Life of Henry George
"As I rise on this stage, the past comes back to me. Twelve years ago – it seems so far and yet so near – twelve years ago; when I was halt of speech; when to face an audience, it seemed to me, required as much courage as it would to face a battery – I stood on this platform to speak my first word in the cause for which I stand now. I stood on this platform to see, instead of the audience that greets me to-night, a beggarly array of empty benches. It is a long time. Many times, in this country and in the dear old world, I have stood before far greater audiences than this. I have been greeted by thousands who never saw me before, as they would greet a friend long known and well loved. But I don't think it ever gave me such pleasure to stand before an audience as it does to stand here to-night. (Applause.) For years and years I have been promising myself to come back to San Francisco. I have crossed the Atlantic five times before I could fulfill that desire. I am here now to go in a few days to the Antipodes; perhaps I may never return – who knows? If I live I shall try to. But to San Francisco, though I never again can be a citizen of California – though my path in life seems away so far that California looks as but a ridge on the horizon – my heart has always turned, and always will turn, to the home of my youth, to the city in which I grew up, to the city in which I found so many warm friends – to the country in which I married and in which my children were born. Always it will seem to me home; and it is sweet to the man long absent to be welcomed home. "Aye, and you men, old friends, tried and true – you men who rallied in the early times to our movement, when we could count each other almost as upon one's fingers – I come back to you to say that at last our triumph is but a matter of time (applause); to say that never in the history of thought has a movement come forward so fast and so well. "Ten years ago, when I left, I was anything but hopeful. Ten years ago I should not have dared to say that in any time to which I might live, we should see the beginning of this great struggle. Nor have I cared. My part (and I think I can speak for every man who is enlisted in this movement) – my part has never been to predict results. Our feeling is the feeling of the great stoic emperor: 'That is the business of Jupiter; not ours.' 'Tis ours to do the work as we may; ours to plant the seed which is to give the results. But now, so well forward is this cause; so many strong advocates has it in every land; so far has it won its way, that now it makes no difference who lives or who dies, who goes forward or who holds back. Now the currents of the time are setting in our favour. At last – at last, we can say with certainty that it will be only a little while before all over the English speaking world, and then, not long after, over the rest of the civilised world, the great truth will be acknowledged that no human child comes into this world without coming into his equal right with all."
The lecture was a finished one. It told upon those who had not heard Henry George before, and with perhaps greater effect upon those who had known him at the beginning of his speaking career. Judge Coffey wrote East: "I was most gratified to find that Mr. George had developed such extraordinary capacity as a platform speaker." The "Examiner" said of the lecture to working men: "Hundreds unable to find seats stood in the aisles and along the walls. Woollen shirted men sat side by side with elegantly dressed women. The audience was thoroughly republican and cosmopolitan, and all the different elements that went to make up the crowd were equally enthusiastic, and the frequent applause shook the building." All this demonstration over the returned San Franciscan was like honey-dew to the souls of his old comrades who clustered around him with every attention of affection. One of them tells how, while Mr. George stood on Market Street talking with acquaintances, one beggar after another came and asked him for money, which each one got. Some one observed to the philosopher that he was being imposed upon; that the men who were begging were lazy good-for-nothing fellows who would not work. "How can I tell about that?" he answered; "let the responsibility for their actions rest upon them." Amid the sincerely warm wishes of a crowd of friends who came to the wharf to see them off, Mr. and Mrs. George sailed on February 8 on the steamship Mariposa for Sydney. The voyage to the Hawaiian Islands was pleasant but uneventful, and the vessel stopped a whole day at Honolulu, giving time for driving and sight seeing. Mrs. George was sadly affected by a change for the worse in the general appearance of the city since her childhood's residence there. The familiar places showed the wreck of age, without the accompaniment of new buildings or improvements. But more significant than anything else was the large number of Chinese, who seemed to have pushed aside the Kanakas or effaced them by intermarriage. Mr. and Mrs. George were entertained at dinner at Honolulu by a party of officers belonging to the United States war vessels, Nipsic and Mohegan, most of whom proclaimed themselves to be believers in the single taxer. Of still more importance was the stop at Auckland, New Zealand. On setting foot ashore the Georges found a party of friends at the wharf, who notified them that the Anti-Poverty Society of Auckland had prepared an illuminated address for presentation later in the day. The travellers first drove to the residence of Sir George Grey at Parnell and received a hearty welcome, for that diplomatist and statesman had been one of the very first among the eminent men of the world to read "Progress and Poverty" and to hail its author. Mr. George wrote to "The Standard" (February 28):
"I was especially glad to meet him and to find his eightieth year sitting on him so lightly. It is worth going far to meet such a man, soldier, scholar, statesman and political leader – an aristocrat by birth, who when hardly thirty wielded the powers of a dictator; who has been four times governor of important colonies in the most important crises of their affairs, and then premier of the colony in which he made his home; who is yet an intense democrat, and who, unsoured by disappointments and undaunted by defeats, retains in the evening of life all the faith and hope that are commonly associated with youth.... What struck me particularly in his conversation was not merely his wealth of information of European as well as colonial history and politics, but his earnest, religious tone, his calm, firm conviction that this life is but a part of the larger life beyond, and his deep interest in the well-being of those who are yet to come."
After luncheon Sir George drove his guests to one of the Auckland hotels, where the members of the Anti-Poverty Society had gathered. The complimentary address was presented to Mr. George, and Sir George Grey made a fine little speech, attesting his entire faith in the gospel of the single tax. He and Mr. George conversed until the very last moment of the stay, walking on the wharf together while the captain considerately held the ship something beyond her time. Mr. George promised to return to New Zealand and lecture on the single tax, if his Australian engagements would permit. But events were against his carrying out this plan, for two weeks after reaching Australia, he wrote back to New York: "I have spoken every night, Sundays included, and had I been able to cut myself up into half a dozen, would still have been unable fairly to meet and talk with those who have come to see me and who have had interesting things to say." On the day of landing at Sydney, Mrs. George's native city, there was an official reception at the town hall by Mayor Sydney Burdekin, and a number of other city as well as colonial dignitaries, irrespective of political parties. Indeed, the Mayor himself was one of the largest land-owners of Sydney, so that his action bespoke a broad, generous mind. Mr. George had first to make a short speech from a carriage to a dense throng before the hall; and then when he entered and received the formal welcome of the Mayor, he made a long speech, of which this was a passage, as reported by the Sydney "Daily Telegraph":
"'In 1883 I wrote an article in the "North American Review" proposing the introduction of the Australian system of voting in the United States, and I was warned to beware of the action I was taking. But when I left my country a month ago ten States had adopted it, and it is certain eventually to be carried in everyone of the forty-two States and to become the American system. If you can teach us more, for God's sake teach it. Advance Australia!' A thunder of applause followed this declaration, which was delivered with an effect at once remarkable and indescribable."
Then began a whirl of meetings, receptions, interviews and handshakings, uninterrupted during the stay in Australia, except while sleeping and travelling. Every one showed the utmost kindness. Mrs. George wrote home: "These people make Americans blush when thinking of hospitality.... I am at this moment sitting in a bower of flowers." The second night in Sydney the Single Tax League of New South Wales honoured its guest with a banquet in the town hall, with C.L. Garland, M.P., President of the League, as toastmaster. Again the "Telegraph" reports:
"Mr. George, who was received with enthusiastic and long-continued cheering, said: 'I do not like these banquets. To be stuffed first is not a good preparation for making a speech, and for a man to sit and listen to laudations such as the chairman has made is not pleasant. (Laughter.) If I am here this night, if I am here as an honoured guest; if I know this night that go where I may over the civilised world, I would find men who would gladly clasp hands with me – if it has been given to me to help forward a great movement – it is through no merit of mine; it is not from my energy; it is not from my learning; it is not from my ability – it is from the simple fact that, seeing a great truth, I swore to follow it. ("Hear, hear.") When I found the duty to do, I determined that with all the strength I could command, I would do it. ("Hear, hear.") If I were to take to myself such flattering things as have been said to me to-night, my usefulness would soon be ended.'"
The first formal lecture took place on Saturday night, March 8, in Protestant Hall; a sermon followed next day in Pitt Street Congregational Church, the site of Mrs. George's childhood's home; and the next week was filled with lectures in Exhibition Hall and other places. The weather was unusually rainy, but the audiences were nevertheless very large. People flocked from far and near; and the newspapers, especially the "Telegraph" gave fine reports and extended editorials. The single taxers who had long been labouring in the cold and with little to cheer them were now, as Mrs. George wrote home, "fairly delirious with delight" over the unexpected platform abilities Mr. George exhibited and the great public attention he awakened and held. "What is all the crowd about," John Farrell said he heard one man ask another outside the Pitt Street Church. "Oh, a novelty that's all," was the reply; "there's a man in there who is going to preach Christianity!" John Farrell and John Ramsey, two burning single taxers, were among the most brilliant writers in Australia. Another writer who had carried the fiery cross, Frank Cotton, editor of the Australian "Standard," wrote in his paper a fortnight or so after the lecturing had begun:
"Of the great reformer himself, all must admit that as a speaker and as a man he more than justifies all our preconceived admiration. His genial manner and outspoken democracy take the hearts of all true Australians by storm; and his infinite variety of illustration, his incisive logic, and at times passionate eloquence, stir his audience to laughter, to deep thought, or to tears almost at his will.... I have had the pleasure of hearing all his metropolitan utterances and almost every speech delivered in the country districts, yet out of thirteen different orations, in no case was there any repetition of words or phrases, although in each the central truth was portrayed with the utmost clearness."
What occurred in Sydney was repeated in all the lesser towns of New South Wales in which Mr. George spoke, and the experiences in the colony of New South Wales were illustrations of what took place in the other colonies of South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland and Victoria. Few of the public officials appeared in Victoria; but in the majority of places in the other colonies, the mayor and aldermen led the prominent men of the respective localities to tender hospitalities, one accompaniment of which in a number of places was the presentation of handsome, illuminated addresses. At Newcastle, N.S.W., Mr. George was entertained at luncheon by the mayor and aldermen, and the mayors of eight or nine small neighbouring towns were said to have been at the board. Lithgow, a New South Wales mining town, varied things somewhat by turning out with a brass band and a torchlight procession. Nor were the smaller places to be ignored; for one morning the train on which the Georges were travelling unexpectedly stopped at a way station. The breakfast station lay beyond, and Mr. George, who always was impatient for breakfast, put his head out of the window and asked: "What in heaven's name are we stopping here for?" "It is the Mayor and Aldermen who have obtained permission from the Commissioners to stop the train for ten minutes to read an address to Mr. Henry George," some one said. And the hungry, informal man, who hated such ceremonies, had to get out and be honoured. In Queensland, Sir Samuel Griffith, formerly Premier and soon again to hold that office, was among the first to welcome the American. But South Australia, though small, impressed Mr. George as being perhaps the most advanced of the colonies. He told an English audience on his way home that it "led the world in the single tax policy." "There," said he, "they have a tax imposed on land values, irrespective of improvements; and they have at least shown the practicability of such a tax. The tax imposed is only one half-penny in the pound on the capital value, but the Government is proposing to increase it upon a graduated scale to twopence in the pound." Almost as soon as he set foot in South Australia, Mr. George made the acquaintance of Chief Justice Way, whose high standing, intellectually as well as officially, in the colony made his attendance at every lecture and speech Mr. George delivered in Adelaide a compliment that the latter did not fail to appreciate. Another man who strongly impressed him was Rev. Hugh Gilmore of Adelaide, who was preaching the single tax faith pure and simple in the face of hot opposition and who on one occasion exclaimed: "By God's grace, so long as I have breath in me, no man shall terrify me." Mr. George accounted him to be a man of large personal powers and wide influence – a Dr. McGlynn of South Australia. Among the younger single taxers in the colony at this time were Louis H. Berens and Ignatius Singer, who together subsequently wrote "The Story of My Dictatorship" – a remarkable little work of fiction depicting political and social conditions under an imagined regime of the single tax and which came to be extensively read in Great Britain and the United States. But it was perhaps in Victoria that Mr. George achieved his greatest success during the Australian tour – Victoria, as strong in the faith of the protection principle as his own native State of Pennsylvania. It was said in Sydney that no matter how large his audiences might be in the other colonies, in Melbourne and throughout Victoria he must expect slender attention. But when the train on which the Georges travelled drew into the Melbourne station, there was a greater gathering than usually came to greet him, and a reception committee headed by Dr. Maloney, President of the Land Nationalisation Society. "Good heavens! another reception!" the philosopher exclaimed in dismay to Mrs. George, and explaining that he would meet her at the hotel, he bolted out of the door on the opposite side of the coach. When she recovered from her surprise, Mrs. George likewise tried to flee, but she was too late and was escorted by the committee with much politeness to a carriage in waiting. Presently Mr. George came, also, surrounded by an immense throng. He had been recognised and was compelled to endure the honours. The first lecture (on the single tax) was delivered in the Town Hall to a fine audience in numbers and character. In this discourse the lecturer drew a picture of his coming to Melbourne thirty-five years before. The second lecture was to working men, on the subject of "Labour and the Tariff." Daniel Cottier, art connoisseur, of New York and London, with whom the Georges had become acquainted on the Mariposa, called upon Mrs. George before this second lecture, and though a strong free trader himself, earnestly advised her to influence her husband not to speak on that subject in Victoria. "The people will not stand it," he said. "They think protection brings them their bread and butter, and they will stone him if he denounces it." Mrs. George replied that Mr. George was not to be diverted from what he considered to be his duty, even if she wished to influence him in another way, which she did not. Mr. Cottier admired the courage, but deprecated the wisdom of such a policy. The City Hall was crowded, with President Hancock of the Trades and Labour Council in the chair. Mr. George lost little time in going to the pith of his subject.
"I am a free trader – a free trader absolutely. I should abolish all revenue tariffs. I should make trade absolutely free between Victoria and all other countries. I should go further than that; I should abolish all taxes that fall upon labour and capital – all taxes that fall upon the products of human industry, or any of the modes of human industry. How then should I raise needed revenues? I should raise them by a tax upon land values, irrespective of improvements – a tax that would fall upon the holder of a vacant plot of land near the city as heavily as upon like land upon which a hundred cottages stood."
Thunders of applause that threatened to bring down the gallery greeted this and the long series of audacious free trade utterances of which this custom house abolisher made up his address. It was as if Melbourne had waited for but the radical word to bring forth an extraordinary exhibition of clear and emphatic dissent from the policy which hitherto had been only timidly opposed. Mr. Cottier sat in the audience beside Mrs. George, the embodiment of astonishment and delight; and he was almost past words when, after the lecture, three cheers were given and hundreds of men in the audience lingered to hand in their names for the formation of a free trade league – some of them being prominent in Melbourne. All the papers gave good reports and the Melbourne "Telegraph" said:
"The lecturer very adroitly led up to his subject of land nationalisation and the single tax. Imperceptibly, almost, he landed his hearers in the midst of it, through a panegyric of Melbourne city, and regrets about poverty, and pleasant jokes and amusing anecdotes. Whether the lecture was carefully prepared in writing beforehand, or was absolutely extempore is not certain; but in either case the result was admirable. Mr. George must possess a marvellous memory; or equally wonderful powers of extemporaneous speech. Every sentence was carefully constructed and well rounded off; every word was in its proper place, and the most forcible and expressive word was used."
At a subsequent date, Mr. George debated the tariff question with Mr. W. Trenwith, M.P., who was put forward as representative of protectionist working men. The meeting occurred in Exhibition Hall before a crowded audience, "which," said Mr. George in "The Standard" (May 21), "though for the most part protectionist, gave me their heartiest applause and so laughed at Mr. Trenwith's alleged facts and preposterous assertions that I did not have to trouble myself to reply to them, but could occupy my time in pressing home the general principles, which, when once fairly considered, will destroy the protectionist superstition in the mind of any one who thinks at all." Although he sailed for home from Adelaide, South Australia, and lectured there before embarking, the formal close of the Australian lecture campaign took place in Sydney a few days before. George H. Reid, M.P., President of the Free Trade Association and subsequently Premier of the colony, took Mr. and Mrs. George and a party of their friends on a steam yacht excursion over the famously beautiful bay. Mayor Burdekin at his residence gave a dinner in honour of Mr. George at which were present all the members of the New South Wales Ministry, except the Minister of Lands and the Premier, Sir Henry Parks, who was confined by an accident. Several ex-Ministers and other leading men of the community were also present. On the last day a reception was held in Temperance Hall, when Mrs. George was presented with a large album containing photographs of Australian friends. To her consternation and Mr. George's corresponding merriment, she was made the object of short but formal speeches, the gentlemen of the committee standing and addressing her directly. When she recovered from her first surprise, she looked towards her husband, sitting close beside her. He winked, and presently dropping his handkerchief to the floor said as he reached down, just loud enough for her to hear: "How do you like it?" The farewell lecture was in Protestant Hall. The subject was "Protection a fallacy; real free trade a necessity." Mr. George was at his best and had the audience cheering throughout what the Sydney "Telegraph" called his "splendid deliverance." The men who called themselves free traders, but who had been afraid of what he called free trade, had come out at last, and President Reid of the Free Trade League was in the chair and paid him this high tribute on behalf of Australia:
"I don't think we should allow him to make this farewell address to us without the assurance that his name, famous in so many lands, has now become in Australia a household word. (Cheers.) The teachings of his wonderful books have already created a host of enthusiastic disciples to welcome him to these shores – (cheers) – and even I, who in some respects cannot call myself one of his disciples, can fully understand that enthusiasm. (Cheers.) He has thrice earned it. He has earned it as a thinker, he has earned it as a writer and he has earned it as an orator. (Cheers.) And I venture to say – and these are the concluding words in which, on behalf of this great meeting, I bid him farewell – that he may and probably will be regarded by posterity as one of those leaders of men who rise above the sordid level of things as they are, who seek to revive the spirit and the power of Christianity, who seek to enrich the human intellect with humane and generous ideas, who create in the minds of all noble ambition – new spheres of philanthropy and justice – quickening the world's great heart with the throbbings and gladness of the time to come, when the curse of toil shall cease from troubling, banished forever by the universal dignity and happiness of labour." (Prolonged cheering)
There were mistakes – serious mistakes – in the management of the Australian campaign which caused Mr. George much round-about travelling and loss of time. This was due chiefly to unexpected demands from scores of places, which disarranged the plans. It is probably safe to say that no man speaking on social questions had ever before been so warmly and so generally greeted on the Island Continent. But it was three months and a half of hard work for Henry George, speaking every night that he was not travelling, save one Sunday, and frequently he spoke twice a day. Letters and cables came from Sir George Grey in New Zealand and from the Premier and Attorney-General of Tasmania warmly inviting him to each of these places but he was tired out and had to refuse. Incidentally to his long exacting occupation he had seen much to interest and instruct him. At Melbourne he met and talked briefly with Henry Drummond; at the largest cities he was complimented with temporary membership in the clubs, and at Sydney he was greatly amused at the exploit of an enthusiastic single taxer, who, thinking that the American visitor ought to witness an Australian horse race, applied to a racing official to have Henry George made an honorary member. The official asked "Who is Henry George – has he any horses?" "Yes," said the single taxer; 'Progress' and 'Poverty' – and they are running with great success in the United States!" The changes of sea and sky as they passed over the ocean's great expanse were the travellers' chief matters of observation from day to day as the steamship Valetta carried them north and eastward towards home. Then came India with its tropical scenes and the passage through the Red Sea. In traversing the Gulf of Suez they skirted the "barren shore of the peninsula of Sinai, its bare rugged mountains gleaming in the fierce sun, presenting in all probability precisely the same appearance that they did when Moses led the Israelites along their base." Passing into the Mediterranean, the Georges touched at the foot of Italy – Brindisi – where they disembarked and made a short, hurried tour through Naples, Pompeii and Herculaneum to Rome, which they reached in the worst possible time of year, all who could having fled from the heat and fear of fever. Writing to his art-loving friend. Dr. Taylor, afterwards, Mr. George said: "You would get sick of old masters. We had a good time in our own way, unknown and unknowing, and working our way by signs, largely." From Rome they proceeded to Venice and some other places, and thence through Switzerland and France to Great Britain, where Mr. George, during a few days' sojourn, made two speeches, one in the Glasgow City Hall and one under the auspices of the Radical Association of Walworth, London, in which he told of the great progress of the cause at the antipodes. Accompanied by Rev. J.O.S. Huntington of New York, Mr. George during this short trip called upon General Booth of the Salvation Army, whom he had met in London six years before. He now learned that Mrs. Booth, who had large influence in the management and spiritual guidance of the great army organisation, had been for some time thinking of social questions, mainly along single tax lines, and wished to initiate a policy which should preach the salvation of the body as well as of the soul – that should seek to better material conditions here, while holding out hope of a life hereafter. Mr. George came away from this visit to the Booths with sanguine feelings that the Salvation Army with its military organisation radiating from London all over the globe would soon become a kind of world-wide Anti-Poverty Society, that, with a religious enthusiasm, would awaken thought and make way for the single tax idea. But Mrs. Booth even then was stricken with an incurable disease, and it soon after carried her away. With her seemed to go the clearest head and the boldest heart in that movement for a social reform policy, for only small steps, and those along the lines of charity, were taken by the army; and Mr. George reluctantly gave up hope that the organisation would do anything towards the single tax. Mr. and Mrs. George arrived in New York harbour on the steamship Servia on September 1, in time to take part in the first national conference of single tax men, which for two days met in the large hall of Cooper Union, where the delegates exchanged glad tidings and discussed measures for the propagation of the faith. It was an exultant home-coming to him who since January had made a circle of the globe, everywhere finding men and women in twos or threes, in tens or scores, in hundreds or thousands, holding the same faith and glowing with the same enthusiasm. On the second day of the conference, September 2, he was introduced as being "fifty-one years old to-day." He said:
"I have sat on this platform to-night with feelings of joy and pride. I have sat on this platform to-night with heartfelt thankfulness to God; and I believe that I only speak your voice, fellow single taxers of New York, when I say that the samples we have here to night of the single tax men of the rest of the Union have nerved us and inspired us and given us more hope for the future than anything else could. (Applause.) "Yes; it is my birthday to-day. (Voice: 'Long may you live.' Vociferous applause.) But not too long. Life, long life is not the best thing to wish for those you love. Not too long; but that in my day, whether it be long or short, I may do my duty, and do my best." (Applause.)
A consciousness of the uncertainty of life seemed ever present to Henry George, and suddenly death seemed to come close to him, for on December 5, on returning home from a little informal repast with some friends, he was stricken with aphasia. The long hard trip around the world, a lecturing trip into New England, then a longer one into the Southwest as far as Texas, and following on this, worry over the present and future of "The Standard," which, while not paying, was an embarrassment to plans he had for other work, had brought the climax. Dr. James E. Kelly, the family physician, was next morning to sail to Europe on professional business, but he brought in Dr. Frederick Peterson, a young brain-specialist, and himself remained until within an hour of the ship's sailing. Dr. Peterson says of the case:
"Mr. George had a great pain on the left side of his head, in the neighbourhood of the motor speech centre in the brain. He talked quite clearly, but used wrong words, and manufactured words at times. Shown a watch and asked what it was, he said: 'That is a sep'; shown a pencil: 'That is a sep'; shown a thermometer he said: 'That is a sep' and seemed to think he had used the correct words. He repeated words very well and was very much interested in asking about his condition and comprehended clearly the form of aphasia he was suffering from and the nature of the lesion. He expressed great anxiety as to the prognosis. The trouble was a slight hemorrhage in the particular part of the brain which presides over articulate speech. He improved very rapidly; his mind was perfectly clear in every way, aside from the difficulty in expressing himself. There was no paralysis of any kind. In three days he was able to name objects correctly. By the first of January the whole condition had been recovered from."
The friends showed loving attention, John Russell Young personally calling at the house every day, and August Lewis and Tom L. Johnson establishing a benevolent joint dictatorship and decreeing that as soon as he should be strong enough, the sick man and Mrs. George should go off to Bermuda to stay there beyond the reach of all anxiety until he should have recuperated. Mr. George fell in with the plans of his good friends. He sailed early in the new year with Mrs. George, and accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Simon Mendelson, parents of Mrs. August Lewis. He was well enough to take outdoor exercise and to do a little simple writing before he left, and among other things he made a brief entry on the last page of his pocket diary for 1890 – "A memorable year. Much to be thankful for."
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