[The Daily News, 8. Februar und 24. August 1869]

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The Daily News. Nr. 7105, 8. Februar 1869. S. 5.
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EX-GOVERNOR SIR GEORGE GREY ON THE AGRICULTURAL LABOURER IN ENGAND.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE DAILY NEWS.

Feb 8 Anmerkung von Jenny Marx

SIR,—I feel great anxiety as to the effects likely to be produced upon the public mind by the language which one of her Majesty’s present advisers has used regarding the condition of the agricultural poor in England. The language I allude to is of the following nature.

The laboring man had undoubtedly risen, his wages were raised, his dwelling was being attended to more and more, they were looking after his education, and all classes of agriculturists were in a more prosperous state than was ever known before.

Now, there is the clearest evidence to show that the position of the labourer is in some essential respects worse than perhaps for centuries has been the case.

Especially within the last twenty or thirty years the evil has been in very rapid increase and now in the highest degree deplorable. Except in so far as they whom his labour enriches see fit to treat him with a kind of pitiful indulgence, he is quite peculiarly helpless in the matter. Whether he shall find house-room on the land which he contributes to till, whether the house-room which he gets shall be human or swinish, whether he shall have the little space of garden that so vastly lessens the pressure of his poverty—all this does not depend on his willingness and ability to pay reasonable rent for the decent accommodation he requires, but depends on the use which others may see fit to make of their “right to do as they will with their own.”

I am quoting from the report made to the Privy Council, by their medical officers, on the house accommodation of rural labourers. The report then goes on to show, that the existing laws do not reserve for the labourer ever “so little right in that soil to which his industry is as needful as sun and rain;” that it has now become in many cases impossible for him to attain “the bit of garden which would be almost wealth to him, and for which he would cheerfully pay the outside rent which it is worth, whilst his money would have been as good as another man’s.” The report then points out that in the belief of the writers of it the miseries of the poor are in great part, at least, to be attributed to the influence of the Poor-law, which gives to each parish a pecuniary interest in reducing to a minimum the number of its resident labourers.

Who throw a burthen on land, which large proprietors feel very definitely and considerably, and while feeling it cannot but know that they have facilities, which are deemed not to be illegal, for shifting it away from themselves. They have but to resolve that there shall be no labourers’ dwellings on their estates, and their estates will thenceforth be virtually free from half their responsibilities for the poor. How far it has been intended in the English constitution and law that this kind of unconditionable property in land should be acquirable, and that a landlord “doing as he wills with his own,” should be able to treat the cultivators of the soil as aliens whom he may expel from his territory, is a question which I do not pretend to discuss. But I think it all-important that the working of this system should be clearly seen by those who can judge it in its legal as well as in its moral relations.

The report also states this terrible fact:

Unhappily, agricultural labour, instead of implying a safe and permanent independence for the hardworking labourer and his family, implies for the most part only a longer or shorter circuit to eventual pauperism—a pauperism which during the whole circuit is so near, that any illness, or temporary failure of occupation, necessitates immediate recourse to parochial relief.

It must not be thought that the power of eviction on the part of landlords, to which I allude in this letter, exists only in theory; on the contrary,

On a very large scale it prevails in practice—prevails as a main governing condition in the household circumstances of agricultural labour. Besides the extreme cases, where houses of a parish were pulled down in the teeth of an increasing population, there were also innumerable parishes where the demolition of houses was going on more rapidly than any lessening of the population could explain. When the process of depopulation has completed itself, the result is a show village where the cottages have been reduced to a few, and where none but persons who are needed as shepherds, gardeners, or gamekeepers are allowed to live, regular servants, who receive the good treatment usual to their class. But the land requires cultivation, and it will be found that the labourers employed upon it are not the tenants of the owner, but that they come from a neighbouring open village, perhaps three miles off, where a numerous small proprietary had received them when their cottages were destroyed in the close villages around. When things are tending to the above result, often the cottages which stand testify, in their unrepaired and wretched condition, to the extinction to which they are doomed. They are seen standing in the various stages of natural decay. While the shelter holds together, the labourer is permitted to rent it; and glad enough he will often he to do so, even at the price of a decent lodging. But no repair, no improvement shall it receive, except such as its penniless occupants can supply. And when at last it becomes quite uninhabitable—uninhabitable even according to the humblest standard of serfdom—it will be but one more destroyed cottage, and future poor rates will be somewhat lightened.

Aye; so much for the cottage, one more destroyed cottage in one parish out of the innumerable parishes in which this process is going on, but what of the one more family of human souls driven forth from that cottage? They are, for the most part, driven forth to a fate so cruel and terrible that I hesitate to write it. Another set of commissioners in the year 1867 traced out in part the condition of these unhappy beings whilst engaged in an inquiry totally independent of the report from which I have already quoted. On a future occasion I propose to analyze that report, but it is a sad task to enter upon, and discloses depths of human misery which are a disgrace to our race. But the report proceeds:

While great owners are thus escaping from poor-rates through the depopulation of the lands over which they have control, the nearest town or open village receives the evicted labourers; the nearest, I say, but this “nearest” may be three or four miles distant from the farm where the labourer has his daily toil. To that daily toil there will then have to be added, as though it were nothing, the daily need of walking six or eight miles for power of earning his bread, and whatever farm work is done by his wife and children is done at the same disadvantage. Nor is this nearly all the evil which the distance occasions him. In the open village cottage speculators buy scraps or land which they throng as densely as they can with the cheapest of all possible hovels, and into those wretched habitations (which even if they adjoin the open country have some of the worst features of the worst town residences) crowd the agricultural labourers of England.

The report of the medical officers of the Privy Council for the year following the report which I have already quoted (1865) shows what are the worst features of these town residences:

It is scarcely possible for the better-off classes to imagine, whose duty has not given them opportunities of practically knowing, what immensity of baneful influence is included in the evils to which I advert, and it may therefore be well for me to show what in practice are the forms in which the evils present themselves. By places unfit for human habitation I mean places in which, by common consent, even moderately healthy life is impossible to human dwellers—places which, therefore, in themselves(independently of removable filth which may be about them) answer to the common conceptions of nuisances—such, for instance, as those underground dwellings which permanently are almost, or entirely, dark and unventilatable and dwellings which are in such constructional partnership with public privies, or other depositaries of filth, that their very sources of ventilation are essentially offensive and injurious, and dwellings which have such relation to |33 local drainage that they are habitually soaked into by water or sewage, and so forth. But beyond these instances, where the dwelling would, I think, even now be deemed by common consent unfit for human habitation, instances, varying in degree, are innumerable where in small closed courts, surrounded by high buildings, and approached by narrow and perhaps winding gangways, houses of the meanest sort stand, acre after acre of them, brick to brick, shut from all enjoyment of light and air, with but privies and dustbins to look upon, and surely such can only be counted fit for human habitation while the standard of that humanity is low.

Then follow in the report I am now quoting from accounts of the habitual overcrowding of these wretched residences, so shocking that I hesitate to quote them, accompanied with this general statement on the subject:

Though my official point of view is one exclusively physical, common humanity requires that the other aspect of this evil should not be ignored. For where overcrowding exists in its sanitary sense, almost always it exists even more perniciously in certain moral senses. In its higher degree it almost necessarily involves such negation of all delicacy, such unclean confusion of bodies and bodily functions, such mutual exposure of animal and sexual nakedness as is rather bestial than human. To be subject to these influences is a degradation which must become deeper and deeper for those on whom it continues to work. To children who are born under its curse it must often be a very baptism into infamy.

It is into these wretched habitations that now crowd the agricultural labourers of England from the innumerable parishes where the demolition of houses is going on more rapidly than any lessening of the population can explain, as well as from those parishes where the houses are pulled down in the teeth of an increasing population.

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The Daily News. Nr. 7274, 24. August 1869. S. 6.
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HOW CRIMINALS ARE MADE.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE DAILY NEWS.

SIR,—The following paragraph I have cut from a Lincoln paper of to-day. Middle Rasen is about sixteen miles from this city.

“THEFT BY A GIRL.—On Monday last, at the magistrates’ room, before the Rev. W. W. Cooper, and R. R. Dixon, Esq., Ann Wright, aged 14, was charged by the Rev. A. Hughes, curate of Middle Rasen, with stealing the sum of three pence, his property. The prosecutor occupies furnished rooms at Middle Rasen, and the defendant, an orphan from the union, was recently engaged as servant of all work by Mr. Fieldsend, the landlord. It appeared that the prosecutor had been in the habit of leaving sums of money about in his room, and eventually, as might have been expected, missed three pence. Defendant pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment at Kirton, and at the end of that term to be sent to a reformatory for four years.”

We are amazed at the rapid growth of our criminal classes, but we need not be after reading this and similar statements. Alas, poor orphan girl, only 14, taken from a workhouse, sent to be schooled at a prison for stealing three pence from “Rev. A. Hughes, curate of Middle Rasen,” who was in the habit of “leaving money about,” and probably to “matriculate” at the reformatory afterwards. This is “justices’ justice,” perhaps, but it is not God’s and it is a crying shame that the administration of the laws of this country should be left in the hands of such dabblers as these magistrates evidently are. Unfortunately such incidents are very common in this and other agricultural counties.—I am, &c.,

P. N. A.
Lincoln, August 21.

Inhalt:

  • Social cases. 1869