help themselves in some dishonest way by poaching or pilfering. In his opinion, it would require more management to live on such an income (the harvest-money, which is an addition, going to pay the cottage-rent and the shoemaker's bill), maintaining a bread diet as the principal sustenance, and decent clothing, and such moderate comforts as they think indispensable, than nine-tenths of the women marrying young, and ignorant as they are, can be expected to have." The theory of the employer I found invariably borne out by the practical statements of labourers and their wives, as far as they could be obtained with accuracy, and in cases which could be substantiated by unexceptionable testimony. Such statements amounted to this: that where a large family had been reared on the ordinary weekly wages without getting into debt, it had been done by aid of the produce of the garden or allotment, by assistance from the benevolence of individuals, and, when food was high, by reducing the diet to a lower standardto one consisting of more potatoes and less wheat. Without adverting to the general question as to the permanent effect of high or low prices of corn on the remuneration of labour, it may be observed that, at periods of occasional high price, the surplus remaining to the labourer and applicable to general purposes, after he had provided himself with bread, is reduced. The following, among many examples given to me by cottagers, may tend to confirm the assertion, if any confirmation were required, that at those periods wages do not rise in proportion to the rise in the price of corn :—

Dec., 1840.

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Surplus applicable to general expenditure.

June, 1841.

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]





Surplus applicable to general ex-} 14

[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]


In this case it will be seen that although 6s. were added to wages when flour was dear, 11s. had been added to the expenditure to purchase flour; and that when wages were high and flour high the surplus applicable to general purposes was only 9s. per month, whereas when wages were low and flour low the

surplus applicable to general purposes was 14s. When prices were still lower the difference in favour of the labourer remained. June, 1841. $. d.

8, d. Wages per week .

11 0 Expenditure in flour by a labourer
for himself, wife, and 4 chil.

8 2 dren, per week, 3. stone, a!

28. 4d. 8 2

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]
[ocr errors]

These inequalities, arising from the fact that variations in wages follow slowly variations in the price of food, are occasionally and usefully met by permitting the labourer to purchase his corn at the farm at a certain rate all the year round. Arrangements of this or of a similar kind in favour of the labourer, are apparently

a becoming more general, in proportion as the conviction increases that it is cheaper to maintain him in independence than to throw him upon the rates, and that one of the indispensable conditions towards his becoming an industrious, and trustworthy, and valuable servant is, that he should be adequately remunerated and considerately dealt with. Nevertheless, my inquiries led me to the conclusion, that in Norfolk, to a very large proportion of those labourers who have young families the value of the labour of their children is at the earliest age essential, under their imperfect management, to their maintaining by honest and independent means the standard of living from which they will not willingly descend. Many who could afford to dispense with this resource are too ignorant or indifferent to make the temporary sacrifice, an to set apart something more than the infant years of their children for their instruction at day-schools.

A multiplicity of examples might be adduced, demonstrating the wide extent of that domain of ignorance, and that unfortunately it is not confined to the labouring class alone. Its effects upon the latter manifest themselves in various forms. The teaching of the Sunday-school, until lately the chief instrument of instruction, and in many parishes still such, has not been of a kind to give them a knowledge of language, or to interest them in the services of the Church; consequently, after they have outgrown the period of compulsory attendance, they are seldom seen there, except, perhaps, after the lapse of years. In the mean time, if they attend any religious worship at all, it is probably that which corresponds most with their awakening but still humble capacities, and satisfies a desire to pour forth the excited religious feelings in communion and sympathy with those around them. The Established clergy appear to be fully aware of the obstacles presented to them by this state of ignorance. Dissenting ministers, whose acquaintance with other rural populations was considerable, affirmed that in Norfolk their labours met with their chief obstruction from the dense ignorance of the people. I have permission to mention one occurrence, which would not be adverted to except for the purpose of more distinctly showing things as they are, and how readily the uninformed mind under the influence of religious excitement will run into any form of fanaticism. My informant, a dissenting minister, stated that in addressing a small congregation he was interrupted by a cry of “ Glory be to your name.He immediately repressed the state of feeling of which this exclamation was the index, and endeavoured to explain that such a mode of address could be adopted only towards the Deity.

a The answer was, Then glory be to both of you.Shocking and painful as even the relation of this circumstance must be to any reflecting mind, and little as, in general, individual instances may prove, still, in relation to this subject, there is too much reason to believe that it is a characteristic fact, the suppression of which would therefore tend to disguise the truth. I found it to be within the experience of many individuals who had taken pains to ascertain the fact, that a large proportion of the young persons of both sexes, from 20 to 30 years of age, had not only forgotten the little they

, ever knew of reading and writing, but also much of whatever of scriptural or catechetical instruction they had once acquired. The results of my own personal inquiries correspond to a great extent with this information. Some appeared never to have learnt anything, and were in a state of ignorance, the extent of which it was painful to lay bare. That very few of the adults of either sex, from 20 to 50, could read or write, seemed to be generally acknowledged. Where the contrary is found in any parish, it results from fortunate circumstances, and may be considered exceptional. An opinion prevailed that those who remained of the preceding generation more commonly possessed those acquirements. A female has officiated as clerk in one parish for the last two years, none of the adult males being able to read. In another parish consisting of 400 persons the clergyman stated his belief that until two years ago, when his school was established, not an individual of the labouring class in the parish could read or write. An intelligent occupier of a large farm gave it as his opinion that in a population of 200, the present clerk of the parish is the only man in his sphere who could take the office. His labourers in general are very ignorant: some so much so that they cannot understand anything that is said to them, except what belongs to their labout and is expressed in their own way. His daughters bring some of the young people and a few adults together on Sunday afternoons, and talk to them, “and give them some notion that there is a Providence, and let them know something about our Lord, and



so endeavour to open their minds a little, for most of them knew nothing about either until his daughters began.” The state of morals has already been adverted to: among adults crimes of violence and drunkenness may have declined; but juvenile depravity of all kinds had, according to universal testimony, greatly increased. A rudeness and discourtesy of manners, a want of respect towards superiors, and a spirit of disobedience, were said to have increased in a marked manner. That there should exist a due quantity of superstition and gross credulity might naturally be expected. Here a wizard terrifying his neighbours by the power of inflicting injuries by his charms; there supernatural appearances; in another neighbourhood a quack curing all diseases by his knowledge of the stars. In a considerable town on the coast, crowds very recently flocked to see, and paid for seeing, a “monster” composed of a large fish's tail and a parchment body, very obviously and very clumsily sewn together and stuffed ; an exhibition still apparently as acceptable as it was to the easy belief of earlier times.

“ What have we here? A strange fish! Were I in England now (as once I was), and had but this fish painted, not a holiday fool there but would give a piece of silver ; there would this monster make a man; any strange beast there makes a

(Tempest, Act II, Scene 2.) The more ignorant the population the more immoveable they are found to be, and the more difficult to obtain their co-operation in any plans designed for the improvement of their circumstances, whether relating to the formation of clubs or benefit societies, or the encouragement of garden cultivation, or allotments, or the transferring them to more productive fields of industry. In one parish of 1000 inhabitants, a perverted process of reasoning has caused them to neglect the means of instruction gratuitously offered to them. About thirty years ago a sum of money was left to endow a school in which all the children of the parish might be taught to read, write, and cipher. At first all the children were sent, under an impression among the parents that it would be an effectual cure for all the difficulties of their condition, and immediately place them above the reach of poverty. In the mean time the population of the parish has greatly increased beyond the means of supporting in comfort either labourers, artisans, or small tradespeople, and without any efforts being yet made to relieve the pressure by a voluntary emigration of the surplus hands. The schoolmaster, a man of respectable abilities, but who nevertheless had confined his instruction to “ the letter of the bond,” stated that his school had considerably fallen off, and that the reason given by the majority of the parents for discontinuing to send the children was, that they had expected that “education" was to “make them better off than they were before;” that they found it had done them no good, that they were “worse off than they were before the money was left," and therefore that they should take no more trouble

about it. The numbers of the neighbouring parish which bor. dered on the sea had been kept down by the spirit of enterprise and spontaneous movement which their situation tended to avour.

But it is necessary that it should be said that this low standard of intellectual acquirement is not confined to the class of labourers alone. The number and variety of incidents related to me from personal knowledge in every part of Norfolk forbid a doubt that among the farmers and small tradesmen the spread of mental cultivation of any kind has hitherto made but very small progress. Persons well conversant with the class of occupiers stated to me that many were unable to keep any regular and systematic accounts. Others stated that they were acquainted with many farmers of considerable substance who could not write, and that many could not read. Numerous individual instances were communicated to me by persons whose position placed their testimony beyond suspicion. A farmer, who had been overseer and churchwarden, and who occupied 350 acres, denied at a public ineeting that a certain expression was used in an Act of Parliament; when the words were pointed out to him, it became apparent that he was unable to read. At a recent Board of Guardians, one of the large occupiers of the neighbourhood signed his name A. B. Gardn. Of four trustees lately selected to execute a deed of trust for property of considerable value, three could only sign with a cross. An individual renting to the amount of 1001. a-year, and also engaged in a large business, was offered a situation of trust and emolument, but could not read or write well enough to enable him to undertake it. In two of the couniry towns, one containing 2000 the other 4000 inhabitants, it was stated to me as a matter of notoriety by individuals having ample means of knowing the fact, that several of the leading tradesmen, and many of the smaller, could not write, and could read only imperfectly. That in those towns and neighbourhoods all attempts to excite an interest in favour of establishing a library or giving lectures on instructive subjects, even on those most closely connected with agricultural affairs, should fail might readily be inferred.* In default of such public resources a gentleman residing near a large town has for the last ten years made it known to his neighbours that he is willing to lend any books from his private library for perusal. The only application for the loan of a book which he ever had was from a recruiting serjeant.

* of the numerous individuals occupying farms, with whom I came into communication during my inquiries in Norfolk, I did not meet with one who had ever heard of the Museum of Economic Geology, established in 1838, in London, (Craig's Court, Charing Cross), under the direction of the Commissioners of Woods and Forests, with the express object of giving persons connected with land an opportunity of procuring the most accurate analyses of soils, and such scientific information as might throw light on the productive capabilities of land of different qualities. During the three years that the Museum has been in working condition its services have been in constant request for those purposes.

« ElőzőTovább »