Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968). rn The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest. 1915.

Coronation Day
(From “The People of the Abyss”)

London, Jack

Jack London

(California novelist and Socialist, 1876–1916. The story of his life will be found below)

VIVAT Rex Eduardus! They crowned a king this day, and there have been great rejoicing and elaborate tomfoolery, and I am perplexed and saddened. I never saw anything to compare with the pageant, except Yankee circuses and Alhambra ballets; nor did I ever see anything so hopeless and so tragic.

To have enjoyed the Coronation procession, I should have come straight from America to the Hotel Cecil, and straight from the Hotel Cecil to a five-guinea seat among the washed. My mistake was in coming from the unwashed of the East End. There were not many who came from that quarter. The East End, as a whole, remained in the East End and got drunk. The Socialists, Democrats, and Republicans went off to the country for a breath of fresh air, quite unaffected by the fact that four hundred millions of people were taking to themselves a crowned and anointed ruler. Six thousand five hundred prelates, priests, statesmen, princes and warriors beheld the crowning, and the rest of us the pageant as it passed.

I saw it at Trafalgar Square, “the most splendid site in Europe,” and the very innermost heart of the empire. There were many thousands of us, all checked and held in order by a superb display of armed power. The line of march was double-walled with soldiers. The base of the Nelson Column was triple-fringed with bluejackets. Eastward, at the entrance to the square, stood the Royal Marine Artillery. In the triangle of Pall Mall and Cockspur Street, the statue of George III was buttressed on either side by the Lancers and Hussars. To the west were the red-coats of the Royal Marines, and from the Union Club to the embouchure of Whitehall swept the glittering, massive curve of the First Life Guards—gigantic men mounted on gigantic chargers, steel-breast-plated, steel-helmeted, steel-caparisoned, a great war-sword of steel ready to the hand of the powers that be. And further, throughout the crowd, were flung long lines of the Metropolitan Constabulary, while in the rear were the reserves—tall, well-fed men, with weapons to wield and muscles to wield them in case of need.

And as it was thus at Trafalgar Square, so was it along the whole line of march—force, overpowering force; myriads of men, splendid men, the pick of the people, whose sole function in life is blindly to obey, and blindly to kill and destroy and stamp out life. And that they should be well fed, well clothed, and well armed, and have ships to hurl them to the ends of the earth, the East End of London, and the “East End” of all England, toils and rots and dies.

There is a Chinese proverb that if one man lives in laziness another will die of hunger; and Montesquieu has said, “The fact that many men are occupied in making clothes for one individual is the cause of there being many people without clothes.” We cannot understand the starved and runty toiler of the East End (living with his family in a one-room den, and letting out the floor space for lodgings to other starved and runty toilers) till we look at the strapping Life Guardsmen of the West End, and come to know that the one must feed and clothe and groom the other.…

In these latter days, five hundred hereditary peers own one-fifth of England; and they, and the officers and servants under the King, and those who go to compose the powers that be, yearly spend in wasteful luxury $1,850,000,000, or £370,000,000, which is thirty-two per cent of the total wealth produced by all the toilers of the country.

At the Abbey, clad in wonderful golden raiment, amid fanfare of trumpets and throbbing of music, surrounded by a brilliant throng of masters, lords, and rulers, the King was being invested with the insignia of his sovereignty. The spurs were placed to his heels by the Lord Great Chamberlain, and a sword of state, in purple scabbard, was presented him by the Archbishop of Canterbury, with these words:—

“Receive this kingly sword brought now from the altar of God, and delivered to you by the hands of the bishops and servants of God, though unworthy.”

Whereupon, being girded, he gave heed to the Archbishop’s exhortation:—

“With this sword do justice, stop the growth of iniquity, protect the Holy Church of God, help and defend widows and orphans, restore the things that are gone to decay, maintain the things that are restored, punish and reform what is amiss, and confirm what is in good order.…”

“And how did you like the procession, mate?” I asked an old man on a bench in Green Park.

“’Ow did I like it? A bloomin’ good chawnce, sez I to myself, for a sleep, wi’ all the coppers aw’y, so I turned into the corner there, along wi’ fifty others. But I couldn’t sleep, a-lyin’ there ’ungry an’ thinkin’ ’ow I’d worked all the years ’o my life, an’ now ’ad no plyce to rest my ’ead; an’ the music comin’ to me, an’ the cheers an’ cannon, till I got almost a hanarchist an’ wanted to blow out the brains o’ the Lord Chamberlain.”

Why the Lord Chamberlain I could not precisely see, nor could he, but that was the way he felt, he said conclusively, and there was no more discussion.…

At three in the morning I strolled up the Embankment. It was a gala night for the homeless, for the police were elsewhere; and each bench was jammed with sleeping occupants. There were as many women as men, and the great majority of them, male and female, were old. Occasionally a boy was to be seen. On one bench I noticed a family, a man sitting upright with a sleeping babe in his arms, his wife asleep, her head on his shoulder, and in her lap the head of a sleeping youngster. The man’s eyes were wide open. He was staring out over the water and thinking, which is not a good thing for a shelterless man with a family to do. It would not be a pleasant thing to speculate upon his thoughts; but this I know, and all London knows, that the cases of out-of-works killing their wives and babies is not an uncommon happening.

One cannot walk along the Thames Embankment, in the small hours of morning, from the Houses of Parliament, past Cleopatra’s Needle, to Waterloo Bridge, without being reminded of the sufferings, seven and twenty centuries old, recited by the author of “Job”:—

“There are that remove the landmarks; they violently take away flocks and feed them.

“They drive away the ass of the fatherless, they take the widow’s ox for a pledge.

“They turn the needy out of the way; the poor of the earth hide themselves together.

“Behold, as wild asses in the desert they go forth to their work, seeking diligently for meat; the wilderness yieldeth them food for their children.

“They cut their provender in the field, and they glean the vintage of the wicked.

“They lie all night naked without clothing, and have no covering in the cold.

“They are wet with the showers of the mountains, and embrace the rock for want of a shelter.

“There are that pluck the fatherless from the breast, and take a pledge of the poor.

“So that they go about naked without clothing, and being an hungered they carry the sheaves.”

Seven and twenty centuries agone! And it is all as true and apposite today in the innermost centre of this Christian civilisation whereof Edward VII is king.