1970s >> 1978 >> no-892-december-1978

50 Years Ago: That Elusive Property

I was listening to  Miss Sackville-West the other evening lecturing on Modern English Poetry. Very charming, very entertaining, but marred at the outset by a slight inaccuracy. It is a pity when one sits down to be charmed that one should get a half-brick in the car for a start, but so it was. Miss Sackville-West asked us to commence what she called the Georgian period with 1900. She gave as her reasons for choosing that year as a starting point, “the South African war is over, the world is at peace, we are surrounded by the large air of material prosperity . . .”


Now that is where one gets the nasty jar. I happen to have been alive, and taking keen notice of my surroundings in the year 1900. “The large air of material prosperity”. I like that! One remembers it so well. Only 28 years ago and it comes back like a beautiful dream. Speaking from memory, according to a tract issued about that time the average wage of the working class was about 25s per week, and one worker in every three died either in the workhouse, hospital or lunatic asylum. The twelve-hour day was normal in scores of industries. And the unemployed! There is a touchstone for the large air of material prosperity. Who that is old enough docs not remember the shabby processions of half-desperate men chanting their grubby war-cry. “we want work?” . .  . There were half-a million men out of work. Among other disturbances the Town council of Croydon was stormed by the unemployed.


For one thing, it is interesting to note and dwell upon the fact that one has lived during a period to which the term “prosperity” is applied, lip till now, during my short lifetime, no one has ever discovered prosperity in the present tense. Years ago. or years ahead, yes! Today, never! A case of jam yesterday, or jam tomorrow, but never jam today.


From an article “The great pre-war prosperity” by W. T. Hopley. Socialist Standard, December 1928.