W.T. Stead to The Star Newspaper

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W.T. Stead to The Star Newspaper (January 2, 1891)

Quoted in Robert Sandall, The History of the Salvation Army, vol. III, 1883-1953, Social Reform and Welfare Work (1955) Appendix B, pp. 324-32

According to the theory put forth by those who are eager to clutch at every stick with which to beat the General, his Darkest England scheme is not his scheme at all, but Smith’s and mine. Smith’s scheme, and I wrote the book – so the story runs – and the General is a mere man of straw or a puppet in the hands of Frank Smith and W.T.Stead. What arrant nonsense is all this! They little know the General who indulge in such speculation. Everyone knows perfectly well that two years ago, nay, even one year ago General Booth did not see his way to the utilization of The Salvation Army as an instrument of social reform. Smith wanted it to be so employed three years ago. So did many other people. But it is one thing to press for action and another thing to know how and when to act. When Smith was in America attending to his own business the organisation, largely under the direction of Mr. Bramwell Booth was making tentative efforts towards social work by the establishment of a slum brigade, the Food Depot and the Night Shelter. When Smith came back and submitted himself to his old commanding officer he was placed in charge of the Social Wing and while there he developed the factory – the realization of an idea first mooted at an officers’ council at which Smith was not present, but which unquestionably he did much to help into practical shape. The experience gained by the Social Wing encouraged the General to take a decided step in advance. He decided upon writing “In Darkest England” and propounding ‘the way out’, which has since attained such world-wide fame.

As a general in command of an army cannot stand sentry and collect forage and work in the trenches at the same time as he is directing operations of the campaign, General Booth, naturally and properly called upon all those under his command to assist him toward making the new departure a success. That is obvious from the structure and nature of the book. It is composed largely of reports from officers in the field. Not even his worst enemies can accuse General Booth of having ever professed to have personally managed the Rescue Home or to have served in a Slum Brigade. When he got his reports he set to work writing his book. At that time Mrs. Booth was dying, but by the aid of diligent dictating and laborious writing he succeeded in preparing a book which in its rough state was about twice or thrice the size of “In Darkest England” and was then incomplete. It was then that the General asked me to find him a literary hack to help him to kick the huge and growing mass of material into shape. I served as scribe temporarily under his orders, and I succeeded with the aid of three zealous and competent stenographers in getting through my work up to time. But it revolts me to hear people who profess to be friends of mine talking as if the help I was paid to render to General Booth any way detracts from his claim to be considered the author of the whole scheme. It is his scheme if ever a scheme was any man’s, and although many were glad to help the sole responsibility and the dominating mind was his and his alone. The idea of “Darkest England” like the title – was the General’s own. My part, of which I had no wish to speak and would not now say a word were it not that people are attaching such exaggerated importance to this irreverent detail – was strictly subordinate throughout.

A curious little incident occurs to my mind as I write. I had objected to some subsidiary proposal of his in connection with the Farm Colony, and said “I really cannot have this, it is preposterous!” The General turned sharp round and said “cannot have this! pray, what do you mean by you cannot have this? Is it your book or mine then that we are busy with.” “General”, I replied “it is your book. I am only a scribe under your orders, and if you desire to advocate, let us say, polygamy as a means of social regeneration I will obey you implicitly, and put in a chapter in praise of polygamy into the book. Only before allowing any such deadly heresy to appear I claim, as your scribe, full right of expostulation and protest.” He laughed, and the work went on.

I never found the General inclined to enforce his famous dictum “do as you are told and do not argufy”. He was always most reasonable. But then, of course, from childhood up I had been taught to know when to obey. Speaking therefore from a very inside view of the whole matter I should say that the resignation of Mr.Frank Smith although personally much to be deplored would not make an atom of difference in the execution of the scheme. There is only one man who can be regarded as in any way essential to the scheme and that is the General.