such hardworking kindly people with no thought of reward for themselves will see the error of their ways and will respond to their importunities to put them into Parliament, where they will be able to do even more “not only in the cause of Conservatism, but of improvement in social conditions generally.” Truly they love the workers! Even that low fellow, Karl Marx, admits that when he says “The bourgeois is a bourgeois for the benefit of the working- class !”

And now for the Grand Finale :—

  So much for the leisured classes.
I can assure you that more work is done for nothing by the “leisured classes” of England than the average person would consent to do for a salary of several thousands a year.
It seems to me that there are very few people born with silver spoons in their mouths who do not apply them to the feeding of others besides themselves.
I am thinking also of those women, of some of whom you see photographs here, who devote their lives unremittingly to the organisation of various forms of entertainment in aid of charity.
Where our charities would be were it not for the “idle rich” I scarcely like to contemplate.

And the greatest of these is charity! One would expect that their unremitting labours in the cause of charity would exact from their benevolent constitutions a heavy toll, but, wonderful to relate, they appear to look quite well on it. (Lady Balchett is without a wrinkle at 74 !)

Of course, that wretched Tolstoy has said, “the rich will do anything for the poor, except get off their backs,” but he was only an old cynic, who should have been ashamed to assail the motives of those who strive so disinterestedly to keep the poor content with their lot. If it were not for the charitable rich with their coal and blankets and soup kitchens, the poor might no longer support these benevolent ones in their devoted efforts to maintain the present glorious system of society, and might even put those horrid Socialists into power to deprive the rich of their hard-gotten wealth. And how thankful these rich people would feel if this were done ! For if we had Socialism, these poor, toiling, rich wretches would have some surcease from their labours, and would be required to do merely the same amount of work as anybody else. Up to date, however, there has been no great rush on their part to join the Socialist Party, which is a matter for surprise, is it not?