Contemporary Reviews of Labour and the Poor 2

Contemporary reviews started appearing in other publications shortly after the “Labour and the Poor” investigation commenced, of which a number were reprinted in The Morning Chronicle.

We have transcribed a selection of these to give an idea of how the letters were being received at the time, which you can find below. Each article has links to the other articles at the top and bottom of the page.

The Morning Chronicle, Tuesday, November 6, 1849.


We have long since expressed our opinion, in the columns of this journal, that the greatest danger which this country had to apprehend internally was from the excessive numbers of the working classes as compared with the means of employment afforded, and hence we have from time to time inculcated as the first duty of the Government the opening up the field of labour, not by special interference in the prosecution of works of any kind, but by affording every facility for enabling and inducing the capitalist to embark in undertakings which will create a demand for labour. The proprietors of The Morning Chronicle have engaged some individuals, whose competency to the task is already amply proved by their writings, to prepare for publication a series of letters on the general subject of “Labour and the Poor;” but subdivided into the “Metropolitan,” the “Manufacturing,” and the “Rural” districts. Some of these have appeared, and open out to public gaze a scene of want and misery amongst thousands, who are ever ready literally to fight for permission to earn their daily bread upon the uncertain tenure of a single day’s engagement, and to repeat the same fierce and desperate struggle on each succeeding day, which could scarcely be contemplated. The revelation of such an incredible state of wretchedness at once points out the source of Chartism, and accounts for much of the demoralization for which a great portion of the working class is unhappily distinguished. It is our intention to give insertion to these letters, seriatim, in the columns of this journal; and as the “Rural” district possesses the more immediate interest for our readers, we this day place before them the first letter on the subject, and which has relation to the counties of Wilts, Berks, Bucks, and Oxford.—Mark-lane Express.

The state of the nation question is one which the rival factions of Whigs and Tories invariably combine their mercenary forces to crush and stifle as often as it is proposed as a fitting subject for Parliamentary investigation. It would be unpleasant, and might be awkward in its revelations. It would enforce the necessity of the most rigid economy by showing the squalid poverty and abject wretchedness which co-exist in this country, side by side with the most profligate expenditure and the most costly nepotism in its rulers. But we are happy to find, that what the Government would only have probably half done, if it had been compelled to do it at all, is likely to be thoroughly accomplished by another quarter. As we stated several days ago, The Morning Chronicle is sending its “commissioners” through the country to make an accurate and searching inquiry into the state of the labouring classes both in the trading and agricultural districts, the results of which will appear in its columns between the present time and the meeting of Parliament. We quite agree with our contemporary of the North British Mail in what he says on this spirited effort to make the country acquainted with what, we believe, it is marvellously ignorant of, namely, its own state and condition:⁠—

“We always hail the ‘commissioner’ of the press with feelings of respect and admiration. He goes forth on his work of inquiry and observation unaccompanied and unknown. Power and rank afford him no facilities in the accomplishment of his task; and he is forced to rely for success on his native genius and the easy application of acquired information in developing those principles which he is commissioned to investigate. *   *   * No journal could propose to itself a more noble and useful task than that undertaken by The Morning Chronicle. The poor man’s work, his hearth, his family, his necessities, his amusements, his aspirations, and his fears are seldom heeded in patrician circles, and but little known in the legislative assemblies that enact the laws by which the operative classes are directed and controlled. Our knowledge of the economy of the labouring community is the reverse of extensive. Nothing has been gleaned of their social and political tendencies, other than those superficial facts which the statesman or the philanthropist could not shut out from his mental vision. Notwithstanding, Government has ventured to deal with them as though it understood them. They are bound by laws, and regulated by the opinions of men to whom, in their homes, in their workshops, and in their habits, they are utter strangers.”

Our best wishes go with this great and good work. And knowing as we do the zeal of the several gentlemen employed upon it, we have all faith in the accuracy and ability with which it will be conducted by persons of their high standing in the intellectual and literary world; and this very knowledge, again, gives us a greater appreciation of the endeavour to enlighten the public on a subject on which so little is, when so much ought to be, known. For our own part we anticipate much valuable and interesting instruction from parties who are sent out on the important mission, not to support views, but to accumulate facts and to set forth “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” on the most difficult and perplexing problem which ever yet occupied a nation, puzzled philosophy, startled philanthropy, confused legislators, and bewildered statesmen. The knot of this tremendous difficulty is now at last about to be untied.—Liverpool Albion.

The Morning Chronicle, Tuesday, November 6, 1849.