Page images
PDF
EPUB

that the number of workmen requisite to perform the same quantity of work, that the bad quality of the work, and the trouble and drawbacks to the employers are in proportion to the degradation of the labourers, and we know that the most prudent are the steadiest in their occupation, and the most to be depended upon. The desire of accumulation, and the hope of advancement, are the most permanent incitements to labour. In considering this question, it is necessary not to confound that independence which arises from accidental causes, with the independence which is the result of prudence. The first is generally attended with pernicious consequences ; the se cond scarcely ever. Lastly, the unthrifty, uncomfortable condition of the labouring classes depends greatly upon the mode of their education, so far as they have any. Good training is alone good education, and it is not enough to teach only those things which are good or bad, as they are used. A woman does not necessarily make a better helpmate to a labouring man because she can read and write; but it is otherwise, if she has been taught the domestic arts of life suitable to her condition. Both are desirable, but the latter are indispensable to happiness, and they are lamentably neglected. It is upon this part of the subject only, that I propose to make any further observations.

There is no class of persons, to whom domestic comfort is of so much importance, as to those who have to earn their livelihood by hard labour, and there is no greater contrast than that between a well-ordered and a cheerless home. In the one case, when the husband returns from his work, he finds a kindly welcome, a cheerful fire, quiet children, as good a meal as his means will allow, ready prepared, every want anticipated, every habit attended to, an universal neatness, and every thing in its place. In the other case, is the reverse of all this, and in addition, perhaps, the wife absent, or intoxicated, and some article taken to the pawnbroker's to furnish the means of indulgence; angry words ensue, and then blows. The husband flies to the public-house, where a welcome awaits him. His wife breaks in upon him, and at last, for peace, is invited to partake of his enjoyments, which, on such occasions ever end in excess, and crime or the parish is the resource. Women, brought up in ignorance of comfort, of course are careless about the means of providing for it. They are heedless how they marry, and, when married, never think of the duties of their situation. I recollect a young woman, the wife of a labourer in the country, once applying to me respecting some alleged harsh treatment on the part of a shopkeeper, to whom she owed money. On investigating the case, I found that she regularly spent three shillings a week in sweet things, and that she held herself intitled to pass the first year after her marriage in complete idleness; a privilege, I discovered, by no means seldom claimed. Of course the habits of the first year would become, in a great measure, the habits of after life, and the indulgence in sweet things would most likely be transferred in time to things less harmless.

A greater degree of self-dependence is especially to be desired amongst the labouring classes, which can only be produced by a greater degree of prudence; and there is nothing so likely to induce prudence as the cultivation of domestic economy; indeed it is an essential part of domestic economy, because without foresight there can be little or no comfort. The very facilities the lower orders possess of living from hand to mouth, frequently tend to their ruin, by preventing the necessity of providing beforehand, and there is, perhaps, nothing which is more injurious to their interests than being able to make their marketings on Sunday mornings—a privilege loudly claimed for them by pretended friends, who are ever the advocates of whatever supposes the lowest standard. They must have a strange idea of what an English labourer ought to be, who think him incapable of sufficient prudence to have one week's wages in store, and, by so lowly rating him, they make, or keep him where he is. Sunday markets are productive of evils in many ways; and if they were prohibited, the labouring classes would be materially benefited.

Considering how powerful by nature is female influence, there can be no one mode so sure of increasing the stock of human happiness and human virtue, as a quiet perseverance on the part of women in studying to promote the comforts of home. There is on the part of the upper classes a general desire to attend to the interests of those below them, though the means pursued are frequently the reverse of judicious. I believe there is no way in which the labouring classes can be so effectually served as by instructing them in the arts of domestic economy, because a well-ordered home is the best security for good order in every thing else. To those who take an interest in schools, and generally in the training of children and young people, I would suggest the idea of introducing a sort of exercise in domestic economy, and of affording every facility and encouragement for its practice. I will conclude my observations with enumerating a few particulars, which appear to me most worthy of attention, and others will no doubt occur to those who turn their minds to the subject. In my intercourse with the labouring classes, what I have observed they seem most to want to learn, isto market and make purchases on the most advantageous terms; to apply the arts of cookery to preparing food in an economical, wholesome, and palatable manner; in the country, to brew and bake; to light a fire expeditiously and economically; to keep up a fire economically; to make a fire cheerful expeditiously; to set out a table quickly and neatly; to clear away expeditiously; to cut out, make, and mend linen, and to keep other clothes in good order; to wash and get up linen; to dry and clean shoes; to sweep and clean rooms quietly and expeditiously, and to keep them neat and comfortable; and lastly, to prepare proper food for children and the sick. The difference in the way of doing these things, as far as my observation could go, is immense; and the difference in point of comfort corresponding. The management of a fire is of great importance; and quietness and quickness are essential to comfort. Some women conduct their household concerns with a noise and confusion which are quite distracting.

The following statement, which was drawn up for the Duke of Somerset, I give by way of specimen of investigation, and to put those, who wish to turn their attention to such subjects, into what I conceive to be the right course. Though it applies to a particular district, much of the matter is of general application, and the doctrines I have laid down, if they are good anywhere, are good everywhere.

“ The following account of the labouring classes in the parish of Berry Pomeroy* is the result of information collected between November 1822 and May 1823 ; but there is so much difficulty in ascertaining the whole truth in such matters, that I do not pledge myself to accuracy in every particular. Few are able to represent things as they are--many wilfully per. vert, and most speak from some bias; added to which, being a stranger in that part of the country, I was liable to fall into error from ignorance of local customs and expressions. How

it

may appear to discover the truth, it is only necessary to persevere in investigation, to be convinced of the difficulty.

“ The labouring classes in Berry parish are certainly better off than in many parts of the kingdom, but it is in a slavish way. The children, till ten or eleven years of age, are carelessly brought up, generally with parochial assistance, with an imperfect knowledge of reading, and a part of them with a still more imperfect knowledge of writing. They are then bound apprentices by the parish till they are twenty-one, at which period, with a moderate stock of clothes and a few

* In Devonshire.

ever easy

shillings in their pockets, with a mere knowledge of drudgery, and great unskilfulness in domestic economy, without hope of bettering their condition, or thought of looking beyond the present moment, with the parish for their world, and the overseer for their guide, they become nominally free. The course then is to hire themselves as yearly servants for board, lodging, and washing, with from 51. to 91. in wages. They generally marry early, and then go into cottages or rooms, as they can get them, with at most a small garden, a pig, and a hen or two. They then become daily labourers, and earn from 7s. to 108. a week, (including an allowance of cider,) and their wives get about 8d. a day when there is out-door work; at other times generally doing nothing. Their highest idea of independence is to maintain themselves as long as they have only a small family, and are in health, and can get labour in the parish or parts adjoining; but they look no further.* Ignorance, and their reliance on the parish, bind the great majority of them to the soil as effectually as if they were Russian boors. There are a few who make voyages to Newfoundland, but are still frequently dependent on parochial relief, and the instances of those who get out into the world are so few as not to be worth mentioning. Artizans, lime-burners, and cider-makers, get higher wages than the agricultural labourers, but are more subject to want of employment, and are equally or more improvident. The only present instance in the parish of a man bringing up a family without aid, is of a lime-burner at Langcombe, named Richard Warren, who, however laudable his practice, maintains, from sympathy or fear, the same doctrine as the rest; and when age or infirmity overtakes him, he must come to the same state. From a conference I had with five of the most deserving or intelligent labourers of the parish, I was more convinced than before, even from their own partial and very guarded statements, t of

* I should except those who are sick in clubs, but whose subscriptions the parish is frequently called upon to pay.

+ The difficulty of getting at the truth from persons in this debasing

« PreviousContinue »