Contemporary Reviews of Labour and the Poor 4

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, Monday, November 12, 1849.


It is impossible to enter upon the subject of the sufferings of the lower classes without coming to the great desideratum of the continuity of labour. It is the uncertainty that destroys hope, health, and economy, and turns virtue to despair. It is this absence of any surety or continuity that causes the misery and disaffection of the Irishman, and which has begotten the past insurrections and present communism of the Frenchman. It is, however, impossible to compel either the agricultural or the manufacturing capitalist to give annual engagements to all that he employs. The labour market, like other markets, must remain free. But, however individuals must be left free to employ or to dismiss, public opinion ought to suffice to stigmatise large and public establishments conducted on the avowed principle of treating the labourer as a mere machine. There can be no greater blot upon a civilised country, no more indelible disgrace, than that mode of employing labour practised at the docks, and which has been so faithfully and usefully described in The Morning Chronicle. Here are men who are called to be employed by the hour, or by so many hours, without any inquiry as to character, any care as to conduct, any note taken of their diligence, their attachment, their honesty. Nothing is prized but mere brute capability of labour. Gorged one day, starved for many days after, with no eye to approve or to pity, or to look upon them as men, these unfortunate creatures are treated precisely like beasts of burden and of prey, below the scale not only of human beings, but of animals. The ox is far better cared for than they. We must say, and we say it with regret, that a regular established system of slavery would be in every way preferable to that system of employing men which prevails at our London docks. No slavery in Cuba or Brazil is worse than this. And it is most monstrous inconsistency to spend millions in protecting the blacks of Africa from a degradation to worse than which we carelessly condemn, at our own doors, and within our own sight, our own working population.—Daily News.

Labour and the Poor.”—Such is the title of a series of articles which have recently appeared in the columns of The Morning Chronicle, directed to the purpose of making the middle and upper classes acquainted with the real facts of the condition of those below them. A more important purpose could hardly be imagined; and the journal that faithfully collects and truly details the circumstances of the poorest classes of the community justly earns for itself a title to the gratitude of the country; For, after all, they form the thews and sinews of the country; their strength must be relied on for its defence in war, and in their comfort or misery must rest the title of the country to tranquillity, prosperity, and happiness in peace. If misery exists to a very great extent among them, the causes of that misery ought to be discovered, that they may be removed or lessened according as circumstances permit. Those causes may be partly attributable to the poor themselves, in which case the mental and moral improvement of the poor may lessen or remove them; or they may be attributable to the practices, the habits, the influence, and the authority of the other classes, and then it is these who must be instructed in their duty, that the degradation and wretchedness of their poorer brethren may not lie as a sin rather than as a mere misfortune at their door. But, at all events, a true knowledge of the origin and developments of the evil is an indispensable condition to the attainment of a remedy. The Morning Chronicle proposes to procure this knowledge, and faithfully to lay it before the public, and well and ably has it hitherto performed its task. It would be impossible for us here to give even a summary of the statements which the articles in question have given in detail. They put beyond all doubt the existence of a state of physical and moral wretchedness in this great country such as the mind sickens to contemplate. The mighty column of our national greatness is not, indeed, founded on the misery of the people, but its brightness is in many instances spotted and stained with their woes. In the great centres of commercial activity, the fierceness of competition, and the manner in which it is taken advantage of, reduce hundreds among the workpeople to helpless and hopeless drudgery. They toil to live, they have no chance of hope to enjoy. Some among them are crowded into wretched alleys, dark, dirty, and fetid, because their labour supplies them, at best, with nothing more than the means of a day-to-day existence. They are occasionally even in a worse condition, and then the sympathy of those who are a little less destitute than themselves, the aid of the workhouse, or perhaps even crime sustains them. But, to the credit of the really working classes be it said, that few, very few, of those who have been accustomed to live on honest labour, ever suffer themselves to be degraded into thieves. In the midst of all the misery of our over-worked, half-famished, ill-clothed, and ill-lodged labouring poor, the pride of honesty is still to be found. The statistics furnished in these articles show that by very far the largest proportion of criminals, aye, and even of mendicants, is composed of those whom natural depravity or the accident of mischievous companionship and example have early led into crime, and whom similar causes have retained in criminality. The struggles of the industrious labourer to remain honest are in striking contrast to these. They bear about them a romantic character, and a soul-stirring interest. In one of the letters published during the past week is a tale which exhibits in a humble young woman all the moral force of virtue with which a poet would have sought to invest his favourite heroine. Her parents had lived in a small house, and had furnished it; their memory, the relics of their labour, the associations of early life, rendered it dear to her—for years she has struggled to maintain herself there, and she has done so, but with all her undoubted care and self-denial, with all her industrious toil, she has only succeeded in doing it at the cost of parting from, bit by bit, the furniture which her parents had bought, and of seeing herself approaching slowly but certainly to the workhouse. Yet she has been industrious, careful, sober, and cleanly, and has had no incumbrance to press her down into poverty. How then, it may be asked, is her condition so hopeless? It is because she is a slop worker, and the pressure of competition compels or induces the slop seller to give, or, at all events, compels her to accept, a payment which does but stay but will not absolutely prevent her inevitable fate. Yet she works on, prolonging from day to day her residence in the poor dwelling sacred to her from the memory of her parents and her own childish associations. Romance may present us with more grand but not with more affecting incidents than this, nor can its pages offer an example of a finer or a nobler spirit struggling with destiny, although in that struggle unaided by hope. Turning from the town to the country we find that not to low wages alone are to be traced the miseries of thousands among the peasantry. The “duties of property” seem, in some instances, to have been forgotten in the enjoyment of its “rights.” In the description of the condition of the Vale of Honiton, landlord heartlessness shocks and disgusts us, while the pain we suffer from the recital is delightfully relieved by the Christian-like sympathy of a poorly endowed vicar, who wins our love by the hearty, though unostentatious manner in which he lessens the misery it is beyond his power to remove. His kind-hearted wife gracefully aids him in this noble labour. The only inferences that can at present be safely drawn from these articles are, that the duties of all the respective classes of society have been but poorly taught and practised; that indifference of what others thought or felt has been the fault of all; and that true Christian morality has yet to be diffused among all classes before the improvement of any will be such as to ensure the avoidance of those evils and miseries which are within the control of human agency. The continued publication of these articles in The Morning Chronicle will, by affording the best information as to facts hitherto entirely unknown, or but partially known, afford at the same time the best means of effecting this most desirable object.—Bell’s Life in London.

A writer in The Morning Chronicle has commenced a series of admirable letters on the social condition of the labouring classes. They deserve to be universally read and studied; for they present a picture of life in the manufacturing districts, and in this overgrown metropolis, such as has never before been, we believe, painted by any artist, however skilled he may have been in the art of delineating scenes upon paper. The writer is graphic in his description of the twopenny lodging-houses in the metropolis. Hitherto they have been imperfectly sketched through the medium of the police force, or upon hearsay, and consequently untrustworthy testimony. They have now been pencilled with a masterly hand, and with so much fidelity that we cease to wonder any longer how it is that London should be so infested with vagabonds and low desperate characters. The truth is explained in these letters. Hordes of thieves are daily poured forth from these dens to depredate upon the pockets of the people, and despoil tradesmen of their property.—Weekly Dispatch.

The “distressed needlewomen” of the metropolis are again before the public as candidates for pity, for alms, and for such permanent aid as the less distressed classes can afford them in their struggle for the means of life. We say “needle-women,” because, though the touching recitals of the correspondent of The Morning Chronicle have reference also to the miseries of needle-men, it is sufficiently obvious that the miserably small earnings common to this occupation have been reduced to their present level by the competition of women. It is needless to argue in proof of a proposition so obviously true as that, in a free market, two prices cannot be maintained for the same commodity. If women can do the work, then men must either retire from the field, or do it at a price as low as that demanded by their feminine competitors. *   *   *   *   * We need not repeat the tariff of prices exhibited on this occasion. The end is the same; the labourer earns some such weekly pittance as 3s. 9d., 4s. 6d., or 5s., and so on; and is in many instances but partially employed even at that rate. In short, the amount earned is apparently such as may barely sustain life in those best fitted for such an existence by constitution and habit. It is impossible not to regret, very deeply, that any section of the English population should be condemned to live thus; nor can we feel otherwise than grateful to those through whose exertions the facts are made known. To know well the wrong is the first step, and one that cannot be dispensed with, towards setting it right. Well used, such knowledge is invaluable.—Globe.

The Morning Chronicle, Monday, November 12, 1849.