Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

As they were ?' No! Not as they were—ten times worse than they were! Let a man of fifty ride five miles in any direction from his own door in some of the most carefully tilled counties of England, and he must be fortunate in his surroundings if he can find ten labourers' cottages that have been built with three sleeping-rooms since he arrived at manhood. Let him at the same time take a note of the houses of agricultural labourers in which large families have been brought up—God knows how—and on which 501. have been spent during the same time. Let him end by counting the number of dwellings that have been allowed to fall down, and from which the last occupant has escaped only just soon enough. Let him do all this, I say, and I think that man will be startled and shocked if he has any heart or any pity in him.

The peasantry are huddling under roofs which our grandfathers raised; but roofs and walls have had half a century or more of wear and tear. This one is propped up by an old dead tree, that one has been daubed with untempered mortar,' the other one has been made habitable by the wretched tenant with some old sleepers fetched from the nearest railway, or the thatch mended by his own hand with straw that ought to have gone to the pig.

Men pretend to wonder that the population of our villages goes on decreasing. It would be wonderful if it were otherwise. The peasantry have acquired migratory habits and gone into the towns from sheer necessity. We have been doing our best in our schools to teach the rising generation decency and self-respect, and in proportion as they learn that lesson in that proportion do they take the earliest opportunity to get out of the shameful hovels which cruel mockers call their homes. The wrong and the sin are those of omission as far as the larger proprietors are concerned, I grant; but

I what then ?

Non hominem occidi.—Non pasces in cruce corvos.

Sum bonus et frugi.—Renuit negitatque Sabellus. The mischief is all the harder to deal with because the larger number of our labourers' cottages are not the property of the great landowners, but of small, sometimes very small, proprietors. These latter manage to get a very handsome return for their investments, and are quite safe in asking wbat rent they choose to demand. Tell them they are living in a fool's paradise, and that Mr. A or Mr. B will build some decent dwellings soon, and empty the old tumbledown shanties, and they laugh at you. I know better than that,

• said a coarse foul-mouthed old drover to me. Gentlemen don't like building houses for them sort of people. We ain't got no gamekeepers here, nor no gentlefolks neither!'

So the small capitalist invests in the row of cottages within easy reach of the public-house, and very well he makes it pay. Even looking at the matter from the meanest point of view, it appears doubtful whether he is not more

6

shrewd than the richer proprietor, who tells you that the broad acres cannot run away, while labourers can and do. Ay! They can and do. But as William Cobbett said in his own strong way nearly half a century ago, “Without the labourer the land is nothing worth. Without his labour there can be no tillage, no enclosure of fields, no tending of flocks, no breeding of cattle, and a farm is worth no more than an equal number of acres of the sea or of the air.'

It is when we come to deal with the results directly traceable to the general decay and neglect of the labourers' dwellings that the outlook appears most serious. Unhappily we are all too well aware that in the best times chastity never was a virtue held in very high estimation among the rural population. Two young people kept company' for a while, and the result was accepted as a matter of course. Thirty years ago marriage also followed as a matter of course, and a man was looked upon as a bad fellow who delayed to

father his child’ by making the mother his wife. Of late years this remnant of honourable sentiment has been dying out, and, by much that I can hear from those on whose information I can rely, the conviction has been forced upon me that female prostitution in country villages is by no means uncommon. The young men have no houses to bring their wives to, the young women will not be content with the ruinous hovels. So the child is born, weaned, and left with

, the grandmother; the young fellow slinks off into the town or takes 'a job' in some remote county-the order of affiliation is never served, and the girl goes out to service, or she hangs about the village with nothing to do, and hoists her flag again in hopes that sooner or later she may capture some weak besieger of the citadel and be made an honest woman of by bearing another's name. If this should not happen as soon as might be wished, and if youth passes and middle life is beginning, she has still another chance. A labourer finds himself suddenly a widower with three or four young children and no female to look after them. What is he to do? The natural course would be to marry again. Formerly this used to be invariably done, and usually with very little delay. Now he tells you he can do better than that. He takes a housekeeper and pretends that he means to look out for a wife. He has not the least difficulty in finding the housekeeper, and forthwith new relations are entered into. He has nothing to gain by marriage-nothing as far as he can seeand something to lose by tying himself for life to a woman whose antecedents will not bear looking into, who has perhaps two or three children that may be anybody's, and whom moreover he has in his power as long as he can dismiss her at a week's notice.

Meanwhile, the young men, having once broken away from the parents' nest, acquire roaming habits, go to the pits,' run up to London for a spree, become navvies, and speedily learn the coarse vice and foul language of the society into which they have plunged, VOL. X.--No. 54.

T

and if they come back to their birthplace they come back brutalised, unsettled, reckless; always with empty pockets, and bawling against and denouncing every class except their own with a set of phrases from the new Gospel of Hate which ribald agitators ply them with. But these men do not marry ; too often they return at thirty, brokendown sots, and badly diseased, and not seldom become the disseminators of such poison as I do not care to speak of.

Thus, spite of improved machinery, spite of increased wages, spite of shorter hours of toil, the labour market continues to exhibit the remarkable anomaly of a steady decrease of supply, varying inversely with the increase of demand. To explain it by saying that it is a mere question of wages is to show an entire ignorance of the facts. Taking the rural population in the mass and comparing their income man by man with that of the mass of the townsmen, I have a strong suspicion that the countryman would be found by no means the poorer of the two. As to that industrious, sober, able-bodied agricultural labourer who has to bring up a family on twelve shillings a week, he exists only in the speeches of the demagogue. Such a man in the eastern counties is not to be found; he would be as hard to meet with as a pole-cat.

The truth is you have increased the labourer's daily wages, but that is absolutely all that you have done for him. He asks for a decent home, for a chance of bettering himself, for the possibility of a future which may raise him to the rank of a small proprietor ; for some prospect of trying his luck with a cow or a horse and cart; for some innocent recreation and amusement when his day's work is done ; for some tiny playground for his children in the summer evenings; o for some object of ambition. What answer can you make to him? Are you going to point to the sign of the Chequers creaking in the breeze? Our agricultural friend refuses to take the hint, and angrily shakes his head. The very beer is so bad that it has ceased to tempt him to a debauch.

I do not pretend to be a prophet, but, looming through the mists of the future, there are some ugly shapes that seem to be frowning

The cry for tenant right has not yet made itself heard on our side of the Channel, but are we sure there are no mutterings of a storm whose thunder may be only the echo of the Land League's roar? I fancy, if some gentlemen were to find themselves at a farmers' ordinary on market-day, they would hear more than they expected. The great capitalists among the farmers, again, are giving up the game, and sullenly telling you that high farming doesn't pay. I think they don't mean what they say ; but they do mean that farming on a large scale and in the grand style does not pay. If

on us.

? I have seen children crying because it was holiday time at the school, and they had nothing to do at home and no place to play in!

a

they are right, there is a mauvais quart d'heure for such as have pulled down three or four farmhouses and thrown the fields into one large holding. If landlords be compelled to reverse a policy to which they have been pledging themselves for so long, they may find that it was an evil day for them when they began to 'burn one house to warm another.'

But the labour market. Oh, the labour market! there's the rub! There stands the ominous fact that for years an exodus has been going on from the country villages of the best and most ambitious of the labouring class ; it is going on still. Village life has ceased to present charms to the sons of the soil. There have been many causes operating to bring this about; no one remedy can be trusted to meet the evil. But yet something may be done.

Men do not run away in shoals from homes where their childhood was happy and their youth blessed with joyous memories, and in which they may look forward in their turn to pass their best years in some decency, comfort, and self-respect. They do run away from the odious thought of living and dying in a squalid hovel with a clay floor and two dark cabins under the rafters, reached by a rickety ladder; in the one of which sleep father and mother as best they can, while in the fætid air of the other their offspring of both sexes huddle, sometimes eight or nine of them, among them young men and young women out of whom you are stamping all sense of shame. Yes! people do run away from a life like this ; leaving it behind them as a dreadful past which they remember only with indignation, or rebelling against the prospect of it as a future too hideous to be entertained except with scorn. I, for one, do not blame them.

AUGUSTUS JESSOPP.

THE ARAB MONUMENTS OF EGYPT.

NEARLY fifty years ago, Edward Lane, in his admirable work on the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, noticed symptoms of decay in the art of the Arab people, and predicted the decadence which was even then imminent. The causes which have brought about this decline are various and complicated. The seeds of corruption may have been sown shortly after the Arab conquerors bad occupied the country and brought with them the luxury and refinement which resulted from more settled habits of life; but the culture and civilisation they adopted when they relinquished their nomad habits have left an enduring mark, which the lapse of time and the apathy of successive governments have not been able entirely to obliterate.

It is to Turkish misrule and the pseudo-civilisation which has accompanied it that we must look for the downfall of living Arab

Some of its monuments have been spared, but the spirit which animated the designer is no longer there. Under the stress of a debasing tyranny--the more odious from the fact that it has aped and assumed certain habits of modern civilisation the instinct of beauty implanted in the people has been sapped, whilst they are themselves hardly conscious of their loss. If they are ever to emerge from this debasement, it must be by a process of introspection which their unaided efforts are hardly likely to bring about. The most that can be expected from a people so circumstanced is that they may be brought to regard with sympathy and respect the efforts of foreigners to preserve from further decay the rich legacy inherited from their forefathers.

It is a strange feature of modern civilisation that whilst we hoard up in our museums such treasures as can be carried away, the sites that have been ransacked, and too often desecrated, are allowed to pass into oblivion and decay, and thus the reverence for the past, the religio loci so indispensable to true culture and advancement, are allowed to lapse and give way before the trivialities of modern fashion.

It may be argued with some plausibility that it is the privilege of a few to explore the native home of the rare and costly objects

« VorigeDoorgaan »