Item 48 - Letter from Emmeline Pethick to F. W. Lawrence

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PETH/7/48

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Letter from Emmeline Pethick to F. W. Lawrence

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  • 27 June 1900 (Creation)

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3 folded sheets

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20 Somerset Terrace, Duke’s Road, W.C.—Responds to his letter (on his proposal of marriage). Her attachment to the socialist cause prevents her from supporting him in the capacity of a Liberal Unionist politician.

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Transcript

20 Somerset Terrace | Dukes Rd W.C.
27. 6. 00

Dear Mr Laurence.

I too feel that I can write to you the things that come from the fundamental. Thank you for your letter. I have been thinking very seriously: I have not been thinking about the personal things—because they have not entered into the question yet: They are not yet involved. Time and opportunity alone could show us the answer to that side of the question. But it is now—now before the personal feelings have become involved—now & only now—that we can think of those other things that make such a great part of life. For to you and to me—however strong the personal life may be—life has a meaning[,] it has a purpose and a reality beyond & underneath all personal affections or ties, in a way independent of them—it is a compelling force, shaping the destiny. I have always felt this compelling force—the authority that sets choosing aside: And now knowing this, when I come to face the question that you put to me {1}, I cannot help thinking first. What influence would this that you want be likely to have on your career. I know you will say that you dont want me to think of that. But I must. I cannot help it. Let me tell you a little bit about myself—so that you may understand. Our differences of thought upon specific things is as you say of no importance: as far as advocacy of interest in different schemes is concerned—it is a matter of argument only. But my—Socialism,—call it,—(for want of a better name) is not an idea in my head—it is in my bones—it was born in me—my whole life long it has been my touch-stone—my Standard of values. I mean this—my first consciousness was the clearest, strongest & most inveterate sense of the dignity & worth of the human body & soul above everything else—and this has forced me into life long campaign—against every sort of bondage, against all sorts of established authorities: and is {1} has kept me (not by choice but by inward necessity) always against the stream. Now what has this to do with you? Can you not see?

It is impossible for me in a letter to do more than suggest why it is, that I could not help you play your part as a Liberal Unionist politician. You must look at this. Now this is what I see as the issue of the Future—this is the great contest of the coming century: the life & death struggle of human life against material mastery. This is the world-wide issue—it is to some extent even now the world-conscious issue. All petty differences are really gone now in the presence of the impending issue between Capitalism and Manhood—Material Mastery & Moral Freedom. It is this—that is the root issue in S. Africa—that makes the war not an isolated event, but only one of the fruits of a tree that has its roots deep & wide. It is the uppermost question in America—in Europe—and it is becoming more & more acute in our country. It is the question of history, the question of social & individual destiny today. You & I can no more help being caught up in the conflict than we can help living in our day & sharing in the world consciousness: I feel that for me the question was decided when I was born: And the question is decided for you when you have allied yourself to a political party that stands for Capitalism (I mean the power and bondage of Capitalism, the sacredness paramount of vested interest)

Your career may [be] the right one for you, the Authority whatever it is, may have decided for you as surely as for me—if so I can only wish you to play your part whole-heartedly & truly. But just so far as my judgement had weight with you, so far would you find yourself pulled in opposite directions. I want you to think of this now. Let it be the clear issue. There is no other question as far as this is concerned for you at present. You have committed yourself to nothing with me, but have only won my esteem by your very straight & generous way of telling me what was in your mind, before knowing me well enought to be able to take these very important matters into consideration.

Yours sincerely
Emmeline Pethick

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{1} Lawrence had evidently written to her shortly after his proposal of marriage the previous day. His reference to the occasion in his autobiography was reserved: ‘Readers will not expect me to let them into the secret of all that passed at that interview; but they will not be surprised to be told that everything did not proceed quite so simply as an ingenuous young man had pictured to himself’ (Fate Has Been Kind, p. 51).

{2} A slip for ‘it’.

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