Markham's Reflections on Writing "A Man with a Hoe"
Some thousands of my countrymen have been good enough to point out in the public prints during the past year certain "misrepresentations of labor" in my "Man with the Hoe "; and after having read for twelve months what these critics say I meant to say in the poem, it seems to me that I may be allowed to express my own opinion on this and some kindred matters.
The Hoeman of my poem does not mean every man with a hoe. Thoreau hoed his bean-field. He says that when his hoe tinkled against the stones the music echoed to the woods and sky, and was an accompaniment to his labor that yielded an instant and immeasurable crop. Thoreau as a hoeman could gather this spiritual harvest, because he had the upward looking and the light, the music and the dream. I did not mean Thoreau.
The Hoeman of my poem does not refer to the farmer as a class. I did not say the poem was written after seeing the American farmer riding rosily on his reaper in the chromo. But, instead, I say in the heading of every authorized copy* of the poem that it was written after seeing Millet's picture, "The Man With the Hoe." And here let me say that this picture is not " The Angelus," as hundreds of misinformed censors have declared. Naturally the poem should never be judged without thinking of the picture.
I am often asked how I came to write The Man With the Hoe. I am myself in a limited sense one of the "Hoemanry." During all my early manhood I was a workingman under hard and incorrigible conditions. The smack of the soil and the whir of the forge are in my blood. I know every coign and cranny of ranch and range. The breaking of the ground with the plow, the sowing and harrowing of the seed, the watching of the skies for omens of the weather, the heading and threshing of the wheat, the piling of the hay-mowsI know all these things. I know also the whistle of the sun-burnt boy going to hunt the cows, the lyrical shout of the meadow lark in the field of grain, and the ripple of the poppies in the wheat.
These things are sweet and deep in memory, but I know also the prose of the farm. I know the hard, endless work in the hot sun, the chilling rain; I know the fight against the Death-Clutch reaching to take the home when crops have failed or prices fallen. I know the loneliness of the stretching plain, with the whirl of the dust under foot and the whirl of the hawk overhead. I know the dull sense of hopelessness that beats upon the heart in that monotonous drudgery that leads nowhere, that has no light ahead.
But another force beside the tyranny of overwork helped stir my heart with the wrongs of the Hoe-man. From boyhood till this hour I have wondered over the hoary problem that has been passed down to us from Job. Why should some be ground and broken? Why should so many go down under the wheel of the world to hopeless ruin as far as human eyes can see?
I had also been stirred by the faith of Isaiah, by his great faith in the coming of social justice when men "shall not build houses and another inhabit them; when they shall not plant and another eat."
Then, too, I knew how the world's injustice had forced from Christ's strong heart that cry against the mouths that devour widows' houses, and that other cry against the feet that walk over graves.
Fourteen years ago I came upon a small print of Millet's picture of the Hoeman; and it at once struck my heart and my imagination. It was then that I jotted down the rough "field notes" of my poem. For years I kept the print on my wall, and the pain of it in my heart. And then (ten years ago) I chanced upon the original painting itself.
Millet's Man with the Hoe is to me the most solemnly impressive of all modern paintings. As I look upon the august ruin that it pictures, I sometimes dare to think that its strength surpasses the power of Michael Angelo. To me it comes wrapped around with more terror than the fearsome shapes in Dante.
This Hoeman is on earth: he walks among us!
For an hour I stood before the painting, absorbing the majesty of its despair, the tremendous import of its admonition. I stood there, the power and terror of the thing growing upon my heart, the pity and sorrow of it eating into my soul. It came to me with a dim echo in it of my own lifecame with its pitiless pathos and mournful grandeur.
I soon realized that Millet puts before us no chance toiler, no mere man of the fields. No; this stunned and stolid peasant is the type of industrial oppression in all lands and in all labors. He might be a man with a needle in a New York sweat-shop, a man with a pick in a West Virginia coal-mine, a man with a hod in a London alley, a man with a spade on the banks of the Zuyder Zee.
The Hoeman is the symbol of betrayed humanity, the Toiler ground down through ages of oppression, through ages of social injustice. He is the man pushed away from the land by those who fail to use the land, till at last he has become a serf, with no mind in his muscle and no heart in his handiwork. He is the man pushed back and shrunken up by the special privileges conferred upon the Few.
In the Hoeman we see the slow, sure, awful degradation of man through endless, hopeless and joyless labor. Did I say labor ? Nodrudgery! This man's battle with the world has been too brutal. He is not going upward in step with the divine music of the world. The motion of his life has been arrested, if not actually reversed. He is a hulk of humanity, degraded below the level of the roving savage, who has a step of dignity, a tongue of eloquence. The Hoeman is not a remnant of prehistoric times; he is not a relic of barbarism. He is the savage of civilization.
The Hoeman is the effigy of man, a being with no outlet to his life, no uplift to his soula being with no time to rest, no time to think, no time to pray, no time for the mighty hopes that make us men.
His battle has not been confined to his own life: it extends backward in grim and shadowy outline through his long train of ancestry. He was seen of old among the brickmakers of Egypt, among the millions who lifted wearily the walls of Ilium, who carved the pillars of Karnak and paved the Appian Way. He is seen today among the stooped, silent toilers who build London and beautify her tombs and palaces.
These were some of the memories and agitations that pressed upon my soul as I stood in the presence of this dread thingthe Accuser of the world. So I was forced to utter the awe and grief of my spirit for the ruined majesty of this son of God. So the poem took shape. It sprang from my long purpose to speak a word for the Humiliated and the Wronged. I have borne my witness. It is said; it is truth; let it stand.
A certain few who obviously have not read Millet's letters are saying in the public prints that the Hoe-poem does not interpret the thought of the painter. They say that he saw only idyllic grace and beauty in his earthworn figures of the furrow. But here is the way Millet writes to his friend and biographer, Alfred Sensier:
My 'Man With the Hoe' will get me into trouble with the people who do not like to be disturbed by thought of any other world than their own. But I have taken up my position, and mean to make a stand there. . . . I see the haloes of dandelions and the sun, also, which spreads out beyond the world its glory in the clouds. But I see as well in a rocky place a man all worn out, who tries to straighten himself a moment and breathe. . . . Is this the gay, jovial work some people would have us believe in? But, nevertheless, to me it is true humanity and great poetry.
These are the words of Millet.
Again there are a few who say that the hideous Hoeman does not exist anywhere in the world. Do they hope to dispel this Shape by denial? Happy the day when a shrug of the shoulder can dispel this imbruted manthis Accusation.
But those who have eyes to see can see him. Carlyle, than whom there is no greater authority on the wage-slaves of Europe, gives this eloquent testimony:
Two men I honor and no third. First the toilworn Craftsman that with earth-made implement laboriously conquers the earth and makes her man's. . . . Hardly entreated Brother! For us was thy back so bent, for us were thy straight limbs and fingers so deformed; thou wert our Conscript, on whom the lot fell, and fighting our battles were so marred. . . . But what I do mourn over is, that the lamp of his soul should go out; that no ray of heavenly, or even of earthly, knowledge should visit him; but only, in the haggard darkness, like two spectres, Fear and Indignation, bearing company. Alas, while the body stands so broad and brawny, must the Soul lie blinded, dwarfed, stupefied, almost annihilated!
And again Carlyle cries out:
These French peasants are not tended: they are regularly shorn. They are sent for to do statute labor, to pay statute taxes, to fatten battlefields with their bodies in quarrels which are not theirs. Their hand and toil is in every possession of man; but for themselves they have little or no possession.
Untaught, uncomforted, unfed, a dumb generation, their voice only an inarticulate cry. At rare intervals they will fling down their hoes and hammers; and to the astonishment of unthinking mankind, flock hither and thither, dangerous, aimless.
Before those five and twenty laboring millions could get that haggardness of face in a nation calling itself Christian, and calling man the brother of man, what unspeakable, nigh infinite dishonesty in all manner of rulers and appointed watchers, spiritual and temporal, must there not through long ages have gone on accumulating!
And Ruskin also knows these broken ones, these toilers blasted by drudgery and poverty. Of Italy he writes with noble tenderness :
If ever peace and joy and sweet life on earth might be possible for men, it is so here in the bosom of infinitely blessed, infinitely desolate Italy. Its women were sitting at their doors, quietly working; the old men at rest behind thema worthy and gentle race, but utterly poor, utterly untaught in the things that in this world make for their peace. There they sat, the true race of Northern Italy, mere prey for the vulture, patient, silent, hopeless, carelessinfinitude of accustomed and bewildered sorrow written in every line of their faces; unnerving every motion of their hands; slackening the spring in all their limbs. And their blood has been poured out like water, age after age, and risen round the winepress, even to the horses' bridles.
England also has her Hoemanry. Ruskin describes them in terrible words:
Men may be beaten, chained, tormented, yoked like cattle, slaughtered like summer flies, and yet remain in one sense, and in the best sense, free. But to smother their souls within them, to make the flesh and skin (which, after the worm's work on it, is to see God) into leathern thongs to yoke machinery withthis is to be slave-masters indeed. And there might be more freedom in England, though her feudal lords' lightest words were worth men's lives, and though the blood of her vexed husbandman dropped in the furrows of her fields, than there is while the strength and animation of her multitudes is sent like fuel to feed the factory smoke, and the strength of them is given daily to be wasted into the fineness of a web, or racked into the exactness of a line.
And Ruskin says again:
And the great cry rises from our manufacturing cities (louder than the furnace blast) that we manufacture everything therebut men; we blanch cotton, and strengthen steel, and refine sugar, and shape pottery. But to brighten, to strengthen, to refine, or to form a single living spirit, never enters into our estimate of advantages.
It is not the mere poverty of the Hoeman that I deplore, but the impossibility of escape from its killing frost. There are two kinds of poverty. There is that of the pioneer, which is bracing and endurable. Hope has its roots in such poverty, because the means of self-help are not removed. The pioneer has no obstacle between himself and success except his own inertia. There is nothing degrading in the hardship he endures. No middleman comes between him and nature. He has ready access to the land and to other natural resources. With all of his limitations, there is still a path of escape into the heights.
But there is another kind of povertyhopeless, enervating, destructive of ambition; the poverty of the toiler depicted by Millet, lamented by Ruskin, and grieved over by Carlyle; the poverty of the bent drudges in the sweat shops, the factories, the mines.
Do I need to say that the Hoe-poem is not a protest against labor? No; it is my soul's word against the degradation of labor, the oppression of man by man.
I believe in labor, as some believe in creeds. I have little respect for an idler whether at the tramp end, or at the millionaire end of the social octave. It is against the public good, against the economy of nature, for any man to be at the same time a consumer and a non-producer.
I believe in labor; I believe in its humanizing and regenerating power. Indeed, I believe that a man's craft furnishes the chief basis of his redemption. While a man is making a house, he is helping to make himself. While he chisels a cornerstone he is invisibly shaping his own soul.
And it does not matter much what a man doeswhether he hoes a field of corn or builds a poem, whether he guides a plow or directs the destinies of a nation. The thing of importance is the way he does his work. It must be done thoroughly, and in the spirit of the common good, in the spirit of the social welfare. Work of this order is a living sacrament, a perpetual prayer.
The spirit of loving service sends a gleam of the ideal into every labor; and man needs the ideal even more than he needs bread. The ideal is the bread of the soul.
But while all true work is beautiful and holy, it is also a fact that excesses are evila fact that joyless, hopeless, endless labor, overwork and under-paid work, tends to break down both men and nations. And this waste of life is as evident in the pallid faces and buried sympathies of the office and boudoir as in the distorted bodies and torpid minds of the factory and field.
So, in a large sense, the Hoeman is the stunted man in any walk of life. He is any man who has not had outlet for the sleeping forces of his higher self. He may be an editor, a banker, a merchant, a soldierany man who forgot that we do not live by bread alone; who has let things get into the saddle; who is smothered under the weight of material concerns; who has died to the higher world of ideas and aspirations.
The discerning mind, of course, need not be told that the Hoe-poem does not refer to the American farmer as a class. The American farmer is frequently a man of high intelligence and independence of spirit.
Nor need I say that I do not recommend young men to leave the farm for the over-crowded and perilous cities. Instead, I count it gain for a young man to pass his days on a well-conditioned farm. It is fortunate for him to live in the open where he can draw into his mind the calm sanity of the rocks, and distil into his heart the color and odor of orchard bloom. As he walks the great fields, the strength of the earth rises into his body, and the glory of the sun descends into his soul.
Farm life can be made beautiful, ideal. Why should not the man who gives bread to nations receive in return the highest gifts of culture and art? Why should not the Prince of the Plow know Shakspeare and Shelley, Schumann and Wagner? There is no need to take any man from his hoe, but there is a deep imperative, a divine call, for his higher recreation, for his spiritual advance. He has made many seeds to grow from one. Let us see to it that he has more than the chaff for his reward.
Nor, again, does the Hoe-poem refer to the American workman in his best estate. Many of our artizans are men with a broad view, and an accurate knowledge of the social problem that confronts us. In this respect they are frequently far ahead of the makers and expounders of the law.
And it is strangely true also that while many of these toilers are shy of the church, they are nevertheless pressing right in the direction of Christ's work of public and organic righteousness. "They are following in the toil of Christ to institute the uplift from below"to base the wealth and beauty of earth, not as now on destitutions, robberies and shames, but on the common fellowship and sympathy and honor between man and man.
So, while I decry drudgery, I believe in labor. Indeed, I would have every man, as by a divine obligation, learn some craft. I think an ideal moment of the world was that moment in Florence when every man, to be a nobleman, had to be the master of some tradewhen Dante of the starry soul served apprenticeship among an apothecary's pots.
Labor is Heaven's best privilege to man. In the pursuit of it he grows kindred to God himself, the Divine Workingman. But we are told that the Father rested after laborrested and rejoiced over His work. The work was "good," because it had been done in the passion of joy. But do the Hoemen, the oppressed and misshapen workmen of the world, perform their long drudgery in gladness? No; they are chained to the wheel of labor by the fierce necessity for bread. Their work is not done in the large and noble spirit of the free manthe free man who works with the consciousness of a high purpose, as one who is about the Father's business.
There is a theory that the Hoeman is but an embryo man; one not yet touched by evolutionthat nobody has blown out the light in his brain. I claim that he is a degenerate, through hopeless drudgery and barren environment forced on him by the greed of men. He has had no opportunity to use his nobler powers; so they have been taken from him, through the process of inexorable law. It was said by the Wisdom of old: "T o him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken even that which he hath."
Again, there are those who say that the Hoeman is content in his squalor and ignorance; and that therefore he should not be disturbed. Would they say also that children are happy in their ignorance and should not be led on to the higher knowledge ? The Hoeman may be content, but his wiser brother should not be. Our nobility should oblige us to clear the way for him, that he may be quickened to struggle upward to the nobler horizons that await him.
Still others say that the Hoeman is all right in his place. Why lament that the goose is not a nightingale, that the ox is not a deer? I say that in the case of bird and beast there is perfect correspondence to environment. But the Hoeman is not in his true human sphere. Yet there is a certain range of development even for plants and animals. A wolf may not become a deer, but a wolf may, in civilization, become a St. Bernard dog. A crab-apple may not become an orange, but it may, under cultivation, become a luscious bellflower.
Is this true of plants and animals? Then more surely is it true that man is modified by environment and opportunity; and while it is a fact that man carries in his breast the creative powerthat he can help create himself, it is also a fact that nutriment and environment are constant factors in progress, not only in this world but in all worlds. The slum babies grow like the dump-piles they look upon; the angels grow white looking on the Throne.
There are a few who think that they find a strain of pessimism in some of my poems. But I am not, nor have I ever been, a pessimist. Who are the real pessimists? They are those who are not willing to trust love, who do not believe that brotherhood is a working principle. They are those who believe that self-interest and competition furnish the only practical basis for a human society. This utter disbelief of man in man is the final scepticism, the crowning infidelity.
So I will take my stand with the optimistswith those who are willing to trust lovewilling to trust love not only in the home, but also in the larger family of the state.
But while I am an optimist, let me hope that I am not a weak optimist, a sleek conservative speaking from a sheltered place. I am an optimist, but I am not dead to the injustices of civilization. Nor am I a believer in the let-alone policy. Quite the reverse. I pray to be delivered from the smug content of the academic mind that has heard of Evolution and relies on it to do the Heaven-given work of man. It is easy to drop the hands at the side, saying: "There is nothing for me to do: God is taking care of things."
Let the easy optimist remember that it is unmanly to shift one's responsibility. Let him remember, also, that the will and work of strong men are forces that are helping to push on the wheel of evolution. The world is moving, but only because strong men have put their shoulders hard against the wheel. Does man depend upon God? Yes; and God depends upon man. A man must co-operate with God if he wishes an answer to his own prayer.
The Hoeman is weak of will and blind of vision. He is not Garfield on the towpath, nor Lincoln at the rail-pile. Such men can, perhaps, make their way against the bludgeonings of circumstance. The stars bend to the strong. If ever the lowly are lifted, it will be by the concerted action of the men of power in all walks of life, the men of good will, the men who carry the Christ Purpose in the heart. The inbrothering of men for the common good in times of peace, as they band together for the common welfare in times of war, would, in a generation, cure all our social sorrows.
Men have achieved political liberty. The next forward step must be the achievement of Industrial Freedom. This will be an event greater than was the achievement of political freedom. It will mean the effacement of the barriers that interpose between the common man and the achievement of the common destiny.
And this freedom will be the freedom of all. It will loosen both master and slave from the chain. For, by a divine paradox, wherever there is one slave there are two. So in the wonderful reciprocities of being, we can never reach the higher levels until all our fellows ascend with us. There is no true liberty for the individual except as he finds it in the liberty of all. There is no true security for the individual except as he finds it in the security of all.
It is therefore the obligation of the all-of-us to withdraw the foolish permission which we have given to the Few to own the things which should be the common possession of the People. This withdrawal would be in the interests of the primary rectitudesin the interests of justice and brotherhood. All that the happiest of us possess should be made possible to the least and ,the lowliest. It is our sacred duty to keep open the gates of opportunity, "so that every creature, from the least to the greatest, may make his life a moral adventure and a joy."
Am I then my brother's keeper? A Voice answers from Eternity : "Thou art, and as thou keepest him, so will God keep thee."
Co-operation is the logic of Christianity. May we not hope, then, that some day some form of co-operative industry will come into the world? When that day arrives the bowed and stunted toiler will find his true freedom, his true dignity and joy. There will be no homeless workers; no long, brutalizing labor; the worker will have work and he will have rest. If men were wise and brotherly enough to organize industry on the fraternal principle, labor would no longer be a drudgeryit would be a joy, an inspiration, a redemption.
What was the Purpose of Christ? It was the realization of Fraternity. . . . Fraternity! this is the holiest of all words, the word that carries in its heart "the essence of all gospels and the fulfillment of all revelations." . . . Fraternity! it will be the answer of man to the prayer of God.
* The Hoe poem has been so widely copied all over the country that it may be worth stating that the only correct form of it is to be found in this volume and also in "The Man With the Hoe and Other Poems," both published by the Doubleday & McClure Co., New York.
Vol. 26, No. 5 November 21, 1925
One of the grand old men of this generation is Edwin Markham. Those of us who remember the crash with which his Man With the Hoe smashed through the complacency of a generation ago, have some sense of his power. His was a prophet voice. A great painting was made to give its message through a great poet. In presenting this article from Edwin Markham's pen we feel that we are making a distinct contribution to valuable literary history, as well as recalling to present readers great hours now past.
A quarter of a century ago The Man With the Hoe electrified the world with its music and its meaning, with its passion and its purpose. All tongues seemed to be talking. The London Critic said: "No other poem ever swung so swiftly into the mouths of men from sea to sea." Joaquin Miller said: "The Man With the Hoe is the whole Yosemitethe thunder, the might, the majesty." Other voices called it "the battle-cry of the next thousand years."
"This Hoe-poem," said the San Francisco Chronicle, "attracted more attention than any other poem in the world." For, while it was printed first in San Francisco, it was soon flashing from continent to continent. It has been translated into thirty-seven languages; and experts estimate that it has been printed more than twelve thousand times in newspapers and magazines in all corners of the earth. It has stirred the social dream in millions of souls. Here is Edwin Markham's own story of it:
A man cannot escape from his past.
I am reminded of this fact when from hosts of friends and from thousands of my auditors comes the question: "How did you happen to write The Man With the Hoe? Tell us the how, the when, and the why of it." In the main, I have been forced to deny my friends an answer.
But now comes a request from Dearborn, a request that overcomes my inertia, a request that causes me to tell at last the details of the story of these forty-nine lines, which sprang out of my inkwell in the early dawn of the twentieth century.
Why have I been so long reluctant to tell the genesis of this Hoe-poem? First, because I felt the need of finishing new literary projects; and, second, because these reminiscences force me to become my own hero and rehearse my own exploits.
The ground for this poem was doubtless laid in the experiences of my youth, when, as a hard-worked, sun-burned boy, I hoed and weeded the orchard and garden from dawn to dusk on my father's farm and range, in the little Lagoon Valley in the Suisun Hills that spur in the Coast Range of California. A thousand times I have felt the ache in the back and the utter weariness of the long unbroken day's work, with no prospect ahead but another day's work.
But I am not sorry that I learned to work in my youth. It brought me into robust contact with the open air, with soil and sun; and it also gave me a first-hand knowledge of the bread-labor of the world, and a keen sympathy with all toilers.
I feel that it is a misfortune for anyone to grow up in wealthsheltered homes where they miss this outdoor experience. Moreover, it seems to me that in a well-ordered world, everyone would be expected to spend a part of his time in bread-labor, and this would make that labor light for all who are engaged in it. Has there ever been offered any good reason for dividing the world into two classesone class to do an the physical labor and little or none of the thinking, and another class to do all the intellectual labor and little or none of the bodily toil?
Even in my young manhood, these ideas began to take root in my mind. I began to dream of a new world wherein all workers would be thinkers, and all thinkers would be workers. It would be a world based on a union of culture and labor.
Man is a compound of mind and body, and they both should have exercise in order to develop an all-round and healthy personality. The failure of our civilization to carry out this principle leads to innumerable disasters. Our physical workers, performing all the bodily toil, have a tendency toward misshapen bodies and undeveloped minds; while, on the other hand, our mental workers, confining themselves merely to mind labor, have a tendency toward corpulent bodies and nervous disorders.
Big influences were pressing upon my youth in those early days. I not only worked in my mother's orchard and garden, but I also rode my broncho on the tops and slopes of the bins, herding cattle or hunting for them when strayed away in the canons of far-off ranges. A thousand times I gazed from some hilltop over the Sacramento plains toward the far-off ghostly line of the Sierras.
These vast expanses helped to widen the horizons of my mind. But there was another great influence at work, for in those days I had the happiness to be reading The Gospel of Jesus. This is the greatest democratic document in the possession of mankind. It iswhen properly interpreteda daring and powerful demand for the political and industrial liberation of the world.
It was not long before another great democratic document came to my hand to marshal the forces of my young spirit. I refer to a translation of Victor Hugo's romance, The Man Who Laughs. Here I came in contact with the soul of Hugo, the chief literary glory of France, a man alive with the glowing enthusiasm of humanity. I was seventeen years old, and all the energies of my mind were bubbling hot in their crater. The huge humanity of Victor Hugo was the fortunate mold into which the fluid emotions ran, cooled, and took form for the labor of a lifetime.The cry against social injustice, against brutal wrongs, sounding through all this romance, reaches a startling climax in the hour when the young democratic hero of the story stands up in his seat in the Parliament of England and he is asked, "Where do you come from?" and he answers, "From the bottomless pit!" Then begins his terrible arraignment of the men in power, the men who have done nothing or next to nothing for the submerged millions struggling and perishing in the abyss of civilization.
He tells the startled lords of England that they are Privilegethat they should be afraid, for the true master of the house is about to knock at the door. "I come to warn you," he cries. "For myself, I am nothing, save a voice. The human race is a mouth, and I am its cry.
When I wrote The Man with the Hoe, I had not seen this awakening romance for years; but the spirit of it was doubtless alive somewhere in "the backward and abysm" of my mind.
Years passed, and I had worked my way out of farm and range, worked my way through two or three colleges. At last, in 1886, I was elected superintendent of schools in El Dorado County, in the beautiful foothills of the Sierras. Here, in 1849, gold was first discovered by James W. Marshall, a man who died in poverty in his little bare cabin at Coloma.
Even in those days, l was a reader and book-buyer (I have now 12,000) and I was still deeply concerned with the problem of the toiling millions. I still had the pain of sympathy in my heart.
I had in my library a volume that widened my knowledge and deepened my compassion. It was A General Introduction to Social Science, by Charles Fourier, that extraordinary social philosopher of France, who had won the attention of all forward-looking men in the early half of the nineteenth century.
This volume, packed with new social hopes, had been translated and edited by Albert Brisbane, an impassioned and high-minded reformer of those early days. These hopes of Fourier had gone out as a great tidal wave over the thinking world. Among other effects, this wave stirred the hearts of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, George Ripley, Margaret Fuller, Charles A. Dana; and it led to the organization of a social family known as Brook Farm on the outskirts of Boston. Here men and women of lofty spirit undertook to work together as comrades and to realize a higher life based on the union of labor and culture. For a number of years, this social experiment prospered greatly. Horace Greeley became the impassioned exponent of these new ideas, and opened the columns of his New York Tribune to the new social propaganda.
Fourier does not stand on the high idealistic ground occupied by Jesus, yet his criticism of civilization throws a broad light upon the Gospel, and makes it plain that Jesus had in mind the organization of a new social order, which would sweeten toil and would shelter the people from the many needless disasters of existence.
All these experiences and studies prepared my mind to catch at least a glimpse of the vast problem involved in Millet's great painting, The Man With the Hoe, the grimly. powerful picture of a French peasant bowed over his hoe in a field, the picture of a brutalized toiler. I came upon it in 1886, reproduced in Scribner's Magazine, which was printing a series of articles on Millet and the austere and noble realism of his work.
Millet made his artistic home in the shadow of the forest of Fontainebleau. He has a Homeric directness in his paintings. He tries to make the common express the sublime. He endeavors to make the infinite visible. He is a democratic Michael Angelo. He is a Jupiter in wooden shoes.
In The Man With the Hoe, I saw that Millet had swept his canvas bare of everything that was merely pretty, and projected this startling figure before us in all its rugged and savage reality. I was drawn and held by the terror of it: I saw in it the symbol of betrayed humanity. I immediately jotted down in my large notebook a few of the opening lines of my poem. They set the Hoe-man before us as Millet saw him on the fields of France:
Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans
Upon his hoe and gazes on the ground,
The emptiness of ages in his face,
And on his back the burden of the world.
Here were the few opening words, just enough to hold the place, enough to nail fast my purpose to write a poem that should cry the lost rights of the toiling multitude in the abyss of civilizationthe multitude helplessly chained to the present, fettered to their narrow field, deprived of the enlarging education of the mind, deprived of the ennobling education of the heart.
I had made my entry in the notebook, but the cares of the world swept in, and the poem was not finished. But during the next thirteen years I made frequent and prolonged visits to my mother's home in San Jose. There I wrote out in their first form many of the lines of the poem. But they were only whirls of stardust not yet concentrated into a moving orb.
After leaving the Sierras, I found myself, in 1898, in Oakland, at the head of the Observation School of the State University. During the summer vacation I was rummaging my old notebook, hoping to get on the trail of some suggestive memorandum for a poem. I suddenly came on the unfinished draft of the Hoe-poem. Mrs. Markham joined me in thinking that this must be the next labor of my pen.
But months slipped by till the next vacation in December; when I happened to go over to San Francisco to see a loan exhibition of great paintings. I had hardly entered the door when I saw something that thrilled me to the core of my soul, a painting that dominated the whole room: it was the original of The Man With the Hoe, from the immortal hand of Millet!
It had been lately bought for $60,000 by Mrs. William Crocker, whose family took an eminent part in the building of the Central Pacific Railroad. During the great fire of 1906, this painting was seized by a daring hero and carried to safety through flame and smoke and falling timbers.
I sat for an hour before it at the loan exhibition, sat there absorbing the majesty of its despair, the suggestion of its injustice, the tremendous import of its admonition. I saw in it the ruin of man, the ruin wrought by the powerful over the patient, of the strong masters over the silent workers.
I sat there for an hour, the pity and sorrow of this tragic figure growing upon my heart. I felt its terror, its mournful grandeur. I could not have been more deeply moved had some fearsome shape risen before me from Dante's dark abyss.
Of course, the Hoe-man is not any man using a hoe. Thoreau hoed his bean field near Concord; and he says that when his hoe tinkled against the stones, the music echoed out to the woods and skies. Thoreau could gather two harvestsa material and also a spiritual harvest. Why? Because he had the upward-looking and the light, and could hear in his soul the music and the dream.
I saw that the Hoe-man is not Thoreau the philosopher, nor is he the American farmer riding rosily on his reaper in the chromo.
I realized as I looked that I was gazing on no mere man of the fields; but was looking on a plundered peasant, typifying the millions left over as the debris from the thousand wars of the masters, and from their long industrial oppressions extending over the ages.
This Hoe-man might be a stooped consumptive toiler in a New York sweat shop; a man with a pick, spending nearly all his days underground in a West Virginia coal mine; a man with a labor-broken body carrying a hod in a London street; a boatman with strained arms and aching back rowing for hours against the heavy tide of the Volga.
Nor had his battle been confined to his own life: it was a battle that extends backward through his long train of ancestry to a remote antiquity. He was the multitude that molded the bricks of ancient Egyptthe multitude that paved the Appian Way and lifted the massive blocks of the Pyramidsthe multitude that fought for Timur and Attila, not knowing nor asking why, and then sank like the millions of raindrops into oblivion.
From this vision of the Hoe-manhis genesis and his destinyI went home that afternoon like a man under a spell. I seemed to have come into first-hand contact with one of the tragic realities of our existence.
Immediately on reaching home, I wrote out the first stanza in its completed form. All the rest of the day I could only ponder and wonder over this arrested life, over this man who had lost step with the divine music of the world, over this victim of hopeless and joyless labor, over this piteous hulk of humanity degraded below the level of the roving savage of the wilderness. I saw in him the savage of civilization.
I woke the next morning at the break of day with the idea of my second stanza laid away, as it were, in the rift of the mind, ready to be molded into form. Leaping swiftly out of bed, I wove some of my old material with new lines that flashed swiftly in; and there on the page my second stanza stood complete.
I could do nothing else that day upon the poem, nothing except to moon and croon over the lines, changing a word or revising a phrase. The next morning I awoke with the idea of my third stanza ready and waiting for the activity of my pen.
Strange as it may sound, each of the two following stanzas appear to be handed down to me in the same fashion, handed down, one by one, out of the white fire of the morning.
All the stanzas seemed to me more like gifts than creations. Where did they come from? Were they, in the deep of the night, laid away in the mind by powers that we know not of? Perhaps Hamlet is right when he cries out,
"There are more things in Heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
This is the brief story of how I happened to utter the awe and grief of my spirit for the Hoe-man, for the ruined majesty of this son of God. The poem sprang from my long purpose to speak a word for the humiliated and the wronged. I bore my witness. It is said. It is truth. Let it stand.
The poem was typewritten and in my pocket. On New Year's Eve, 1899, I attended a literary gathering in San Francisco at the home of Carrol Carrington, a friend of the famous Ambrose Bierce, the literary autocrat of the Far West. Bailey Millard, Juliet Wilbur Thompkins, and other literarians were present.
Each one was adding something to the hilarity of the evening. I was called on: my Hoe-poem flashed into my mind. I rose and read it.
Usually after a reading there is some applause. Auditors may applaud because they have enjoyed the reading. Or they may applaud because they are glad the reading iS over! In my case there was no applause whatever. There were two minutes of utter silence.
Then Bailey Millard, the editor of the San Francisco Examiner, sprang to his feet, walked swiftly to my chair, and asked to see the poem. He read it hastily; then read it again, handing it back with the words, "That poem will go down the ages."
A little later, Mr. Millard urged me to let him print the poem, saying that he would announce it for two weeks in his columns, would print it in conspicuous type in the middle of his editorial page, and would herald it with a lengthy editorial.
So the poem appeared on the eighteenth of January, 1899, in the dawn of the twentieth century.
Dr. David Starr Jordan, of Stanford University, seized on the poem as a text for a lecture, wherein he made a plea for world peace, charging that the Hoe-man, the brutalized man, is caused by military selection in all lands. The best and most vigorous young men are selected to go into war and become cannon-fodder. Thus the weaklings are left to propagate their kind, causing a gradual degeneration of the race. This wholesome doctrine was proclaimed from hundreds of platforms in the Far West.
My friends among the editors were soon telling me that the Hoe-poem had caught the imagination of the nation. It seemed to stir the social idealism that lies deep, though often dormant, in the breasts of men. Within a month, it seemed that all the papers on the continent were printing the poem, with editorial comment.
Letters began to pour into the newspaperssome attacking the poem, others defending it. It was attacked from all points of viewtheological, biological, geological, chronological, anthropological, zoological, phrenological. Thousands of men, ranging all the way from professors to plowmen, gave vent to their pent-up feelings in voluminous letters.
I am happy to report that no plow-man, no workingman, ever misunderstood the poem. It appears that all workers looked upon it as a declaration in defense of their world-old cause.
But whenever one man attacked the poem, five or six men attacked him. Thus there were more defenders than attackersfive to one. But, oh, that one man who attacked was a man highly valuable to the poem, for it was that one belligerent person who kept the merry controversy alivekept it alive for nearly two years.
Many of the attacking forces did not seem to understand that the Hoe-man refersnot to the worker in his best estate, in his higher and more intelligent conditionbut refers only to the millions caught down into the hell of drudgerythe millions who have no time for rest, no time for thought, no time for the lofty hopes and dreams that make us men.
The Far West was the battle ground where the controversy was hottest. All the San Francisco newspapers, for several months, carried a page that printed the vast number of' letters pouring in concerning the poem. I myself had a new experience in a deluge of letters from all parts of the world.
Soon the poem gave rise to a multitude of epigrams, witticisms, cartoons, parodies, essays, debates, sermons, printed volumes. One industrious doctor of medicine collectedas I remember itmore than four thousand parodies, including poems inspired by the Hoe-poem.
At this point, the whole battle was given a new start and a fresh fire, when Colis Huntington, a builder of the Central Pacific, suddenly offered a prize for an answer to the Hoe-poem. The New York Sun conducted the contest; and the enormous prize offered called out more than five thousand answers. Edmund Clarence Stedman and Thomas Bailey Aldrich were among the judges.
John Vance Cheney won the prize. I knew him well; and I wrote him a letter congratulating him, saying that his poem was a true creation of the Muse; but that it was unsound in its philosophywas un-American and un-democratic. For Cheney takes the ground that the Hoe-man is "cast for the gap," is created by the Almighty for us intellectuals to stand on in order that we may keep our hands white, and may keep our feet unsmirched by the dust of the common road.
I look on Cheney's poem as the most pessimistic poem ever written in America, if not in the whole world. For the American idea is that no one is "Cast for the Gap," but that every one is created to rise to the highest levels. It is the duty of government to keep open all the gates of opportunity so that there shall be nothing to obstruct the common man in the achievement of the common destiny.
It has not been altogether pleasant to talk so much about myself; but it was not possible perhaps to tell the story in any other form.
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