The Claims of Labour - an essay on the duties of the employers to the employed
by Arthur Helps
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There is a common phrase which is likely to become a most powerful antagonist to any arguments that have been put forward in the foregoing pages: and I think it would be good policy for me to commence the attack, and endeavour to expose its weakness in the first instance. If you propose any experiment for remedying an evil, it is nearly sure to be observed that your plan is well enough in theory, but that it is not practical. Under that insidious word "practical" lurk many meanings. People are apt to think that a thing is not practical, unless it has been tried, is immediate in its operation, or has some selfish end in view. Many who do not include, either avowedly, or really, the two latter meanings, incline, almost unconsciously perhaps, to adopt the former, and think that a plan, of which the effects are not foreknown, cannot be practical. Every new thing, from Christianity downwards, has been suspected, and slighted, by such minds. All that is greatest in science, art, or song, has met with a chilling reception from them. When this apprehensive timidity of theirs is joined to a cold or selfish spirit, you can at best expect an Epicurean deportment from them. Warming themselves in the sun of their own prosperity, they soothe their consciences by saying how little can be done for the unfed, shivering, multitude around them. Such men may think that it is practical wisdom to make life as palatable as it can be, taking no responsibility that can be avoided, and shutting out assiduously the consideration of other men's troubles from their minds. Such, however, is not the wisdom inculcated in that religion which, as Goethe well says, is grounded on "Reverence for what is under us," and which teaches us "to recognize humility and poverty, mockery and despite, disgrace and wretchedness, suffering and death, as things divine."

There is a class of men utterly different from those above alluded to, who, far from entertaining any Epicurean sentiments, are prone to view with fear the good things of this world. And, indeed, seeing the multiform suffering which is intertwined with every variety of human life, a man in present ease and well-being may naturally feel as if he had not his share of what is hard to be endured. The fanatic may seek a refuge from prosperity, or strive to elevate his own nature, by self-inflicted tortures; but one, who adds wisdom to sensibility, finds in his own well-being an additional motive for benevolent exertions. It is surely bad management when a man does not make a large part of his self-sacrifices subservient to the welfare of his fellow-men. In active life nothing avails more than self-denial; and there its trials are varying and multifarious: but ascetics, by placing their favourite virtue in retirement, made it dwindle down into one form only of self-restraint.

* * * * *

I suppose there are few readers of history who have not occasionally turned from its pages with disgust, confusion, a craving for any grounds of disbelief, and a melancholy darkness of soul. It can hardly be otherwise, when you read, for instance, of the colossal brutalities of the Roman Emperors, many of whom indulged in a sportive cruelty to their fellow men, which reminds one of children with insects. When you find, again, some mighty Master of the World, renowned for valour, and for prudence, one of those emphatically called the "Good" Emperors, kindly presenting hundreds of men to kill each other for the amusement of the Roman multitude—when you are told that that multitude contained, what may have been for that age, good men, and gentle women—when, passing lower down the turbid stream of the recorded past, you read of Popes and Cardinals, Inquisitors and Bishops, men who must have heard from time to time some portions of the holy words of mercy and of love, when you find them, I say, counselling and plotting and executing, the foulest deeds of blood—when, descending lower still, you approach those days when law became the tyrant's favourite scourge, and you find the legal slave telling his master how he has interrogated some poor wretch "in torture, before torture, after torture, and between torture"—when you have some insight into what that thing torture was, by contrasting the hand-writing of the distracted sufferer before and after his examination—when, to your surprise, you read that these very victims of persecution, were themselves restless and dissatisfied, unless they could direct the arm of power against another persecuted race—and when, coming to your own day, you find that men, separated from you by distance, though not by time, can show the utmost recklessness of human life, if differently coloured from their own. Pondering over these things, your heart may well seek comfort in the thought that these tyrants were, or are, rude men, of iron frame, ready to inflict, ready themselves to suffer. It is not so. A Nero clings to his own life with abject solicitude. A Louis the Eleventh, who could keep other men in cages, wearies Heaven with prayers, and Earth with strange devices, to preserve his own grotesque existence. A James the First, who can sanction at the least, if not direct, the torture to be applied to a poor, old, clergyman, was yet in the main a soft-hearted man, can feel most tenderly for a broken limb of any favourite, have an anxious affection for "Steenie and Baby Charles," and an undoubted, and provident, regard for his own "sacred" person. What shall we say, too, of that Chancellor of his, a man, like his master, of a soft heart, full of the widest humanity, and yet, as far as we know, unconscious of the horror of those ill doings transacted in his own great presence? Why is it that I recall these things? Why do I bring forward what many of us, forgetting the iron weight with which the sentiments of his age press down even upon the mightiest genius, might look upon as a humiliating circumstance far greater than it is, in the life of a man we ought all to love so much? Is history a thing done away with, or is not the past for ever in the present? And is it not but too probable that we ourselves are occasionally guilty of things which, for our lights, are as sad aberrations as those which, in reading of the past, we have dwelt upon with the profoundest pity, and turned away from in overwhelming amazement? Are we quite sure that none of the vices of tyranny rest with us; and that we individually, or nationally, have not to answer for any carelessness of human life or for any indifference to human suffering?

* * * * *

What is it that has put a stop to many of the obvious atrocities I allude to as disgracing the page of history? The introduction of some great idea, the recognition, probably, in some distinct form of the command "to do unto others as you would they should do unto you." And this is what is wanted with regard to the relation of the employer and employed. Once let the minds even of a few men be imbued with an ampler view of this relation, and it is scarcely possible to estimate the good that may follow. Around that just idea what civilization may not grow up! You gaze at the lofty cathedral in the midst of narrow streets and squalid buildings, but all welcome to your sight as the places where miserable men first found sanctuary; you pass on and look with pleasure at the rich shops and comfortable dwellings; and then you find yourself amongst ample streets, stately squares, and the palaces of the great, with their columns and their statues: and if then you turn your thoughts to the complex varieties of modern life, and the progress of civilization and humanity, may you not see the same thing there; how all that is good, and merciful, and holy, is to be traced up to some cathedral truths, at first little understood, just restraining rude men from bloody deeds, and then gradually extending into daily life, being woven into our familiar thoughts, and shedding light, and security, and sanctity, around us? And, as the traveller's first impulse, when he rises in the morning after his journey, is to catch a glimpse of that famous building which must ever be the thing most worthy of note in the city; so, in your travels, would you not look first for these cathedral truths, and delight to recognize their beneficent influence wherever you may meet with anything that is good in man?

* * * * *

And now, reader, I have come to the close of this Essay. I do not assert that I have brought forward any specific, or even any new remedy of a partial nature, for the evils I have enumerated. Indeed I have not feared to reiterate hacknied truths. But you may be sure, that if you do not find yourself recurring again and again to the most ordinary maxims, you do not draw your observations from real life. Oh, if we could but begin by believing and acting upon some of the veriest common places! But it is with pain and grief that we come to understand our first copy-book sentences. As to the facts, too, on which I have grounded my reasonings, they are mostly well known, or might be so; for I have been content to follow other men's steps, and so assist in wearing a pathway for the public mind. I am well aware that I have left untouched many matters bearing closely on the subject, more closely, perhaps, some of my readers will think, than the topics I have taken. In the fields, however, of politics, and political economy, there are many reapers: and the part of the subject which I have chosen seemed to me of sufficient importance to be considered by itself. I know that in much of what I have said, I have touched with an unpractised hand, upon matters which some of those who are great employers of labour will have examined and mastered thoroughly. Still, let them remember, that it is one thing to criticise, and another to act. Their very familiarity with the subject may render them dull to the means of doing good which their position affords them. We pass much of our time in thinking what we might do if we were somewhat different from what we are; and the duties appropriate to our present position invite our attention in vain.

* * * * *

To others I may say, there is nothing in these pages, perhaps, that will exactly point out the path most fitting for you to take; still I cannot but think that so many have been indicated, that you will have no difficulty in finding some one that may lead to the main object if your heart is set upon it. If you throw but a mite into the treasury of good will which ought to exist between the employers and the employed, you do something towards relieving one of the great burdens of this age, possibly of all ages; you aid in cementing together the various orders of the state; you are one of those who anticipate revolutions by doing some little part of their duty towards the men of their own time; and, if you want any reward to allure you on, you will find it in the increased affection towards your fellows which you will always have, when you have endeavoured to be just to them.

But I would wish to put more solemn considerations before you. Ask yourself, if making all allowance for the difference of times and countries, you think that the payment of poor rates, of itself, fulfils the command to visit the sick, clothe the naked, and feed the hungry. Depend upon it, our duties, however they may be varied by the different circumstances of different periods, cannot be satisfied by any thing that the state demands of us, or can do for us. We have each, from the highest to the lowest, a circle of dependents. We say that Kings are God's Vicegerents upon earth: but almost every human being has at one time or other of his life, a portion of the happiness of those around him in his power, which might make him tremble, if he did but see it in all its fullness. But at any rate, the relation of master and man is a matter of manifest and large importance. It pervades all societies, and affects the growth and security of states in the most remarkable and pregnant manner; it requires the nicest care; gives exercise to the highest moral qualities; has a large part in civil life; a larger part in domestic life; and our conduct in it will surely be no mean portion of the account which we shall have to render in the life that is to come.


According to tables of which Mr. Grainger states that he has ascertained the general accuracy, the proportionate numbers among the working-classes in the Birmingham district at present receiving education are as follows:—Out of a population of 180,000 persons,

10,902 or 6.05 per cent. attend day or evening schools only;

4,141 or 2.30 per cent. attend both day or evening and Sunday-schools;

12,616 or 7.01 per cent. attend a Sunday-school only; making a total of

27,659 or 15.36 per cent. of the population attending schools of some kind or other.

Of this number—

5,835 are under 5 or above 15 years of age; leaving

21,824 children between the ages of 5 and 15 attending school in the borough of Birmingham at the time the schools were visited.

According to the population abstracts of 1821 and 1831, one-fourth of the total population consists of children between these ages. Hence it would appear, that of the 45,000 between the ages of 5 and 15 in the borough of Birmingham—

21,824 or 48.5 per cent. were receiving instruction in day and Sunday-schools; and

23,176 or 51.5 per cent. were not found receiving instruction in either day or Sunday-schools within the borough of Birmingham.

(Grainger, Evidence: App. Pt. I., p. f 185, 1. 13.)

In the Wolverhampton district, including the neighbouring towns of Willenhall, Bilston, Wednesfield, Sedgley, Darlaston, and also in the towns of Dudley, Walsall, Wednesbury, and Stourbridge, though there are many day-schools, yet the chief means relied on for the education of the working classes are Sunday-schools. In the Collegiate Church district in the town of Wolverhampton, containing a population of from 16,000 to 20,000 persons, there is no National or British School. There is not a single school, reading-room, or lending library attached to any of the manufactories, foundries, or other works, with one exception near Wednesbury; there are no evening-schools, and there is only one industrial school in these districts, namely, at Wednesbury. It is stated in evidence that the great majority of the children receive no education at all; that not one half of them go even to the Sunday-schools, and that those who do go to these schools seldom attend them with regularity. Throughout the whole of these districts, the proportion that can read is represented as being unusually small; some who stated that they could read, when examined, were found unable to read a word; and out of 41 witnesses under eighteen years of age examined at Darlaston, only four could write their names. (Horne, Report: App. Pt. II., p. Q 16, ss. 182 et seq.)

"The number of children on the books at the different schools in Sheffield, comprising every description of schools," says Mr. Symons, "was made the subject of minute and accurate inquiry in 1838, by the Rev. Thomas Sutton, the vicar; and I have reason to believe that no material difference has taken place in the amount of scholars taught at the 'common' and 'middling' private day-schools since Mr. Sutton's census was made." From this census it appears that the maximum number of children on the books of the different day-schools, including the infant-schools, is 800; but on a personal examination of these schools by the Sub-Commissioner, he states that a large proportion, no less than 26.47 per cent. out of the total number on the books, must be deducted as being continually absent. "Assuming," therefore, he continues, "that the schools thus estimated are a criterion of the rest (and they are certainly superior), the number who attend the schools out of the 8000 on the books is only 5869. Of the number present at the schools visited, when probably the least instructed were absent, it appears that 45.83 per cent. were unable to read fairly, and that 63.43 per cent. could not write fairly. Taking this as an index to the education of the total number on the books, it results that, of the whole 8000, 4333 only can read fairly, and 2925 only can write fairly, or, in other terms, have attained an elemental education."

The population of Sheffield parish is computed to be 123,000. Of this number it is assumed that at least one-fifth will consist of children between the ages of three and thirteen. There will be therefore 24,600. Of these more than two-thirds will be of the working classes: at least 16,500, then, of these classes are of an age at which they ought to be receiving education at day-schools; yet little more than one-third of this number, viz. one only out of 2.8 attend day-schools. It is impossible to ascertain what proportion of those who do not attend day-schools can read or write; but as it is certain that they are less instructed by at least one-half, I have every reason to believe that, out of the total 16,500 working class children, not above 6,500 can read fairly. Among the older youths there is still less education, for they have had more time to forget the little they were formerly taught. This estimate is so thoroughly corroborated by the most trustworthy evidence I have received, that I entertain the belief that two-thirds of the working class children and young persons are growing up in a state of ignorance, and are unable to read. On the books of the Sunday-schools there were during the last year 2258, of which the average attendance was only 1708. From this it appears that 24.40 per cent. or nearly a quarter, are absent of the whole number on the books of the Sunday-schools. (Report: App. Pt. I. pp. E 18 et seq. ss. 136, 138, 144-148, 150, 151.)

In the returns from the Warrington district it is stated that nearly three-fourths of the children can read; but the Sub-Commissioner reports that of this number nine-tenths can only give the sound of a few monosyllables; that they have just acquired so much knowledge in the Sunday-schools, and that they will probably attain to little more during their lives. (Austin, Report: App. Pt. II. p. M 19, ss. 125 et seq.)

Report on the Physical and Moral Condition of the Children and young Persons employed in Mines and Manufactures.


This Essay is chiefly based on evidence respecting the condition of the labouring classes in towns. It is not, however, necessary, on that account, to consider the subject as applying to those classes only. There is good reason to believe that the state of the agricultural labourers does not differ much, at least in kind, from that of the working people in towns. The remedies for the evils in both are of the same nature; and whatever results are arrived at with respect to the health of towns may generally be adapted, without much difficulty, to the wants of the rural population.

London, Feb. 6, 1845.


Knowing that there is an element of decay in any over-statement, I was very anxious, in the former Essay, to avoid even the least exaggeration in describing the distressed state of the labouring people. This anxiety was, in that case, needless. An elaborate Report has since been published by the Health of Towns Commission; and the evidence there given more than bears out the statements which I then made.

Indeed, the condition of a large part of the labouring classes, as seen in this Report, is evidently one which endangers the existence amongst them of economy, decency, or morality. You may there see how more than savage is savage life led in a great city. Dr. Southwood Smith in his evidence says,

"The experiment has been long tried on a large scale with a dreadful success, affording the demonstration that if, from early infancy, you allow human beings to live like brutes, you can degrade them down to their level, leaving them scarcely more intellect, and no feelings and affections proper to human minds and hearts."

He mentions that it has happened to him, in his visits to the poor, as Physician to the Eastern Dispensary, to be unable to stay in the room, even to write the prescription.

"What must it be," he adds, "to live in such an atmosphere, and to go through the process of disease in it?"

In another place he says,

"You cannot in fact cure. As long as the poor remain in the situations which produce their disease, the proper remedies for such disease cannot be applied to them."

This state of things, too, according to the same authority, is advancing on us:

"Whatever may be the cause, the fact is certain, that at the present time an epidemic is prevailing, which lays prostrate the powers of life more rapidly and completely than any other epidemic that has appeared for a long series of years."

The experienced student of history, reading of long wars, looks for their consummation in the coming pestilence. Gathering itself up, now from the ravaged territory, now from the beleaguered town, now from the carnage of the battle field, this awful form arises at last in its full strength, and rushing over the world, leaves far behind man's puny efforts at extermination. We have a domestic pestilence, it seems, dwelling with us; and if we look into the causes of that, shall we find less to blame, or less to mourn over, than in the insane wars which are the more acknowledged heralds of this swift destruction? But, to return to detail. Mr. Toynbee, one of the surgeons of the St. George's and the St. James's Dispensary, tells us:

"In the class of patients to our dispensary, nearly all the families have but a single room each, and a very great number have only one bed to each family. The state of things in respect to morals, as well as health, I sometimes find to be terrible. I am now attending one family, where the father, about 50, the mother about the same age, a grown up son about 20, in a consumption, and a daughter about 17, who has scrofulous affection of the jaw and throat, for which I am attending her, and a child, all sleep in the same bed in a room where the father and three or four other men work during the day as tailors, and they frequently work there late at night with candles. I am also treating, at this present time, a woman with paralysis of the lower extremities, the wife of the assistant to a stable-keeper, whose eldest son, the son by a former wife, and a girl of 11 or 12 years of age, all sleep in the same bed! In another case which I am attending in one room, there are a man and his wife, a grown up daughter, a boy of 16, and a girl of 13; the boy has scrofulous ulcers in the neck; the father, though only of the age of 49, suffers from extreme debility and a broken constitution."

The medical officer of the Whitechapel Union says,

"I know of few instances where there is more than one room to a family."

Mr. Austin, an architect, gives us the following description of Snow's Rents, Westminster, which is but one instance "among many worse," of the state of things produced simply by the want, as he expresses it, of "proper structural arrangement and control."

"This court is of considerable width, upwards of 20 feet, but the houses are mostly without yards, and the refuse, when become intolerable inside the houses, is deposited in the court itself, the whole centre being a pool of black stagnant filth, that accumulates from time to time, and is left to decompose and infect the whole neighbourhood. Ventilation, or rather a healthy state of the atmosphere is impossible. What little disturbance of the air does take place, would appear only to render its state more intolerable."

Being asked what the condition of this court is with regard to drainage and the supply of water, he says,

"There are none whatever there. In wet weather, when the water attains a certain height In the court, it finds its way into an open, black, pestilence-breathing ditch in a neighbouring court; but in the ordinary state of things the whole centre of this place is one mass of wet decomposing filth, that lies undisturbed for weeks, from which, so dreadful is the effluvia at times arising, that in the tenants' own words, 'they are often ready to faint, it's so bad!' The supply of water consists in this: that 16 houses are accommodated with one stand pipe in the court! On the principal cleaning day, Sunday, the water is on for about five minutes, and it is on also for three days in the week for one half hour, and so great is the rush to obtain a modicum before it is turned off, that perpetual quarrelling and disturbance is the result."

If we go now from the Metropolis to some of the great towns, we find, substantially, the same account, varied by the special circumstances of each place. Liverpool, which we will look at next, is probably the worst. An official enumeration of the court and cellar population of that town was made two years ago, from which it appeared that 55,534 persons, more than one-third of the working classes, inhabited courts; and 20,168 persons lived in cellars. There are also cellars in the courts containing probably 2000 inhabitants.

"With regard to the character of these courts, 629, or nearly one-third, were closed at both ends; 875, or less than one-half, were open at one end; and only 478, or less than one-fourth, open at both ends.

"The cellars are 10 or 12 feet square; generally flagged,—but frequently having only the bare earth for a floor,—and sometimes less than six feet in height. There is frequently no window, so that light and air can gain access to the cellar only by the door, the top of which is often not higher than the level of the street. In such cellars, ventilation is out of the question. They are of course dark; and from the defective drainage, they are also very generally damp. There is sometimes a back-cellar, used as a sleeping apartment, having no direct communication with the external atmosphere, and deriving its scanty supply of light and air solely from the front apartment."

The above extract, and the numbers of the court and cellar population, are taken from Dr. Duncan's evidence. He thinks, from extensive data in his possession, that the numbers, as given in this enumeration, are under the mark. And it is suggested that, possibly, casual lodgers have been omitted. Dr. Duncan then gives some further details which enable us more fully to understand what dog-holes these cellars are.

"Of the entire number of cellars, 1617 have the back apartment I have mentioned; while of 5297 whose measurements are given, 1771, or one-third, are from five to six feet deep,—2324 are from four to five feet, and 1202 from three to four feet below the level of the street: 5273, or more than five-sixths, have no windows to the front; and 2429, or about 44 per cent. are reported as being either damp or wet."

In cellars of this kind there are sometimes 30 human beings, sometimes more, "furnished," as Dr. Duncan tells us, "with a supply of air sufficient for the wants of only seven." Occasionally, in this Report, there are scenes described in a circumstantial, Dutch-picture way which the most vigorous imagination, priding itself on its ingenuity in depicting wretchedness, would hardly have conceived. Take the following instance from the evidence of Mr. Holme of Liverpool.

"Some time ago I visited a poor woman in distress, the wife of a labouring man. She had been confined only a few days, and herself and infant were lying on straw in a vault through the outer cellar, with a clay floor, impervious to water. There was no light nor ventilation in it, and the air was dreadful. I had to walk on bricks across the floor to reach her bed-side, as the floor itself was flooded with stagnant water. This is by no means an extraordinary case, for I have witnessed scenes equally wretched; and it is only necessary to go into Crosby-street, Freemason's row, and many cross streets out of Vauxhall-road, to find hordes of poor creatures living in cellars, which are almost as bad and offensive as charnel houses. In Freemason's-row I found, about two years ago, a court of houses, the floors of which were below the public street, and the area of the whole court was a floating mass of putrefied animal and vegetable matter, so dreadfully offensive that I was obliged to make a precipitate retreat. Yet the whole of the houses were inhabited!"

Think what materials for every species of comfort and luxury, are perpetually circulating through Liverpool. If there had not been, for many a day, a sad neglect of supervision on the part of the employers, and great improvidence on that of the employed, we should not see the third part of the working population of such a town immersed in the most abject wretchedness, and all this wealth passing through and leaving so little of the comforts of life in the active hands through which it has passed. It may be said, however, that a considerable part of the population of Liverpool is immigrant, and Irish. Turn then to Nottingham, or York, or Preston, it is the same story. Mr. Hawksley, the engineer, says of Nottingham:

"With few exceptions the houses of Nottingham and its vicinity are laid out either in narrow streets, or more commonly are built in confined courts and alleys, the entrance to which is usually through a tunnel from 30 to 36 inches wide, about 8 feet high, and from 25 to 30 feet long, so that purification by the direct action of the air and solar light is in the great majority of these cases perfectly impracticable. Upwards of 7000 houses are erected back to back and side to side, and are of course by this injurious arrangement deprived of the means of adequate ventilation and decent privacy."

Dr. Laycock says of York,

"From these inquiries it appears that in the parish of St. Dennis, in which strict accuracy was observed, from 8 to 11 persons slept in one room in 4.5 per cent. of the families resident there; in 7.5 per cent. from 6 to 8 persons slept in one room; of the total 2195 families visited by the district visitors, 26 per cent. had one room only for all purposes."

The Rev. Mr. Clay gives an account of an examination of a part of Preston,

"The streets, courts, and yards examined contain about 422 dwellings, inhabited at the time of the inquiry by 2400 persons sleeping in 852 beds, i.e. an average of 5.68 inhabitants to each house, and 2.8 persons to each bed.

"In 84 cases 4 persons slept in the same bed. ,, 28 ,, 5 ,, 13 ,, 6 ,, 3 ,, 7 ,, 1 ,, 8

"And, in addition, a family of 8 on bed stocks covered with a little straw."

The results of statistical investigations, with respect to the duration of life, are in unison with the inferences that we should naturally make from the facts before us. Dr. Laycock shows us that in York, in the best drained parishes, where the population to the square rood is 27, and the mean altitude above the sea in feet is 50, the mean age at death is 35.32; in intermediate parishes, where the population is denser and the altitude less, the mean age at death is 27.29; in the worst drained, worst ventilated, and lowest situated parishes, the mean age at death is 22.57. He mentions a fact well worth noticing, that the cholera in 1832 broke out in the court called "the Hagworm's nest," which is in the same spot where the pestilences of 1551 and 1604 had dwelt. Surely, in these last two hundred years, we might have drained and ventilated a locality which experience had shown to be so attractive to epidemics. The Rev. Mr. Clay has furnished a table, subjoined in the Appendix, showing the progressive diminution of vitality in the respective classes of gentry, tradesmen, and operatives, at Preston. Dr. Duncan says respecting the mortality of Liverpool,

"While in Rodney Street and Abercromby Wards, with upwards of 30,000 inhabitants, the mortality is below that of Birmingham—the most favoured in this respect of the large towns in England—in Vauxhall Ward, with a nearly equal amount of population, the mortality exceeds that which prevails in tropical regions. * * * * * 177 persons die annually in Vauxhall Ward for every 100 dying out of an equal amount of population in Rodney Street and Abercromby Wards."

Vauxhall Ward is where the greater number of inhabitants dwell in cellars. Well may Dr. Duncan, in commenting on this difference of mortality in Vauxhall Ward and Rodney Street, declare that it is a fact "sufficient to arouse the attention and stimulate the exertions of the most indifferent."

* * * * *

The average age at death in the following classes is made out from all the deaths which took place in the Suburban, the Rural, and the Town districts of Sheffield in the three years, 1839, 1840, and 1841:

Gentry, professional persons, and their families 47.21

Tradesmen and their families 27.18

Artisans, Labourers, and their families

A. Employed in different kinds of trade and handicraft 21.57 common to all places

B. Employed in the various descriptions of manufacture 19.34 pursued in Sheffield and its neighbourhood

Persons whose condition in life is undescribed 15.04

Paupers in the Workhouse 25.51

Farmers and their families 37.64

Agricultural Labourers and their families 30.89

In considering such statistics, the premature death of these poor people is not the saddest thing which presents itself to us, but the unhealthy, ineffectual, uncared-for, uncaring life which is the necessary concommitant of such a rapid rate of mortality.

* * * * *

Since the publication of the preceding Essay, Mr. Pusey's "Poor in Scotland," an abstract which has brought the evidence taken before the Scotch Poor Law Commission within short compass, has been published. This evidence is of a nature that cannot be passed by. We may think that such details are wearisome, but we must listen to them, if we would learn the magnitude of the evil. It is no use proceeding without a sufficient substratum of facts. Turning then to this abstract, we find one minister in Edinburgh saying,

"I visited a part of my parish on Friday last, and in all the houses I found persons destitute of food, and completely destitute of fuel; without an article of furniture; without beds or bedding, the inmates lying on straw."

Another tells the Commissioners,

"the allowance generally made, is not sufficient to keep them (the outdoor pensioners) in existence at the lowest possible rate of living."

A third says

"I have often trembled when I have gone at the call of duty to visit the receptacles of wretchedness, because I felt that I could not relieve the misery which I must look upon; and in such cases, nothing but a sense of duty could compel me to go and visit the poor."

And a fourth minister mentions that his poor parishioners had stated to him

"that they regarded themselves as outcasts from the sympathy of their fellow-men."

It also appears from Dr. Alison's evidence that this distress is increasing. You read of Glasgow, always fruitful in extreme instances of misery, that in one of the private poor-houses, 22 children were found, all afflicted with fever, and occupying a room about fourteen feet square. The Superintendent of the Glasgow Police, speaking of a district in the centre of the town, says

"These places are filled by a population of many thousands of miserable creatures. The houses in which they live are altogether unfit for human beings, and every apartment is filled with a promiscuous crowd of men, women and children, in a state of filth and misery. In many of the houses there is scarcely any ventilation. Dunghills lie in the vicinity of the dwellings, and from the extremely defective sewerage, filth of every kind constantly accumulates."

Touching the immediate object of the enquiry, the relief of paupers, we find that Humanity having gone with cold and cautious steps (giving 4s. a month, sometimes, to fathers and mothers of families) through the Southern and middle regions of Scotland, becomes in the Highlands nearly petrified: at "the utmost" is only able to divide amongst "the impotent poor about 3s. 6d. a-head for the whole year." I dare say many things may be urged against this, as against all other evidence—a bit picked off here, another pruned off there—this statement modified, that a little explained. Do what you will: this evidence, like that of the Health of Towns Commission, remains a sad memorial of negligence on the part of the governing and employing classes.

It may be said that the improvidence of the labouring people themselves is a large item in the account of the causes of their distress. I do not contend that it is not, nor even that it is not the largest; and, indeed, it would be very rash to assert that this class has, alone, been innocent of the causes of its own distress. But whatever part of their improvidence is something in addition to the improvidence of ordinary mortals, belongs, I believe, to their want of education and of guidance. It is, therefore, only putting the matter one step further off, to say that their distress is mainly caused by their improvidence, when so much of their improvidence is the fruit of their unguided ignorance. However true it may be, that moral remedies are the most wanted, we must not forget that such remedies can only be worked out by living men; and that it is to the most educated in heart and mind that we must turn first, to elicit and to spread any moral regeneration. Besides, there is a state of physical degradation, not unfrequent in our lowest classes, where, if moral good were sown, it could hardly be expected to grow, or even to maintain its existence.

* * * * *

The extracts given in the foregoing pages present some of the salient points which these new materials afford of the distressed state of the labouring classes. It is a part of the subject requiring to be dwelt upon; for I believe there are many persons in this country who, however cultivated in other respects, are totally unaware of the condition of that first material of a state, the labouring population, aye even of that portion of it within a few streets of their own residences.

Indeed, everybody is likely at some time or other to have great doubts about this distress which is so much talked of. We walk through the metropolis in the midst of activity and splendour: we go into the country and see there a healthful and happy appearance as we pass briskly along: and we naturally think that there must be great exaggeration in what we have heard about the distressed condition of the people. But we forget that Misery is a most shrinking unobtrusive creature. It cowers out of sight. We may walk along the great thoroughfares of life without seeing more than the distorted shadow of it which mendicancy indicates. A little thought, however, will soon bring the matter home to us. It has been remarked of some great town, that there are as many people living there in courts and cellars, or at least in the state of destitution which that mode of life would represent, as the whole adult male population of London, above the rank of labourers, artisans, and tradesmen. Probably we should form the most inadequate estimate of this court and cellar population, even after a long sojourn in the town. Now ponder over the fact. Think of all the persons in London coming within the above description whom you know by sight. Think how small a part that is of the class in question, how you pass by throngs of men in that rank every day without recognizing a single person. Then reflect that a number of people as great as the whole of this class may be found in one town exhausting the dregs of destitution. When we have once appreciated the matter rightly, the difficulty of discerning, from casual inspection, the amount of distress, will only seem to us an additional element of misfortune. We shall perceive in this quiescence and obscurity only another cause of regret and another incitement to exertion.


Having now made ourselves to some extent aware of the distress existing amongst the labouring classes, we will consider the main branches of physical improvement discussed in the Health of Towns Report.


I put this first, being convinced that it is the most essential. It is but recently that any of us have approximated to a right appreciation of the value of pure air. But look for a moment at one of those great forest trees; and then reflect that all that knotted and gnarled bulk has been mainly formed out of air. We, in our gross conceptions, were wont to think that the fatness of the earth was the tree's chief source of nourishment. But it is not so. In some cases this is almost perceptible to the eye, for we see the towering pine springing from a soil manifestly of the scantiest nutritive power. When we once apprehend how large a constituent part, air is, of bodies inanimate and animate, of our own for instance, we shall be more easily convinced of the danger of living in an impure atmosphere.

And whether it agree with our preconceived notions or not, the evidence on this point is quite conclusive. The volumes of the Health of Towns Report teem with instances of the mischief of insufficient ventilation. It is one body of facts moving in one uniform direction. Dr. Guy noticed that, in a building where there was a communication between the stories, disease increased in regular gradations, floor by floor, as the air was more and more vitiated, the employment of the men being the same. But it is needless to quote instances of what is so evident. With respect to the remedies, these are as simple as the evils to be cured are great. For instance, there was a lodging house in Glasgow where fever resided; "but by making an opening from the top of each room, through a channel of communication to an air pump, common to all the channels, the disease disappeared altogether." Other modes of ventilation are suggested in the Report; and one very simple device introduced by Mr. Toynbee, a perforated zinc plate fixed in the window-pane furthest from the fire or the bed, has been found of signal benefit. I shall take another opportunity of saying more upon the subject of ventilation. Of all the sanitary remedies, it is the most in our power. And I am inclined to believe that half per cent. of the annual outlay of London, that is ten shillings in every hundred pounds, spent only for one year in improvements connected with ventilation, would diminish the sickness of London by one fourth.


Melancholy as the state of this department is shown to be; destructive annually, I fear, of thousands of lives; it is almost impossible not to be amused at the grotesque absurdity with which it has been managed. One can imagine how Swift might have introduced the subject in Grildrig's conversations with the King of Brobdingnag. "The King asked me more about our 'dots' of houses, as his Majesty was pleased to call them; and how we removed the scum and filth from those little 'ant-heaps' which we called great towns. I answered that our custom was to have a long brick tube, which we called a sewer, in the middle of our streets, where we kept a sufficient supply of filth till it fermented, and the foul air was then distributed by gratings at short intervals all over the town. {202} I also told his Majesty, that to superintend these tubes, we chose men not from any particular knowledge of the subject, which was extremely difficult, but impartially, as one may say; and that the opinions of these men were final, and the laws by which they acted irrevocable. I also added that if we had adopted the mode of making these tubes which our philosophers would have recommended, (but that we were a practical people) we might have saved in a few years a quarter of a million of our golden coins. 'Spangles,' said His Majesty, who had lately seen me weighing one of the golden likenesses of our beloved Queen against a Brobdingnag spangle that had fallen from the dress of some maid of honour. Spangles or not, I replied, they were very dear to us, dearer than body and soul to some, so that we were wont to say when a man died, that he died 'worth so much,' by which we meant so many gold coins or spangles, at which His Majesty laughed heartily. I then went on to tell the King, of our river Thames, that it was wider than His Majesty could stride, that we were very proud of it, and drank from it, and that all these tubes led into it, and their contents were washed to and fro by the tide before the city; and, then, my good Glumdalclitch seeing that I had talked a long time and was much wearied, took me up and put me into my box and carried me away. But not before I had heard the King speak of my dear country in a way which gave me great pain. 'Insufferable little wretches,' His Majesty was pleased to say, 'as foolish when they are living at peace at home as when they are going out to kill other little creatures abroad,' with more that was like this, and not fit for me to repeat."

In sober seriousness, this subject of sewerage has been most absurdly neglected. I do not blame any particular class or body of men. Parliament has been repeatedly applied to in the matter, but nothing has been done, as it was a subject of no public interest, though it is probable, if the truth were known, that in those Sessions in which the subject was mooted, there were few questions of equal significance before the House. There are excellent suggestions in the Health of Towns Report for improvement in the original construction of sewers, for their ventilation, for their being flushed, for making the curves at which the side sewers ought to be connected with the main trunks, for a better system of house drainage, respecting which Mr. Dyce Guthrie has given most valuable evidence, for the doing away with unnecessary gully drains, and for conducting all the contents of these sewers, not into our much loved river, but far away from the town, where they can do no mischief, and will be of some use. This is not a simple matter like ventilation; and what is proposed involves large undertakings. Still it is of immense and growing importance, and should be resolutely begun at once, seeing that every day adds to the difficulty which will have to be overcome.


This is an essential part of any large system of sanitary improvement, and one that does not present very great difficulty. The principal facts which I collect from the Report are, that the expense of transmission is inconsiderable, and consequently that we may have water from a distant source; that the plan of constant supply seems to be the best; that this constant supply, under a high pressure, could be thrown over the highest buildings in case of fire, that it could be used for baths, public fountains, and watering and cleansing streets; that it could be supplied at 1d. or 1.5d. a week to the houses of the poor, and for this that they might have any quantity they chose to take. At present the labour of bringing water entirely prevents cleanliness in many of the more squalid parts of the town: and the advantage of a constant and unlimited supply would be almost incalculable. There appears to be some difficulty in applying the principle of competition to the supply of water; for the multiplication of water companies has in some instances only produced mischief to the public. I would suggest to the political economist whether there may not be some spheres too limited for competition. But these are questions which I cannot afford at present to dwell upon.


In considering this branch of the subject, the first thing that occurs is the absolute necessity of getting sufficient space to build upon. Other improvements may follow; but almost all of them will be defective, if this primary requisite be wanting. Hence it is of such importance to combat the notion that people must live near their work. It is a great convenience, no doubt. But the question is not of living near their work, but of dying, or being perpetually ill, near it. Mr. Holland has made a calculation from which it appears, that in some parts of the town of Chorlton-upon-Medlock, in a family of five individuals, "there will be on the average about 50 days a year more sickness due to the insalubrity of the dwellings." To avoid this additional illness, it is surely worth while for working men to live even at a considerable distance from their work. Indeed I think two or three miles is not such a distance as should prevent them. Besides, is it not probable that, in many instances, the work would come to them?

Supposing that new building takes place, whether from the poorer classes tending more to the suburban districts, or from the dense parts of towns being rebuilt, much might be done by modifying, if not repealing, the window tax and the tax on bricks.

With respect to the next point, the laying out of the ground, there are most valuable suggestions given by Mr. Austin in the Health of Towns Report. The result of his evidence is, that the average rental paid now in Snow's Fields, a place which I have endeavoured to make the reader acquainted with before, would return upwards of 10 per cent. upon money laid out in making a substantial set of buildings to occupy the place of the present hovels; and that these new houses should have "every structural arrangement requisite to render them healthy and comfortable dwellings." I have only to add on this subject, that it would be of the utmost advantage in any new buildings, and especially for small houses, likely to be built by small capitalists, that there should be a survey made of every town, and its suburbs, with 'contours of equal altitude.' {209} As things are managed at present, people building without any reference to a general scale, or any connexion with each other (the non-interference principle carried to its utmost length) the greatest difficulties in the way of sanitary improvement are introduced where there need have been none.

* * * * *

The main branches of sanitary improvement touched upon by the Report are enumerated above. There are, however, some general results and principles which demand our especial attention.

In the first place it seems to be universally true that economy goes hand in hand with sanitary improvement. So beneficently is the physical world constructed, that our labour for sanitary ends is eminently productive. The order of Providence points out that men should live in cleanliness and comfort which we laboriously and expensively contravene. In the Appendix I subjoin a table drawn up by Mr. Clay, showing in detail the saving produced by sanitary measures. I may notice, as bearing on the point of economy, that there is concurrent evidence showing an excessive rate of mortality to be accompanied by excessive reproduction. Consequently, the result of the present defective state of sanitary arrangements is, that a disproportionate number of sickly and helpless persons of all ages, but chiefly children, are thrown upon the state to be provided for. If this were to occur in a small community it would be fatal. In a great state it is not more felt than a calamitous war, or an adverse commercial treaty. But it requires a continued attention as great as that which those more noisy calamities are able to ensure for themselves while they are in immediate agitation.

Secondly, it is stated that the seats of disease are the seats of crime, a result that we should naturally expect.

* * * * *

Again, it appears from many instances that what we are wont to call the improvements in great towns are apt to be attended by an increase of discomfort to the poor. To them, the opening of thoroughfares through densely crowded districts, in the displacement which it creates, is an immediate aggravation of distress. Considering this, ought we not to endeavour that improvements for the rich and the poor should go on simultaneously? It is a hard measure to destroy any considerable quantity of house property appropriated to the working classes, and thereby to raise their rents and densify their population, without making any attempt to supply the vacuum thus created in that market.

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It is stated by Dr. Arnott "that nearly half of the accidental illnesses that occur among the lower classes might be prevented by proper public management:" a statement which the general body of evidence, I think, confirms. Now, consider this result. Think what one night of high fever is: then think that numbers around you are nightly suffering this, from causes which the most simple sanitary regulations would obviate at once. When you are wearied with statistical details, vexed with the difficulty of trying to make men do any thing for themselves, disgusted with demagogues playing upon the wretchedness of the poor, then think of some such signal fact as this; and you will cheerfully, again, gird up yourself to fight, as heretofore, against evils which are not to be conquered without many kinds of endurance as well as many forms of endeavour.

I do not wish to raise a senseless moan over human suffering. Pain is to be borne stoutly, nor always looked on with unfriendly eye. But surely we need not create it in this wholesale fashion; and then say that that which is a warning and a penalty, is but wholesome discipline, to be regarded with Mussulman indifference.

* * * * *

I come now to what seems to me the most important result obtained in the whole course of the elaborate evidence taken before the Health of Towns Commission. It appears not only that distress can exist with a high rate of wages, without apparently any fault on the part of the sufferers; {214a} but, actually, that in some instances, there is an increase of sickness with an increase of wages. {214b} The medical officer of the Spitalfields' District states that the weavers have generally less fever when they are out of work. This statement is confirmed by testimony of a like nature from Paisley, Glasgow, and Manchester. It is one of the most significant facts that has struggled into upper air. We talk of the increase of the wealth of nations—it may be attended by an increase of misery and mortality, and the production of additional thousands of unhealthy, parentless, neglected human beings. It may only lead to a larger growth of human weeds. The explanation of the matter is simple. Dr. Southwood Smith tells us that "Fever is the disease of adolescence and manhood." Now, wretched as the dwelling houses of the poor are, their places of work are frequently still worse. {215a} Consequently, with an increase of work, there comes an increase of fever from working in ill-ventilated rooms, an increase of poor-rates, {215b} and an especial increase of orphanage and widowhood, as the fever chiefly seizes upon persons in the prime of life. And a large part of this increase is thus distinctly brought home to neglect, or ignorance, on the part of the employers of labour. Surely, as soon as they are made cognizant of this matter, they will at once hasten to correct it. In the appendix to this work there is a letter from Dr. Arnott, giving an account of the causes of defective ventilation, and the remedies for it. We can no longer say that the evil is one which requires more knowledge than we possess to master it. Science, which cannot hitherto be said to have done much for the poor, now comes to render them signal service. It is for us to use the knowledge, thus adapted to our hands, for a purpose which Bacon describes as one of the highest ends of all knowledge, "the relief of man's estate." Consider the awful possibility that we may at some future time fully appreciate the results of our doings upon earth. Imagine an employer of labour having before him, in one picture as it were, groups of wretched beings, followed by a still more deteriorated race, with their vices and their sufferings expressed in some material, palpable form—all his own handiwork in it brought out—and at the end, to console him, some heaps of money. If he had but a vision of these things by night, while yet on earth, such an all-embracing vision as comes upon a drowning man! Then imagine him to awake to life. You would not then find that he knew methods of ensuring to his workmen fresh air, but lacked energy, or care, to adventure any thing for them. Talk not to me of money, he would say—Money-making may be one of the conditions of continuance in this matter that I have taken in hand, but on no account the one great object. Indeed, if a man cannot make some good fabric by good means, he would perform a nobler part, as Mr. Carlyle would tell us, in retiring from the contest, and saying at once that the nature of things is too hard for him. He is far, far, better conquered in that way, than obstructing the road by work badly done, or adding to the world's difficulties by inhumanity.

What I have given is but an outline of the Health of Towns Report; and I would fain persuade my readers to turn to the original itself. Some delight in harrowing tales of fiction: here are scenes indicated, if not absolutely depicted, which may exercise the tenderest sympathies. Others are ever bending over the pages of history: here, in these descriptions of the life of the poor, are sources of information respecting the well-being of nations, which history, much given to tell only of the doings of the great, has been strangely silent upon. For the man of science, for the moral philosopher, or even for the curious observer of the ways of the world, this Report is full of interesting materials. But it is not as a source of pleasurable emotion that our attention should be called to it. It is because without the study of such works, we cannot be sure of doing good in the matter. If there is anything that requires thought and experience, it is the exercise of Charity in such a complicated system as modern life. Indeed, there is scarcely anything to be done wisely in it without knowledge. And I believe it would be better, for instance, that people should read this Health of Towns Report, than that they should subscribe liberally to carrying out even those suggestions which are recommended by men who have thought upon these subjects. There is no end to the quickening power of knowledge; but mere individual, rootless acts of benevolence are soon added up.

There is not the less necessity for this knowledge, because public attention is in some measure awakened to the duties of the employers of labour. I do not know a more alarming sight than a number of people rushing to be benevolent without thought. In any general impulse, there are at least as many thoughtless as wise persons excited by it: the latter may be saved from doing very foolish things by an instinct of sagacity; but for the great mass of mankind, the facts require to be clearly stated and the inferences carefully drawn for them, if they are to be prevented from wasting their benevolent impulses upon foolish or mischievous undertakings.


Certainly, whether built upon sufficient information or not, there is at the present time a strong feeling that something must be done to improve the condition of the labouring classes. The question is, how to direct this feeling—where to urge, where to restrain it; and to what to limit its exertions. An inane desire for originality in such matters is wholly to be discouraged. People must not dislike taking up what others have begun. Of the various modes of improving the sanitary condition of the labouring classes, each has some peculiar claim. Ventilation is so easy, and at the same time so effective, that it seems a pity not to begin at once upon that. Again, structural arrangements connected with the sewerage of great towns are pressing matters, because, like the purchase of the Sybil's books, you have less for your money, the longer you delay. These two things and the supply of water seem to me the first points to be attacked; but a prudent man will endeavour to fall in with what others are doing, if it coincides with his direction, and he can thereby hasten on, not exactly his own methods, but the main result which he has in hand.

There is one conclusion which most persons who have thought on these subjects seem inclined to come to—namely, that a Department of Public Health is imperatively wanted, as the duties to be performed in this respect are greater than can be thrown upon the Home Secretary. I venture to suggest one or two things which it might be well to consider in the formation of such a Department. It should not be a mere Medical Board under one of the great branches of the Executive; but an entirely independent Department. It will thus have a much firmer voice in Parliament, and elsewhere. Scientific knowledge, as well as legal and medical, should be at its daily command. I lay much stress upon the first, and for this reason. Medical men, who are not especially scientific, are apt, I suspect, to be "shut up in measureless content" with the old ways of going on. Their knowledge becomes stereotyped. And as, in such a Department, the aid of the latest discoveries is wanted, it is better to rely upon those whose especial business it is to be acquainted with them. All departments and institutions are liable to become hardened, and to lose their elasticity. It is particularly desirable that this should be avoided in a Department for the Public Health; and, therefore, great care should be taken in the constitution of it, to ensure sufficient vitality, and admit sufficient variety of opinion, or it would be better to trust to getting each special work done by new hands. The change of political chiefs, a thing frequent enough in modern times, will ensure some of that diversity of mind which is one of the main inducements for lodging power in a Commission or a Board.

It is a great question what authority should be entrusted by this central body to Municipalities or local bodies. They should certainly have the utmost that can discreetly be given to them. It does not do to say that, hitherto, they have been totally blind to their duty in this matter. So have other people been. The great principle of an admixture of centralization with local authority should not be lost sight of without urgent reasons. That any reform should be undertaken in sanitary measures betokens an improved state of moral feeling. The feeling amongst the most influential classes which produces the legislative reform may be expected to go lower down—indeed, the reform has already, in all probability, found some of its most useful supporters in a lower class—and therefore we may expect to find fit persons to work in the lower executive departments. It is not fair to go back and assume that the old state of feeling exists—in fact, that the parchment law is changed, and not the people. This might be so in a despotic government, but not here. It is an oversight, when, in such cases, a general improvement is not calculated upon.

One of the first things that might be attempted in the legislative way is Smoke Prohibition. It is exactly a matter for the interference of the state. The Athenian in the comedy, wearied of war, concludes a separate peace with the enemy for himself, his wife, his children, and his servant; and forthwith raises a jovial stave to Bacchus. Now all sensible people would not only be glad to enter into amicable relations with Smoke, but would even be content to pay a good sum for protection against the incursions from factory chimnies and other nuisances in their neighbourhood. But there is no possibility of making such private treaties. The common undistinguishable air is vitiated: and we ask the State, for the sake of the common weal, to see this matter righted. It has been long before the public; and there is sufficient evidence to legislate at once upon. At any rate, if Mr. Mackinnon's bill is referred to a Committee, it ought to be upon the understanding that the suggestions of the Committee shall be forthwith and earnestly considered, with a view to instant legislation. If the Committee were to make an excursion into the smoke-manufacturing parts of the Metropolis, they would see here and there factory chimnies from which less smoke issues than from private houses. This seems to be conclusive. They will not find, I think, that these smokeless chimnies belong to unimportant factories. Now, if the nuisance can be cured in one case, why not in all? Here we have new and stately public buildings, in the East and the West of the town, which only a few of us, for a short time, will see in their pristine purity. If we cannot appreciate the mischief which this smoke does to ourselves, let us have some regard for the public buildings. Consider, too, at what an immense outlay we purchase this canopy of smoke. Certainly at hundreds of thousands a year in London alone. We have, therefore, made an investment in smoke of some millions of money. If we had but the resources to spend upon public improvements, which have thus been worse than wasted, we should need no other contribution. Moreover, the proposed restrictions in the case of smoke would not only be beneficial to the public, but profitable to the individual: and the more one considers the subject, the more astonished one is, that they should not long ago have been enacted.

But the truth is, we are quite callous to nuisances. A public prosecutor of nuisances is more wanted than a public prosecutor of crime. And this is one of the things that would naturally come under the supervision of a Department of Health. I find, from the Health of Towns Report, that it is proposed to permit the continuance of sundry noxious trades in London for thirty years, and then they are to be carried on under certain restrictions. It cannot be said that this is selfish legislation: the present generation may inhale its fill of gas and vitriol; but our grandchildren will imbibe "under certain restrictions" only that quantity which is requisite to balance the pleasures of a city life. At Lyons there is a long line of huge stumps of trees bordering on the river. The traveller, naturally enough, supposes that this is the record of some civil commotion; but, on inquiry, he finds that the fumes of an adjacent vitriol manufactory have in their silent way levelled these magnificent trees as completely as if it had been done by the most effective cannonade. If we could but see in some such palpable manner how many human beings are stunted by these nuisances, we should proceed in their expulsion with somewhat of the vigour which it deserves. Imagine, if only for one day, we could enjoy a more than lynx-like faculty, and could see, not merely through rocks, but into air, what an impressive sight it would be in this Metropolis. Here, a heavy layer of carbonic acid gas from our chimnies—there, an uprising of sulphuretted hydrogen from our drains—and the noxious breath of many factories visible in all its varieties of emanation. After one such insight, we should need no more Sanitary Reports to stimulate our exertions. But it is only our want of imagination that prevents us from apprehending now the state of the atmosphere. Science demonstrates the presence of all that I have pictured, and far more.

Great resistance might, perhaps, be made, if large measures were to be taken for the removal of noxious trades from great towns. In many cases, where rapid measures would be harsh and unjust, it would be well worth while for the community to buy the absence of these unpleasant neighbours, resolutely shutting the gates against the incoming of any similar nuisances for the future. On the other hand, mere clamour about the rights of property and the injustice of interference must be firmly resisted. This clamour has been made in all times. Indeed, men seldom raise a more indignant outcry than when they are prevented from doing some injury to their neighbours. How the feudal barons must have chafed, when deprived of the right of hanging in their own baronies: how cruel it doubtless seemed to the monopolists of olden times, when some "factious" House of Commons summoned to its bar the Sir Giles Overreaches, and made them disgorge their plunder; how planters in all climes storm, if you but touch the question of loosening the fetters of their slaves. And so, in these minor matters, when the community, at last awake to its interest, forbids some injurious practice to go on any longer, it is natural that those who have profited by it, and who, blinded by self-interest, still share the former inertness of the public, should find it hard to submit quietly and good-naturedly to have any restrictive regulations put upon their callings. And where the public can smooth this in any way, they ought to do so; not grudging even large outlay, so that the nuisances in question be speedily and effectually removed. The money spent by the community on sanitary purposes is likely to be the most reproductive part of its expenditure, and especially beneficial to the poorer classes who, for the most part, live near these nuisances, and have few means of resisting their noxious influence.

* * * * *

After discussing what might be done by legislation, we come naturally to consider what might be done by Associations for benevolent purposes. However inadequate such Associations may be as an equivalent for individual exertion, there are, doubtless, many occasions on which they may come in most effectively; doing that which individuals can hardly undertake. In London, for instance, an association that would give us an elaborate Survey of the town, would accomplish a most benevolent purpose, and not be in any danger of interfering unwisely with social relations. The same may be said of our other towns, for, I believe, there is not one of them possessing a Survey fit to be used for building and sanitary improvements. Again, there are certain fields at Battersea at present unbuilt upon, close to the river, one of those spots near the metropolis that ought to be secured at once for purposes of public health and amusement: if a Society will do that for us, they will accomplish a noble work. Happily, the necessity for public parks is beginning to be appreciated. These are the fortifications which we should make about our towns. Would that, on every side of the Metropolis, we could see such scenes as this so touchingly described by Goethe.

"Turn round, and from this height look back upon The town: from its black dungeon gate forth pours, In thousand parties, the gay multitude, All happy, all indulging in the sunshine! All celebrating the Lord's resurrection, And in themselves exhibiting, as 'twere A resurrection too—so changed are they, So raised above themselves. From chambers damp Of poor mean houses—from consuming toil Laborious—from the work-yard and the shop— From the imprisonment of walls and roofs, And the oppression of confining streets, And from the solemn twilight of dim churches— All are abroad—all happy in the sun."

Anster's Faust.

Many other excellent enterprises might be suggested which societies are peculiarly fitted to undertake. I must own that I think they are best occupied in such matters as will not require perpetual looking after, which when they are once done are wholly done, such as the formation of a park, the making of a survey, the collection of materials for a legislative measure, and the like. These bodies are called in for an exigency, and we should be able to contemplate a time when their functions will cease; or at least when their main work will be done.

Other limits in their choice of objects might be suggested. For instance, it is desirable that they should address themselves, in preference, to such purposes as may benefit people indirectly; or such as concern the public as a body rather than distressed individuals of the public; or that aim at supplying wants which the people benefited are not likely in the first instance to estimate themselves. Such is the supply of air, light, and the means of cleanliness. There is small danger of corrupting industry by giving any extent of facilities for washing. {233}

While we are on this subject, we must not pass over the societies which have started up in connexion with our immediate object. These "Baths and Washhouses for the Poor" are an admirable charity, obvious to very little of the danger which is apt to threaten benevolent undertakings. It would, however, be a most serious drawback on their utility, if they were to render people indifferent to the much greater scheme of giving a constant supply of water at home. With respect to the building associations for the improvement of the houses of the poor, their efforts, as it seems to me, will be most advantageously directed, not in building houses, but in buying and preparing ground, and letting it out to the individual builder upon conditions compelling the desired structural arrangements. In this way they may immensely extend the sphere of their usefulness. It is not by limiting their profit, and so insisting upon proving their benevolence, but by giving birth to the greatest amount of beneficial exertion on the part of individuals, that they may do most good.

* * * * *

We come now to consider what may be done by individual exertion. Here it is, that by far the largest field is open for endeavour: here, that neglect is most injurious. Many a man who subscribes largely to charities, has created more objects for them, than he has furnished them with means to relieve, if he has neglected but a little his duties as an employer of labour, or an owner of property. This mischief arises from considering charity as something separated from the rest of our transactions; whereas a wise man weaves it in with them, and finds the first exercise for it in matters that grow out of his nearest social relations, as parent, master of a household, employer of labour, and the like.

The more we look into the question, the more weight, I think, we shall attach to individual exertion. Take it in all its branches. Consider the most remarkable impulse ever given to the energies of Europe—the Crusades. It was an aggregate of individual impulses. Every strong and enterprising man felt that it was a matter which concerned his own soul. It was not only that he was to cause something to be done for the great object, but, if possible, he was to do it himself. A Crusade against Misery is called for now; and it will only be carried on successfully by there being many persons who are ready to throw their own life and energy into the enterprise. Mere mercenary aid alone will never do it.

Look, moreover, at what one man can do. A Chatham springs into power, and we are told that down to the lowest depths of office a pulsation is felt which shows that there is a heart once more at the summit of affairs. The distant sentinel walks with a firmer tread on the banks of the Ebro, having heard that the Duke has arrived at head quarters. So, throughout. Every where you find individual energy the sustaining power. See, in public offices, how it is the two or three efficient men who carry on the business. It is when some individuals subscribe largely in time, thought, and energy, to any benevolent association that it is most like to prosper—for then it most resembles one powerful devoted man. The adding up of many men's indolence will not do. You think, perhaps, listless man of rank or wealth, that your order sustains you. Short time would it do so, but for the worthy individuals who belong to it, and who, at the full length of the lever, are able to sustain a weight which would throw the worthless, weightless men into air in a minute.

In the above cases it has been one man wielding much power; but in the efforts that are wanted to arrest the evils which we have been considering, the humblest amongst us has a large sphere of action. A provident labouring man, for example, is a blessing to his family and to his neighbours; and is thus doing what he best can, to relieve even national distress.

It is a total mistake to bring, as it were, all the misery and misfortune together, and say, now find me a remedy large as the evil, to meet it. Resolve the evil into its original component parts. Imagine that there had been no such thing as the squandering, drinking, absentee Irish landlords we read of in the last generation—do you suppose that we should have as many inhabitants in St. Giles's, and the Liverpool cellars, to look after now? So, with the English landlords and manufacturers of that time, see what a subtraction from the general mass of difficult material there would have been, if those men had done their duty. But you will say we are still talking of bodies. Imagine, then, that during the last generation there had been the energetic efforts of individuals in these bodies, that there are now, directed to the welfare of the people under them. It would, no doubt, have been a great easement of the present difficulty. Any body who does his duty to his dependents keeps a certain number out of the vortex; and his example is nearly sure to be followed, if he acts in an inoffensive, modest fashion. Dr. Arnott has shown what great things may be done in the way of ventilation by individual employers. See what benefit would arise if only some few builders, taking to heart the present miserable accommodation for the poor, which few know better than they do, would, in their building enterprises, speculate also in houses of the smaller kind, and take a pride in doing the utmost for them.

One might easily multiply instances where individual exertion would come in; but each man must in some measure find out the fit sphere of action for him. "The Statesman" tells us that the real wealth of a state is the number of "serviceable" minds in it. The object of a good citizen should be to make himself part of this wealth. Let him aid where he can in benevolent associations, if well assured of their utility, and at the same time mindful of the duty of private endeavour; but do not let him think that he is to wait for the State's interference, or for co-operation of any kind. I do not say that such aids are to be despised, but that they are not to be waited for, and that the means of social improvement are in every body's hands. For warfare, men are formed in masses, and scientific arrangement is the soul of their proceedings. But industrial conquests and, especially, the conquests of benevolence, are often made, here somewhat and there somewhat, individual effort struggling up in a thousand free ways.

* * * * *

The individual freedom which we possess is a great reason for individual exertion. How large that freedom is, it needs but a slight acquaintance with the past to estimate. Through what ages have we not toiled to the conviction that people should not be burnt for their opinions. The lightest word about dignities, the slightest claim to freedom of thought or speech upon those matters which, perhaps, angelic natures would hardly venture to pronounce upon, even the wayward play of morbid imagination, were not unlikely in former times to lead to signal punishments. A man might almost in his sleep commit treason, or heresy, or witchcraft. The most cautious, official-spoken man amongst us, if carried back on a sudden to the days of Henry the Eighth, would, at the end of the first week, be pursued by a general hue and cry from the authorities, civil and ecclesiastical, for his high and heinous words against King, Church, and State. While now, Alfred Tennyson justly describes our country as

"The land, where girt with friends or foes, A man may say the thing he will."

There is danger of our losing this freedom if we neglect the duties which it imposes. But I have resolved to avoid dwelling upon dangers, and would rather appeal to other motives. The triumph for a nation so individually free as ours, would be to show that the possible benefits of despotism belonged to it—that there should be paternal government without injurious control—that those things should ultimately be attained by the exertions of many which a despot can devise and execute at once, but which his successor may, with like facility, efface. Whereas what is gained for many by many, is not easily got back. It must be vast embankments indeed which could compel that sea to give up its conquests.

* * * * *

We have now gone through the principal means by which social remedies may be effected: there comes the consideration within what limits these means should be applied. The subject of interference is a most difficult one. We are greatly mistaken, however, if we suppose that the difficulty is confined to Government interference. Who does not know of extreme mischief arising from over-guidance in social relations as well as in state affairs? The inherent difficulty with respect to any interference, is a matter which we have to get over in innumerable transactions throughout our lives. The way in which, as before said, it appears to me it should be met, is principally by enlightenment as to the purposes of interference. Look at the causes which are so often found to render interference mischievous. The governing power is anxious to exalt itself; instead of giving life and energy, wishes only to absorb them. Or it is bent upon having some outward thing done, careless of the principles on which it is done, or of the mode and spirit of doing it. Hence, in public affairs, things may be carried which have only a show of goodness, but in reality are full of danger; and in private life, there arise formality, hypocrisy, and all kinds of surface actions. Or, again, the governing power is fond of much and minute interference, instead of, as Burke advises, employing means "few, unfrequent, and strong." There may also be another error, when from over-tenderness, or want of knowledge, the authority in question suffers those under its influence to lean on it, when they are strong enough to walk by themselves. All these errors are general ones, which require to be guarded against in the education of a child, as well as in the government of a state. All of them, too, have their root in an insufficient appreciation of the value of free effort. But when this is once attained, the interfering party will see that his efforts should mainly be enabling ones: that he may come as an ally to those engaged in a contest too great for their ability; but that he is not to weaken prowess by unneeded meddling. It may be said that this is vague. I am content to be vague upon a point where, I believe, the greatest thinkers will be very cautious of laying down precise rules. Look at what Burke says with regard to state interference—that it should confine itself to what is "truly and properly publick, to the publick peace, to the publick safety, to the publick order, to the publick prosperity." How large a scope do those words "publick prosperity" afford. Besides, the transactions, in which we want to ascertain just limits for our interference, are so numerous, and so various, that they are not to be met but by an inconceivable multiplicity of rules. Such rules may embody much experience, but they seldom exhaust the subject which they treat of; and there is the danger of our suffering them to enslave, instead of merely to guide, our judgments. And then, on some critical occasion, when the exception, and not the rule, is in accordance with the principle on which the rule has been formed, we may commit the greatest folly in keeping to what we fancy the landmarks of sagacity and experience. Instead, therefore, of laying down any abstract rules, I will only observe that a prima facie reluctance to all interference is most reasonable, and perhaps as necessary in the social world, as friction is in the physical world, in order to prevent every unguided impulse from having its full mechanical effect: that, nevertheless, interference must often be resorted to: and that the best security for acting wisely in any particular case, is not to suffer ourselves to be narrowly circumscribed by rules, but at the same time to be very cautious of attempting any mere present good, of getting notions of our own rapidly carried into action, at the expense of that freedom and moral effort which are the surest foundations of all progress.

* * * * *

We were considering, above, the claim which our individual freedom makes on our individual exertion for the good of others. But this freedom must in some degree be limited in order to produce its best results; and amongst them, to secure the greatest amount of such individual exertion. We know the restraint that must exist upon all, if all are to enjoy equal freedom. The freedom of one is not to be a terror to another. Law is based upon this obvious principle. But there are other circumstances also, in which individuals will find support and comfort in the general freedom being circumscribed by some interference on the part of the state or other bodies. Such a case occurs when the great majority of some class of private individuals would willingly submit to wise regulations for the general good, but cannot do so without great sacrifice, because of the selfish recusancy of some few amongst them. Here is a juncture at which the State might interfere to enable individuals to carry out their benevolent intentions. But one of the main reasons for some degree of interference from the State or other authorized bodies, in matters connected with our present subject, is that, otherwise, the responsibilities of individuals would be left overwhelming. It is to be remembered by those who would restrain such interference within the narrowest possible bounds, that they by so much increase individual responsibility. Responsibility can, happily, by no scheme, be made to vanish. Wherever a signal evil exists, a duty lies somewhere to attack it. Suppose a district, for instance, in which the state of mortality is excessive, a mortality clearly traceable to the want of sanitary regulations. In a despotic government it may be enough to mention this to the central body. In a free state, where the duties of a citizen come in, more is required from the individual; and if there is no fit body of any kind to appeal to in such a case, the burden lies upon all men acquainted with the facts, to endeavour conjointly, or separately, to remove the evil. While, on the one hand, we must beware of introducing such interference, whether coming from the State or other bodies, as might paralyse individual exertion, we must at the same time remember that the weight to be removed may be left overwhelmingly disproportionate to individual effort, or even to conjoint effort, if unauthorized, both of which may thus be stiffened by despair into inaction.

In the instance we have just been considering, we must not say that the people immediately interested in removing the evil will do so themselves. It is part of the hypothesis that they will not. Ages have passed by, and they have not. They do not know what is evil. It has been observed that savages are rarely civilized by efforts of their own. A vessel from civilized parts comes and finds them savages. A generation passes away. Another vessel comes, how differently propelled, how differently constructed; manned by sailors who have different costume, food, ways of speech and habits from the former ones; but they are able to recognize at once the savages described by their forefathers. These have not changed. The account of them is as exact as if it were written yesterday. In such a land, we must not look for the germ of improvement amongst the miserable inhabitants themselves. It must come from without, brought thither by hopeful, all-sympathizing enterprize.


Whenever the condition of the labouring people becomes a general topic, some erroneous modes of discussing it arise which deserve notice. In the first place, there is a matter which, in all our friendly efforts for the working classes, we must not forget, and that is, to make these efforts with kindliness to other classes. The abuse of other people is an easy mode of showing our own benevolence, more easy than profitable. To alleviate the distress of the poor may be no gain, if, in the process, we aggravate the envies and jealousies which may be their especial temptation. The spirit to be wished for is sympathy; and that will not be produced by needless reproaches. Besides, it is such foolish injustice to lay the blame of the present state of things on any one class. It is unpractical, unphilosophical, and inconsistent with history. If we must select any class, do not let us turn to the wealthy, whom, perhaps, we think of first. They have, in no time that I am aware of, been the pre-eminent rulers of the world. The thinkers and writers, they are the governing class. There is no doubt that the rich and great have in most cases a large sphere of usefulness open to them; and they are fatally blind, if they neglect it. That is, however, rather a matter for them to think of, than for those who are under them. And I feel quite certain that the evils we are now, as a nation, beginning to be sensitive to, are such as may be more fairly attributed to the nation, in its collective capacity, than to any one class, or even to any one generation. I notice the error of the opposite opinion, believing it to be a signal hindrance to improvement. Let us not begin a great work with bitterness. I am not, however, for the slightest concealment of the truth, and can well understand the righteous indignation that will break out at witnessing the instances of careless cruelty to be seen daily. Still, this is not to be done by a systematic and undistinguishing attack upon any one class: if it requires a bold hand, it requires a just one also, under a reasonable restraint of humility. I suspect that those men, if any, who have a right to cast the first stone at their neighbour in this matter will be among the last persons to do so.

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