Item 49 - Letter from Emmeline Pethick to F. W. Lawrence

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PETH/7/49

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Letter from Emmeline Pethick to F. W. Lawrence

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  • [28 June 1900] (Creation)

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3 sheets, 1 of them folded

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20 Somerset Terrace (Duke’s Road, W.C.).—Comments further on the difference between their political positions, particularly with regard to the South African war. Will see him when she gets back from Littlehampton.

(Dated Thursday.)

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Transcript

20 Somerset Terrace
Thursday Evening

Dear Mr Laurence.

There was something in your letter this morning that touched me very much—I know what you say is true—yours is the disadvantage. But isn’t it the more necessary to stop you & ask you to consider before you come even in your thoughts or wishes, a step nearer to me—or state anything further?

Oh I dont want that there shall be many words. How can I say it most directly? The question goes so much deeper than argument: no I dont hold those crude notions about Capital nor those about Socialism. There isn’t a point touched upon in your long letter that would stand between us—I haven’t any fixed theories either, I am learning—comparing[—]balancing.

Will you allow me once and once only to go straight for your position. We must come to it. But I am dreadfully afraid of hurting you. I am horribly afraid of letters for one thing—when there is a heart that can be hurt. Words are such a poor medium. Will you believe that if I were looking at you saying these things that I have to fling out in black, I could take ever bit of the hardness there may seem to be, out of the words.

You believe that you may compromise for good reasons on a moral issue. I believe all such compromise to be deadly.

Place, position & any sort of purchased power are dust and ashes to me compared with the integrity of one man’s soul.

If I were to bear your name, I should be prouder of this essential quality of your manhood, than of any triumphs[—]any honours—that you could achieve. What has this to do with the immediate question? It is not easy to show it in a few words—

But you must try to put in the links, I must try to be definite.

Take for instance the foremost issue of the coming election—the “khaki” election. To me—(it has been a bitter realization)—to me this war is no war in the strict sense of the word: it is organized murder for robbery. It is the story over again of Naboth’s vineyard {1}—only instead of a king’s crime it is a nation’s crime. You are not responsible for the crime—you deplore it—but as a party man with an end in view you must condone it. Yes I know it is only shutting your eyes a little—only not investigating—you who are to be a leader in social reform—and this has been the foremost question of the hour for 12 months!

I can hardly tell you the actual facts, that you have not studied, you say. (I mean I wouldn’t say it if you hadn’t.) For you are a pledged man. There is a sort of sense of honour that would silence me—for what can you do? You have given your word to your party. You are consenting. It is only a little deadening of the clear child-like senses—a dimming of the sight. But that is why we are where we are today. There are few[,] very few malignant or unscrupulous men, but—the average man has his price! And that is why the few unscrupulous men have their enormous power. They know this & they are able to play their game. This is their whole creed & faith. It is all very subtle, very specious. The price is a varying one—low in some cases, high in others[,] but it comes to the same thing. This is the taint—the secret of all social corruption.

This is only one instance—only a little part of a big question. Over & over again the situation will recur—and you will have committed yourself more deeply to a party that hasn’t soul enough to keep its body for long above ground: only fit for decent burial in Conservative ground: its enthusiasm—its living essence has gone; & left the body of expediency which is sure sooner or later to fall into nothingness.

These things have been hard to say—I cannot write more.

After all it does not cost me nothing. It does not cost me nothing to forbid the entering into my life of a possible great joy.

I am going away tomorrow—my address will be c/o Mrs Arnold, Trafalgar House, Littlehampton {2}. But do not write unless it is necessary. When I come back I will see you. I have done a frightful amount of thinking & must let the matter rest a while. You see you have been weeks[,] perhaps months making up your mind before Tuesday {3}. I have had all that ground to cover in a few days & nights.

Sister Mary will be at home next week. If you want to talk over your own affairs with anybody, I dont know who could be of more use. She is most absolutely trustworthy & as true as steel—& eminently practical. I only say this—because I know there comes a point when thinking alone becomes confusion.

I thank you for your letters—they have touched me very deeply

Yours sincerely
Emmeline Pethick

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{1} Cf. 1 Kings 21. 1–16 and My Part in a Changing World, p. 122.

{2} Probably the house in East Street later known as the Green Lady Hostel.

{3} This fixes the date of Lawrence’s proposal.

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