The rest of the small congregation was of no particular note. As I have said before, it had greatly fallen away, and all who remained clung to the chapel rather by force of habit than from any other reason. The only exception was an old maiden lady and her sister, who lived in a little cottage about a mile out of the town.
They were pious in the purest sense of word, suffering much from ill-health, but perfectly resigned, and with a kind of tempered cheer-fulness always appearent on their faces, like the cheerfulness of a white sky with a sun veiled by light and loftly clouds. They were the daughters of a gentleman farmer, who had left them a small annuity. Their house was one of the sweetest which I ever entered. The moment I found myself inside it, I became conscious of perfect repose. Everything was at rest ; books, pictures, furniture, all breathed the same peace. Nothing in the house was new, but everything had been preserved with such care that nothing looked old. Yet the owners were not what is called old maidish : that is to say, they were not supersitious worshippers of order and neatness. I remember Mrs. Snale’s children coming in one afternoon when I was there. They were rough and ill-mannered, and left traces of dirty footmarks all over the carpet, which the two ladies noticed at once. But it made no difference to the treatment of the children, who had some cake and currant wine given to them, and were sent away rejoicing. Directly they were gone, the eldest of my friends asked me if I would excuse her : she would gather up the dirt before it was trodden about. So she brought a dustpan and brush (the little servant was out) and patiently swept the floor. That was the way with them. Did any mischief befall them or those whom they knew, without blaming anybody, they immediately and noiselessly set about repairing it with the silent promptitude of nature which rebels not against a wound, but the very next instant begins her work of protection and recovery. W. Hale White : Two Maiden Ladies (The Autobiography of Mark Rutherford, 1881)
Comments : William Hale White was a Victorian writer but he is singularly free from the ponderousness that we find in many Victorians. The writing in this passage is simple, easy, and natural. It conveys exactly the impression of the two ladies that he wishes to convey. There is no trace of affectation or mannerism ; the writing nowhere calls attention to itself. The single image of ‘a white sky veiled by light and lofty clouds’ is all the more effective because it is not surrounded by other images. This is a sober and quiet prose, but it has the beauty of clear light and air. There are many short sentences but they are not overdone. There is nothing abrupt and jerky about the style. It flows easily and quietly, like the lives of the two ladies it describes.
In all these ways the parish, if not a true village, seemed quit a country place twenty years ago, and its people were country people. Yet there was another side to the picture. The charm of it was a generalized one—I think an impersonal one ; for with the thought of individual persons who might illustrate it there comes too often into my memory a touch of sordidness, if’ not in one connection, then in another ; so that I suspect myself, not for the first time, of sentimentality. Was the social atmosphere after all anything but a creation of my own dreams ? Was the village life really idyllic ?
Not for a moment can I pretend that it was. Patience and industry dignified it ; a certain rough jollity, a large amount of temper and natural kindness, kept it from being foul : but o the namby-pamby or soft-headed sentiment which many writers have persuaded us to attribute to old English cottage life I think I have not in twenty years met with a single trace. In fact, there are no people so likely to make ridicule of that sort of thing as my labouring-class neighbours have always been. They do not, like the middle classes, enjoy it. It is a commodity for which they have no use, as may appear in the following pages.
To say this, however, is to say too little. I do not mean that the prevailing temper in the village was sordid, bitter, cruel, like that, say, of the Norman peasantry in de Maupassant’s short stories. In by far the greater majority the people have usually seemed to me at the wrost a little suspicious a little callous, a little undemonstrative, and at the best generous and happy-go-lucky to a fault. Nevertheless, tales as repulsive as any that the French writer has told of his country-people could have been collected here by anyone with a taste for that sort of thing. Circumstantial narratives have reached me of savage, or, say, brutish, doings ; of sons illtreating their mothers, and husbands their wives ; of fights and cruelties, and sometimes—not often-of infamous vice. The likelihood of these tales, which there was no reason to doubt, was strengthened by what I saw and heard for myself. Drunkenness corrupted and disgraced this village life, so that good men went wrong and their families suffered miserably.
I have helped more than one drunkard home at night, and seen a wretched woman or a frightened child come to the door to receive him. Even in the seclusion of my own garden I could not escape the evidences of mischief going on. For sounds echo up and down the valley as clearly as across the water of a lake ; and sometimes a quite evening would grow suddenly horrid with distracted noises of family quarrel in some distant cottage, when women shrilled and clamoured and men crushed, and all the dogs in the parish felt a-barking furiously. Even in bed one could not be secure. Once or twice some wild cry in the night—a woman’s scream, a man’s volley of oaths—has drawn me hurrying to my window in dread that outrage was afoot ; and often the sounds of obscene singing from the road, where men were blundering homewards late from the public-houses in the town, have startled me out of my first sleep. Then, besides the distresses brought upon the people by their own folly, there were others thrust upon them by their economic condition. Of poverty, with its attendant sicknesses and neglects, there has never been any end to the tales, while the desolations due to accidents in the day’s work, on the railway, with horse or upon scaffoldings of buildings, or in collapsing gravel-quarries, have become almost a commonplace. In short, there is no room for sentimentlity about the village lire. Could its annals be written, they would make no idyll ; there would be too much stained by tragedy and vice and misery.
[George Bourne : The Dark Side of Village Life (Change in the Village 1914]
Comments : The writer is endeavouring to give a true picture of what village life was like in the parish he knew about twenty years ago. He is anxious not to be sentimental nor to exaggerate the violence and curelty of the villagers. He chooses his words carefully to give us exactly the right impression. The villagers are not ‘sordid, better, cruel’ but a little suspicious, a little callous, a little undemonstrative’. He avoids ‘writing up’ or dramatizing village life. He is nowhere concerned with creating an effect by his language, but only with giving as accurate and honest a picture as he can. Although at this point in the book he is generalizing and giving an overall impression of village life, yet there is plenty of concrete detail in this passage. The references to ‘a woman’s scream’, ‘a man’s volley of oaths’, and the ‘wretched woman’ or ‘frightened child’ coming to the door to admit the drunkard he has helped home, give us vivid glimpses of reality. We feel the writer is not simply offering no vague generalizations but writing of what he knows intimately.
A great deal of the world’s work is neither producing material things nor altering the things that Nature produces but doing services of one sort or another.
……Thoughtless people are apt to think a brick-maker more of
a producer than a clergyman. When a village carpenter makes a gate to keep cattle out of a field of wheat, he has something solid in his hand which he can claim for his own until the former pays him for it. But when a village boy makes a noise to keep the birds off, he has nothing to shew, though the noise is just as necessary as the gate. The pestman does not make anything ; he only delivers letters and parcels. The policeman does not make anything : and the soldier not only does not make things ; he destroys them. The doctor makes pills sometimes ; but that is not his real business, which is to tell you when you ought to take pills, and what pills to take, unless indeed he has the good sense to tell you not to take them at all, and you have the good sense to believe him when he is giving you good advice in-stead of bad. The lawyer does not make anything substantial, nor the clergyman, nor the member of Parliament, nor the domestic servant (though she sometimes breaks things), nor the Queen or King, nor an actor. When their work is done they have nothing in hand that can be weighed or measured ; nothing that the maker can keep from others until she is paid for it. They are all in service : in domestic service like the housemaid, or in commercial service, like the shop assistant, or in Government service like the postman, or in State service like the King ; and all of us who have full-size consciences consider ourselves in what some of us call the service of God.
And then, besides the persons who make the substantial things there must be persons to find out how they should be made. Beside the persons who do things there must be persons who know how they should be done, and decide when they should be done, and how much they should be done. In simple village life both the making or the doing and the thinking may be done by the same person when he is a black-smith, carpenter or builder ; but in big cities and highly civilized countries this is impossible : one set of people has to make and do whilst another set of people thinks and decides what, when, how much, and by whom. Shaw : Goods and Services (The intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, 1928.)
Comments : Bernard Shaw is here making a general point in economic theory. He does it without using the jargon of the specialist. His language is clear, simple and concrete. He illustrates his point by referring to actual things and people, such as the village carpenter with the gate. A modern economist might say that his picture of the world’s work is over-simplified, but this is perhaps justified at this point in his general argument. The writing has Shaw’s characteristic vigour and emphasis. We see this in the repeated pattern : ‘The postman does not make The policeman does not Make……The lawyer does not make……’ We also see Shaw’s prejudice against doctors appearing in’ his remarks about pills.
There was a peasant near Jerusalem who acquired a young game cock which looked a shabby little thing, but which put on brave feathers as spring advanced, and was replendent with arched and orange neck by the time the fig trees were letting out leaves from their end-tips.
This peasant was poor, he lived in a cottage of mud-bricks, and bad only a dirty little inner courtyard with a tough fig tree for all his territory. He worked bard among the vines and olives and wheat of his master, then came home to sleep in the mud-brick cottage by the path. But he was proud of his young rooster. In the shut-in-yard were three shabby hens which laid small eggs, shed the few feathers they had, and made a disproportionate amount of dirt. There was also, in a corner under a straw roof, a dull donkey that often went out with the peasant’s wife, a black-browed youngish woman who did not work too hard. She threw a little grain, or the remains of the porridge mess, to the fowls, and she cut green fooder with a sickle for the ass.
The young cock grew to a certain splendour. By some freak of distiny, he was a dandy rooster, in that dirty little yard with three patchy hens. He learned to crane his neck and give shrill answer to the crowing of other cocks, beyond the walls, in a world he knew nothing of. But there was a special fiery colour to his crow, and the distant calling of other cocks roused him to unexpected outbursts.
‘How he sings’, said the peasant, as he got up and pulled his day-shirt over his head.
‘He is good for twenty hens’, said the wife.
The peasant went out and looked with pride at his young rooster. A saucy, flamboyant bird, that had already made the final acquaintance of three tattered hens. But the cockerel was his head, listening to the challenge of far-off unseen cocks, in the unknown world. Ghost voices, crowing at him mysteriously put of limbo. He answered with a ringing definace, never to the daunted.
‘He will surely fly away one of these days’, said the peasant’s wife.
So they lured him with grain, caught him, though he fought with all his wings and feet, and they tied a cord round his shank, fastening it against the spur and they tied the other end of the cord to the post that held up the donkey’s straw pent-roof.
The young cock, freed, marched with a pranching stride of indignation away from the humans, came to the end of his string ; gave a tug and a hitch of his tied leg, fell over for a moment scuffled frantically on the unclean earthen floor, to the horror of the shabby hens, then with a sickening lurch, regained his feet and stood to think. The peasant and the peasant’s wife laughed heartily, and the young cock heard them. And he knew, with a gloomy foreboding kind of knowledge, that he was tied by the leg.
D. H. Lawrence : A Peasant and the Cock (The Man Who Died, 1931).
Comments : The language of this passage is easy, natural, almost coiloquial. But it presents vividly the ‘dirty little yard’ and the young cock in it. The adjectives are exactly right :’dandy rooster’, ‘saucy, flamboyant bird’, ‘there was a special fiery colour in his crow’. The writer enters imaginatively into the feelings of the humiliated cock. The sentences are mostly simple and cumulutive in structure, but they are not monotonous and they flow easily. The writing in no way calls attention to itself, but it focuses our imagination on the scene described.
There is a gnat, called anopheles, from the Greek word for ‘hurtful’. Many gnats have the mouth armed with stabbing and sucking styles. So this one. It stabs the skin and draws blood. There is an ‘anopheles’ with dappled wings. It bites men. Only the female bites. She has effs to nourish. She takes human blood once a day. She then flies to a shaded corner. For instance, having bitten some inmate of a dwelling, shaded for coolness in the tropics, she then settles in a dim corner of it to digest her meal.
The so-called ‘bite’ happens like this. The gnat when she alights on the skin tests the place with her Iabellum. Then steadying her head against the skin she stabs by styles with dagger points and saw-like edges. Swaying her head as she uses her mouth-parts she works these through the skin. They go through and among the blood-vessels, and carry with them a tiny tube like a hollow needle, close behind the stabbing style. It leads from a poison-gland. It injects a droplet of juice into the stabbed wound. This makes the blood-vessels flush ; they bring more blood in the stabbed spot. Also the juice delays the clotting short the yield of blood from the tiny wound. Nature has provided her with special tools and special zest for throughness. She sucks the blood by a tube which leads straight to her stomach. Rich food it is, human blood
Our dapple-wing gnat when she “bites’ her human quarry, and injects as always her droplet of juice to make the blood flow better, may be healthy, or she may not. She may be infected with the parasite of malaria. In herself it seems to do little or no harm. She is what is called a ‘Carrier’. The parasite swarms especially in her poison-gland near the gnat’s head. The doblet of juice which the infected gnat injects swarms with little spindle-shaped wriggling creatures, the sporozoties of plasmodiun, the microscopic parasite of malaria. These enter the circulation of the ‘bitten’ person where the time blood-vessels have been laid open by the bite. Thus they are let loose within the circulating human blood. Then tragedy ensues. They lose no time. They attack and enter the red cells. Inside the red cell the parasite which has entered it sits quiet at first, a very minute amoeba-like thing. Later it crawls about in the red cell, the living house it has seized and is to ruin. It gradually eats out the inside of the cell, and it grows. When it has eaten out the whole of the human red cell it splits up into a family of young. The killed and distended reed cell bursts and lets the loose. Released into the blood, each of these young ones in its turn attacks a red cell as, its parent did ; it enters, grows and eats the re cell’s heart out, repeat ins the old cycle.
Sir Charles Sherrington : The Malaria Mosquito (Man on his Nature).
Comments : This passage shows that scientists, too, can write clean English. Although there are one or two technical words here they are easily absorbed by the reader. The language in general is not abstract or technical. The passage as a whole gives a remarkably clear and exact exposition of how malaria is transmitted. Moreover, the facts are not merely stated ; they are vividly imagined. The writer’s feelings are involved as well as his intellect. It might perhaps be objected that the sentences are too short and simple, and that the result is jerky. ‘It bites man. Only the female bites. She has eggs to nourish. She takes human blood once a day’. The writing does not flow as easily and smoothly as the first passage in this chapter, for example : but I think this slight jerkiness is excusable in the careful step by step analysis of the facts that this writer is making. A diagram is provided in the book, but the writer’s explanation is so clear that it can be followed without a diagram.
I have been told that the charge against me is based on the reports of these speeches I delivered in the Gorakhpur district early in October last. Copies of these reports, and in one case their translation into English, have been given to me. I have read these, and I cannot congratulate the persons who were responsible for the reporting. These reports, though presumably taken down in short-hand, are scrappy and incomplete, confusing, and often making little sense……
It is not my intention to give details of the many errors end mistakes in these reports. That would mean re-writing them completely. That would waste your time, sir, and mine, and would serve little purpose. I am not here to defend myself, and perhaps what I say in this statement will make your task easier. I do not yet know the exact nature of the charge against me. I gather that it relates to my references, to war and the attempts being made to compel the people of India to take part in the war effort. If that is so, I shall gladly admit the charge. It is not necessary to go to garbled reports to find out what I or other Congressmen say in regard to India and the war. The Congress resolutions and statements, carefully and precisely worded, are there for all the world to know. By those resolutions and statements I stand, and I consider it my duty to take the message of the Congress to the people of India.
I stand before you, sir, as an individual being tried for certain offences against the State. You are a symbol of that State. But I am something more than an individual also. I, too, am a symbol at the present moment, a symbol of Indian nationalism, resolved to break away from the British Empire and achieve the independence of India. It is not me that you are seeking to judge and condemn, but rather the hundreds of millions of the people of India, and that is a large task even for a proud Empire. Perhaps it may be that, though I am standing before you on my trial, it is the British Empire itself that is on its trial before the bar of the world. There are more powerful forces at work in the world today than courts of law ; there are elemental urges for freedom and food and security which are moving vast masses of people, and history is being moulded by them. The future recorder of this history might well say that in the hour of supreme trial the Government of Britain and the people of Britain failed because they could not adapt themselves to a changing world. He may muse over the fate of empires which have always fallen because of this weakness and call it destiny. Certain causes inevitably produce certain results. We know the causes ; the results are inexorably in this train.
It is a small matter to me what happens to me in this trial or subsequently. Individuals count for little : they come and go, as I shall go when my time is up. Seven times I have been tried and convicted by British authority in India, and many years of my life lie buried within prison walls. An eight time or ninth, and a few mom years, make little difference.
But it is no small matter what happens to ‘India and her millions of sons and daughters. That is the issue before ‘me, and that ultimately is the issue before you, sir. If the British Government imagines it can continue to exploit them and play about with them against their will, as it has done for so long in the past, then it is grievously mistaken. It has misjudged their present temper and read history in vain.
(From Jawaharlal Nehru’s statement at his trial in 1940)
(A Nationalist on Tried)
Comments : Nehru, in this passage, was speaking at a solemn and historic moment. He might easily have been tempted to indulge in flights of rhetoric, in demagogy. Many nationalist speakers and writers do just that. Their speeches are full of high-flown phrases and well-worn cliches about colonial exploitation, freedom, democracy, and so on. Nehru avoids this. He speaks simply and clearly and with dignity. Only one phrase, in ‘in the hour of supreme trial’, comes near to being a cliche, and this may be excused by its aptness in this context. In general, his language is restrained and he avoids the hysteria and excitement that such a moment might bring. At the same time we are aware of the feeling he is controlling. The unselfish pride of a national leader, who puts his people’s future welfare before his own freedom, gives a depth sad poignancy to his words.
Already it becomes very hot here. In the trees the Hot Weather Bird calls and calls, like one heralding a disaster. Flying foxes hang head downwards in bunches in the trees around the courts, and the smell of them reaches into our office, so rank it is. All the world I now eating mangoes and throwing away the stones so that the ground is littered with them, and after the mangoes come many flies, and after the flies the cholera, which rages here every season without any failing.
Very sordid, very dirty a place is Myosenin, and yet along the river banks it is beautiful. Down on the tide come water hyacinths in purple and green masses, like pretty eiderdowns of flowers floating over the water. The sunset paints the river the colour of opals and in it the golden pagoda mirrors itself, a smaller replica of the golden pagoda in Rangoon. White paddy birds come winging along over the river, and for a little while the dirt and squalor of the bazaar fades from the mind.
To-day I went to a hanging.
It was Mr. Chelston who took me.
‘One of these days you will have to attend these things on your own. Better learn the ropes now’, he said to me. So we repaired to the jail. It is a sad place of brick, clean inside and standing amongst many acres of vegetables, which the convicts themselves bring up by hand. I do not think that prison is much deterrent to the Burman, nor as far as that goes, to the less educated Indian. There is no shame attached to sojourn there, and you get free and good food at regular intervals. Only the lack of women and tobacco are regarded as deprivations. Many of the older Burman, I learn, hastily commit some offence when they are liberated so that they may return there again……
For myself I had no wish to participate at the hanging and asked Mr. Chelston why this was necessary. He then informed me of strange custom amongst these people. They do not greatly object to being hanged so long as there is a Government Official present at the hanging. If no official is present, there may be a great deal of fuss. And the reason for this is a simple one. You can hang a man’s body and so be rid of it. But you cannot hang his soul. There his soul is, and must remain always in the jail, unless given special permission to depart by a Government Official or other authority.
The Burmese people are very particular about this, and Mr. Chelston told me how only the previous week the wife of Ba Hla, our clerk, deceased of cholera, had arrived in the office to ask him to dismiss her husband officially, as although his body was indeed dead, his soul still remained over the ‘Petty Cash Book’ because as yet he had not had the official sack.
Whereupon Mr. Chelston gave her a paper which said that Maung Ba Hla had been a good and faithful servant and left the situation through no fault, but with the Commissioner’s full permission and consent, and so the lady departed very happy’ taking away the soul of her husband with her.
All this Mr. Chelston told me while we waited for our hanging. The prisoner had done many cruel actions and looked at the last a trine ashamed of himself. As he stood upon the gallows, Mr. Chelston raised his topee in his polite manner and said in his quiet voice :
‘Maung Lu Gale, committed to death for murder, you may leave this jail with my full permission and consent’. After which Maung Lu Gale did so.
(Letters from an Indian Judge to an English Gentlewoman, 1934).
A Letter from Burma
Comments : There are some small faults of English in this passage. It is more idiomatic to Write, ‘without fail’ than ‘without any failing’ (end of first paragraph). At the beginning of the second paragraph the indefinite article is misplaced. It would be more correct to write : ‘A very sordid, very dirty place is Mysoein’. In spite of this the passage as a whole is clear and clean English. It conveys a vivid impression of Myosein. ‘The writing is simple and concrete. Although an Englishman would not speak of bringing vegetables up by hand (paragraph 5), the phrase is both vivid and humorous.