“The Man with the Hoe,” Edward B. Payne, and Labor Day, Part 2

Review of The Arena, published in The Critic (New York) and reprinted in Vol. 5 of The Arena.
Review of “The Arena” published in “The Critic” (New York) and reprinted in Vol. 5 of “The Arena.”
Review of The Arena, published in Truth (Toronto, Canada) and reprinted in Vol. 5 of The Arena.
Review of “The Arena” published in “Truth” (Toronto, Canada) and reprinted in Vol. 5 of “The Arena.”

(See Monday, 1 Sep 2014 for Part 1 of this story.)

The Arena was a Boston review magazine begun in December, 1889 by Benjamin Flower, considered a radical journalist in his time. He published articles that exposed the seedy side of society- sweatshops, poverty, child labor, etc. The articles also included socialistic thought as a way to remedy these problems. The magazine was even marketed to ministers with a discounted rate, in order to help educate the public through the pulpit and possibly start new centers “for the diffusion of the light of justice, fundamental democracy, for intellectual hospitality.”

Following Edwin Markham’s poem “The Man with the Hoe” in the July, 1899 issue of The Arena (pages 15-16) was an article written by Edward B. Payne (our ancestor) entitled, “The ‘Hoe Man’ on Trial.” (pages 17-24) Payne was a minister who practiced “Christian Socialism,” and although he no longer had a church pulpit (he had resigned due to health reasons, and was working as an editor in 1899), he still lectured on cooperation rather than competition in order to provide a good life for all. Payne had worked in poor tenements in Chicago and the impoverished mill towns of New England; he had seen firsthand what it was to be the “Slave of the wheel of labor” as Markham described it. Payne did not want to ‘redistribute’ the wealth as in some forms of socialism- instead he wanted to teach people how to help themselves so that they could be successful, and in turn contribute to the good of all.

Edward B. Payne
Edward B. Payne

Edward B. Payne was an excellent choice to author an article reviewing the controversy that arose around the world with the publication of  Edwin Markham’s poem, “The Man with the Hoe.” Payne was extremely well read- he had a significant library of his own, (sadly lost in the Great Berkeley Fire of 1923), lived just north of the University of California at Berkeley and thus had access to university libraries, and probably borrowed books from the extensive library of Jack and Charmian London. (A letter exists from Payne requesting the loan of a book, however we don’t know for sure if London granted it.) In the article for The Arena, Payne quoted many editors and writers from around the country. (How did he read all those articles without the internet??)

Payne began his article acknowledging that the poem had exceptional literary merit that is, “almost universally conceded.” The poem, however, was “the center of a remarkable controversy bearing on the social problems of modern times.” He quoted Walt Whitman and concurred with “the power of the poet to stir and direct the thoughts of men.” Payne continued,

“Here is a case in which men are deeply moved and sharply aroused, not by an act of legislation, not by a scientific demonstration, not by a logical argument, but by a few lines of verse sung out from the frontier West by one hitherto but little known [poet].”

Some recent literature books and websites have included excerpts of Payne’s words in their descriptions of the poem:

“[“The Man with the Hoe”] appears to have everywhere stimulated thought upon social problems, and to have called out vigorous and diversified expressions of opinions all along the line of its course…. Clergy made the poem their text; platform orators dilated upon it; college professors lectured upon it; debating societies discussed it; schools took it up for study in their literary courses; and it was the subject of conversation in social circles and on the streets.”

Payne, and many others, were elated that the poem sparked world-wide discussions of socio-economic disparities that were often only whispered about, swept under the rug, and seldom debated except in socialist circles.

The main controversy was just what it was that caused the Hoe Man to have “on his back the burden of the world.” The poem suggested that those with the wealth placed this burden on the lower classes. Others, like Ambrose Bierce, whom Payne characterized as “that distinguished critic, whose pen is sharper than a locust thorn,” declared that the Hoe Man “…is not a product of the masters, lords, and rulers in all lands; they are not, and no class of men are, responsible for him, his limitations and his woes– which are not of those that kings or laws can cause or cure.”

Payne explained in his article that another group joined the controversy: workers. Some felt the poem was “a direct assault on the American farmer” but it was not meant that way.

Payne continued his review of the varied points of view of the poem writing, “The poem has not been spared at the hands of those grotesque critics whose humor is chopped out with a meat axe.” He quoted a San Francisco Evening Post writer who called Edwin Markham, “our laureate of the clod and hoe.” Another author claimed that the poem was “founded on the theological assumption that man is not the fashioner of his own destiny,” an old-fashioned and unenlightened religious viewpoint by that date, and thus the indictment was invalid.

After summarizing and quoting many authors both critical and laudatory, Payne discussed the most important line of the poem: “How will you ever straighten up this shape [of the Hoe Man]?”  The controversy engendered by the poem,

“…illustrates the loose but intricate tangle of modern thought as touching the conditions, the possibilities, the obligations of civilization; and how tradition, self-interest, prejudice, and passion, as well as sincerity, good-will, and the love of truth and justice are all potent factors in determining the variant opinions and irreconcilable purposes of men. We are far from any such consensus of opinion as might enable us to effect wise and speedy readjustments looking to improved conditions for the masses of men.”

Finding a way to improve conditions was a guiding principle of Payne’s work and life. He felt that “We have all been brutalized under this regime of… ever intensifying competition.” He had founded Altruria, a Utopian colony in Sonoma County, California, just five years earlier, in which cooperation of all contributed to the good of the colony. Sadly the colony only lasted two years, but Edward B. Payne worked the rest of his life to educate the public about social inequalities through his work as an author, lecturer, and editor.



Notes, Sources, and References:

1)”To the Man with the Hoe” by Edwin Markham, The Arena, July 1899, Vol. 22, No. 1, Pages 15-16: http://books.google.com/books?id=9S4ZAAAAYAAJ&pg=PP7&lpg=PP7&dq=to+the+man+with+hoe+Edward+b+payne&source=bl&ots=Rf8YvFxc1K&sig=BskDJ7PfUUjkXRBiV0KxydrNQRA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Uzb0U_qCHo6oyASOt4KQBQ&ved=0CCsQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q&f=false

2) “The ‘Hoe Man’ on Trial” by Edward B. Payne, The Arena, July 1899, Vol. 22, No. 1, Pages 17-24. Arena Publishing Company, 1899. http://books.google.com/books?id=9S4ZAAAAYAAJ&pg=PP7&lpg=PP7&dq=to+the+man+with+hoe+Edward+b+payne&source=bl&ots=Rf8YvFxc1K&sig=BskDJ7PfUUjkXRBiV0KxydrNQRA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Uzb0U_qCHo6oyASOt4KQBQ&ved=0CCsQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q&f=false

3) Ambrose Bierce, in 1894 speaking about the founders of Altruria, called them “amiable asses” with a “scheme based upon the intellectual diversions of such humorists as Plato, More, Fourier, Bellamy, and Howells. That assures the ludicrous fizzle of the enterprise…” [Quoted in Robert V. Hine’s California’s Utopian Colonies, W.W. Norton & Company, 1973, first published in 1953, page 113. The Bierce quote was from the column Bierce wrote weekly for the San Francisco Examiner, 21 Oct 1894, called, “Prattle.”] The ‘humorists’ listed were writers and philosophers. It is interesting to see Edward B. Payne’s description of Bierce five years later.

4) See also previous posts about Edward B. Payne, and watch for posts to come on Altruria and the rest of EBP’s life.

5) The controversies continue to this day concerning socio-economic disparities and the solutions. There will, I am sure, be more to come on that too (but not on this blog) as election time draws near.


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