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ninth person in wealthy, commercial England was a pauper, the number of those receiving parish relief being nearly two millions! This is surely a fact worth noting; and to it may be added another fact even less easy to forget, and quite recent enough to be fresh in the recollection of many who are still young. In Manchester, at the very centre of England's manufacturing industry, among men whose colossal wealth had passed into a proverb, an English father and mother deliberately murdered one of their own children, in order (as they themselves afterwards confessed) to profit by the money which would be allowed them for the funeral! Well might the English Jeremiah, commenting upon this ghastly incident, say in his trenchant fashion: "When the worst horror which the fervent Hebrew fancy could conceive, suddenly confronts us as a fact in the life of an English household, it is surely full time that something were done." *
The vast superiority of the present age to its predecessors, and the priceless benefits conferred by it upon mankind, are a favorite theme with historians; and within certain limits, they are undeniably right. In all appliances of health and comfort, in facilities for acquiring knowledge, in rapidity and completeness of intercommunication, the nineteenth century is immeasurably in advance of the eighteenth. Lord Macaulay's famous sarcasm upon the unreasoning sentimentalism which regrets "those good old times when men died faster in our pure country air than they now die in our most crowded cities, and died faster in our crowded cities than they now die on the coast of Guiana," was not overstrained. Arguing, as usual, from a part to the whole, many admirers of the new régime boldly assert that the condition of the working-classes has improved as markedly as everything else, and call upon the present generation of laborers to be thankful for unnumbered blessings. The latter would indeed have good cause for thankfulness, were this rose-colored estimate correct. But is it so ?
Let us look at the case of an ordinary English working man, who has just heard a lecture on this subject, from a *Carlyle's Past and Present.
speaker whom he has every reason to believe sincere and well-informed. He hears much of the superior benefits enjoyed by the laboring classes of the nineteenth century, and the manifold troubles endured by those of the fifteenth and sixteenth. This view strikes him, as well it may. He has heard that many Russian mechanics toil fourteen, sixteen, or even twenty hours consecutively, in an overheated atmosphere, rank with poisonous gases, for a pittance which he himself would consider tantamount to nothing at all. He has seen it stated that in many parts of Germany the operatives are freethinkers and Socialists to a man, being absurd enough to believe it somewhat hard that they should be heavily taxed to maintain an expensive court and a vast standing army, while receiving no particular privileges except the "right" of serving three years in the imperial army-a right which they would very gladly relinquish if they could. He has been told that till very recently (though this is happily being amended now) the French workmen employed in the most dangerous and destructive trades-e. g., the manufacture of white lead, etc.-were often the most poorly paid of all, perhaps because, dying, as so many of them did, within the year, they were not supposed to care much whether they lived well or ill during the interval.
Bearing all this in mind, and recalling, in addition, how often he has grumbled over his own case as a hard one, our workman naturally feels somewhat curious to know what manner of men they were who, three or four hundred years ago, were so unspeakably worse off than himself. He borrows a history of England, and reads, with ever-increasing amazement, of Westminster apprentices stipulating that they should not be obliged to eat fresh salmon oftener than thrice a week, of simple yeomen luxuriating upon "chines of beef and tankards of strong ale," of the English commonalty under Elizabeth and James I being described as "the best-fed people in Europe." Small blame to him if he grow bewildered in the face of such contradictions, and begin to suspect that either the lecturer or the historian must be gifted with more imagination than veracity.
But were our enquirer to pursue his researches a little farther, he would encounter other facts even more startling than these. He would find that in 1776, three years after the publication of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, an inquisitive gentleman named Arthur Young (one of those troublesome persons who insist upon testing a plausible statement instead of taking it for granted) travelled through England in quest of reliable information respecting labor and its wages. He found that the minimum was six shillings ($1.50) a week, and the maximum 88. 6d. ($2.12). In 1850, Mr. Caird, going over the same ground with the same object, found that in seventy-one years the maximum had only risen to sixteen shillings, while the minimum had remained at six. Reading these figures, our workman will probably consider that they do not indicate any very rapid advance of prosperity among his class, especially when taken in connection with the depreciation of money by the Californian and Australian "gold-finds," and the enormous rise in the price of all necessaries. He may possibly reflect, too, that even the poor sixteenth-century wretches, who had to content themselves with such hard fare as salmon and corned-beef, were, after all, not much worse off than himself, whose consumption of meat (to supply the exhaustion of nine or ten hours' hard work daily) is twenty-five pounds per annum, or one pound weekly! *
The effect of these discoveries will be in no way lessened, should he happen to light upon the statistical report presented to the British Government in 1870-1, from which he will learn that at that time the maximum of wages (in Northumberland) was from 188. to 208. per week, while in Dorsetshire and Wiltshire, the rate fell as low as seven! It is true that this estimate refers chiefly to field-labor; but none the less must it be held a somewhat noteworthy fact, that in this age of "unexampled prosperity," there should be thousands of Englishmen who are rewarded for enduring cold, wet, hard work in all weathers, and the racking rheumatism which is
*This and many other statistics cited in the text, are taken from the official returns of the last British census.
many an English toiler's life-long companion, by having to support life (and not unfrequently to bring up a family as well) upon twenty-five cents a day.
Compared with the Dorsetshire clown, the skilled mechanic of Lancashire or Staffordshire, on 228., 258. or 278. weekly, may appear fortunate enough at first sight; but when the balance is fairly struck, he will be found to have little in his favor. The farm-hand has at least sunshine, green fields, pure country air. The artisan is pent up all day in a dark, dingy, stifling work-room, amid the hissing of steam and the rattle of machinery, hot, dirty, reeking with perspiration, his eyes red and inflamed, his mouth parched, the pores of his skin clogged with cotton-fluff or iron-filings, from which no precaution can wholly free that poisonous atmosphere. His "home" is ordinarily a small, dismal, over-crowded room in some gloomy back-street, fluttering with dirty linen and tainted with soot and filth; and seldom indeed does he see anything beyond the box of smoke-begrimed mignonette upon his window-sill,* to remind him that there is still a region where God's creation is not yet defaced by man's money-getting.
"But," urges some political economist who would think himself miserably poor on a thousand dollars a year, "is not twenty-five shillings a week enough to keep any working man? What more can he want, in Heaven's name?" What, indeed? unless the working man should happen to have an ailing wife, and six or seven young children. A Malthusian, of course, would exclaim, with a righteous indignation, that such a man has no right to marry at all; but in this as in many other cases, although example may be better than precept, precept seems to be much easier than example. When a ruined marquis elopes with a portionless lady of rank, and begets sons whom he will induct into government sinecures, and daughters whom he will marry to gouty old millionaires, it is "romantic devotion." When a hard-working man takes a hard-working woman to cheer his loneliness, and "hold his house together a bit,” it is "improvident folly."
*The constant appearance of these miniature gardens in the most squalid parts of Manchester, Wigan and Oldham, is, to those who rightly understand it, one of the most pathetic sights in existence.
This, indeed, is one of our most flagrant errors in dealing with the labor problem, and a point upon which the working man (who is in reality a far shrewder fellow than many of his self-appointed judges) has just ground of complaint against us. Having once spoken of him as a working man, we appear to set it down as an immutable law that he shall be that and nothing else. That he should, under any circumstances, become a playing man-that, in other words, he should presume to wish to enjoy his life a little as others do, seems too monstrous for belief. Whether or not his critics really expect him to go on working without intermission, like an automaton, from the cradle to the grave, they certainly treat him as if they did. If he is seen lying upon the grass on a bright Sunday morning, enjoying a momentary glimpse of God's sunshine and free air, the clergyman asks him why he is not at church, and the capitalist sneers at him as an idle dog. If he sits down to have a friendly glass with two or three of his comrades, he is denounced as a "drunken rascal, wasting his money in tippling like all the rest of them." If he frequents lectures and reading-rooms, he is suspected of being a Socialist; if he prefers beer and skittles, he is branded as an ignorant clod; if he marries and has a family, he is reviled for having burdened the State with surplus mouths, and transgressed all the laws of political economy.
Many people are fond of asserting that the advocates of labor deal merely in mouthing denunciations and vague rhetorical generalities, instead of appealing to plain facts. This is, unhappily, far too true; and the pernicious effect of such a practice in harming the cause which it is intended to help, cannot be too severely condemned. But the "plain facts," when appealed to, are anything themselves but rose-colored. Take for example the case of an employé on one of the great English railways: a man advanced in years, and with a sick wife to support-who was on duty eighteen hours daily, for eighteen shillings a week. A comrade falling suddenly ill, this man was kept at his post for three nights together, till he fell asleep from sheer exhaustion; and a fatal collision occurring, nothing but a timely discovery of the facts saved him from