[Source: The Cornhill Magazine, Vol. 29 (1874): 686-697]
"Vous etes comme l'enfant dans le sein de sa mère, attendant l'heure naissance; comme l'insecte ailé dans le ver qui rampe, aspirant à sortir de cette prison terrestre pour prendre votre essor vers les cieux." Les Paroles D'un Croyant.
"Of all forms of mistake prophecy is the most gratuitous," writes George Eliot, and we do not desire to prove once more by our own personal failure how true is the assertion. We do not attempt in any degree to forecast the years and predict the outcome of the dispute between employers and employed in the agricultural districts of England. This much is safe to say — it is perhaps so obvious as scarcely to need saying — that when this crisis is over, the relation between the two parties will be found to have permanently changed. All cannot be as though the struggle had not been; the fact that the old conditions of agricultural labour have ceased, if but for a time, has shown that at any rate their continuance was not bound up with the persistence of the universe itself.
It is quite natural to regret the past, which always is, or seems more picturesque than the present, and has always found a vates sacer. Few have not read and enjoyed the pretty lines of Keats, in which he sighs for Robin Hood and his company, for the vanished time whose hours are old and grey —
Gone the merry morris din,
Gone the song of Gamelyn;
and there are many now who, looking on some almost deserted village, for there are such in the west, which have sent as emigrants all that is best of their youth and vigour, consider that England's true peasantry, loyal, devout, humble to their betters, are gone away as completely as the mediaeval England which the poets sang.
But in our skeptical days it has at last been asked whether that life in Sherwood Forest had a real existence, if the bold outlaw was ever more than a name, having a certain value as formulating traditions, but not as representing that which ever was. Nor scepticism stop there. It is even asserted that the tendency of the luxurious classes has ever been to invest the labourer with an ideal idyllic grace, so that they might unconsciously to themselves, veil the stern reality of the facts, and justify, still unconscious that any justification was needed, their own beautiful existence, by imagining a beauty of its own for a life which certainly but little resembled theirs. It is said, in fact, that the life of the fields and woods, whether lived by the tiller of the soil, or the noble poacher in his outlawry, has never been known, never understood, that the English [686/687] "peasantry" and their homes, described in drawing-rooms, sketched in albums, preached at from pulpits, are as mythical as that world, which Keats desired vainly to revive.
There have been but few attempts made by those most concerned to themselves in at all a different light. The labourers, for many hundred years, have, on the whole, acquiesced in the view taken of them, in the place found for them in the scheme of society. When they have not done so, at times widely distant and under very different conditions, the upheaval has been often attended with so great violence, and great social danger, that the whole of the respectable classes, not only whose privileges seemed immediately menaced — rose as one man to crush the movement. The attempts with which the names of Wat Tyler and Jack Cade — "that much misunderstood politician" — are associated, pointed indeed to a wide dissatisfaction, were not unconnected with an earnest religious feeling, but were necessarily short-lived because they were mixed with a wild communism, with which the times were in no degree sympathetic. The outbursts of thirty or forty years were not religious, and so lacked that element of dignity which had existed in the middle ages; were not thoughtful enough to have a communistic idea ; were simply a blind and drunken outcry against machinery, from ignorance of what machinery could do for them, against wealth, because themselves were starving. It was but an exaggerated and unguided bread-riot, without a definite aim, without political plan, without conviction of the brain, but simply of the belly.
Now however, the revolt of the labourer against his existing condition makes itself known under quite other circumstances. It has been conducted with remarkable temper and an absence from violence, the more striking because it is not a studied, but an instinctive absence. There has not been a threat or a suggestion from those who represent the labourers, that any course was possible than that which has been pursued. The leaders of the movement are religious men, are many of them local preachers and teetotal orators; their eloquence is the eloquence of the pulpit; they speak of their cause, as one which they can call on God to bless. There has been no communism talked, no demands in themselves extravagant, made. The claim for increased wages has been, as a rule studiously moderate. Whether the farmer can pay this claim is of course, a different matter. The leaders have a definite political plan; that have an ideal future. What strikes a looker-on is the studious limitation of the one within the bounds of existing institutions, the prosaic nature of the idea.
To enable our readers to understand the situation, we propose to sketch the labourer as he is, and give a true picture of village life. It will render it more real if we admit at once that we have in our mind a definite county, and an actual agricultural district; that knowing other and other districts almost equally well, we believe these to be that we shall state facts known to ourselves, and for the [687/688] accuracy of which we pledge our credit; or rather, let us say the writer of this paper — for the "we" has an individuality — pledges his credit.Whatever else it may have done, the agitation of which we speak has, at least, bettered the position of the labourer in regard to wages. They are almost everywhere, for Union and non-Union men alike, higher than they were ; and when people object to the demand for more wages, and ask if the labourer is worth more than fifteen or even thirteen shillings a week — inadequate as the larger of those sums seems to others — they are already conceding much, for the same question was asked in still angrier tones than now, when, two years since, the labourer in the Western counties asked for a rise of wages over the nine shillings he was then receiving per week. We could name more than one Dorset parish in which the wages stood, within the last ten years, at eight shillings per week, and that they should rise to ten was anywhere a strange and almost unexampled fact.
On this weekly sum the labourer married, and endeavoured to support his wife and children, when these were born to him. And they were born almost invariably, the family beginning with a promptness quite astonishing to those who do not know the real life of the agricultural districts. For a year, or even two years, if the wife was thrifty and the husband did not take his money to the public house, they managed to exist and keep a decent home on even this pittance ; but difficulties soon came, and debt at the village shop. What this means may not be obvious, though all who have lived in the country know the place and its strange odour, in which soft soap, red herrings, salt butter, bacon, cheese, corduroy, and (now) mineral oil struggle for the mastery. In nearly every village are two or three of these establishments, where many articles are retailed at almost a hundred per cent. above their cost price. The neighbouring town, it is true, affords a better market, but in very few parts of the country does the custom obtain of marketing, and laying by any store wages are too scanty, goods are bought to pass from hand to mouth, the actual wear and draggle of clothes over some miles of country road, and the expenditure of time are all things to be considered. So long as ready money is paid the purchaser gets fairly good articles at such a shop, though the price is high. If the red herring be somewhat stronger than the bloater or sardine, it is more "tasty; " a smaller quantity of tea than in our own homes will serve to colour the 'water, so that there is no doubt that black tea has been sold; the bacon, when cooking, sends its fragrance far down the village street. All this, however, is as the purchaser would wish it to be./p>
But on a day when the ready money is not forthcoming, when the children's shoes have required the week's wages, or nearly so, when a couple of day's illness, during which the man has stayed at home, has reduced his week's earnings by a third, credit is asked for and as readily granted to so good a customer. It may be cause of wonder how this should be so, but in truth a few creditors are by no means unprofitable. [688/689]
The tradesman still gets all the money that is forthcoming, and he is able to sell his second-rate, or even damaged articles to those who are in his debt, not by any means at a redaction. If the purchaser goes then to another shop, the tradesman has his remedy in the County Court, and a payment of big score at some small sum per week; but, for the most part, be trusts to getting as much as he can by instalments each year at the time of harvest, and harvest-money, of which more hereafter
Thus then, after the first year or two, the labourer is found in a condition of chronic debt, from which he only emerges if he be so fortunate as to have only sons born to him, and if they, at far too early an age, are sent into the fields to earn their living instead of being kept at school
The weekly expenditure of an average labourer's 'family can hardly be brought lower than the table here presented, which is carefully compiled from the averages given by several labourers' wives, in more than one district, the details varying slightly in some cases:
Weekly Expenditure of a Farm Labourer, his Wife, and Three Children.
[prices in shillings (s) and pence (d)
|5 Gallons Bread||6s 3d|
|1/2 lb. Butter||8d|
|1 lb. Cheese||6d|
|1 lb. Bacon||8d|
|1/2 lb. Sugar||2d|
|Pepper, Salt, &c.||1d|
|2 oz. Tea lb.||4d|
|1/2 lb Candles||3 1/2 d|
|Soda, Starch, and Blue||1d|
|1 Faggot||2 1/2 d|
|Rent and Rates||1s 6d|
|Man's Sick Club||6d|
|Children' Schooling||3 d|
(No luxuries or clothing included.)It will of course be objected that the weekly wages do not represent the whole income, and this we have admitted by the mention of harvest-money. To what sum, then, do the extras amount, and inwhat way is it made up?
First, then, there are some agricultural operations, such as turnip-hoeing, mowing, reaping — where these last are not done by machinery — trenching, clearing copses, and the like, which are almost invariably done by piece-work, and at these the labourer may no doubt earn from three to four shillings a week more than at the rest of his labour. But he earns it by extremely hard work, for which he should be paid higher, whatever wages ordinarily are. He works later, at a rate, and in a manner, that he could not do continuously. If, as it may be hoped, even larger share of ordinary farm work shall be in the future done "by the piece," it is quite certain that it cannot be done with the same spurt and élan which now is put into what is exceptional, casual, and limited in time.
In some parts of the country "gristing" is given as part of the wages, the actual sum in money being lessened by the value of the "gristing," [689/690] estimated, it must be allowed, at a low rate. Gristing is simply wheat to make bread, and as it is independent of the fluctuations of the market, it has been in some cases a very great boon. But in the case of a hard and grasping master, or even in the case of a good master, when a part of his corn has been less good than the remainder, it stands almost as a law of human nature that the poor man, who must take what is given, should not get the best. A black and musty loaf was exhibited not long since at an open-air meeting in a western town as a specimen of bread made from gristing, which had been given as part wages, and for this the man who carried it was offered, not by his master, but by another farmer, ten shillings for the loaf rather than that it should be seen. Taken, however, at its best, gristing is either a perquisite or a charity, and both are objectionable.
Beyond this there is generally a certain lump sum given as harvest-money for extra time in loading and getting home the wheat, amounting) perhaps, from a pound to thirty shillings a head. These things, all taken ,together, and at their highest computation, amount to, perhaps, two shillings a week beyond the nominal wages, that is to say, that the labourer at a nominal ten shillings a week may possibly earn for his family, not 26 £., but 28 £. 16s. per annum.
We have not noticed that on which the farmer often insists greatly, the extra beer, and sometimes the malt to make beer, which is given at hay and harvest time. The latter, which is the least' objectionable, is less prevalent than the former, but it is no gain to wages. If beer is not supplied, the worker in the fields drinks but little at his own cost, and quite as often tea or cocoa as beer or cider, and goes home at night tired but sober. Liquor which he drinks at another's cost is generally taken in so great quantity as to make him wish for more, the evening is spent at the public house, where of course his own money is squandered, and the larvest money materially lessened by the score against him at the "Duck Trumpet."
So much for wages. It will have been seen that in the schedule of expenses given above was an item for rent. Cottages are hold in various ways. In some cases nearly all the houses in a village are let with the farms, and are sub-let by the farmers to the labourers, the rent being deducted from their weekly wages; in some they are held of the landlords direct; in some, where cottages have been let on lives, from some owner who has no relation to the soil. But this rather affects the conditions of tenure than the rent, which is paid directly or indirectly, averaging about eighteen pence a week, for a cottage and a few perches of garden ground enough in a favourable year to grow potatoes for the family consumption. The farmers, as a body, greatly discourage their men having more than this. Up to this extent they have been willing that the men should have a garden or an allotment, often indeed give to their carters and best labourers a piece of newly broken ground for a year's potatoe crop — it must be remembered that the potatoe clears and cleans the ground admirably [690/691] for the next year's growth — and they have not unfrequently allowed the men an hour's use of the plough and horses to get the ground in order. But any such extent of ground as would grow more than a few potatoes and cabbages, any keeping of a pig, much more of a cow, is the farmer's detestation. He distrusts his men, and thinks that his grain, his hay, and, still more, the time that is his due, would be purloined if the labourer farmed ever so small a territory, and kept stock to however small an extent.
The cottage itself is, in many of our rural districts, — and in spite of much, very much that has been done by kindly landlords, filled with a real sense of their responsibilities, — a scandal and disgrace to England. We could point to village after village, and name them by their names, in which there are houses inhabited by whole families, in which there is but one bed-room; many with only a sort of outer lobby or landing which serves as a room, and one only regular 'chamber; three rooms are quite an exception in almost all our older village tenements. The sanitary arrangements are in keeping, and even ordinary personal cleanliness is out of the question. Yet it must be said, and said most emphatically to the honour of our poor, that many of the evils which might be thought to. be inseparable from such a state of things do not exist, and those who know their real condition wonder, not at the vices of the poor, but at their many virtues, which shine all the more brightly under so unfavourable circumstances.
It is obvious, from what has been said, that the work of women and children in the fields has been in many districts an absolute necessity, in order that the scanty earnings of the labourer himself should be eked out. People unfortunately do not read Blue Books, which are repulsive in their form, and difficult to obtain ; but if any of our readers care to go into this matter, we would advise them to obtain the Report of the Commissioners on the Employment of Women and Children in Agriculture. The information obtained by these gentlemen, and particularly by the Hon. Edward Stanhope, who brought to his work hereditary zeal not unduly biassed by his hereditary Toryism, throws more light on this position of the subject than any other work we know.
It is in women's labour in the fields that the real evil of the cottages comes out. Delicacy has there been sapped, and the woman takes her part in the coarseness of the fields. Her presence is no restraint on language. She becomes in all but sex a man among the men. Those husbands and brothers who have the finest instincts among the labourers, feel it a deep degradation, even when they must submit to it, that their wives and sisters have to work in the fields. There is a certain poetry of motion in the long lines of women who toss the hay after the mowers, and bind the sheaves where the reapers. have laid low the corn, and the picture of a Ruth when
She stood breast high among the corn,
Clasped by the golden light of morn,
is a fair one, but the beauty is like that of the woodland cottage she lives in, and will not bear too close an examination.
Recent legislation in regard to the children may do much, unless our present masters see fit to reverse it ; but nearly up to the present date there has been nothing to prevent the merest children doing men's work, when they should have been at school. It is true they have often done it well. The writer of this article has seen in one field fourteen ploughs at work at once, each with its pair of horses, each furrow a straight line that was a real pleasure to the eye to rest upon, and only four grown men among the whole. Mere boys were driving the plough, and the farmer with engaging candour stated the case quite plainly. He said in so many words that a man's wages were nine shillings, and that with his eye and his head carter's over them the two boys, at three and sixpence a week each, were at least as good as a man, so that by the employment of two boys he saved two shillings, and got a man's work for seven shillings a week.
The clergy, no doubt, would have wished to keep the children at school, and teach them at least the catechism; but they have been powerless, and even in the rural districts where the church has not, we are told, lost her hold upon the masses, the ignorance which is manifested at times is quite equal to that which so shocks our excellent London Police Magistrates, when some poor little mortal does not know where he will go, to if be tells a lie. We know a country parish where a lad, one of a large unthrifty family, carried a gun and discharged it loaded with powder to scare the birds before he was six years old. At that tender age his clergyman was a zealous man, and an earnest evangelical, who did all that he could for the parish and the people. To him succeeded a no less zealous high churchman, who, had he lived, would certainly now have been in the foremost ranks of ritualists. Both these gentlemen had Sunday-schools and evening classes, to which they gave their utmost attention. But at the time of Sunday-school and church our young friend was scaring rooks, and on week-day evenings was far too tired to attend a class. Another change in the parish, and there came a broad churchman, who tried to use the machinery of his predecessors, but again without success on this lad, and many another like him. The Bishop gave notice of a Confirmation, and among the candidates came the lad in question to his parson.
Well, Tom, do you know why you want to be confirmed ?
They tell I 'twill do I good."
You don't know much about it yet, do you, Tom?
"No; I do 'low I don't." Have you ever heard of Jesus
Christ I think I've heerd tell on him, but I b'ent sure."
And this was a lad who, if he had found his way to church, would possibly have found himself confronted by I an alms' dish, held out for a problematical penny to send missionaries to the Fiji Islands.
Another little lad whose "first years " were not allowed to be spent [692/693] in "books," and who, being sent to is work "preferred" healthful play," tossed up a button with a boy of his own age which should hold the muzzle of a loaded gun to the body of the other and fire. They were sure as there was no shot in it, that it would not hurt, but only make them jump. Fortunately the gun was directed to the part to which, had they been at school, the cane would have been applied, but the result was to scoop out a piece of flesh quite cleanly, so that the wound looked exactly like a pomegranate, out of which a tablespoonful had been extracted ; and the boy, for whom the button had fallen wrong side upwards, spent many weeks in bed, in the position of one who swims. The two poor little boys in Alton Locke, who said, "Turmits is froze, and us can't turn the handle of the cutter," are types of a large class, whose ignorance and whose sufferings have Iona called imperatively for redress.
Under no circumstances is real field work suited for women or children. Machinery will, of course, do much, as it has done already, to simplify and alleviate the disagreeables and difficulties of the work, but it can never be free from much that is hard, severe, discomfortable, deserving good pay. To those who think it is such pleasant and picturesque employment, that the labourer's life is an idyll, only needing to be translated into words, we would recommend that they should go, not only on some fine summer's evening when the heat of the day is declining, "with Thestylis to bind the sheaves," but with Roger on a foggy November morning, to spread rotten muck over the heavy clay land; not only to "hear the milk sing in the pail, with buzzings of the honied hours," but to milk those same cows at four o'clock in winter, when the frost is on the grass, and a keen north wind blowing across the pastures.
Those who have lived in the country and among the poor, though they have seldom admitted to themselves how hard and joyless was the lot of the tiller of the soil, have yet had a consciousness of the fact, and have endeavoured to mitigate it in many kindly ways. It is quite impossible to overstate the really charitable intentions of the country clergy, and country squires' wives and daughters. And though it may be doubted if the charity has always partaken of the character of mercy as described by Shakspeare, it has certainly been like it in that it has blessed the giver. Nothing has more tended to subdue the stiff dogmatic zeal of many a country rector and curate than that some troublesome ranter has fallen sick, and needed not only prayers and exhortations, but beef-tea and arrow-root, and nothing has so helped to free many a girl's mind from the artificialness and "petty dust" of society than the visit of comfort to some hard worked village drudge, and the humane sympathy brought out at the bedside of a sick child.
But when all this is admitted, it must be asserted that except in that matter of human sympathy which would be more precious without the material gifts, parish and private charities do not bless the recipients. They are simply palliatives to make men forget the insufficiency of wages ; they foster unthrift and perpetuate dependence. We scarcely know a [693/694] sadder sight than one familiar to us for years-a long string of weary women walking once a week nearly two miles to the great house, and two miles back, with a full pitcher of soup, excellent, no doubt, and kindly given, but with the strong feeling that if any of those privileged to apply did not apply they would be considered ungrateful, defiant, and revolutionary.
It is the same with coal clubs, clothing clubs, perquisites. Those who receive the benefits are dependent; they take them because they admit, they are given because it is declared, ipso facto, that wages are insufficient and they stand in need of alms. Why is,the agricultural labourer to be constrained to accept what the artisan would scorn, and which he, as be becomes more educated, will feel weighs him down with its kindly intentioned pressure?
Such, roughly speaking, is the condition of the agricultural labourer, or rather was his condition two years ago. It is obviously impossible in a paper of this extent to attempt to particularise, to define modifications, and to state the special position of different classes of farm labourers, e.g, of shepherds and carters. Enough to say that the receipts were — taken all round — from eighteen pence to two shillings a week more than those of the ordinary labourer. His condition had subdued his nature to what it worked in. Few things are sadder in a country village than to see the bright intelligent child in the school become dull and loutish when he goes to work, and the little maiden, modest and demure, become the hoyden of the harvest field. There are many who do not become all that their surroundings would imply, but these even, for the most part, are far from the ideal of peasant life, and farther still from the reality they might attain of independent manhood. They could look forward to nothing better, and when the days of work were over there were no savings to fall back upon. How should there be? a parish pittance was all their hope, and a workhouse often their most comfortable home. There are many districts in England — we speak deliberately and after the testimony of relieving officers — in which there is not one old man or woman disabled by age for work who is not in receipt of parish pay. Their religion is an unintelligent acquiescence in what was taught them in church or chapel, a touching hope that God will be good to them in some future state, and take their many sufferings as a set off against what they were told were their sins, an assurance to their friends that they died "happy " — as poor souls, why should they not? — with perhaps a faint reminiscence of chapel hymns and a fancied vision of Glory! Glory!
Their morality, as has been hinted, was far better than might have been expected; and having their own definite but unwritten code in the matters of chastity, honesty, truth, poaching, and some other points on which law and conscience, the rich and the poor are now and then at issue, were truer to that code than are sometimes their superiors in social rank. but here, again, it is impossible to go into detail.
That in a needy and suffering class there are always some who when pressure is strongest, cast it off and spring to the front, is a story as old [694/695] as Moses. The precise circumstances which led to the Warwickshire strike, and the formation of the Labourers' Union, need not here be detailed, for they were accidents. "The tale of bricks was doubled, Moses came," according to the old proverb; and if it had not been there, and if Mr. Arch had not found his opening there, the rising would soon have come somewhere else, and another leader would have been the first, though Arch would never have been far behind.
Of strikes and lock-outs let us say at once that they are and must be modes of warfare, and that all warfare is simply deplorable; and this the strikers admit, while they assert also its necessity. It may be well to quote the definition of the position of the Union from the words of one of its most eager advocates among the classes which are not those of labouring men:
What the Union wants is not to raise one class at the expense of another, but to take care that the progress of the labourer is commensurate with the general progress of the country. If England were impoverished by a long war, or any other national calamity, so that distress was in its degree on all classes, then would the labourers too be ready to share in the troubles of their country, and bear their ills without complaint. But when England is growing richer every day, and landlords and farmers, all that are called by a stretch of courtesy the upper classes, have luxuries and comforts of which their ancestors never dreamed, the labourer also claims his share in the growing prosperity, that that shall no longer be true that the Times has said, that "the advance of civilization has given to the labourer nothing but lucifer matches and the penny post." I wish also to define the position of the Labourers' Union. It is not true that it is intended to set, or has the effect of setting, class against class, or to foment disorder or encourage strikes; it is simply to bring labour and work into relation with each other, so that the labourer may, like all other men who have goods for sale, bring his labour to the best market. The mode in which this agitation has been conducted has been admirable, and this is a patent fact, nor is it without its effect even on those who feel most strongly against the opinions we are here to-night to advocate. I would say one word on the position of myself and my friends on this platform. We axe here but as a temporary arrangement, not as wishing to dictate or to lead. We must look facts in the face, and the agricultural labourer will be the first to acknowledge that, though through no fault of his own, he has not had in past years that education which the State is now, if slowly, still really, placing within the reach of all; and till such education is; given tile labourer, he calls on those who, through any accident, have had a better education, to forward his desires. The labourer knows well what he needs; he asks more educated men just now to find him words and writing and figures. When more men can speak. like Mr. Arch, then will those who thus aid the men as a temporary arrangement stand aside, to cheer and sympathize with them, while they do their own work in their own way. And that way will be the right way, for one of the strongest beliefs I have is that the people are, when once they have made up their minds, invariably right ; you may always trust the instincts of the people; and therefore I welcome, with all my heart, the hope of that household suffrage in counties, which will really place the power of England in the bands of the people of England. The evils of all popular movements only begin when the will of the people is thwarted, as even the most useful and admirable engine or machine may prove dangerous to those who stand in the way of its work.
We do not say these words are not too sanguine, we do not say that we make them our own, but they at least show that, in the minds of the leaders, this is no movement of a rash communism, no pulling down of [695/696] one class at the expense of another, but merely the determination that the labourer shall share in the general prosperity of the country.
The position of the squire and the farmer is widely different to what it was in the recollection of men now not past middle age: they have comforts and luxuries of which then they did not dream; the country squire is no longer to be recognized under the name Western; the farmer stands above, far above, the position the squire once filled but Molly with her dung-pick, as she appears in what is perhaps the most surprising scene in the whole range of English fiction — Molly and her relatives remain the same.
That the farmers, as a class, should be very angry, is not to be wondered ; the breeches pocket is the most sensitive part of his organization. It is for the class who read this Magazine to do what they can between those who are now at war, and heal a strife which cannot but be disastrous.
We have not gone, and we do not intend to go, into the politico-economical question; we will only say it is not a simple question of supply and demand; for men in want of wages are now leaving England with their families by hundreds for Queensland, for New Zealand, for Canada. The hay harvest is coming on, the corn harvest will soon follow, the demand will come, and where will -be the supply? We could point again to Western villages where one third of the houses are vacant, where the young men have disappeared, -where the land is going out of cultivation. The younger labourers have gone abroad, or to the North. "Oh," say the farmers," they will come back; such an one has done so already. They will find they were better off here." Not so. More than five hundred men had left one Western county more than six months ago; less than five per cent. have returned; from those that have remained 'come nothing but good accounts of their changed circumstances. Those who drift back are those who would work nowhere, who prefer to shuffle where bands of any sort are wanted. But these cases are known, while the farmers will not recognize the fact that the flower of the village are those who go and stay', not those who go and return.
Whatever may be the end of this, and even if the farmers gain the day, and the labourers fall back to their old, or nearly their old wages for a time, the agitation has in spite of all its drawbacks done good. It has educated the labourer in self-respect, and self-reliance has taught him to know himself as a member of a class, and. so of a state, not as an unit, without coherence and relation with the world at large. It has brought out fellowship and broken down the bounds of the parish. In old days his notion of geography and, by consequence, of the system of things, were somewhat like those of a lad who, born in Windsor, was sent to school at Eton. Being asked by the then fourth-form master to name the four quarters of the globe, he answered, Windsor, Eton, Datchet, Eton-Wick. So to the labourer the limits of the world were confined within those of his village, the nearest workhouse town, the market town, if it were not the same, and he would have found it hard to name a fourth boundary if it were not the "Pig and Whistle" in the next village. Now, he is a part [696/697] of all that is, rising in intelligence, able to know what he is and needs, to ask for what he needs, and if now silenced, to ask again after a time with ever increased persistence till he gets it.
And in the meantime it is for the comfortable classes to mediate in the matter, at least to consider the question, so as to throw the weight of their opinion into the scale. On the one side are those whom they have invested with a sentimental poetry, and looked on as creatures to be .petted, if touched at all; while now it appears that their dumb seeming ,acquiescence, if it had found a tongue, would have said nearly such words as these — "Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow."
On the other hand are the farmers, who say "We cannot afford to give higher wages; "behind them are the landowners, who say "We cannot afford to lower our rent."
Here we may venture to quote the words of another who has become, from force of circumstances, the spokesman of the labourer on this question:--
We have often been told that the farmers can't afford to give higher wage?. I won't go into the question as to whether political economy would recognise the doctrine that the price of a commodity is to be regulated by what the purchaser alleges he can afford to give for it. This is a question of income, and questions of income are delicate things to go into. But if the discussion is forced on us, we must meet it. Is it not a fact, that when a good farm is in the market there are a dozen applicants for it? Farm produce is rising in price year by year, and so is the rental of dairies. If some of the good stout yeomen of twenty and thirty years ago could come to life again, I think they would be rather astonished at the outward and visible signs of the inward financial struggles of their successors. More money paid in wages, means to many modern farmers one hunter less in the field, one carriage in stead of two, their sons educated for their calling instead of being crammed with useless classics at the public schools) their daughters taught something that shall be useful in after life instead of being french-polished by a foreign governor's. And to the great land-owners what does a reduction of rental mean? A box a tier higher at the opera, a racer less and a few thousands saved on the turf, some hundred head of pheasants and hares less butchered at battues, which means more corn grown and cheaper meat for the people, lower gaol, police and poor-rates.
We dare not take up more of our editor's available space, or more of our readers' time.
We have wished in a few plain words to show that the labourers are 'not discontented from simple "naughtiness," but that here, as when Lamennais addressed his burning words to his countrymen, here too are men struggling for a new birth, or rather a new development of existence.
We have said next to nothing of Mr. Arch, a man whom all who know him respect as a simple-minded, straightforward, honourable man, called to a greatness and, a notoriety he did not desire, and the "burthen of an honour" be would gladly lay down. Mr. Forster's recognition of him in the House of Commons does credit to both the men.
If our readers will study the matter for themselves with the aid of Blue Books and their native common sense, our long night's labour will not have been in vain.
Last modified 14 October 2002