“Instructed out of his senses”

Mr. Charles Marson, that very interesting person [*], once declared that if you wanted to get old English songs out of a yokel, you must proceed along a certain line.  You must sit up all night with him, supply him unremittingly with cider, and let him work backwards through all the songs he has ever heard.  He will begin with this year’s music-hall songs.  He will go on to last year’s.  He will recapitulate all the vulgarities of his maturity and early manhood; he will give you the whole of “Villikins and his Dinah” and “Pop Goes the Weasel”.  Then when he is almost bankrupt, but still brave and unbroken, he will fall back on his childhood, and you will hear some of the old music of Merry England before it went into captivity.  However this may be, it presents a remarkable analogy to the condition of the mind on other matters.  Ask an ordinary Englishman his view on Imperialism, and he will tell you first what he has read in the Daily Mail that morning.  Mention a few truths about that newspaper and he will drop all defence of it, and tell you what some positive person in the public-house says.  Put it to him that man, even in the public-house, is liable to err, and he will tell you that that is just what his wife always says, and he will begin to consider the whole matter quite fairly from a new standpoint.  Press him a little further, and he will positively admit that he had a mother, and even that he learned something from her.  And if you dig into him for another hour or so, it is quite likely that you may even discover his own opinion: the genuine personal opinion of the ordinary Englishman.  And when you do discover it, it is almost always right.

Thus we may say that the whole case against democracy and for democracy is commonly stated wrong.  It is not that the conclusion of the common man is worthless; the serious conclusion of a sane man is very valuable — if you can get it.  The trouble is not that the ordinary sensible man is uninstructed.  The trouble is that he is instructed — instructed out of his senses.  The man calls himself Agnostic who would naturally have called himself ignorant; but ignorance is higher.  The average man, even the modern man, has a great deal to teach us.  But the nuisance is that he won’t teach it; he will only repeat what he has been taught.  We have almost to torture him till he says what we does think, just as men once tortured a heretic till he said what he didn’t think.  We have to dig up the modern man as if he were Palaeolithic man.

Illustrated London News, 6 March 1909.

[*] Charles L. Marson (1858-1914), a folklorist and author of Folk Songs from Somerset (1904) and Glastonbury (1909).

Published in: on September 23, 2009 at 7:14 am  Leave a Comment  

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