Extracts from the Address by the
at the Service of Thanksgiving for the Life and Work
at the Church of
St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London, W.C.2 on Thursday, 28th October, 1914
ROWNTREE was much more than an able social investigator; he was a man of action, a man with executive gifts, a social
reformer. He set about to remedy what was amiss, and he began where he had the power to effect changes - namely, within his own firm and touching the lives and homes of those who worked in it. Over a long stretch of years he was able to prove to those of his fellow employers who had eyes to see and ears to hear that care for the welfare of those they employ, consultation, decent wages and working conditions, and latterly a five-day week and profit-sharing were not incompatible with a high degree of productivity and profitable enterprise, if management and salesmanship were efficient. This success could not have been achieved unless Seebohm Rowntree had been a hard-working, shrewd and able man of business, who could choose his colleagues in management well.
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He recognised - with quiet passion - that the underlying causes of social evils were not only economic and political, but spiritual. "Take any of the social evils from which humanity suffers," he said to an American audience, "trace it to its underlying cause, and you will find some spiritual failing. The real difficulty is not to devise a desirable scheme of society but to persuade men to conform to it when it has been devised, and this is less a mental than amoral and spiritual problem. We must see to it that nothing is allowed to parade as spiritual religion which is not genuine. ...We must purge our churches of all hypocrisy. ...If the tree does not bear the fruits (of the spirit) it is the wrong kind of tree. Real spirituality is a virile thing which there is no mistaking." He believed that the habit of waiting on leaders to pronounce and to direct was an evasion by ordinary citizens of their responsibilities. " A large employer can do more than most preachers to deepen the spiritual life of the nation. ...The tone of a workshop is just as important as that of a school or college. I have seen managers and foremen and individual workmen who, probably without knowing it, were preaching a spiritual religion not through their lips, but through their lives, and I have seen those about them respond until the whole atmosphere was altered."
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In his last years Rowntree liked to quote this passage from Tolstoy:
"It all lies in the fact that men think there are circumstances
when one may deal with human beings without love; and there are no such circumstances. One may cut down trees, make bricks, hammer iron, without love; but you cannot deal with men without it, just as you cannot deal with bees without being careful. If you deal carelessly with bees, you will injure them, and will yourself be injured. And so with men."
This belief in the primacy of love, combined with a wide culture and pleasant humour, gave beauty to a life of unremitting work for the good of humanity which has indeed yielded much fruit.