Ag Gardiner As An Essayist Susan

Alfred George (A.G.) Gardiner was a British journalist and author. He was a prolific essayist and his style and subject matter easily qualified him to be categorized as what the English would call a very civilized gentleman. His essays addressing the necessary qualifications to fit into proper society are “On Habits,” “On Being Tidy,” “On Talk and Talkers,” and the subject of this question, “On the Rule of the Road.” This latter essay was included in one of Gardiner’s compilations titled Leaves in the Wind and was published under his pseudonym “Alpha of the Plough.” Consistent with the theme of what constitutes the proper conduct of a civilized individual, “On the Rule of the Road” remains one of his more enduring essays because it captures a very essential point, that the essence of civilization lies in the willingness of the individual to accept constraints on his or her personal behavior for the benefit of the greater good.

In “On the Rule of the Road,” Gardiner emphasizes the necessity of certain constraints on individual liberty if society is to function in a truly civilized manner. As he wrote in this essay, “Liberty is not a personal affair only, but a social contract. . . . A reasonable consideration for the rights or feelings of others is the foundation of social conduct.” Further, Gardiner wrote that “in order that the liberties of all may be preserved, the liberties of everybody must be curtailed.” Freedom, in other words, cannot exist in a vacuum. It must conform to some degree to a set of principles that exist to ensure that one’s liberties do not infringe on other’s. We enjoy the freedom to speak our mind, but, at some point, freedom of speech runs afoul of the public good. The famous qualification to freedom of speech—that one must not yell “fire” in a crowded theater—is precisely the point. Gardiner offers his own illustrations to make his point, such as the role of the police officer in controlling traffic—a role that, by definition, imposes constraints on personal freedom. Civilization can only exist when the public collectively accepts constraints on its freedom of action.

A. G. Gardiner
BornAlfred George Gardiner
Chelmsford, Essex, England
OccupationJournalist, editor, and author

Alfred George Gardiner (1865–1946) was a British journalist, editor and author. His essays, written under the pen-name Alpha of the Plough, are highly regarded.[1] He was also Chairman of the National Anti-Sweating League, an advocacy group which campaigned for a minimum wage in industry.[2]

Early life[edit]

Gardiner was born in Chelmsford, the son of a cabinet-maker and alcoholic. As a boy he worked at the Chelmsford Chronicle and the Bournemouth Directory. He joined the Northern Daily Telegraph in 1887 which had been founded the year before by Thomas Purvis Ritzema. In 1899, he was appointed editor of the Blackburn Weekly Telegraph.[3]

Editor of the Daily News[edit]

In 1902 Ritzema was named general manager of the Daily News. Needing an editor, he turned to his young protégé to fill the role. The choice soon proved a great success; under Gardiner's direction, it became one of the leading liberal journals its day, as he improved its coverage of both the news and literary matters while crusading against social injustices. Yet while circulation rose from 80,000 when he joined the paper to 151,000 in 1907 and 400,000 with the introduction of a Manchester edition in 1909, the paper continued to run at a loss.

Though close to the owner of the Daily News, George Cadbury, Gardiner resigned in 1919 over a disagreement with him over Gardiner's opposition to David Lloyd George.[3]


From 1915 he contributed to The Star under the pseudonym Alpha of the Plough.[3] At the time The Star had several anonymous essayists whose pseudonyms were the names of stars. Invited to choose the name of a star as a pseudonym he chose the name of the brightest (alpha) star in the constellation "the Plough." His essays are uniformly elegant, graceful and humorous. His uniqueness lay in his ability to teach the basic truths of life in an easy and amusing manner. Pillars of Society, Pebbles on the Shore, Many Furrows and Leaves in the Wind are some of his best known writings.

The end of the essay "The Vanity of Old Age" is typically neat: "For Nature is a cunning nurse. She gives us lollipops all the way, and when the lollipop of hope and the lollipop of achievement are done, she gently inserts in our toothless gums the lollipop of remembrance. And with that pleasant vanity we are soothed to sleep."[4]


  • Prophets, Priests and Kings (1908)
  • Pillars of Society (1913)
  • The War Lords (1915)
  • Pebbles on the Shore (writing as "Alpha of the Plough") (1916) ( A later edition, released in 1927 by J. M. Dent, was illustrated by renowned artist, Charles E. Brock.)
  • Windfalls (as "Alpha of the Plough") (1920)
  • Leaves in the Wind (as "Alpha of the Plough") (1920)
  • The Anglo-American Future (1920)
  • What I saw in Germany: letters from Germany and Austria (1920)
  • Life of George Cadbury (1923)
  • The Life of Sir William Harcourt (2 vols.) (1923)
  • Many Furrows (as "Alpha of the Plough") (1924)
  • John Benn and the Progressive Movement (1925)
  • Portraits and Portents (1926)
  • Certain People of Importance (as "Alpha of the Plough") (1929)


Further reading[edit]

  • Koss, Stephen (1973). Fleet Street Radical: A.G. Gardiner and the Daily News. London: Allen Lane. 
  • Koss, Stephen (1984). The Rise and Fall of the Political Press in Britain, vol. 2: The Twentieth Century. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. 

External links[edit]

  1. ^"A. G. Gardiner - On Saying Please". Retrieved 28 February 2014. 
  2. ^Black, Clementina (1907). Sweated Industry and the Minimum Wage. London: Duckworth & Co. Retrieved 2011-09-24. 
  3. ^ abc"Gardiner, Alfred George, 1865 - 1946, Author and Journalist". British Library of Political and Economic Science. Retrieved 2009-02-22. 
  4. ^Alpha of the Plough, "The Vanity of Old Age", Windfalls, J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., London, 1920, p. 17.


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