The other day, while I was meditating on morality, I was, so to speak, snatched up and put into a jury box to try people. The snatching took some weeks, but to me it seemed something sudden and arbitrary. I was put into this box because I lived in Battersea, and my name began with a C. Looking round me, I saw that there were also summoned and in attendance in the court whole crowds and processions of men, all of whom lived in Battersea, and all of whose names began with a C.
It seems that they always summon jury men in this sweeping alphabetical way. At one official blow, so to speak, Battersea is denuded of all its C’s and left to get on as best it can with the rest of the alphabet. A Cumberpatch is missing from one street, a Chizzolpop from another, three Chucksterfields from Chucksterfield House; the children are crying out for an absent Cadgerboy; the woman at the street corner is weeping for her Coffintop and will not be comforted. We settle down with a rollicking ease into our seats (for we are a bold, devil-may-care race, the C’s of Battersea), and an oath is administered to us in a totally inaudible manner by an individual resembling an army surgeon in his second childhood. We understand, however, that we are to well and truly try the case between our sovereign lord the King and the prisoner at the bar, neither of whom has put in an appearance as yet.
Just when I was wondering whether the King and the prisoner were, perhaps, coming to an amicable understanding in some adjoining public house, the prisoner’s head appears above the barrier of the dock; he is accused of stealing bicycles, and he is the living image of a great friend of mine. We go into the matter of the stealing of the bicycles. We do well and truly try the case between the King and the prisoner in the affair of the bicycles. And we come to the conclusion, after a brief but reasonable discussion, that the King is not in any way implicated. Then we pass on to a woman who neglected her children and who looks as if somebody or something had neglected her. And I am one of those who fancy that something had.
All the time that the eye took in these light appearances and the brain passed these light criticisms, there was in the heart a barbaric pity and fear which men have never been able to utter from the beginning, but which is the power behind half the poems of the world. The mood cannot even inadequately be suggested, except faintly by this statement that tragedy is the highest expression of the infinite value of human life. Never had I stood so close to pain—and never so far away from pessimism. Ordinarily I should not have spoken of these dark emotions at all, for speech about them is too difficult; but I mention them now for a specific and particular reason—to the statement of which I will proceed at once. I speak of these feelings because out of the furnace of them there came a curious realization of a political or social truth. I saw with a queer and indescribable kind of clearness what a jury really is, and why we must never let it go.
The trend of our epoch up to this time has been consistently toward socialism and professionalism. We tend to have trained soldiers because they fight better, trained singers because they sing better, trained dancers because they dance better, specially instructed laughers because they laugh better, and so on and so on. The principle has been applied to law and politics by innumerable modern writers. Many Fabians have insisted that a greater part of our political work should be performed by experts. Many legalists have declared that the untrained jury should be altogether supplanted by the trained judge.
Canadian subscribers add $10; All other international subscribers add $40.