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An essay by A. A. Milne

Declined With Thanks

Title:     Declined With Thanks
Author: A. A. Milne [More Titles by Milne]

A paragraph in the papers of last week recorded the unusual action of a gentleman called Smith (or some such name) who had refused for reasons of conscience to be made a justice of the peace. Smith's case was that the commission was offered to him as a reward for political services, and that this was a method of selecting magistrates of which he did not approve. So he showed his contempt for the system by refusing an honour which most people covet, and earned by this such notoriety as the papers can give. "Portrait (on page 8) of a gentleman who has refused something!" He takes his place with Brittlebones in the gallery of freaks.

The subject for essay has frequently been given, "If a million pounds were left to you, how could you do most good with it?" Some say they would endow hospitals, some that they would establish almshouses; there may even be some who would go as far as to build half a Dreadnought. But there would be a more decisive way of doing good than any of these. You might refuse the million pounds. That would be a shock to the systems of the comfortable --a blow struck at the great Money God which would make it totter; a thrust in defence of pride and freedom such as had not been seen before. That would be a moral tonic more needed than all the draughts of your newly endowed hospitals. Will it ever be administered? Well, perhaps when the D.W.T. club has grown a little stronger.

Have you heard of the D.W.T.--the Declined- with-Thanks Club? There are no club rooms and not many members, but the balance sheet for the last twelve months is wonderful, showing that more than £11,000 was refused. The entrance fee is one hundred guineas and the annual subscription fifty guineas; that is to say, you must have refused a hundred guineas before you can be elected, and you are expected to refuse another fifty guineas a year while you retain membership. It is possible also to compound with a life refusal, but the sum is not fixed, and remains at the discretion of the committee.

Baines is a life member. He saved an old lady from being run over by a motor bus some years ago, and when she died she left him a legacy of £1000. Baines wrote to the executors and pointed out that he did not go about dragging persons from beneath motor buses as a profession; that, if she had offered him £1000 at the time, he would have refused it, not being in the habit of accepting money from strangers, still less from women; and that he did not see that the fact of the money being offered two years later in a will made the slightest difference. Baines was earning £300 a year at this time, and had a wife and four children, but he will not admit that he did anything at all out of the common.

The case of Sedley comes up for consideration at the next committee meeting. Sedley's rich uncle, a cantankerous old man, insulted him grossly; there was a quarrel; and the old man left, vowing to revenge himself by disinheriting his nephew and bequeathing his money to a cats' home. He died on his way to his solicitors, and Sedley was told of his good fortune in good legal English. He replied, "What on earth do you take me for? I wouldn't touch a penny. Give it to the cats' home or any blessed thing you like." Sedley, of course, will be elected as an ordinary member, but as there is a strong feeling on the committee that no decent man could have done anything else, his election as a life member is improbable.

Though there are one or two other members like Baines and Sedley, most of them are men who have refused professional openings rather than actual money. There are, for instance, half a dozen journalists and authors. Now a journalist, before he can be elected, must have a black-list of papers for which he will refuse to write. A concocted wireless message in the Daily Blank, which subsequent events proved to have been invented deliberately for the purpose of raking in ha'pennies, so infuriated Henderson (to take a case) that he has pledged himself never to write a line for any paper owned by the same proprietors. Curiously enough he was asked a day or two later to contribute a series to a most respectable magazine published by this firm. He refused in a letter which breathed hatred and utter contempt in every word. It was Henderson, too, who resigned his position as dramatic critic because the proprietor of his paper did rather a shady thing in private life. "I know the paper isn't mixed up in it at all," he said, "but he's my employer and he pays me. Well, I like to be loyal to my employers, and if I'm loyal to this man I can't go about telling everybody that he's a dirty cad. As I particularly want to."

Then there is the case of Bolus the author. He is only an honorary member, for he has not as yet had the opportunity of refusing money or work. But he has refused to be photographed and interviewed, and he has refused to contribute to symposia in the monthly magazines. He has declined with thanks, moreover, invitations to half a dozen houses sent to him by hostesses who only knew him by reputation. Myself, I think it is time that he was elected a full member; indirectly he must have been a financial loser by his action, and even if he is not actually assisting to topple over the Money God, he is at least striking a blow for the cause of independence. However, there he is, and with him goes a certain M.P. who contributed £20,000 to the party chest, and refused scornfully the peerage which was offered to him.

The Bar is represented by P. J. Brewster, who was elected for refusing to defend a suspected murderer until he had absolutely convinced himself of the man's innocence. It was suggested to him by his legal brothers that counsel did not pledge themselves to the innocence of their clients, but merely put the case for one side in a perfectly detached way, according to the best traditions of the Bar. Brewster replied that he was also quite capable of putting the case for Tariff Reform in a perfectly detached way according to the best traditions of The Morning Post, but as he was a Free Trader he thought he would refuse any such offer if it were made to him. He added, however, that he was not in the present case worrying about moral points of view; he was simply expressing his opinion that the luxury of not having little notes passed to him in court by a probable murderer, of not sharing a page in an illustrated paper with him, and of not having to shake hands with him if he were acquitted, was worth paying for. Later on, when as K.C., M.P., he refused the position of standing counsel to a paper which he was always attacking in the House, he became a life member of the club.

But it would be impossible to mention all the members of the D.W.T. by name. I have been led on to speaking about the club by the mention of that Mr. Smith (or whatever his name was) who refused to be made a justice of the peace. If Mr. Smith cared to put up as an honorary member, I have no doubt that he would be elected; for though it is against the Money God that the chief battle is waged, yet the spirit of refusal is the same. "Blessed are they who know how to refuse," runs the club's motto, "for they will have a chance to be clean."

[The end]
A. A. Milne's essay: Declined With Thanks