Read LETTING THE CROWD BE BEAUTIFUL - IRON MACHINES - CHAPTER II of Crowds A Moving-Picture of Democracy, free online book, by Gerald Stanley Lee, on


We are living in a day of the great rebellion of the machines.  Out of a thousand thousand roundhouses and factories, vast cities and nations of machines on the land and on the sea have risen before the soul of man and said, “We have served you; now, you serve us.”

A million million vulgar, swaggering Goliaths, one sees them everywhere; they wave their arms at us around the world, they puff their white breath at us, they spit smoke in our eyes, line up in a row before the great cities, before the mighty-hearted nations, and say it again and again, all in chorus, "We have served you, now, you serve us!"

It has come to sound to some of us as a kind of chant around our lives.

But why should we serve them?

I have seen crowds of minor poets running, their little boxes of perfume and poetry, their cologne water, their smelling-salts, in their hands.

And, of course, if the world were all minor poets the situation would be serious.

And I have seen flocks of faint-hearted temples, of big, sulky, beautiful, absent-minded colleges, looking afraid.  Every now and then perhaps one sees a professor run out, throw a book at the machines, and run back again.  Oxford still looks at science, at matter itself, tremulously, with that same old, still, dreamy air of dignity, of gentlemanly disappointment.

And if the world were all Oxford the situation would be serious.

When Oxford with its hundred spires, its little beautiful boy choirs of professors, draws me one side from the Great Western Railway Station, and intones in those still, solemn, lonely spaces the great truth in my ears, that machines and ideals cannot go together, that the only way to deal with ideals is to keep them away from machines, my only reply is that ideals that are so tired that they are merely devoted to defending themselves, ideals that will not and cannot go forth and be the breath of the machines, ideals that cannot and will not master the machines, that will not ride the machines as the wind, overrun matter, and conquer the earth, are not ideals for gentlemen.

At least they are not ideals that can keep up the standard of the Oxford gentleman.

A gentleman is a man who is engaged in expressing his best and noblest self in every fibre of his mind and every fibre of his body.  He makes the very force of gravity pulling on his clothes express him, and the movements of his feet and his hands.  He gathers up his rooms into his will and all the appointments of his life and crowds into them the full meaning of his soul.  He makes all these things say him.

The main attribute of a man who is not a gentleman is that he does not do these things, that he cannot inform his body with his spirit.

I go back to the Great Western Railway, ugly as it still is.  I go alone, and sadly if I must, and for a little time-without the deep bells and without the stained-glass windows, without all that dear, familiar beauty I have loved in the old and quiet quadrangles-I take my stand beside the Great Western Railway!  I claim the Great Western Railway for the spirit of man and for the will of God!

With its vast shuttle of steam and shining engines, its little, whispering telegraph office, the Great Western Railway is a part of my body.  I lay my will on the heart of London with it, or I sleep in the old house in Lynmouth with it.  I am the Great Western Railway, and the Great Western Railway is ME.  And from the heart of the roar of London to the slow, sleepy surge of the sea in my window at Lynmouth it is mine!  Though it be iron and wood, switches, whistles, and white steam, it is my body, and I inform it with my spirit, or I die.  With the will of God I endow it, with the glory of the world, with the desires of my heart, and with the prayers of the hurrying men and women.

I declare that that same glory I have known before, and that I will always know, and will never give up, in the old quiet quadrangles of Oxford and in the deep bells and in the still waters, as in some strange, new, and mighty Child, is in the Great Western Railway too.

When I am in the train it sings.  Strangely and hoarsely It sings!  I lie down to rest.  It whistles on ahead my ideals down the slope of the world.  It roars softly, while I sleep, my religion in my ears.