Contemporary Reviews of Labour and the Poor 6

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, December 3, 1849.

Whilst others are advocating State Reforms, or demanding National Education, The Morning Chronicle has had the wisdom to see that Social Reform and Social Education are the necessary concurrent, if not the first steps upon the road which leads to political elevation. It has had the wisdom to see that in these days, when the franchise is no longer avowedly a thing of bricks and mortar, the decent, educated man, cannot long be denied the privilege of a vote. It has had the wisdom to see all this, and, in spite of the danger of the experiment, it has ventured to tell it. At great hazard and great expense, it has, as we stated the other week, set on foot a most comprehensive inquiry into the condition of the labouring classes—not, like that of the Times commissioner in Ireland, confined to any one locality or topic, but embracing the whole country, and explaining everything which can, however remotely, throw light upon its subject. The agricultural, the metropolitan, the manufacturing districts, each have their separate commissioner, who describes with accuracy their position with regard to the labourer’s wages, habits, morals, education, and religion. There is no attempt at effect. A “plain unvarnished tale,” a simple statement of facts, is all that is supplied. But facts are what we want. They must be the ground-work of our theories, the arguments on which we base our legislation. They speak for themselves, and show that in this investigation the conductors of The Morning Chronicle have no object save the arrival at truth, in the solution of the greatest problem of the day.—Leicester Mercury.

The Condition of the Poor.—Perhaps the most spirited and useful effort of the public press in recent times, is that undertaken by The Morning Chronicle of subjecting to a widely extended and minute investigation the condition of the poor—those who lie at the very root of society and constitute the source of our national greatness and strength. The researches are conducted by three correspondents or “commissioners,” one of whom directs his attention to the metropolis, another to the hives of manufacturing industry, and the third to the villages and hamlets, known to many only as the poetic abodes of health and peace. Their instructions are to thoroughly investigate and accurately describe the true state of the people—to penetrate into the haunts of wretchedness in busy towns and its distant and obscure retreats in the thinly populated country; to examine the sources of wealth and the causes of misery; to present in all their native attractions the homely virtues of the humblest, whilst they fail not to exhibit vice as a monster of ugliest mien and most destructive effects; and to drag out (so to speak) the evil genius of society that it may be exorcised and destroyed. The narratives of those industrious and fearless investigators are fraught with importance. They reveal a startling contrast between the apparent and occult phases of life—between the outsides of our towns, the elegant promenades and crowded thoroughfares, and the noisome courts and fetid alleys—the splendid mansion or charming villa and the miserable hovel and cold damp cottage. They show that whilst Dives wallows in luxury, the poor wretch at his gate starves on husks; that whilst England can boast of an amount of wealth of which the world knows no parallel, tens of thousands of her sons, able and willing to work, lie in the very depths of pauperism—the idle sport of fortune, or the victims of cruel and misguided legislation. Some of the revelations harrow and distress the soul, and all of them are given with so much particularity of detail as to render unbelief impossible. We are compelled to credit the narration, and, we will add, to respect the narrator for the enlarged view, candid spirit, and upright intention which he unfailingly exhibits. Glad that the work has been undertaken, we are still better pleased to find it prosecuted in a manner so creditable to the character of British journalism.—Newcastle Guardian.

We noticed a few weeks back the efforts making by The Morning Chronicle to obtain an accurate knowledge of the state of the poor—manufacturing and agricultural—in this kingdom, by sending reporters into the various districts, whose communications have for some time occupied a large portion of that paper. It is, of course, quite impossible for a weekly journal to give the details thus collected and elaborated, by the numerous collaborateurs of our contemporary; but we may state that the general result is, that a large proportion of the population of this kingdom is badly lodged, badly clothed, badly fed, and worse paid—that few, except artisans and mechanics, get “a fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work;” that in the metropolis (and we doubt not in many other large towns) numerous females take the wages of sin and of infamy to eke out a scanty maintenance, and to preserve themselves, and frequently there are children also involved, from starvation. One of our contemporary’s reporters has this week visited Norwich. He has gone to the mills and factories of the manufacturers; to the dwellings of the poor; to the lodging-houses for tramps and casual visitors; and to some of our public establishments, as the Workhouse, Boys’ Home, &c. We have frequently given the statistics of our manufactories, and details as to the state of the poor; and it is greatly to be regretted, that so many of the manufacturing operatives should be obliged here, as elsewhere, to work for pittances utterly inadequate to the comfortable support of a family. Where a weaver has employment for himself and several members of his family, he may realise a fair income; but if all depend upon himself, it is impossible that he can maintain a wife and children in comfort. … … But there is one thing that might be done for the poor; their dwellings might be made more comfortable. Both in city and country, there are too many of the residences of the poor quite inadequate for health, for comfort, or even for decency. With regard to those in the country, we refer to Lord Wodehouse’s admirable observations at North Walsham, as reported in our last. In the town, there are many places in which the poor reside scarcely fit to shelter animals; and although we believe there are no dwellings in Norwich so bad as may be found in London, Liverpool, Manchester, or Birmingham, yet there is great room for the hand of benevolence to dispense its gifts in the work of improvement. As public attention is now very much directed to this subject, we trust to see the poor man’s house made more suitable to its purpose; and we earnestly hope that such a change may yet be effected as may render every workman’s a life of hope, and not one of depression, almost of despair.—Norfolk Chronicle.

The Morning Chronicle “Special Commissioners.”—Our readers are probably aware that the proprietors of The Morning Chronicle are doing very great service to the cause of humanity in general, by having sent out three talented gentlemen to make investigation into the labour and condition of the working classes. One of these gentlemen has devoted his attention to the working classes of the metropolis, another to those of the agricultural districts, and a third to the chief seats of the textile manufactures. Each of these “special correspondents,” or “commissioners,” as they are not improperly termed, appears to be discharging his task with much ability and impartiality, and in their several reports they are affording valuable data for elucidating the true “condition of England question.” The gentleman who is the commissioner for the manufacturing districts has this week visited Leeds and Bradford, and inspected most of the public institutions, and many manufactories and private dwellings, for the purpose of obtaining a knowledge of the important subject which he is sent to investigate. For some time past he had been in Manchester and other towns in Lancashire, from which he had communicated some deeply interesting reports on the condition of persons engaged in the cotton manufactures. The first report on the woollen districts, which related chiefly to Saddleworth, appeared in The Morning Chronicle of Thursday last. Those relating to Leeds, Bradford, &c., will be published in the course of the ensuing fortnight.—Leeds Intelligencer.

The Morning Chronicle, Monday, December 3, 1849.