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The craftsman
Vol. V, No. 4 (January 1904)

Chips from the Craftsman workshop,   pp. 413-416 PDF (1.5 MB)

Page 413

HE CRAFTSMAN, as he turned
        the leaves of a Christmas book,
        chanced upon a quotation from
        Victor Hugo's Jean Valjean, which
cut a new channel for his thoughts; sending
them away from the traditional pastoral
scene into stern and sorrowful places.
  The quotation read: "There is no think-
er who has not at times contemplated the
magnificence of the lower classes."
  It was the word "magnificence," appear-
ing in an unusual sense and connection,
which proved so compelling.' The Crafts-
man had just thrown aside, with a feeling
of discouragement, a criticism of the Ameri-
can production of the "Parsifal," in which
the writer suspended all judgment of the
piece and its effect, until he had first treated
the question of afternoon, as against even-
ing dress, and noted the millionaires of the
  A picture of such magnificence as that
produced by the description of an unequaled
New York "first night," the consciousness
that neither the spiritual sense, nor yet the
artistic quality of the music-drama had
broken the tyranny of money and fashion,
so disheartened the solitary workman that
he reached after the new interpretation of
the word, as if to grasp a saving grace. In
this mood, half-depressed and half-inquir-
ing, he closed his workshop and went to gain
a new conception of magnificence in the poor
quarter of his own city.
  His was a strange quest to be undertaken
at the Holiday season. Arrived at his des-
tination, he found himself in an atmosphere
burdened with what the German sociologists
have well named the "world-sorrow." In-
stead of magnificence, he saw everywhere
traces of the daily Crucifixion of Toil: the
scars and marks which hard physical labor,
unsanitary food and surroundings leave
upon the human frame, the ignominy of
dirt, and the despair which comes of forced
confinement. Such conditions were far from
the idea of magnificence. On all sides, in
the streets, in the poor shops, in the door-
ways of the tenements, les miserables were
  At this sight, the memory of a second
master of thought rose to the mind of the
Craftsman. This time also it was a fiery
spirit, an intensely sympathetic nature, who
gave his best thought to his brothers of
unhappy fate. Once again, as if with his
physical voice, William Morris spoke from
his window at Hammersmith, looking out
from among "delightful books and lovely
works of art," upon the "sordid streets, the
drink-steeped shops, the foul and degraded
lodgings." He seemed again to ask that
rich and powerful governments should give
the children of these poor folk the pleasures
and the hopes of men; employment which
would foster their self-respect and win the
praise and sympathy of their fellows;
dwellings to which they could come with
pleasure; surroundings which would soothe
and elevate them; reasonable labor and rea-
sonable rest. He further cried out in his
sorrow over prevailing conditions, that if
the things which he so ardently desired were
impossible, then civilization was a delusion,
a mockery, absolutely non-existent.
  The words of the two great humanitarians
gave the Craftsman much material for re-
flection, while the surroundings clarified his
thoughts and quickened his sympathies.

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