Contemporary Reviews of Labour and the Poor 5

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 20, 1849.

Individuals, and small knots of individuals, have been lately directing their own philanthropic exertions and stimulating the energies of others to amend the condition of the labourers, by providing better cottages for their residences in the country, and more comfortable lodgings for their occupation in towns. We cannot too much applaud this movement, so honourable to those truly Christian spirits who are engaged in the holy work; but the real state of the hideous cancer, which is not only surely destroying those whose bodies it has attacked, but is spreading its fatal poison to those whom misfortune may bring in contact with it, has never been dissected and exposed, until the publication of the communications from individuals employed by The Morning Chronicle, and which are now appearing almost daily in the columns of that journal. We well know the sensitiveness of our agricultural readers, who, we doubt not, will but ill relish in some respects the description given of the condition of the agricultural labourer in the counties referred to in the letter which appears in our columns this day, and in others which have yet to appear. If, however, as it is said to be consolatory to have companions in misfortune, it be any satisfaction to them to know that there are others as censurable as themselves, we may safely assure them that the condition of the agricultural labourers, as a whole, in any district yet described, is happy and comfortable, when compared with the incredible privations which thousands of trade workmen and workwomen endure in the eastern part of the metropolis. Enough has already been shown by these valuable communications to satisfy us that a great proportion of the crime which is leavening the mass of the working classes is traceable to the want of the common necessaries of life—the result of want of employment; that thousands and tens of thousands would be honest and virtuous, were they only placed in a position to be industrious; and that the great end and aim of the Government of this country must be to facilitate by all possible means the application of capital to the employment of the people at home, or the adoption of a system of emigration upon a gigantic scale at the public expense.—Mark-lane Express.

In our vocation of labourers for the moral and social elevation of the working classes, we have been especially delighted with some of the observations made by Mr. Cobden at the Birmingham Freehold Conference. It was not where he exhorted the working classes to self-improvement, although that part of his speech has its specific value. It was where Mr. Cobden indicated that his mind is getting free from the fettering influences of the rigid so-called Manchester school, and that he is now disposed to take a larger view of the true welfare of the commonwealth than is tolerated by a dogmatic adherence to cast-metal principles of political economy. Mr. Cobden feels that the safety of the state is not consulted by the terrible disparity of fortune which prevails in this country; and it is on this ground, as well as on others, that he supports the freehold movement, because he is anxious to see the working classes in possession of realised property. In this view Mr. Cobden coincides with Mr. Mill, who freely avows that the existing economical structure of Great Britain is not that which ought to constitute the social state of man. He dislikes, he says, the “elbowing, crushing, and trampling on one another’s heels,” which are the characteristics of our huge competitive system, in which great capitals beat down the small, and great and small capitals, struggling together, beat down the labourer. If additional evidences were required as to the vast national evils which are the result of such a system, these are afforded by the revelations which are made daily in The Morning Chronicle. And we are glad to see that these descriptions of the condition of the labouring classes do not now provoke the pedantic sneer, and the ready and flippant insinuation about “sentimentality,” and ignorance of the principles of political economy. The thing is felt to be truly a “great fact;” we cannot escape from it, any more than we can sneer it down; and The Morning Chronicle, in thus fearlessly putting to the rigid test of a minute examination the results of our boasted “let-alone” system, deserves the thanks of the nation, and the gratitude of all thoughtful men, whatever may be its own ultimate conclusions, or whatever may be the fruits of the inquiry.—Manchester Spectator.

That “Truth is strange, stranger than fiction,” is being every day verified by the letters now publishing in The Morning Chronicle, to which we alluded in our last, and to which we feel constrained again to advert. The statements published in that journal on Tuesday and Friday last are harrowing commentaries on Hood’s “Song of the Shirt.” We are admitted to the homes and histories of a class of needlewomen, earning, even when fully employed, a miserable pittance barely adequate to the supply of “daily bread” in the most naked and literal significance of the words; and when employment is withdrawn, the poor creatures own with a blush of burning shame that the fear of starvation impels them to a career of infamy against which every better feeling of their nature rises up in revolt, and which they abandon as soon as the opportunity is again offered them of earning some three and sixpence weekly by unremitting application to their needle. We are told of widows toiling early and late for a remuneration which only permits them to appease the cravings of a wolfish appetite by bread moistened with cold water, or the occasional luxury of unsweetened tea—of mothers expressing deep thankfulness when their offspring are removed by death from present penury, and possibly future crime and loathsome infamy. We hear of reduced gentlewomen, who have been tenderly and delicately nurtured in their youth, plying their needles for subsistence, chewing camphor, and drinking warm water to cheat the appetite they cannot otherwise appease, pawning indispensable articles of wearing apparel to purchase the means of preserving life, because, to use their own words, “life is sweet” (though it must be a wonderful alchemy which can extract honey out of such exceeding bitterness), and priding themselves, even in the extremity of their poverty, upon their integrity, and upon the successful issue of their struggles to “keep out of debt.” In short there is no depth of degradation and misery that is not daily fathomed by hundreds of our fellow-creatures—women more especially—in

London, that great sea, whose ebb and flow

At once is deaf and loud, and on the shore

Vomits its wrecks, and still howls on for more.”

Remote as these sufferings and sufferers may be from our own sphere, they cannot be remote from our sympathies. Even if we are indifferent to the dictates of duty, we cannot be deaf to the voice of self interest; for we may rest assured that if we suffer social evils like these to continue unmitigated and unredressed, we must expect as a nation to pay the penalty of our culpable neglect as individuals. As journalists, we should but ill discharge our duty if we failed to press subjects like these frequently and earnestly upon the attention of those who may not have the opportunities otherwise afforded them of becoming familiar with some of the dark under-currents of English society.—Salisbury Journal.

The daily press of this country is generally said to follow public opinion; but we are rejoiced to see that upon one topic—the condition of the poor—one paper has dared to lead it. The Morning Chronicle is the journal which has set this good example; for which it has our hearty thanks. Whilst the Daily News is employing the recess in furthering the cause of Parliamentary and Financial Reform—the Times in a war against foul sewers and filthy courts—and the Tory press to no useful purpose whatever—The Morning Chronicle has applied the columns usually devoted to Parliamentary debates to the especial service of the poor. Instead of the glittering nonsense of Protectionist politicians, it is giving us the sober sense and the results of the investigations of intelligent men. It has sent out its commissioners to inquire into the condition of the labouring classes. And nobly have they done, nobly are they doing, this patriotic, this Christian work. What, then, is the lesson of their inquiries?—They reveal to us an awful and appalling state of things beneath the smooth surface of society, as terrible as the abysses and horrors of all sorts which poets describe as existing beneath the glassy treacherous face of the ocean. Truly has it been said that “one half the world does not know what the other half is suffering.” How small a notion have those who occupy the gilded capital of the social pillar, of the wretchedness and misery of those who huddle round its base in rags and poverty!—Leicester Mercury.

The Morning Chronicle is now giving some striking illustrations of the old adage, “one half the world does not know how the other half lives.” With an amount of energy and public spirit, of manly courage and humane feeling, which does its proprietors infinite honour, it has employed “commissioners” in both town and country for the purpose of laying bare the true condition of the humblest classes, exhibiting their wants and woes, the manner in which and the means by which they live, and probing to the quick those vast social evils which alike afflict and disgrace the country. The gentlemen to whom this important duty has been entrusted appear in every way fitted for their work; and although it may not be pleasant to some to have the festering sores of the body politic thus exposed to view, yet we apprehend it will be in the long run profitable, and lead to a real and speedy improvement of the condition of those who, in public meetings and at agricultural dinners, are often said, in poetic phrase, to constitute the pedestal or base on which the superstructure of society reposes.—Newcastle Guardian.

The Morning Chronicle has set itself the task of unmasking the system of labour and the poor in England, and for about a month back it has efficiently performed this most important duty. It has sent its “commissioners” into the Rural Districts, the Manufacturing Districts, and the Metropolitan Districts respectively, charged with a special mission of inquiry as to the labour, wages, and moral, physical, and social condition of the workers in each description of employment. The commissioners of The Chronicle are evidently men of superior powers of observation as well as description; and their letters, which appear alternately daily in the paper, are full of interest, as setting forth that vast amount of destitution, wretchedness, and misery endured by a large proportion of our labouring poor, of which we had before only “in parcels heard.” In short, it is laying before the public the groundwork for the study of the much talked of but little understood “Condition of England Question.” Whether the gentlemen in question describe the comparatively well paid factory spinner, the agricultural labourer with his wife and children starving of cold and hunger, on 6s. or 7s. a week—that antiquated and indigent class the hand-loom weavers existing on even smaller wages—the silk weaver, with an equally miserable pittance—the dock labourer, on his once-or-twice-a-week half-crown day’s work—or, lower yet in the scale of destitution, the needlewoman, eking out an existence by street-walking—all, all are depicted with a truthfulness not to be mistaken. The mass of human misery these letters have already unfolded is frightful. The evils are, therefore, laid open to public view in a style never before attained. And why? Because the gentlemen who are so well and truly performing their respective tasks are doing it fairly and impartially, and without any motive in view, save and except to elicit the truth. Previous commissions of this kind have generally been instituted to serve some petty or party interest or end. The Chronicle has a nobler object in view—an object which does its conductors the highest honour, and reflects credit on the public press. We augur the very best results from the labours of our spirited contemporary, whose exertions deserve the approbation and support of the community at large; and we have no doubt the able articles now under review will not only command the attention of the newspaper reader generally, but that they will be given to the world in a still more permanent form.—Dover Chronicle.

The Morning Chronicle, Tuesday, November 20, 1849.