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General Booth

( Originally Published 1907 )

WHEN Generai Booth rises to receive you in his office in Queen Victoria Street, the first impression you have is of the alertness of the lithe, lean form in its frogged coat with the legend " Blood and Fire " blazing in red letters below the reverend white beard. The second impression comes from the eye. Certain men live in the memory by the quality of the eye alone. That was so in the case of Gladstone. His eye obsessed you. It seemed to light on you like a living thing. It penetrated you like a sword and enveloped you like a flame. It was as though he seized you in his masterful embrace and swept you whither he would. You did not question : you obeyed. No man who ever fell under the compelling hypnotism of that imperial and imperious eye will ever forget it. General Booth, too, dwells in the memory by the eye. It does not dominate you as Gladstone's did ; but it fascinates you by its concentration. It searches the thought behind your words. It seems, with its beady brilliancy, to be burrowing in the dark places of your mind. You feel that your secret, if you have one, is being unearthed. You are sapped and mined. Your defences are crumbling beneath that subtle assault. There is nothing for it but flight or surrender.

You emerge from the interview with a new and revised version of the General. You went in to meet a saint and a visionary. You come out having met the astutest business man in the city. You feel that if the tradesman's son of Nottingham had applied himself to winning wealth instead of to winning souls he would have been the Rockefeller of England. He would have engineered " corners " and " squeezes " without precedent. He would have made the world of finance tremble at his nod: When he passes by the Stock Exchange he must say: "There, but for the grace of God, goes William Booth."

His genius for affairs is visible in the vast fabric of his creation. The world has seen nothing like this movement that in one brief generation has overspread the earth with a network of social and regenerative agencies. You may question its permanence, you may doubt its methods; but as an achievement, the achievement of one man, it is a miracle.

It astonishes by its absolute independence of motive and origin. Loyola's Society of Jesus sprang organically out of the Roman Church; Wesley to the end regarded his movement as a movement within the Church. But the Salvation Army is unique. It has no relationship with any Church or any system. Like Topsy, " it growed." It is an empire within the Empire. It is a system without a dogma and without an intellectual interpretation. It is, in fact, a revival movement converted into an organism.

It is a miracle which could only have been performed by an autocrat, and General Booth is above everything an autocrat. " L'état ? C'est moi." His whole career is a record of absolute reliance on the leading of his own spirit. This quality revealed itself even as a boy of sixteen, when, left fatherless with the burden of a business upon him, he cut him-self adrift from the Church of England, in which he had been baptised and brought up, and took to street preaching. He had been fired by the visit to Nottingham of the American revivalist, James Caughey, whose straightforward, conversational way of putting things, and whose common-sense manner of forcing his hearers to a decision, seized his imagination. He allied himself with Wesleyanism, gave up business, and began his campaign, gathering his crowds in the street, wet or fine, taking them to the penitent form inside, reaching the poor and the outcast if in no other way than by songs and shouting. Wesleyanism was shocked by these improprieties. It sought to make him respectable. He found himself, in his own phrase, " hooked into the ordinary rut and put on to sermon-making and preaching." He refused to be respectable. He cut Wesleyanism and tried Congregationalism. He found it bookish and intellectual and turned to the Methodist New Connexion, of which he was ordained a minister fifty years ago. But again the fetters of restraint galled him. He was put on circuit work instead of the revival work he passionately desired. The final emancipation came at the Liverpool Conference of the Connexion in 1861. Once more, despite his appeals, he was allocated to circuit work. "Never! said William Booth. " Never! " echoed the voice of his wife from the gallery. And so, at thirty-two, without a penny of assured income, and with a wife and four young children to support, he faced the world, a free man.

And when his movement began to emerge from Mile End Waste, amid the brickbats of the White-chapel mob and the hideous caricature of the Skeleton Army, the same masterful spirit prevailed. He found his ideas hindered by the conference, and the conference vanished like a Duma at a wave of his hand. Not even his family must break his iron law. His son desired to remain in America beyond the term allowed for service insisted on remaining. Then his son must go. Do you question the future of the Army? The future is provided for. I, the General, have named my successor. " Who will it be? No one knows but me. Not even the lawyers know. His name is sealed up in an envelope, and the lawyers know where to get it. When my death is announced the envelope will be opened and the new General proclaimed."

It is magnificent and it is war. There is the key to the mystery. It is war. It is still the custom in some quarters to ridicule the military aspects of the Army. It is inconceivable that the insignia and discipline of militarism can have any literal application to the spiritual realm. The thing is a travesty. We sing Onward, Christian Soldiers," but that is only a poetical simile, and the Christian army sits in comfortable pews outside the range of fire. General Booth conceived a literal warfare, his battle-ground the streets, his Army, uniformed and disciplined, challenging the world with fierce war cries, its principle unquestioning obedience. It is necessary to remember this when we charge him with being a dictator. An army in the field must be ruled by a dictator, and his is an army in the field. They call me a Pope sometimes," he says. " I reply it is the only way. Twenty people are banded together, and nineteen are for taking things easily, and if you leave them to themselves they will take the easy path. But if you say ' Go; that's the path,' they will go. My people now want and wait to be commanded." His mistake is in supposing that a dictatorship can be bequeathed. Cromwell made the experiment and the Commonwealth vanished. A system which derives all its vitality from a personality may fade when that personality is withdrawn. For the Salvation Army is not a Church or a philosophy or a creed; it is an emotion.

An emotion! You look in that astute eye, so keen, so matter-of-fact, so remote from the visionary gleam, and ask for the key of the riddle. And the truth dawns on you that there is a philosophy behind the emotion. When the artful politician sets out on an adventure he appeals to the emotion of patriotism or to the emotion of hate of the foreigner and fear of the unknown. So General Booth has a practical purpose behind the spiritual emotion. He is, in a word, a politician. He is a social reformer working through the medium of spiritual exaltation. Wesley saw only the Celestial City, and he called on men to flee from the City of Destruction. General Booth points to the Celestial City, and he uses the power generated by the vision to drain the City of Destruction and make it habitable. He is as designedly political as any Socialist, for it is the redemption of Society in the material as well as the spiritual sense that is his aim. But politics in the party meaning are forbidden to his followers as absolutely as alcohol. Change the laws by all means, he says to the politician, but I am working to change the heart, " We are tunnel-ling from opposite sides of the hill. Perhaps we shall meet in the middle."

He has the enthusiasm of humanity. He loves man-kind in the mass after the fashion of the philanthropist. The average man is touched by the incidental and particular. His pity is casual and fleeting. His heart goes out at the moving tale; he feels for the sorrow he sees. But he is cold to misery in the mass, and generally shares the conviction of the Northern farmer that " the poor in a loomp is bad." The philanthropist, on the other hand, is often cold to the particular, but he has that imaginative sympathy that bleeds for the misery of a world. His pity is not casual; it is a frame of mind. His eyes look oui over wasted lands; his ears ring with lamentatior and an ancient tale of wrong. He is not so much indifferent to the ordinary interests of life as unconscious of them. General Booth's detachment from the world is as complete as if he were an anchorite of the desert. He has a single purpose. " The one prudence in life," says Emerson, " is concentration; the one evil, dissipation." General Booth has the concentration of the fanatic the fanatic governed by the business mind. He carries no impedimenta. Politics are a closed book to him; the quarrels of creeds are unheard; literature unknown; his knowledge of golf is confined as Bagehot said of the Eton boy's knowledge of Greek to a suspicion that there is such a game.

Yet he is the most familiar figure in all the world. He has travelled further and spoken to more diverse peoples than any man in any time to Hindoos by the sacred Ganges, to Japanese by the sacred mountain, in Germany often, in America and Australia and New Zealand. He flashes from Land's End to John o' Groat's in a motor car, whips across to Berlin, is heard of in South Africa. Yet all the time he seems to be in the bare room in Queen Victoria Street; talking eagerly as he walks about and stopping at intervals to take you by the lapel of the coat to emphasise a point. All this activity bespeaks the ascetic. " Any amount of work can be performed by careful feeders," says Meredith; " it is the stomach that kills the Englishman." General Booth is careful of his stomach. He lives the life of a Spartan. His income has never exceeded that of a ,orate, for it is wholly derived from a fund of 5ooo invested for him years ago by an admirer a fund which returns to the benefactor after the General's Leath. From the Army he draws nothing beyond ravelling expenses.

His indifference to the judgments of the world has in it a touch of genius. It is not easy to be vulgar. Religion, like society, suffers from the creeping paralysis of respectability. The General set himself to shock the world by vulgarity, and he rejoiced in the storm he created. He had nothing to do with the world of proprieties and " good form." His task was to reclaim the Abyss, where the methods of organised Christianity were futile. " My work is to make war on the hosts that keep the underworld submerged, and you cannot have war without noise. We'll go on singing and marching with drums beating and cornets playing all the time." It is the instinct of the business man the instinct of advertisement applied to unselfish ends. He is the showman of religion. " I would stand on my head on the top of St. Paul's cross if I thought it would bring men to salvation."

Intellectualism has no place in his life. Theology he leaves to the schools and the churches, and " Modernism "is a word that has no meaning for him. Metaphysics are not a path to the masses, and his answer to the "New Theology" would be " Hallelujah! " His creed is like Holmes'. " I have a creed," said Holmes. " It is summed up in the first two words of the Paternoster. And when I say them I mean them." So with the General. " The religion of the Army is summed up in the two great Commandments, `Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,' and 'Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.' " He applies no other formula. The dogmas will take care of themselves. " A man tells us he is a Catholic. We ask, ' Are you a good Catholic? Are you true to the principles of you] faith? And so with the Protestant." His banne] is as broad as the heavens.

His methods are his own, and he will bend them to no man. He never argues : he simply goes on as if he did not hear. " I shall not reply to Dr. Dowie. I leave my work to speak for me. We must both answer to the Great Judge of all." He is charged with sweating, with not paying the trade union rate of wages. What are trade unions to me or I to trade unions? he seems to say. I am saving the lost; I am setting their foot on the ladder; stand aside. His finances have been constantly challenged, but he will not disclose them. Yet his personal probity has never been impugned, and when in 1892 the agitation came to a head and a committee consisting of Sir Henry James, Lord Onslow, Mr. Long and others was appointed to investigate the facts, it found that no member of his family had ever derived any benefit from the money raised for his " Darkest England " scheme, that the administration had been " business-like, economical, and prudent," and that the accounts " had been kept in a proper and clear manner." He is charged with indifference to the source of his money. " I was once reproached with having accepted a donation of 100 from a well-known Marquis. ' It is tainted money,' they said. What if it was? Give us the money, I say; we will wash it clean with the tears of the fatherless and lay it on the altar of humanity."

He has the unconquerable cheerfulness of the man who lives for a cause and has no anchorage in things or possessions. " My wife is in Heaven and I have no home, merely a place where I keep some furniture," he says; but no man I ever met is less weary. He has the dauntless spirit of youth. How old do they say I am? Seventy-nine? What nonsense! I am not old. I am seventy-nine years young. I have heaps of time yet to go around fishing fishing for souls in the same old way with the same old net." He is like an idea, an enthusiasm, that lives on independent of the flesh. The flame of the spirit flares higher as the candle gutters to the end. He will go out with a burst of "Hallelujahs " and a roll of drums.

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