Read CROWDS AND MACHINES - CHAPTER I of Crowds A Moving-Picture of Democracy, free online book, by Gerald Stanley Lee, on

        "A battered, wrecked old man
    Thrown on this savage shore far, far from home,
    Pent by the sea and dark rebellious brows twelve dreary months
    ...  The end I know not, it is all in Thee,
    Or small or great I know not-haply what broad fields, what

        And these things I see suddenly, what mean they
    As if some miracle, some hand divine unsealed my eyes,
    Shadowy vast shapes smile through the air and sky,
    And on the distant waves sail countless ships,
    And anthems in new tongues I hear saluting me."_


The best picture I know of my religion is Ludgate Hill as one sees it going down the foot of Fleet Street.  It would seem to many perhaps like a rather strange half-heathen altar, but it has in it the three things with which I worship most my Maker in this present world-the three things which it would be the breath of religion to me to offer to a God together-Cathedrals, Crowds, and Machines.

With the railway bridge reaching over, all the little still locomotives in the din whispering across the street; with the wide black crowd streaming up and streaming down, and the big, faraway, other-worldly church above, I am strangely glad.  It is like having a picture of one’s whole world taken up deftly, and done in miniature and hung up for one against the sky-the white steam which is the breath of modern life, the vast hurrying of our feet, and that Great Finger pointing toward heaven day and night for us all....

I never tire of walking out a moment from my nook in Clifford’s Inn and stealing a glimpse and coming back to my fireplace.  I sit still a moment before going to work and look in the flames and think.  The great roar outside the Court gathers it all up-that huge, boundless, tiny, summed-up world out there; flings it faintly against my quiet windows while I sit and think.

And when one thinks of it a minute, it sends one half-fearfully, half-triumphantly back to one’s work-the very thought of it.  The Crowd hurrying, the Crowd’s flurrying Machines, and the Crowd’s God, send one back to one’s work!

In the afternoon I go out again, slip my way through the crowds along the Strand, toward Charing Cross.

I never tire of watching the drays, the horses, the streaming taxis, all these little, fearful, gliding crowds of men and women, when a little space of street is left, flowing swiftly, flowing like globules, like mercury, between the cabs.

But most of all I like looking up at that vast second story of the street, coming in over one like waves, like seas-all these happy, curious tops of ’buses; these dear, funny, way-up people on benches; these world-worshippers, sight-worshippers, and Americans-all these little scurrying congregations, hundreds of them, rolling past.

I sit on the front seat of a horse ’bus elbow to elbow with the driver, staring down over the brink of the abyss upon ears and necks-that low, distant space where the horses look so tiny and so ineffectual and so gone-by below.

The street is the true path of the spirit.  To walk through it, or roll or swing on top of a ’bus through it-the miles of faces, all these tottering, toddling, swinging miles of legs and stomachs; and on all sides of you, and in the windows and along the walks, the things they wear, and the things they eat, and the things they pour down their little throats, and the things they pray to and curse and worship and swindle in!  It is like being out in the middle of a great ocean of living, or like climbing up some great mountain-height of people, their abysses and their clouds about them, their precipices and jungles and heavens, the great high roads of their souls reaching off....  I can never say why, but so strange is it, so full of awe is it, and of splendour and pity, that there are times when, rolling and swinging along on top of a ’bus, with all this strange, fearful joy of life about me, within me ... it is as if on top of my ’bus I had been far away in some infinite place, and had felt Heaven and Hell sweep past.

One of the first things that strikes an American when he slips over from New York, and finds himself, almost before he had thought of it-walking down the Strand, suddenly, instead of Broadway, is the way things-thousands of things at once; begin happening to him.

Of course, with all the things that are happening to him-the ’buses, the taxis, the Wren steeples, the great streams of new sights in the streets, the things that happen to his eyes and to his ears, to his feet and his hands, and to his body lunging through the ground and swimming up in space on top of a ’bus through this huge, glorious, yellow mist of people ... there are all the things besides that begin happening to his mind.

In New York, of course, he rushes along through the city, in a kind of tunnel of his own thoughts, of his own affairs, and drives on to his point, and New York does not-at least it does not very often-make things happen to his mind.  He is not in London five minutes before he begins to notice how London does his thinking for him.  The streets of the city set him to thinking, mile after mile, miles of comparing, miles of expecting.

And above the streets that he walks through and drives through he finds in London another complete set of streets that interest him:  the greater, silenter streets of England-the streets of people’s thoughts.  And he reads the great newspapers, those huge highways on which the English people are really going somewhere.... “Where are they going?” He goes through the editorials, he stumbles through the news, “Where are the English people going?

An American thinks of the English people in the third person-at first, of course.

After three days or so, he begins, half-unconsciously, slipping over every now and then into what seems to be a vague, loose first person plural.

Then the first person plural grows.

He finds at last that his thinking has settled down into a kind of happy, easy-going, international, editorial “We.”  New York and London, Chicago and Sheffield, go drifting together through his thoughts, and even Paris, glimmering faintly over there, and a dim round world, and he asks, as the people of a world stream by, “Where are WE going?

Thus it is that London, looming, teeming, world-suggesting, gets its grip upon a man, a fresh American, and stretches him, stretches him before his own eyes, makes him cosmopolitan, does his thinking for him.

There was a great sea to still his soul and lay down upon his spirit that big, quiet roundness of the earth.

Nothing is quite the same after that wide strip of sea-sleeping out there alone night by night-the gentle round earth sloping away down from under one on both sides, in the midst of space....  Then, suddenly, almost before one knows, that quiet Space still lingering round one, perhaps one finds oneself thrust up out of the ground in the night into that big yellow roar of Trafalgar Square.

And here are the swift sudden crowds of people, one’s own fellow-men hurrying past.  One looks into the faces of the people hurrying past:  “Where are we going?” One looks at the stars:  “WHERE ARE WE GOING?”

That night, when I was thrust up out of the ground and stood dazed in the Square, I was told in a minute that this London where I was was a besieged and conquered city.  Some men had risen up in a day and said to London:  “No one shall go in.  No one shall go out.”

I was in the great proud city at last, the capital of the world, her big, new, self-assured inventions all about her, all around her, and soldiers camping out with her locomotives!

With her long trains for endless belts of people going in and coming out, with her air-brakes, electric lights, and motor-cars and aerial mails, it seemed passing strange to be told that her great stations were all choked up with a queer, funny, old, gone-by, clanky piece of machinery, an invention for making people good, like soldiers!

And I stood in the middle of the roar of Trafalgar Square and asked, as all England was asking that night:  “Where are we going?”

And I looked in the faces of the people hurrying past.

And nobody knew.

And the next day I went through the silenter streets of the city, the great crowded dailies where all the world troops through, and then the more quiet weeklies, then the monthlies, more dignified and like private parks; and the quarterlies, too, thoughtful, high-minded, a little absent, now and then a footfall passing through.

And I found them all full of the same strange questioning:  “Where are we going?”

And nobody knew.

It was the same questioning I had just left in New York, going up all about me, out of the skyscrapers.

New York did not know.

Now London did not know.

And after I had tried the journals and the magazines, I thought of books.

I could not but look about-how could I do otherwise than look about?-a lonely American walking at last past all these nobly haunted doorways and windows-for your idealists or interpreters, your men who bring in the sea upon your streets and the mountains on your roof-tops; who still see the wide, still reaches of the souls of men beyond the faint and tiny roar of London.

I could not but look for your men of imagination, your poets; for the men who build the dreams and shape the destinies of nations because they mould their thoughts.

I do not like to say it.  How shall an American, coming to you out of his long, flat, literary desert, dare to say it?...  Here, where Shakespeare played mightily, and like a great boy with the world; where Milton, Keats, Wordsworth, Browning, Shelley, and even Dickens flooded the lives and refreshed the hearts of the people; here, in these selfsame streets, going past these same old, gentle, smoky temples where Charles Lamb walked and loved a world, and laughed at a world, and even made one-lifted over his London forever into the hearts of men....

I can only say what I saw those first few fresh days:  John Galsworthy out with his camera-his beautiful, sad, foggy camera; Arnold Bennett stitching and stitching faithfully twenty-four hours a day-big, curious tapestries of little things; H.G.  Wells, with his retorts, his experiments about him, his pots and kettles of humanity in a great stew of steam, half-hopeful, half-dismayed, mixing up his great, new, queer messes of human nature; and (when I could look up again) G.K.  Chesterton, divinely swearing, chanting, gloriously contradicting, rolled lustily through the wide, sunny spaces of His Own Mind; and Bernard Shaw (all civilization trooping by), the eternal boy, on the eternal curbstone of the world, threw stones; and the Bishop of Birmingham preached a fine, helpless sermon....

When a new American, coming from his own big, hurried, formless, speechless country, finds himself in what he had always supposed to be this trim, arranged, grown-up, articulate England, and when, thrust up out of the ground in Trafalgar Square, he finds himself looking at that vast yellow mist of people, that vast bewilderment of faces, of the poor, of the rich, coming and going they cannot say where-he naturally thinks at first it must be because they cannot speak; and when he looks to those who speak for them, to their writers or interpreters, and when he finds that they are bewildered, that they are asking the same question over and over that we in America are asking too, “Where are we going?” he is brought abruptly up, front to front with the great broadside of modern life.  London, his last resort, is as bewildered as New York; and so, at last, here it is.  It has to be faced now and here, as if it were some great scare-head or billboard on the world, “WHERE ARE WE GOING?”

The most stupendous feat for the artist or man of imagination in modern times is to conceive a picture or vision for our Society-our present machine-civilization-a common expectation for people which will make them want to live.

If Leonardo were living now, he would probably slight for the time being his building bridges, and skimp his work on Mona Lisa, and write a book-an exultant book about common people.  He would focus and express democracy as only the great and true aristocrat or genius or artist will ever do it.  A great society must be expressed as a vision or expectation before men can see it together, and go to work on it together, and make it a fact.  What makes a society great is that it is full of people who have something to live for and who know what it is.  It is because nobody knows, now, that our present society is not great.  The different kinds of people in it have not made up their minds what they are for, and some kinds have particularly failed to make up their minds what the other kinds are for.

We are all making our particular contribution to the common vision, and some of us are able to say in one way and some in another what this vision is; but it is going to take a supreme catholic, summing-up individualist, a great man or artist-a man who is all of us in one-to express for Crowds, and for all of us together, where we want to go, what we think we are for, and what kind of a world we want.

This will have to be done first in a book.  The modern world is collecting its thoughts.  It is trying to write its bible.

The Bible of the Hebrews (which had to be borrowed by the rest of the world if they were to have one) is the one great outstanding fact and result of the Hebrew genius.  They did not produce a civilization, but they produced a book for the rest of the world to make civilizations out of, a book which has made all other nations the moral passengers of the Hebrews for two thousand years.

And the whole spirit and aim of this book, the thing about it that made it great, was that it was the sublimest, most persistent, most colossal, masterful attempt ever made by men to look forth upon the earth, to see all the men in it, like spirits hurrying past, and to answer the question, “WHERE ARE WE GOING?”

I would not have any one suppose that in these present tracings and outlines of thought I am making an attempt to look upon the world and say where the people are going, and where they think they are going, and where they want to go.  I have attempted to find out, and put down what might seem at first sight (at least it did to me) the answer to a very small and unimportant question-“Where is it that I really want to go myself?” “What kind of a world is it, all the facts about me being duly considered, I really want to be in?”

No man living in a world as interesting as this ever writes a book if he can help it.  If Mr. Bernard Shaw or Mr. Chesterton or Mr. Wells had been so good as to write a book for me in which they had given the answer to my question, in which they had said more or less authoritatively for me what kind of a world it is that I want to be in, this book would never have been written.  The book is not put forward as an attempt to arrange a world, or as a system or a chart, or as a nation-machine, or even as an argument.  The one thing that any one can fairly claim for this book is that one man’s life has been saved with it.  It is the record of one man fighting up through story after story of crowds and of crowds’ machines to the great steel and iron floor on the top of the world, until he had found the manhole in it, and broken through and caught a breath of air and looked at the light.  The book is merely a life-preserver-that is all; and one man’s life-preserver.  Perhaps the man is representative, and perhaps he is not.  At all events, here it is.  Anybody else who can use it is welcome to it.

The first and most practical step in getting what one wants in this world is wanting it.  One would think that the next step would be expressing what one wants.  But it almost never is.  It generally consists in wanting it still harder and still harder until one can express it.

This is particularly true when the thing one wants is a new world.  Here are all these other people who have to be asked.  And until one wants it hard enough to say it, to get it outside one’s self, possibly make it catching, nothing happens.

If one were to point out one trait rather than another that makes Bernard Shaw, for so brilliant a man, so ineffective as a leader, or literary statesman, or social reformer, it would be his modesty.  He has never wanted anything.

If I could have found a book by Bernard Shaw in which Mr. Shaw had merely said what he wanted himself, it is quite possible this book would not have been written.  Even if Mr. Shaw, without saying what he wanted, had ever shown in any corner of any book that one man’s wanting something in this world amounted to anything, or could make any one else want it, or could make any difference in him, or in the world around him, perhaps I would not have written this book.

Everywhere, as I have looked about me among the bookmen in America, in England, I have found, not the things that they wanted in their books, but always these same deadly lists or bleak inventories-these prairies of things that they did not want.

Now, as a matter of fact, I knew already, with an almost despairing distinctness, nearly all these things I did not want and it has not helped me (with all due courtesy and admiration) having John Galsworthy out photographing them day after day, so that I merely did not want them harder.  And Mr. Wells’s measles and children’s diseases, too.  I knew already that I did not want them.  And Mr. Shaw’s entire, heroic, almost noble collection of things he does not want does not supply me-nor could it supply any other man with furniture to make a world with-even if it were not this real, big world, with rain and sunshine and wind and people in it, and were only that little, wonderful world a man lives within his own heart.  There have been times, and there will be more of them, when I could not otherwise than speak as the champion of Bernard Shaw; but, after all, what single piece of furniture is there that George Bernard Shaw, living with his great attic of not-things all around him, is able to offer to furnish me for me single, little, warm, lighted room to keep my thoughts in?  Nor has he furnished me with one thing with which I would care to sit down in my little room and think-looking into the cold, perfect hygienic ashes he has left upon my hearth.  Even if I were a revolutionist, and not a mere, plain human being, loving life and wanting to live more abundantly, I am bound to say I do not see what there is in Mr. Galsworthy’s photographs, or in Mr. Wells’s rich, bottomless murk of humanity to make a revolution for.  And Mr. Bernard Shaw, with all his bottles of disinfectants and shelves of sterilized truths, his hard well-being and his glittering comforts, has presented the vision of a world in which at the very best-even if it all comes out as he says it will-a man would merely have things without wanting them, and without wanting anything.

And so it has seemed to me that even if he is quite unimportant, any man to-day who, in some public place, like a book, shall paint the picture of his heart’s desire, who shall throw up, as upon a screen, where all men may see them, his most immediate and most pressing ideals, would perform an important service.  If a man’s sole interest were to find out what all men in the world want, the best way to do it would be for him to say quite definitely, so that we could all compare notes, what he wanted himself.  Speaking for a planet has gone by, but possibly, if a few of us but speak for ourselves, the planet will talk back, and we shall find out at last what it really is that it wants.

The thing that many of us want most in the present grayness and din of the world is some one to play with, or if the word “play” is not quite the right word, some one with whom we can work with freedom and self-expressiveness and joy.  Nine men out of ten one meets to-day talk with one as it were with their watches in their hands.  The people who are rich one sees everywhere, being run away with by their motor-cars; and the people who are poor one sees struggling pitifully and for their very souls, under great wheels and beneath machines.

Of course, I can only speak for myself.  I do not deny that a little while at a time I can sit by a brook in the woods and be happy; but if, as it happens, I would rather have other people about me-people who do not spoil things, I find that the machines about me everywhere have made most people very strange and pathetic in the woods.  They cannot sit by brooks, many of them; and when they come out to the sky, it looks to them like some mere, big, blue lead roof up over their lives.  Perhaps I am selfish about it, but I cannot bear to see people looking at the sky in this way....

So, as I have watched my fellow human beings, what I have come to want most of all in this world is the inspired employer-or what I have called the inspired millionaire or organizer; the man who can take the machines off the backs of the people and take the machines out of their wits, and make the machines free their bodies and serve their souls.

If we ever have the inspired employer, he will have to be made by the social imagination of the people, by creating the spirit of expectation and challenge toward the rich among the masses of the people.

I believe that the time has come when the world is to make its last stand for idealism, great men, and crowds.

I believe that great men can be really great, that they can represent crowds.  I believe that crowds can be really great, that they can know great men.

The most natural kind of great man for crowds to know first will probably be a kind of everyday great man or business statesman, the man who represents all classes, and who proves it in the way he conducts his business.

I have called this man the Crowdman.

I do not say that I have met precisely the type of inspired millionaire I have in mind, but I have known scores of men who have reminded me of him and of what he is going to be, and I am prepared to say that in spirit, or latent at least, he is all about me in the world to-day.  If it is proved to me that no such man exists, I am here to say there will be one.  If it is proved to me that there cannot be one, I will make one.  If it is proved to me that by lifting up Desire in the faces of young men and of boys, and in the faces of true fathers and young mothers, and by ringing up my challenge on the great doors of the schools, I cannot make one, then I will invoke the men that shall write the books, that shall sing the songs that shall make one!  I say this with all reverence for other men’s desires and with all respect for natural prejudgments.  As I have conceived it, the one business of the world to-day is to find out what we are for and to find out what men in the world-on the whole-really want.  When men know what they want they get it.  Every wrong thing we have to face in modern industrial life is due to men who know what they want, and who therefore get it, due to the passions and the dreams of men; and the one single way in which these wrong things will ever be overcome is with more passions and with more and mightier dreams of men.

Nothing is more visionary than trying to run a world without dreams, especially an economic world.  It is because even bad dreams are better in this world than having no dreams at all that bad people so called are so largely allowed to run it.

In the final and practical sense, the one factor in economics to be reckoned with is Desire.

The next move in economics is going to be the statement of a shrewd, dogged, realizable ideal.  It is only ideals that have aroused the wrong passions, and it is only ideals that will arouse the right ones.

It will have to be, I imagine, when it comes, not a mere statement of principles, an analysis, or a criticism, but a moving-picture, a portrait of the human race, that shall reveal man’s heart to himself.  What we want is a vast white canvas, spread, as it were, over the end of the world, before which we shall all sit together, the audience of the nations, of the poor, of the rich, as in some still, thoughtful place-all of us together; and then we will throw up before us on the vast white screen in the dark the vivid picture of our vast desires, flame up upon it the hopes, the passions of human lives, and the grim, silent wills of men. "What do we want?” “Where are we going?"

In place of the literature of criticism we have come now to the literature of Desire.

This literature will have to come slowly, and I have come to believe that the first book, when it comes, will be perhaps a book that does not prove anything, a book that is a mere cry, a prayer, or challenge; the story of what one man with these streetfuls of the faces of men and the faces of women pouring their dullness and pouring their weariness over him, has desired, and of what, God helping him, he will have.

There is a certain sense in which merely praying to God has gone by.  In the present desperate crisis of a world plunging on in the dark to a catastrophe or a glory that we cannot guess, it is a time for men to pray a prayer, a standing-up prayer, to one another.

I believe that it is going to be this huge gathering-in of public desire, this imperious challenge of what men want, this standing-up prayer of men to one another, which alone shall make men go forth with faith and singing once more into the battle of life.  Sometimes it has seemed to me I have already heard it-this song of men’s desires about me-faintly.  But I have seen that the time is at hand when it shall come as a vast chorus of cities, of fields, of men’s voices, filling the dome of the world-a chorus in the glory and the shame of which no millionaire who merely wants to make money, no artist who is not expressing the souls and freeing the bodies of men, no statesman who is not gathering up the desires of crowds, and going daily through the world hewing out the will of the people, shall dare to live.

But while this is the vision of my belief, I would not have any one suppose that I am the bearer of easy and gracious tidings.

It is rather of a great daily adventure one has with the world.

There have been times when it seemed as if it had to begin all over again every morning.

Day by day I walk down Fleet Street toward Ludgate Hill.

I look once more every morning at that great picture of any religion; I look at the quiet, soaring, hopeful dome-that little touch of singing or praying that men have lifted up against heaven.  “Will the Dome bring the Man to me?”

I look up at the machines, strange and eager, hurrying across the bridge.  “Will the Machines bring the Man to me?”

I look in the faces of the crowd hurrying past.  “Will the Crowd bring the Man to me?”

With the picture of my religion-or perhaps three religions or three stories of religion-I walk on and on through the crowd, past the railway, past the Cathedral, past the Mansion House, and over the Tower Bridge.  I walk fast and eagerly and blindly, as though a man would walk away from the world.

Suddenly I find myself, throngs of voices all about me, standing half-unconsciously by a high iron fence in Bermondsey watching that smooth asphalt playground where one sees the very dead (for once) crowded by the living-pushed over to the edges-their gravestones tilted calmly up against the walls.  I stand and look through the pickets and watch the children run and shout-the little funny, mockingly dressed, frowzily frumpily happy children, the stored-up sunshine of a thousand years all shining faintly out through the dirt, out through the generations in their little faces-“Will the Man come to me out of these?”

The tombstones lean against the wall and the children run and shout.  As I watch them with my hopes and fears and the tombstones tilted against the walls-as I peer through the railings at the children, I face my three religions.  What will the three religions do with the children?  What will the children do with the three religions?

And now I will tell the truth.  I will not cheat nor run away as sometimes I seem to have tried to do for years.  I will no longer let myself be tricked by the mere glamour and bigness of our modern life nor swooned into good-will by the roll and liturgy of revolution, “of the people,” “for the people,” “by the people,” nor will I be longer awed by those huge phrase-idols, constitutions, routines, that have roared around me “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”-those imperious, thoughtless, stupid tra-la-las of the People.  Do the People see truth?  Can the People see truth?  Can all the crowd, and can all the machines, and all the cathedrals piled up together produce the Man, the Crowd-man or great man who sees truth?

And so with my three religions, I have three fears, one for each of them.  There is the Machine fear, lest the crowd should be overswept by its machines and become like them; and the Crowd fear, lest the crowd should overlook its mighty innumerable and personal need of great men; and there is also the daily fear for the Church, lest the Church should not understand crowds and machines and grapple with crowds and machines, interpret them and glory in them and appropriate them for her own use and for God’s-lest the Church should turn away from the crowds and the machines and graciously and idly bow down to Herself.

And now I am going to try to express these three fears that go with the three religions as well as I can, so that I can turn on them and face them and, God helping me, look them out of countenance.