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A Ballad of Freedom by C.J. Dennis

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Now Mr. Jeremiah Bane
He owned a warehouse in The Lane,
An edifice of goodly size,
Where, with keen private enterprise,
   He sold imported napery
   And drapery -- and drapery.
His singlets and his socks were sent
Out over half the continent;
   In clothing for the nursery
   And mercery -- and mercery
He plied a most extensive trade,
And quite enormous profits made,
And barracked, with much fervency,
For foreign-trade -- described as "Free."
         He said,
         It was
            His creed.
The trade described as Free.

And this good man was known to fame
For charity; indeed, his name
Shone often in the daily press.
When needy folk were in distress
   He aided -- (with publicity) --
   Mendicity -- mendicity.
And though much cash he thuswise spared
There still were people who declared
   His act of private charity
   A rarity -- a rarity.
Donations, duly advertised,
From business point of view, he prized;
But "good by stealth" he ne'er could see
Was any use to such as he.
         But still,
            The press,
         With much
Declared his hand was free.

Now Mr. Bane's employees were
Wont to address the boss as "Sir,"
To show him most intense respect;
And there were few who would neglect
   To couple with civility
   Humility -- humility.
They dressed in cheap but pretty clothes,
And ev'ry man turned up his nose
   And scorned familiarity
   Or parity -- or parity
With ill-dressed toilers who "combined."
They thought proceedings of that kind
Were of a very "low" degree,
For they were "cultured," don't you see.
         'Tis true
            Their pay
         Was mean,
            But they
Felt proud to be so free.

Though they were viley underpaid
They were too proud -- or else afraid
To advertise the fact abroad
Or see to get a Wages Board.
   Besides their meek servility,
   Gentility -- gentility
Forbade so rash an act; but still
One man there was -- (his name was Bill)
   Who vowed their fool propensity
   Was density -- was density --
An unenlightened state of mind,
A lack of wit that made them blind.
"You're but a lot of worms," said he.
"If you were men you'd clearly see
            You band
         And make
            A stand
You never can be free."

And ev'ry day this person, Bill,
Conversed with them of unions till
They owned his arguments were true,
And one by one waxed eager to
   Embrace an opportunity
   For unity -- for unity.
They talked about a Wages Board
Which, formerly, they had abhorred,
   And girded at their slavery
   With bravery -- with bravery.
Each man began to feel "The Firm"
No longer owned it for its worm;
Their independence they could see
Achieved by simple unity;
            Their clothes
         And mixed
            With those
Who battle to be free.

When Mr. Bane one morning heard
About his thing he cried, "Absurd!
They'll never get my clerks to horde
With those who seek the Wages Board,
   And lose respectability!
   Futility! -- Futility!
My clerks are gentlemen who'd scorn
To mingle with the lowly born.
   Such bosh I've never heard!" said he.
   "Absurd!" said he -- "Absurd!" said he.
"As for their pay, they're quite content
They've never asked an extra cent!
         And in
            The morn
         They'll mark
            Their scorn,
And show you they are free."

And on the morrow Mr. Bane
Called them together to "explain":
"I have a small petition here --
But first, I wish to make it clear,"
   Said he, with simple gravity
   And suavity -- and suavity,
"That no man here is asked to sign."
(His voice was gentle and benign)
   "I trust to your humanity
   And sanity -- and sanity
To guide you; but I feel quite sure
That Wages Boards you can't endure.
I leave it all to you," said he.
"It makes no difference to me.
         My views
            Are known,
         But still,
            I've shown
Your choice in this is free."

The staff it looked at Mr. Bane,
And in his eye it read, quite plain,
'Neath that expression so benign,
The fate of him who did not sign --
   A vision of futurity --
   Obscurity -- obscurity --
A dearth of work -- in short, the sack.
They knew that he who answered back
   Would earn, by his temerity,
   Severity -- severity.
So one and all, with shaky pen,
Signed this refusal to be men....
But surely, as you must agree,
Their choice was free as it could be,
         They said
            The Board
         They all
Preferring to be free.

Still Mr. Bane grows fat and sleek,
And still, at thirty bob a week,
His clerks slave on from morn till night,
No hope of better things in sight.
   But Bane, with much benignity
   And dignity -- and dignity,
When talk of Wages Board is heard,
Declares the notion is absurd:
   "My clerks with prompt celerity
   And verity -- and verity
Refused the thing with one accord.
The clerks themselves don't want the Board!
It is preposterous," says he,
"To force it on who don't agree!"
         And still
            His men
         With brain
            And pen
To fatten him are free.

First published in The Bulletin, 17 July 1913

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