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ART. V.-THE WORKING-CLASSES OF EUROPE.
1. The Wealth of Nations. By ADAM SMITH.
2. Alton Locke; the Autobiography of a Chartist. By C. KINGSLEY.
3. Report of the Royal Commission of 1869 upon British Trades-Unions.
In the last days of the Second Empire, a French caricaturist, masking with his playful satire one of the deepest political truths of modern times, sketched Napoleon III as presiding over a meeting of farm-yard fowls, intended to represent the French nation. My good friends," says he, "I have called you together to consider with what sauce you should be eaten." "But we don't want to be eaten !" objected his hearers. "Keep to the question!" replies the president, sternly; "that remark is irrelevant." For ages past, the laborers of the world's vineyard have been making the same protest to their masters, and receiving the same answer. But this straightforward cutting of the Gordian knot is no longer possible. Slowly and painfully, the logic of events has demonstrated the great truth that the strength of a nation lies not in brilliant courts and colossal standing armies, but in the hands and hearts of her working men ;* and that those working men are not a mere inert mass, created solely to be fed upon by those above them, but a congeries of sentient and intelligent units, conscious that they too have rights of their own, and fully determined to maintain those rights to the utmost. One
*"I shall account myself king," said Henry IV of France, "when every peasant in my kingdom has a fowl to dine upon." Compare this just and noble sentiment with Louis the Fourteenth's famous: L'Etat, c'est moi! eighty years later, and the French Revolution is explained.
of the most formidable problems now confronting Europe is to determine labor's rightful place in a world originally framed, one would suppose, for the sole benefit of capital.
We say "Europe" advisedly, for in the United States this momentous question can hardly be said to exist. Free alike from the one-sided trading system of England, and from the crushing military mania of the Continent, America offers to every industrious workman what he considers his summum bonum—“a clear field, and no favor." In Europe it is far otherwise. The creed which branded all industry as a disgrace, handed down from days when wholesale theft and murder were the only occupations worthy of a gentleman, has survived the disappearance of robber-barons and les droits de la seigneurie; and although no gentleman of our time would be likely to declare point-blank that it is a degradation to support one's self by manual labor, it would not be easy to find one who could honestly affirm that he had not often felt and acted as if he thought so.
The fact is-and such a fact cannot be repeated too often, for it gives the clew to half the strikes and trade-quarrels in existence that although the outward symbols of caste are gone forever, its spirit still lives unchanged. No tradesman can now be punished by law for "wearing bravery suiting not with his degree," nor can the patrician be distinguished by his plume and embroidery from the plebeian in his flat cap and gray jerkin; but neither has yet outgrown the fatal conviction that the other is his natural enemy. Strive against the feeling as they may, the workman is still a mutineer in the eyes of the capitalist, and the capitalist a tyrant in those of the workman. Few words have ever had a sadder significance than the grotesque compliment paid by the sturdy grenadier of George the Fourth's time to a young officer who had befriended him: "God bless you, my lord! there ain't a bit o' the gentleman about you!"
Hence it comes that every great European nation, instead of forming one homogeneous whole, is made up of two opposing parties, the men of means and the men of muscle. Both have their leaders, their regulations, their treasury, their
organized system of action. Their ordinary attitude toward each other is an armed neutrality known as "employment," varied at times by an open and bitter conflict, termed "strike" or "lock-out," according as it is the work of the one party or the other, the penalty of defeat being bankruptcy for this side, and death by starvation for that. In a word, the muchvaunted "universal peace" of traffic and manufacture is really a universal and well-organized civil war, waged upon certain recognized belligerent principles known as the laws of trade.
And, all the while, there are in both these contending armies men of warm heart and kindly temper, men who are honestly desirous of ending the age-long feud, and making the two hostile forces work in concert instead of in opposition. There are masters who wish to gain the good-will of their men, and men who wish to do profitable and faithful service to their masters; yet both, as if bound by some infernal spell, seem doomed to go on misunderstanding, fearing, and hating each other, from the cradle to the grave.
Is there no remedy, then, for this deplorable state of things? Undoubtedly there is; but it requires time for its application, and time is precisely what many of those concerned can least afford to give it. The banners of the relieving force may be seen waving in the distance, but while it is slowly advancing, man after man of the beleaguered garrison falls and dies. The immediate forerunners of every great social reform, like Arnold Von Winkelried, at Sempach, perish in making the breach through which their followers sweep onward to victory; but the struggling laborer of the period, be he ever so stanch and devoted, cannot quite forget his own sufferings in the promised happiness of posterity. None but those who have actually experienced it know how bitter an ordeal it is for any man to sacrifice all that makes life worth having, to the faint and far-off prospect of a deliverance which he well knows that he can never live to see. future is very distant, the present very hard. To one who, mere machine as some choose to think him, has nerves and feelings like their own, the gnawing hunger, the fireless
hearth, the ragged clothes through which rain and wind bite so keenly—the dreary return home, tired out by long seeking for work in vain, to find his children crying for food, and his wife weeping silently in a corner of the cheerless room, long since stripped of all its scanty furniture-are grim realities, beside which the visionary glories of future liberty and happiness appear indeed too dim and distant.
A modern traveller has asserted that the higher classes of all civilized countries are very much alike, and that those who wish to find diversity of character must seek it among the common people. This is indeed true, but only to a certain extent. Climate, creed, hereditary privilege, may produce many superficial differences, but the broad foundation of human wants and human feelings is the same in each and all. In every civilized State of the present day, the sufferings of the laboring class, with their causes and their consequences, have a sad and fearful uniformity. At this very moment, Ireland and Russia, thousands of miles apart, differing in race, religion, temper, climate, language, government, everything that distinguishes man from man, are being scourged by the self-same calamity. In both cases, an impulsive and unpractical movement has been followed by distress, disaster, and a crushing load of debt. In both, the outrages of a few frantic extremists have brought undeserved odium upon a whole class; and in both, the government has aggravated by ill-judged and blundering intervention the evil that it sought to cure, which has been further intensified a thousand-fold by the rapacity of local money-lenders, ever ready to fatten upon the misfortunes of the needy. The Irish tenant-farmer holds at its original rent land which gives him barely a quarter of its original yield. The Russian peasant has been paying for years past (in addition to an annual poll-tax of 15 roubles, about $12) from 20 to 25 per cent. interest upon the purchasemoney of land originally bought at 98 cents an acre, while in many cases worth barely 35 cents. The natural result has been Nihilism in the one case, and anti-rent agitation in the other.
This, of itself, would suffice to point its own moral; but even this is not all. The same causes have produced other
and far darker consequences. In the stern old mediæval days, the worst that irresponsible despotism could inflict was death or banishment. But in this "civilized and enlightened" age, numbers who can find, amid its enlightenment and its civilization, no means of keeping body and soul together, are daily inflicting either penalty upon themselves. How many men have been forced into self-banishment during the last ten years, the immigration statistics of the United States. can bear witness. Of the worse horrors to which many others have been driven, one instance, out of hundreds which are only too well-authenticated, may suffice here. During the agricultural distress of 1873, a Russian peasant, whose family were starving around him, at length succeeded in obtaining a little food for them by mortgaging his whole Summer's labor to a wealthy farmer. He then humbly represented to his employer that, as he had no means of providing food for himself during the stipulated period, he hoped that it might be included in the arrangement. To this appeal the modern Shylock gruffly answered that he might "shift for himself, and be d -d, for it was no concern of his." What was the poor wretch to do? To "lay his case before the proper authorities," or to ventilate it in the columns of some influential journal, was not for a helpless drudge like him. What he actually did, if somewhat unrefined, was at least tolerably significant. He sat down by his hard-hearted employer's door, and cut his own throat. *
These, it may be argued, are extreme cases; for there are many people who apparently consider everything that occurs in Ireland an exceptional phenomenon, not to be judged by any known rule; while as to Russia, they seem to think that calamities happening at such a distance cannot matter much to any one but the sufferers themselves:
"Mutato nomine, de te
Thirty years ago, before the flood of emigration had come to sweep away so many thousands of "surplus mouths," every
*This story is literally true, and occurred during the writer's residence in Russia.