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1849. Nature's Laws never cruel - though working slowly. 519
over rather than solve them — which would seek for
in fallacies and compromises whence peace can never spring which would shrink from the truth because the truth seems to be severe — which would tacitly persuade the poor that they may with impunity violate natural and economic laws, and that they can sow the seeds of improvidence, indolence, and waste, without reaping the appointed harvest of squalid wretchedness and moral degradation - which encourages them to marry without means, because it seems harsh to prohibit or postpone the great solace of life to those who have so few others,
-as if (says Mr. Mill) it were not a thousand times more hard"hearted to tell human beings that they may, than that they may • not, call into existence swarms of other creatures, who are sure
to be miserable, and most likely to be depraved. We had proof enough under the Old Poor-law of the immense aggravation of pauperism and degradation caused by our morbid softness and our false philosophy. We have had proof enough since, in Ireland as well as here, that we cannot operate ab extra ; — we cannot raise the mass out of their misery — they must raise themselves. State interference is omnipotent for evil — very impotent for good; powerful to make and multiply paupers very powerless to relieve them. Our duty consists in encouraging the exertions of the people, in removing every obstacle, and affording every facility, - especially, the means of education. More than this, in reality, we cannot do: And if they are once convinced that this is our doctrine, and that it will be unsweryingly applied ; — that, while no grievance and no impediment shall remain which legislation can remove, yet that the state will no longer, in their behalf, stand between the cause and its consequence -- will no longer exonerate the poor from the burden of those virtues by which alone in all other classes comfort and respectability can be purchased - we may hope soon to see a mighty change, in a society otherwise so vigorous as ours--a change, the nature and extent of which will amaze those who, from having always let down their net at the wrong side of the boat, have toiled through the night of years, and yet taken nothing
In dealing with these matters, however, we must again most distinctly and anxiously announce, that we do not urge — we de precate — any barbarous or indecent haste. All that we are now anxious for is, to superinduce a healthier tone of public feeling on the subject than at present prevails. Let us once arrive at a sound view of things ; and, even if we put this view in practice timidly, languidly, tardily, and partially, the 'war with evil' is
already half accomplished. Let us set and keep our face in the right direction, and the slowness of our progress need then be a matter of comparatively slight regret. We have hitherto erred in our view and our treatment of social maladies, from neglecting to study Nature (by which we mean always the Author of Nature) in her mode of dealing with them. We have been habitually too tender and too hasty. We have wanted nerve, and we have wanted patience. We have forgotten to observe that Nature cures the sins and follies of man by means of the penalties which she attaches to them, as at once their consequence and their corrective. Our tenderness has shrunk from the permission of the penalty - and we have wondered that the cure has not been wrought! Evils, such as those inveterate and deeply-rooted ones that now pervade our social system, cannot be removed without long time and much suffering ; - it is, therefore, no argument against a plan of cure that it works slowly, and works through much tribulation.' Awakened reflection will show that Nature, in working her cures, is impatient of no needful slowness, and appalled at no needful suffering: And we must learn our course by watching hers. We must first satisfy ourselves that we are on the right tack ; and then urge on the process with unshaken nerves, and await the final result with untiring patience and unfaltering trust.
We have left ourselves little space for examining the merits of the works whose titles we have placed at the head of this article. But Mr. Burton's book deserves more attention and a closer analysis than we can now give it. It is addressed chiefly to the operative classes; and, judging from the channel through which it is given to the public, we trust it is likely to reach them. While every page breathes the warmest sympathy with their feelings, and the truest wish to improve their condition, its tone and spirit are uniformly healthy, manly, and encouraging. There is no unwor tenderness shown to their indolence, their selfishness, or their prejudices. He resolutely teaches them that they must do their own work, and shows them, at the same time, how they can do it; and few right-minded working men will rise from the careful perusal of the book without the resolution that they will, and the conviction that they may, raise themselves to a really comfortable and enviable condition in the social scale. We recommend attention especially to Mr. Burton's clear and manly exposition of the cause of the distress of the hand-loom weavers, and of other corresponding classes :
We shall always find that certain classes, more or less numerous according to the state of society we are examining, are engaged in some kind of occupation that, however much time it may consume, makes a near approach to idleness. ... The hand-loom weaver does not labour, according to the sense in which the term is employed by a people advanced like our own in productive enterprise. He works with no more energy than the Hindoo, and yet expects a common share of the produce of the most energetic and productive nation of the world. He does not fulfil the condition necessary to the holding a place in the industrial society to which he professes to belong. While he believes that he is doomed to labour more than other men, and to obtain less, the real calamity of his lot is, that he has never known what true labour is: For if we really and seriously compare it with the other efforts of the human beings around us, it is an abuse of words to call the jerking of a stick from side to side, with a few other uniform motions, by the name of labour. A machine does it, and a machine ought to do it; men were made for higher, more intricate, more daring tasks. And yet it is the most abject slavery. The man who works hard has his hours of relaxation; he who never knew what hard work is, has none. He has chosen, or, to speak more charitably, his misfortunes have thrown him into, the position of being physically a machine, and, like a machine, he must be ever present at his post, and unvaryingly uniform in his motion; morally he is a slave, but not a workman. ... It might naturally have been expected, that a shrewd and energetic people would have soon abandoned the idea of being able to obtain the reward of skill, without imparting it; that the enterprising spirits among the weavers must have early seen the evil days in store for those who allowed themselves to lapse into the indolence of mere routine occupations, and they would at least have warned their children against the dangers of indolence... But far from drawing the proper wisdom of experience from their own calamities, the parents taught their descendants to follow their trade, only to partake of their misery. Heartbroken, and objectless in their squalid poverty, they stuck to their falling trade with a sort of obstinate fatalism. They had, at the same time, temptations all too strong to initiate their children into the easy mysteries of the craft; for the very circumstance that attenuated the parents' wages, enabled the child to add its earnings to the family income; and so the young generation slipped, as it were, into the loom — and, by the fatal vice of yielding to the temptations of indolence, enslaved themselves for life. Such are the secrets of the 800,000 hand-loom weavers of the present day; with fair remunerating work for probably no more than a third of their number.'-(Chaps. i. and ii.)
Mr. Burton has some valuable pages to show how nearly all, if not quite all, those elements of happiness which really constitute the enjoyments of the rich, are within the reach of the industrious and provident poor. His chapters on Capital fully confirm a statement which we made in a recent Number, as to the very moderate profits at present realised by capital, when fairly distinguished from labour, invention, and risk; and his observations on the duties of employers to the working classes, and of the working classes to themselves, are among the soundest and boldest we have anywhere met with. In his chapter on Population we suspect that it fares with him as with most of Mr. Malthus's critics, and that he more nearly agrees with the real doctrine of that great philosopher than he seems to be quite aware of. His last chapter on Pauperism and Poor-laws brings him directly to the subject to which we have addressed ourselves in the present article. The point of view from which he principally regards compulsory relief, is in opposition to mendicancy: And his observations on the defects of the old system, in the three kingdoms, show the vast inherent difficulties of the attempt to mitigate destitution, without doing greater mischief even to humanity, by injuring industry and forethought.
• When the systems in the three countries were lately the subject of investigation and amendment, there was in Ireland no legal provision for the poor; there was in Scotland a provision little better than none; and there was in England a profuse demoralising system which many people conceived to be worse than none. The abuses, indeed, of the English poor-law prompted many people to hold that there should be no legal provision for the poor; and to maintain that the salvation of Scotland consisted in keeping down the fund of pauper relief to its almost nominal level. Still if there was much mendi. cancy under the profuse distribution of England, there was still more in Ireland and Scotland ; and it began to be perceived in the latter country, that whatever may be the effect of profusion, a system which does not profess to support the destitute, but only to give them occasional and trifling aids, was not beneficial; as it allowed a large class of the population to lapse into the careless degraded habits of those who have nothing to lose. It was seen at the same time that the system, in its professed thrift, afforded no means of disciplining the persons among whom the paltry sums collected were dispersed, in the manner in which all recipients of pauper relief ought to be disciplined, in order that it may be seen that the fund distributed goes to reduce, and not to foster, pauperism.
• In all arrangements for taking charge of the damaged portion of society, the expense of the machinery is a trifle, in comparison with that which its imperfections may occasion ; and hence the effectiveness of the arrangements is of infinitely greater importance than their cost.'
We have suggested no machinery for the applications of the principles on which our three great divisions are drawn. It would appear from the general tone of Mr. Burton's strictures, that he thinks there may be found, in the Labour test, such as it was in England in the time of Elizabeth, and such as it has
been restored in our own days, the machinery that he requires : And he adopts, apparently with approbation, Mr. Mill's summing up of the working of the present English Poor-law. Under its provisos, he says,
" 'It may be regarded as irrevocably established, that the fate of no member of the community need be abandoned to chance; that society can, and therefore ought, to insure every individual belonging to it against the extreme of want; that the condition even of those on the lowest step of the social ladder needs not be one of physical suffering or the dread of it, but only of restricted indulgence and forced rigidity of discipline.
At the same time, he is sensible that the practical adjustment of so difficult a social operation as the administration of relief, is not yet solved by the discovery of a sound principle:
Notwithstanding the great practical utility of this principle, as it has been developed in England, It stands forth at this moment as a warning to all legislators, to watch the practical bearing of every principle, and to be ready to abandon any theory that proves insufficient for its purpose. The labour test has, to some extent, suited England; but it does not follow that, in the same form, at least it will suit England's neighbours. In the year 1846, the Government of this country encountered one of the most lively alarms that a government has ever experienced, by finding that hundreds of thousands of workmen in Ireland preferred the labour test to the necessary culture of the fields. The calamitous consequences which this phenomenon seemed to point to, were only averted by remarkable firmness and sagacity; but it left statesmen impressed with a lesson of caution, which would teach them to hesitate before they adapted, unaltered, to the other island of the United Kingdom, the system they had found so efficacious at home. In fact, the drama of the national workshops bade fair to have exhibited its first performance in this empire. The English workman cursed the restraints, the sordidness, the degradation of parish work and pay, and left it when he could — with those feelings of scorn and hatred which it was the legislature's policy to cultivate towards it. But the Irish Celt indolently adopted the public works as a provision for life; which, though poor, exempted him from the vicissitudes of voluntary labour, and promised to be uniform and secure. It is remarkable that the Highland Relief Board, having in their hands a large surplus fund to be applied to public purposes at the conclusion of the last famine, felt the same difficulty. They adopted the labour test; but labour offered by a charitable relief board, instead of being unpopular, was coveted; the workmen appearing to consider that it invested them with some of the pomp and circumstance of public officers.'
On the other hand, Mr. Symons, whose work is full of striking facts and valuable suggestions, complains that the Poor-law