The GOSPEL TRUTH
FOUNDER and FIRST GENERAL
of the SALVATION ARMY
In Two Volumes
TROUBLES OF AN OVERWORKED AND SUFFERING AUTOCRAT
OBSESSED by the idea of William Booth's autocracy, and seeing in the Army, "a strong, far-reaching, centralized organization, the disposal of the physical, moral, and financial strength of which rests with an irresponsible chief, who, according to his own account, is assured of the blind obedience of nearly 10,000 subordinates," Mr. Huxley asked, "prudent men and good citizens," whether they ought "to aid in the establishment of an organization which, under sundry, by no means improbable, contingencies, may easily become a worse and more dangerous nuisance than the mendicant friars of the Middle Ages."
Respectable people were asked to pause before they gave money to William Booth for saving 3,000,000 miserable and suffering fellow-creatures, lest they should be endowing "a new Ranter-Socialist sect." He actually brought himself to speak of General Booth's "socialistic autocracy." Carlyle's writings on social miseries, he tells us in one place, made upon his mind "an ineffaceable impression forty years ago"; but the appeal of William Booth, who cried out, not rhetorically from a student's library, but with authentic piteousness from the very abyss itself, only produced in the mind of the middle-aged comfortable Professor in his Eastbourne villa a feeling of terror for the safety of society. Who could guarantee, he asked, the character of the Salvation Army in 1920, under the autocracy of a General who "controls the action, say, of 100,000 Officers pledged to blind obedience, distributed through the whole length and breadth of the poorer classes, and each with his finger on the trigger of a mine charged with discontent and religious fanaticism"? The nation's "political and industrial affairs" would be "at the mercy of a despot." He prophesies "ruthless intimidation." No member of Parliament would be safe. He warns the people against "the great social danger of the spread of Boothism," and against "despotic socialism in all its forms, and more particularly in its Boothian disguise."
Now, this criticism, however exaggerated, had the merit of being intelligent and reasonable. William Booth happened to be one of the stiffest Conservatives and one of the most unbending Individualists of the Victorian era, but under the autocratic system of the Salvation Army no one could guarantee the character of the organization in future, or say decisively what colour the politics of its General would assume in 1920. We may point out that shareholders in The Times newspaper, where Professor Huxley's indictment appeared, could not have foreseen that a dozen years later that moderate and dignified organ of public opinion would be valiantly supporting an ex-Republican in his gospel of Protection; nor can they be guaranteed at the present day that next week or next year the fortunes of the paper will not be directed by a Radical millionaire in favour of the single tax. Men undoubtedly change their minds. Things do unquestionably happen. The devout Roman Catholic of five or six hundred years ago, in bestowing his goods to build a church, could not be certain that the voice of Heresy would not one day slightly distress his branching roof and pillared aisles, or that a powerful nobleman would not enrich himself out of the endowments.
Nevertheless, Mr. Huxley's criticism had real point, and it certainly succeeded so far in its purpose as to prejudice considerable numbers of people against William Booth and the Salvation Army.
Two years before Mr. Huxley's attack, that is to say in March, I888, William Booth had made a gift of £500 to the Army in the manner indicated by the following letter from a firm of chartered accountants:
2 GRESHAM BUILDINGS, BASINGHALL STREET, E.C.
LONDON, March 22, 1888.
DEAR SIR--Referring to our conversation with you last Tuesday, in which you informed us of your desire to make a gift to the funds of the Army of the sum of £500--being about the amount of the payments made in respect of your life policies by direction of your then Committee (1869 to 1880), we have pleasure in confirming what we then stated to you that the above-named sum will about cover the amounts paid.
We have also to acknowledge the receipt of your cheque for £500, which amount we have paid over to the Cashier at Headquarters as from, "A Friend per J. Beddow & Son."--Yours faithfully, (Signed) JOSIAH BEDDOW & SON.
During the years of his extreme poverty, when he was struggling to bring up his family, the committee of the Christian Mission, a body of friends interested in its work, had taken the burden of his insurance premiums off his shoulders; and one of his first acts, when his head was above water, and when he could count with fair confidence on a modest income, was to make over to the Salvation Army, quite privately, the whole sum which had been paid during those eleven years by his committee.
He lived for a number of years, as we have already seen, by the slender profits of his books; and he had refused to possess himself, as he had a perfect right to do, of the very valuable copyright of The War Cry. He received nothing from the Salvation Army at the time of Mr. Huxley's attack, and he never drew one farthing from its funds or from the profits of his book In Darkest England during the whole of his life, except for expenses. When he was in the United States, and warmer clothing than he possessed became necessary in winter, he refused to let the Army in America charge itself with this expenditure, "although his work there was bringing us in thousands of dollars." And at every one of his meetings in whatever country he might be, he always contributed to the offertory out of his own purse. No man controlling enormous funds was ever more nice and scrupulous in his handling of public money. No man, we think, ever thought less of himself and more of the work for which he had sacrificed health and comfort.
We are bound at the same time to confess that the obvious dangers of autocracy were no doubt present in the Salvation Army organization from the first days of its existence. Our purpose here, since we are concerned only with the life of William Booth and not with the history of the Army, is only to express as accurately as possible his personal attitude towards this important matter.
He learned from experience, as we have already shown, that to get anything done well and swiftly, autocracy was essential. He could not suffer his work to be hindered by committees and councils. He could not stop on his road to discuss matters of casuistry or questions of finance. He was always inveighing, as we have seen, against "government by talk." He had upon his hands a work of gigantic magnitude, and after a long and grievous experience of committees, he determined in middle-age--encouraged by the most able and devoted of his followers--to make himself an autocrat. His autocracy, then, was not for personal aggrandisement, certainly not for villainy or despotic socialism, but was established solely and publicly for the sake of the righteous work to which he had set his hand. Moreover, it was an autocracy which depended absolutely on the loyalty of his followers--an autocracy which guarded itself by rules laid down for its own limitation. He never concealed his faith in the principle of autocracy. At a crowded meeting of business men in Edinburgh, after he had explained his scheme and his methods, a small, fussy, and somewhat aggressive member of the audience tackled him on the subject of his despotic control of the Army, talking till everybody was wearied, and demanding as he went along, "Don't you think two heads are better than one?" Before he could go on, the General rapped out, "It depends on the heads!" At which the audience laughed with a good understanding. "I am determined," he wrote to a correspondent in 1877, "that Evangelists in this Mission must hold my views and work on my lines." This was his position from the beginning to the end.
There are risks in every great undertaking, and William Booth confronted the public with the avowal that he and he alone was in this sense master of the Salvation Army, thus stating without apology or equivocation the risk incurred by the public in contributing to his funds. Moreover he believed that he could so select and so train his successor that the same character which had founded the Army would be transmitted to future generations, and the risk of malversation in 1920 or 1999 be no greater than it was in 1890.
A man so enormously employed, and struggling to impress his will upon thousands of Soldiers, some of whom, many of whom, had been but lately rescued from suffering and sin, would have been a god if he had not made mistakes. William Booth was occasionally impatient, irritable, masterful; but he was never really irascible. He sometimes blurted out his feelings of the moment without weighing his words and without looking ahead. He trusted some of his followers too frankly. He censured others, perhaps, too hastily. But, on the whole, his wise handling of this most difficult force is abundantly proved--it cannot possibly need to be argued--by the affectionate devotion, extraordinary in its character, which inspired the lives of thousands of intelligent men and women who obeyed his orders in nearly every country of the world.
Is it to be supposed that the Salvation Army was free of domestic troubles? Is it to be assumed that because most of its Soldiers were satisfied and happy some were not mutinous and discontented? From the beginning of his career to the end, William Booth was constantly embroiled in troubles of this domestic nature. One Officer was jealous, another was lazy, another was stupid, another was conceited and insolent; occasionally, an Officer either confessed to, or was discovered in, some act which compromised the honour of the Flag. William Booth, we make bold to claim, handled these besetting difficulties with great humaneness and with considerable wisdom. His mistakes caused him infinitely more suffering and sorrow than they caused other people. He was always on the side of mercy, and would forgive and forgive again a disloyal, even a traitorous, follower, until it was a scandal to retain his services. "My father used to say to me," says Bramwell Booth, who at that time, conscious of the Army's watchful enemies, was perhaps a stricter disciplinarian than William Booth, "whenever, for the good name of the Army, I wanted summarily to dismiss a bad Officer, 'Bramwell, you must not judge a man in that out-of-hand fashion. How do you know the force of the temptation to which he succumbed? Don't you see, some men are more tempted by a woman or by money than others? The temptation is greater, fiercer. It sweeps them off their feet. It draws them down like a whirlpool. And perhaps they repent afterwards, as the less-tempted man never repents.'" He forgave one or two Officers over and over again. He never once dismissed the least of his Soldiers without sorrow and regret.
There is no doubt that at times he was rough in manner, and on occasions could be rude and harsh; but a kindly and assuaging humour was never far behind the most vigorous of his upbraidings. Commissioner Kitching, on one occasion, at that time a newly-appointed Major, made a mistake of some kind in the business of the Army, and went to report this matter to his General. "What fool made you a Major?" demanded the old man. The answer was given with a smile, "Your son, General." And in a moment William Booth was laughing with a rich pleasure.
We shall have to say something in another chapter about the family defections which in after years came as the crown of his sorrows. But we would observe at this point that while the autocracy of William Booth might be swayed, somewhat unduly perhaps, by family affection, love for his children could not bend it against the interests of the Army. He did undoubtedly appoint his children to important offices at an age when some of them had not given adequate proof of administrative ability; but when they questioned an order he dealt firmly with them, and when they refused to obey an order he let them go. I can discover no single instance in which he used his autocracy to favour himself or his children against the rules and regulations laid down by himself for the welfare of the Army.
A few pages from his diary afford an idea of one class of difficulty which confronted him:
Talked to Herbert and Bramwell about the troubles that seem to be coming on us thick and fast. Majors ---- and ---- have both resigned. Their pretext is that Herbert's government is too autocratic. The real reason is that ---- feels we have not received him with the same confidence and affection since he came back from ---- where he proved himself to be totally incompetent for his post. And I think that ----'s reason for going is because he thinks we have lost confidence in him by changing his position to that of an Evangelist to visit the Corps. And moreover, it turns out now that both of them had been engaged by Mr. ---- to go to ---- and push his paper and do some sort of Revival Work amongst the Reformed Episcopal Churches, for which they have both been ordained in this country by some "shoddy" Bishop.
---- and ---- are neither of them quite happy yet. Two or three more Officers also are not right. The new regime is rather too exacting.
The appointment of Herbert a few months ago as Commissioner of Great Britain and bringing in of his Staff has been a difficulty with some of the older Officers.
Major ----, a young man of considerable energy and a very objectionable abruptness, has made himself a reputation for harshness, which is, I think, very unjustified; still it is there. And this, together with two or three mistakes, have certainly created some preiudice in the minds of worthy Officers against Herbert's management ....
Then the vile falsehoods that have been so industriously circulated by ---- concerning him, have produced some sort of effect even where they have not been believed, so that the notion that the government was going to be one of a hard, machine-like character, has got abroad and been fastened upon, especially by some who have not wanted to work by order and regulation.
Concerning the dissatisfaction which necessarily existed at certain times, and which is to be found, we suppose, in all organizations, clerical or commercial, where numbers of men are struggling to distinguish themselves, the General is perfectly frank and open, perfectly honest and straightforward. He never hid these things. His printed and published addresses are now and again full of references to domestic concerns of this character. He was for ever teaching his Soldiers to lose themselves, with every trivial or tragical feeling of self, in the work of love and charity. Not only this, his diaries show that he confronted every Officer with a grievance, real or imaginary, and offered to do everything lawful and just within his power to secure a perfect understanding:
. . . Much harassed by rumours of dissatisfaction amongst Staff Officers. All manner of things in the air.
Suspicion seems to reign. No Officer seems to know whether his next door Officer is not going to bolt, and yet no one can give me any intelligent reason for dissatisfaction! Some mysterious cause for it.
. . . I cleared the atmosphere a little by referring to the recent desertions, and saying that if any one knew of any case of injustice or hardship of any serious character, if they would bring it to my notice I would have it investigated; or if any one had suffered any hardship or injustice, no matter where it was, how long ago, or where they had gone to, I would seek them out on the Prairies of Canada or anywhere else, acknowledge the wrong and rectify it as far as I could . . .Nobody answered. I said also, if any one had anything of this kind let them write to me. I keep on saying this, but nobody writes.
If this man was an autocrat, clearly he did not use his autocracy like a tyrant. He may not have been a complaisant and obliging autocrat, but there is no evidence that he ever once acted as a despot, harassed and exasperated as he was at times by these rather petty grievances of some of his followers:
Things still very perplexing. Major ---- is gone out like a "roaring bull," threatening what he will do, although it will be difficult for him to assign any cause for his separation from us except his own violent, ungoverned temper.
There is still the appearance of a considerable amount of dissatisfaction in some of the Staff Officers, any real cause for which we are just as puzzled as ever to define. It expresses itself, so far as it says anything intelligibly, as dissatisfaction with the Executive in the management of the Field Officers. Major ----, Major---- and two or three other Officers, who have to do with the Intelligence Department and the Commandant are the main objects of attack. They are said to be hard, wanting to reduce the whole concern to a sort of machine in order to grind all the labour that is possible out of them .... When they talk about injustice, and we ask for instances, they have none to give, or if they do adduce any and we enquire into the facts all appearance of even severity vanishes. Then they fall back upon some mere vague generalities.
We cannot fail to observe in these extracts, and in all the letters we have published above, a spirit of genuine kindness and reasonable consideration. William Booth hated mutiny because it hampered the work, because it fed the hostile mind of his enemies with exaggerated rumours, and because he was eminently a practical and kind-hearted man. Irritated by having to stop for such petty business in the midst of his tremendous activities, he did nevertheless stop again and again, and, with patience and sympathy in the majority of cases, seek to smooth the ruffled feathers of self-esteem. The worship, amounting almost to adoration, with which thousands of his followers regarded him, and which particularly distinguished the loyalty of his most able and efficient Officers--this and the standing fact of the Army's coherent growth and corporate prosperity, make it impossible for any intelligent person to believe either that William Booth was a despot or that the Army groaned under his autocracy.
A letter, typical of many which came to me unsolicited during the writing of this biography, expresses, we believe, the normal feeling of Salvation Army Officers for their General. The writer says: "If you think any of the incidents will help you to illustrate why his Officers loved him and were willing to carry out his instructions, you are welcome to use what you like."
The infidel rowdies of Bradlaugh's town (Northampton) in 1887 vowed they would kill the General. A public welcome and a procession from the Railway Station had been arranged by our Leaders.
I was a Cadet (in training for Officership) and playing in the Band just behind the carriage. Outside the station we were set upon, our instruments smashed by sticks, belts, etc. Along the whole march we were assaulted with sticks, belts, fists, knives (shoemakers' paring knives). They flung soot, flour, eggs (ancient and modern), the old General being the centre of these attacks.
It was his undaunted courage that won my admiration. In the midst of that storm he would persist in standing up in the carriage, shouting out (as Salvationists got knocked down) "Help that man up"; "Get that woman into a shop," etc. Had he sat down, few of the missiles would have touched him. There was no driving down a side street or putting up the hood. He was a Leader. I was delighted.
I heard some of the Officers urge him to sit down. He would not.
His thoughtfulness for his Officers endeared him to us. I was a young Staff Officer and had been made responsible to meet him at Basingstoke and take him and his Staff to a billet. When they arrived it was pouring with rain. The General and three Staff Officers got into the carriage. He then said to me, "Where is your overcoat?" I replied, "At Brighton, General." He then said, "What's the good of that? you will get wet through if you ride outside; get in and sit on Lawley's knees, he is big enough to hold you." I might mention many others, but those little thoughtful acts are remembered.
I had a carriage waiting outside his billet to run him to the Station. He heard my voice in the Hall and said, "Come upstairs and bring a light, I have lost my Wedding Ring, and I will not leave the house until I find it, if I miss a dozen trains." It had slipped off while wiping his hands. Shall never forget his pleasure when I found it and handed it back to him.
He had a keen sense of humour and he took a little "rise" out of me once when riding with him from his billet to Portsmouth Town Hall.
He had not been very well overnight and I asked him "if he had had a good night." He said, "No! They gave me one of those wretched India-rubber Water-bottles and the thing leaked. I had to call my Secretary to come and remake my bed." I replied, "I am very sorry, General." With a twinkle in his eye he replied, "No, you are not! that is only a saying." I turned my head to have a grin, and when I looked round again I saw the old General was enjoying the fun at my expense.
I do not know if you are aware the old General had quite a habit of sending a "tip" to the drivers of the engines when travelling. He thought "The man who had the care of your life was more worthy of a 'tip' than the man who only cared for your luggage."
The following noble letter addressed in February, 1891, to the Editor of The Times by Sir Squire Bancroft shows that there were those whose instinctive faith in William Booth's honesty could not be shaken by criticism, however able, of Salvation Army methods:
As it was by your leave that in November last--prompted by no other feeling but pity for the very poor, and quite on the spur of the moment--I made an offer to help "General" Booth's scheme; and as the sum of £100,000, which was required to start it, has either been promised or subscribed--although not in the way I ventured to suggest--I ask you to let me further say, that those who have communicated with me, and whom I have consulted upon the subject, have, with myself, withdrawn their condition as to 99 others giving the same amount, and have either sent, or now will send, the money they promised to the fund.
Whether the scheme is Utopian, or whether it is destined to achieve part of its great object, I would I had skill enough to decide; but I can at least meet those alike who most harshly judge it and those who look most hopefully towards it on what I trust must still be common ground, and wish it all success.--
Yours, etc. S.B. BANCROFT
William Booth had asked for £100,000. His book was published in October, 1890, and by February in the following year he had received £108,000. In spite of this, criticism continued, and the General was denounced either as a merciless autocrat or an autocrat none too nice in his conduct of public money.
But Mr. Huxley's mind, influenced temperamentally against the emotionalism and the noisiness of the Salvation Army in its early days, was prepared and fertile soil for any seeds of criticism or calumny which might be sown there by the deserter's hand. We do not mean that he was intentionally unjust, or that his wits went wool-gathering when the "backslider" wrote him a letter or the deserter sent him a pamphlet; nor do we mean that some of the strictures which came to him in the course of his crusade were not without truth and justice; but we hold that his mind was decisively prejudiced, and that he gave to every fragment of secret tattle which reached him in this way a magnitude of importance which not one of them deserved, even the most sincere and just, and all of which, when weighed in truthful scales against the character and devotion of William Booth and against the world-wide progress of the Salvation Army, become utterly unworthy of a moment's doubt or anxiety.
Mr. Huxley was typical of many Englishmen, and his vituperative attacks hardened the hearts of a considerable body of people, who not only withheld their support from the Darkest England Scheme, but went about spreading the very wicked and evil rumour which Mr. Huxley more than any other man had fostered, that the Booths were unscrupulous rogues and impudent impostors.
General Booth's autocracy, which was essential to his work, cost him dear. For the greater part of his life he was a suspected man, and even to this day there are people who shake their heads over his management of the Salvation Army finances. "Half a word, ladies and gents," said a park orator, jumping on a wooden box to collect an audience from the dispersion of another orator's crowd; "half a word about that ole 'umbug, General Booth." And he got an audience. In his extreme old age William Booth enjoyed, but if the truth must be told with a rather ironical amusement, a world-wide popularity, never, we think, earned by any other man. But he passed, it may truthfully be said, the greater part of his life, a life of amazing labour and selfless devotion, in an atmosphere of mistrust. Hostility and malevolence always confronted him. Is it any wonder that out of the anguish of his heart he said of his wife, standing at her grave, "She suffered more in her lifetime through her compassion for poor dumb animals than some doctors of divinity suffer for the wide, wide world of sinning, sorrowing mortals"?
We do not assert that this unfortunate and oppressive situation was no fault of his; we can see very clearly that he conducted his propaganda and his business in a fashion likely enough, however necessary for his purpose, to create in some minds suspicion and dislike; but our point is that William Booth regarded autocracy as an essential of work, and that in spite of some mistakes he used that despotic power throughout his career in the best interests of the people he sought to serve. There certainly could not have been a world-wide Salvation Army if the machinery set up by William Booth had been controlled by conferences and committees. There certainly could not have been in 1914 a successful organization of the British peoples in the great struggle with the Central Powers if autocracy had not taken the place of "government by talk."
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