It is true, as everyone is saying, that the official inquiry [concerning the income tax] is far more stringent and irritating than it was; but it is not quite fair to state that fact alone. If the system of inquisition is carried very far, it is also true that the system of exemptions is carried very far also. What is increased both by inquisition and exemption is the official's knowledge of the citizen's private affairs. The modern tax-gatherers ask for so much because of the private fact that a surgeon got a very big fee. But they are willing to give part of it back for the sake of another private fact- that he went to earn it in a motor-car. I do not discuss here whether the change is good or bad; I only say that an honest man who confesses all his windfalls and claims all his exemptions has provided the government with something like a small volume of autobiography.
In fact, it would be rather fun to treat it like that. A man who really resented the income-tax (which I do not) might amuse himself, not by giving short, evasive answers, as such malcontents do, but by giving true but interminably long answers. There is always a complication of purely personal reasons why this or that is convenient to a man in his trade. A pony-cart or a telephone might be made the subject-matter of pages of rich prose. In my own trade, in particular, there are real difficulties in deciding what is and is not necessary to a purely professional activity. Let all these difficulties be set out, pro and con, in a document of somewhat the weight and length of the manuscript of a three-volume novel. It is certain that, except for certain circumstances, there might be a worse article, or an unsaleable article, or no article. Let all those circumstances be set down with a literary and lavish hand. I like to think of the face of an Income-Tax Commissioner, as he opens an appeal against the assessment, and reads some item like this: "Five shillings for hansom-cab driving the necessary number of times round Barnes Common. This item may surprise the Commissioners, and, indeed, it is impossible that they should realise how indispensable it was for literary industry, unless they realise the atmosphere of the occasion. The sun had just set, or rather, had just vanished- for a low hedge of soft-hued but heavy clouds completed and, as it were, fortified the horizon; the air, though not without a certain still coolness, seemed to call aloud for some more exhilirant, etc. etc." It would go on for some pages, and prove triumphantly that the result had been a article sold for three guineas instead of two. If the official turned with some impatience to another item, it would be "Fare to Tunbridge Wells. It is here necessary to explain that I was in love at the time, and had a chance of marrying, if I could satisfy the Editor of the New Nonconformist with an article on 'Passion versus Platonic Love.' I was not deceived in my expectation that a renewed glimpse of Aglavaine would raise my literary powers to the highest purchasing point. By a contrast, which in any other woman might have seemed bizarre, her hair and eyes..." And so on, and so on.
I fancy those who are really in revolt against the Income-Tax Commissioners might cause them quite a lot of annoyance in that way. But I shall not join them, having other revolutions on hand.
-April 12, 1913, Illustrated London News