Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

alone be supported during this season. The culture of root crops, however, speedily led to the multiplication of sheep and oxen for food, and the prodigious prosperity of our manufacturing class furnishing an almost boundless demand for meat, flocks and herds were extensively reared, to the corresponding profit of the landowners. Labour, during the period of this transition, being in demand, wages rose, and with them the desire for more succulent aliments, and not only the factory operative, but the English rustic, came to regard animal food as a necessary of life all the year round. To meet the increased cost of human labour, machinery was invented. An augmented rate of production followed, to be balanced by an augmented rate of consumption. Presently the demand came to be so excessive that we were forced to import meat; that is to say, live cattle, calves, and sheep, from the Dutch and the Danes. The average amount of which, I believe, was in 1861, during the navigable season, somewhere about 3000 head per week by the river Thames alone. That we could no longer produce meat sufficient for own own consumption, became apparent. But the habit, acquired at a period when the population had not reached the amount we now possess, of living on meat, remained in force; and since the expense of rearing animals for food naturally rose with the demand (because inferior land had to be cultivated in order to keep pace with it), the price of meat, together with that of cheese and butter, which must equally be counted as animal product, has reached a point which, as I have observed, all but forbids its purchase by the cottager. And as to bacon, it is positively at a fabulous figure. The vast amount of milk, too, consumed by the populous towns now-adays, by so much lessens the quantity available for cheesemaking, whilst the buttermilk is lost to the “swill-tub,” and so renders pig-feeding less and less general. I have shown that the habit of living upon animal food, for some years past widely diffused, is now checked, by the growing difficulty of procuring it at a reasonable price. Butter and cheese also are well migh out of reach for the cottager, and he is obliged to depend upon his own pig, when lucky enough to possess one, for his “modicum” of bacon. But this is scanty measure for the ploughman or reaper. His beer, too, is wretched stuff. The beer-shops and inns are mostly owned by brewers, who force the tenants to vend their respective mixtures. The labourer must drink this, or go without, unless his wife is a “capable woman,” and will brew a cask at home, now and then, of wholesome liquor. Failing to obtain adequate sustenance in the articles of meat, cheese, and beer, the labouring man buys “dripping,” to season his bread and potatoes withal, or the offal bits at the butchers; and, to soothe his unsatisfied cravings, indulges in tobacco, even in fine weather. The women of this class commonly drink tea at their meals, and I fear, occasionally, gin. But they struggle on with persevering courage, often in a way to excite cordial admiration and sympathy from a humane observer. Now, it may be asked, how it comes to pass that the poor man can get so little meat to eat, seeing that the nation is prosperous and wealthy, the capacity of the land to produce food strained to an unprecedented limit, and the generosity of the rich incontestable % The answer is not far to seek. The working man is outbid by the classes above him. The pay given to the higher descriptions of labourers, including that of the factory operatives, is larger than his, and whilst these classes compete for the necessaries of life with the peasantry, the latter are distanced in the race. The immense consumption of meat by all English families, by the army and navy, and public establishments—eleemosynary, and of other kinds—causes the price to range above what the farm-labourers can afford to pay.* The share, then, which the rich have borne in causing

* At one time butter was largely imported, as was also cheese, from the United States. But I have been informed that, for several years past, our Australian colonies have proved more lucrative markets, and a less amount of such commodities is sent to England.

certain privations to the labourer, is this: they have caused such a rapid increase of population, by the skilful application of existing capital to purposes of industrial life, and they so largely remunerate that population whose aid enables the capitalist to enrich himself, that the number of buyers at last outruns the powers of the producers, and, of course, he who has the smallest purchasing power must give way before the possessor of the greater. This is the explanation of the extravagant price of meat, the quantity of this particular product being limited. The rich have also had a direct share in causing the deterioration of the beer sold to the poor, which, coupled with the diminished quality of their food, is, I fear, bringing about a decline in the physical strength of the working people. Owners of alehouses have been but too ready to accept brewers as tenants, or, whenever tempted by price, as purchasers. The results are obvious. So far forth as this active pursuit of wealth has affected, indirectly, the social position of the labourer, I conceive the upper classes to have lessened the amount of comfort enjoyed by the peasantry, compared with that possessed by them in times anterior to the present, and this in spite of the reduction in price of coffee, tea, sugar, and spirits, all of which are but secondary objects of desire. But no working man does live, or support a family, on his wages. I wish he did. He would be a better member of society, and would respect himself more. The real fact is that he subsists partly upon his earnings and partly upon alms. The rich make up in charity the shortcomings of the farmer, who, as a general rule, will never pay his men a farthing more than what he can persuade them to work for, whilst the exigencies of the labourer's condition force him to accept whatever the farmer will give. When the boys have been prevented from helping out the parental earnings, as I have set forth, and the girls, taught to aim at “something better” than farm service, remain on his hands, the poor man finds himself scarely able to “rub along.” Then, to be sure, the rich neighbours bestow charitable assistance upon him, and, in one form or another, his scanty means are eked out. So that our farm labourers subsist, as I have said, upon the twofold source of wages and charity. It would tend to raise the character of the cottager if the aggregate amount were received in the shape of wages, and if he were taught to rely on his own conduct for keeping clear of debt. However, the rich amongst us prefer dispensing their bounty in the shape of alms, rather than in the mode calculated to engender a feeling of independence among their humble neighbours. And this I count as another of the ways in which the poor have been disadvantageously used by the rich, although the rich have not designedly done them injury; to do which is altogether contrary to their disposition. Whatever wrong they inflict, I believe that it is unintentionally done. Their worst fault, after all, is the neglecting to improve the knowledge of their peasantry on the subject which most concerns their permanent interests, viz., the true relations between capital and labour, demand and supply. Those relations lie at the bottom of all civilized societies; and although they are frequently disturbed, by the agency of various artificial causes, nothing can permanently destroy or Supersede their influence. In my history of the hamlet of East Burnham, I have set forth the mischief of doing too little for the improvement of the poor by the lord of the soil. In other parts of England, perhaps too much is being done. The true way to assist humble labouring folk is to help them to help themselves. After attending to the due provision of weather-tight dwellings, a bit of garden, and a schoolhouse, to which their children may be sent (if possible, at their own expense), the care of the rich should be directed to the inculcation of sound principles of social economy, including the habit of saving, and depositing those “savings” at interest. But, before all, the rich should emphatically point out the advantages of restricting the numbers of the poor. Too much encouragement is given, in England, to improvident marriages among the working people, whereby a large increase of the population is induced, to the sensible injury of the class at large. Hence the efforts to relieve itself by extensive emigration, a remedy of which it is impossible to deny the expediency, although it is well to remark that each individual emigrant must occasion an expenditure varying from twenty to fifty pounds sterling, for freight, and subsistence during the passage. So that, whilst we get rid of the surplus people, we also get rid of money, not in surplus. Whilst touching on this feature of our present condition, I must be permitted to refer to an opinion, published in another country, wherein the writer pretends to discover, in the imprudence of English men and women, a source of wealth and power to the nation. M. Maurice Block, writing in Le Temps, French newspaper, in January, 1862, gives a statement, compiled from statistical documents, showing the annual increase of population in various countries, at periods comprised between 1818 and 1861, as follows:—

40 years. In England, from 1821 to 1861 ...... 1625.
36 years. In Prussia, ,, 1822 to 1858 ...... 1440.
36 years. In Russia, ,, 1822 to 1858 ....., 1410.
39 years. In Austria, ,, 1818 to 1857 ...... 692.
35 years. In France, ,, 1826 to 1861 ...... 340.

Now, after exhibiting this striking comparison between the rate of increase in France and the rate of increase in England, M. Block proceeds to lament over the small number of births in his own country:

“It is matter of notoriety (he says) that among town artizans, young men are accustomed to defer their marriage until the day arrives when they have acquired a certain position in their trade. Once married, many of them are careful to have no more offspring than can be competently provided for, and can be fairly endowed at the death of the parents.

“This habit is likewise adopted in a great number of rural districts. It is affirmed, indeed, that in several of our departments, the peasantry habitually limit their families to two

[graphic]
« AnteriorContinuar »