Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

ooner or

their ability to provide for themselves; but I was at the same time forcibly struck with the discouragements they labour under: and it appeared to me that after having compelled them to do their best the consequence would be later to make them quit their unpromising situation, for the probability of turning their prudence to greater account in more favourable districts, leaving their places to be filled up by new comers, with their cast-off habits. It appears as impossible to retain a provident population in Bridgetown, as Bridgetown is, as to have a healthy one in a swamp—the place must be reformed as well as the people. It is certain, that of the labouring classes of all descriptions, whether strong or weak, skilful or unskilful, industrious or idle--whether with large or small families, married or unmarried, marrying late or early, daily labourers or artizans—whether possessing the most advantages or the fewest--whether working constantly for the richest, or occasionally for the poorest farmers, it is certain, that not one has more than a few pounds before hand. The system therefore is radically bad-a system of debasing equalization. The parish, on the one hand, holds out strong temptations to improvidence; and, on the other, there are no inducements, or none sufficiently powerful, to encourage a contrary course. There is a labourer at Berry, who state of dependence is almost inconceivable. They live a prey to suspicion, concealment, and apprehension, both on their own individual account and on account of the common cause. Hence the gross errors which well-meaning, but superficial inquirers fall into respecting them. I once counted a row of eggs laid upon a shelf in a pauper labourer's cottage, and then asked his wife how many hens she had, which, coupled with my having a note-book in my hand, so alarmed her, that she was seized with a violent illness. If she had been aware of my coming, the eggs would have been concealed. In a cottage in Lancashire, whilst the inmates were complaining that they had not tasted butcher's meat for a month, a terrier I had with me turned up a mug under which were the bones of a neck of mutton newly picked. A woman, just after telling me she could not get food, forgot herself and cut a large slice of bread to quiet a squalling child. The child bit one piece, and then threw the remainder indignantly into the dirt.

has a wife and only one child; he is subject to an infirmity which occasionally disables him from labour, during which time he has relief from the parish. His wife is one of the only two remaining women possessed of looms. She might by industry gain as much as would keep her husband during his illness; but she has not used her loom for two years, pleading the difficulty of getting work, and the ill health of her child, but in reality not choosing to “save the parish” as the phrase is--for that would be the only effect she perceives; and she would incur the blame of her compeers for an abandonment of their supposed rights. To compel her to work is possible, but it would be contending against public opinion, and perhaps inducing an intentional aggravation of the man's infirmity, in order to triumph over the parish, instances of which perverseness are by no means rare, nor are they to be wondered at, when it is considered that they are esteemed as a sort of self-devotion, or patriotic contest for the common rights. According to the present state of things, an individual of the lower class, who should be inclined to become provident, must suffer present privation for remote and uncertain advantages. All he could expect would be the accumulation of a little fund, from which whatever advantages he could derive, the sums he would otherwise have obtained from the parish would be reckoned as so much lost, and so he would be continually told. He would have no means of turning his capital to account, as long as he remained in the parish, except perhaps by setting up a small shop, and all he could do would be to use his fund as his necessities obliged him, with the consciousness that it might fail at last, and leave him in no better state than the rest. “ What is the use of saving ? —the parish must keep us,” is the common language; and unless it is made apparent, that they who save will have

opportunities afforded them of providing much better for themselves than the parish will provide for them, it is almost in vain to think of creating a provident population. Saving implies present privation, and there must be future advantages held out, and those not very remote, to induce and preserve an alteration of habits. With attention and judgment, a system might be introduced, which would operate a completely beneficial change, making allowance for occasional instances of human frailty—that is, prudence might be made to become almost as general as improvidence is now.

I shall confine myself, however, to only one suggestion, (as being that alone, which, under present circumstances, is likely to be in any degree carried into practice,) and that relates to the residences of the labouring classes.

“On account of the scarcity of accommodations,cottage rents are oppressively high, especially in Bridgetown. A journeyman shoe-maker there, who has had fourteen children, and has five at home, pays £4. 108. a year for one room and a miserable garret, with a small garden. He gains 28. or 38. a week by teaching a night school; but during his wife's confinement in the spring, he was obliged to dismiss his scholars for want of room just when his expenses were the greatest, and the parish had to make up the difference. The crowded state of the population and the wretched state of the accommodations are highly unfavourable to health and morals, and some of the labourers have to go three miles to their work, which, in a hilly country and rainy climate, is a serious drawback upon their time in task work, a profitless wear of the constitution, and a frequent cause of disease and infirmity. After a sorry breakfast of weak suet broth, a labourer of the poorer order sometimes walks three miles to his work, with a little more than a piece of barley bread for his dinner, eaten in the fields in wet clothes, and returns at night to a filthy crowded chamber to his supper, which is his principal meal. The distance from employment too is a frequent cause of not obtaining it at all, and I believe, if the artizans also were a little scattered, it would be better both for themselves and for those who have occasion to employ them. But I consider the circumstance of there being so few gradations as to residence, as one of the greatest evils. A separate cottage in bad condition, with a small garden, generally too small to be of much advantage, and therefore neglected, forms, with I think one or two exceptions, the highest class of labourers' tenements. The consequence is, the great stimulus to exertion, the hope of advancement, has scarcely any operation. If there were gradations, from a couple of rooms to comfortable family cottages, with land sufficient for a garden, a small orchard, and to keep a cow or two, there would be an obvious inducement continually held out to thrift and good character, in hopes of obtaining the higher prizes. Individuals would begin to strive for them. selves, and would cease, as at present, to make common cause against the parish.* The success of one would excite the emulation of others; and the general character would be raised. The children of those in the higher rank of labourers would often be deterred from too early marriages by the dread of descending from their station, and the children of the lowest class would sometimes, from feelings of prudence or ambition, wait till they had the means or opportunity of advancement, The impulse of character would be felt, and the present practice of heedless marriages would cease to be so prevalent.t The advantages of gardens to cottages, I believe, are universally allowed: the smallest size, as some of the labourers informed me, should be one-eighth of an acre. I am aware that an objection would be alleged to their having orchards, as affording them a cover for stealing and selling the farmers' apples; but as only those would possess them who had advanced themselves, or whose fathers had done so before them, I do not think the objection valid against the moral effect of making a higher gradation. Indeed, robbing orchards would probably be held in greater disrepute than it is, when some of the class, who are now the offenders, might themselves suffer from the practice. I have heard it objected, that labourers keeping cows diminishes the farmer's profits; but experience in many parts of the country where it is the custom, so fully proves its advantages, that I hold it unnecessary to say much upon the subject. A plentiful supply of milk, and domestic employment for females, much more than counterbalance any inconvenience, if there be any, which I much doubt, from a labourer's cow. With a proper sized garden, a cow,a pig, and a few hens, a cottager's wife never need be at a loss for work, and the difference between a female so occupied, and the gossiping women of Bridgetown and Berry would soon become apparent. The men, too, under such circumstances can, in a great degree, find employment at home in wet weather, or at the seasons of the year

* Being on one low level, the labouring classes here have all one common corresponding feeling. Though apparently quiet and orderly, I found them in reality more violent and unreasonable, particularly the women, and less intelligent, than I have experienced in the manufacturing districts.

+ Passion, affection, the hope of offspring or of domestic comfort, have comparatively little operation in producing marriages in this degraded class. Mere custom is one great cause. If the men could obtain employment as easily whilst single as when married, and could meet with accommodation undisturbed by the matrimonial uncomforts of others, and the women had a more marked choice between provident and improvident husbands, a great alteration for the better would take place. Houses kept by respectable middle-aged people without any young children, where single men could have accommodation according to their inclination or means, would considerably conduce to prevent

when the least labour is wanted, which prevents them from being a burden to the farmers or the parish, or living upon their savings, or wasting them at the alehouse. I have mentioned the highest class of cottages having land enough for two cows, and this I think might be desirable for three reasons : 1st. Because it is making a higher gradation, which is giving a greater stimulus, and raising the moral character. 2ndly. Because it would increase the facility of obtaining milk to those who have no cow, or who are temporarily in premature marriages, and would be otherwise advantageous in many ways.

« ElőzőTovább »