BLTC Press Titles

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My Man Jeeves

P. G. Wodehouse

Through the Looking Glass

Lewis Carroll

The Souls of Black Folk

W. E. B. DuBois

Mortal Coils

Aldous Huxley

Past and present

by Thomas Carlyle



and made ' poor' enough, in the money sense or far fataller one.

Of these successful skilful workers some tw millions, it is now counted, sit in Workhouses, Poo law Prisons ; or have ' out-door relief flung over th wall to them,—the workhouse Bastille being fille to bursting, and the strong Poor-law broken asund by a stronger.* They sit there, these many month now; their hope of deliverance as yet small. I workhouses, pleasantly so named, because work can not be done in them. Twelve hundred thousand workers in England alone; their cunning rigbt-hanc lamed, lying idle in their sorrowful bosom; their hopes outlooks, share of this fair world, shut in by narrow walls. They sit there, pent up, as in a kind of horrid enchantment; glad to be imprisoned and enchanted, that they may not perish starved. The picturesque Tourist, in a sunny autumn day, through this bounteous realm of England, descries the Union Workhouse on his path. ' Passing by the Workhouse of St. Ives in Huntingdonshire, on a bright day last autumn, says the picturesque Tourist,' I saw sitting on woodei ' benches, in front of their Bastille and within theii ' ring-wall and its railings, some half-hundred or more ' of these men. Tall robust figures, young mostly 01 ' of middle age; of honest countenance, many of there1 ' thoughtful and even intelligent-looking men. They * sat there, near by one another; but in a kind ol ' torpor, especially in a silence, which was very strik' ing. In silence : for, alas, what word was to be said i ' An Earth all lying round, crying, Come and till me, ' come and reap me;—yet we here sit enchanted! ' In the eyes and brows of these men hung the ' gloomiest expression, not of anger, but of grief and ' shame and manifold inarticulate distress and weari' ness; they returned my glance with a glance that ' seemed to say, "Do not look at us. We sit en' chanted here, we know not why. The Sun shines ' and the Earth calls; and, by the governing Powers ' and Impotences of this England, we are forbidden ' to obey. It is impossible, they tell us!" There ' was something that reminded me of Dante's Hell in ' the look of all this; and I rode swiftly away.'

* The Return of Paupers for England and Wales, at Ladyday 1842, is, ' In-door 221,687, Out-door 1,207,402, Total 1,429,089.'— (Official Report.)

So many hundred thousands sit in workhouses: and other hundred thousands have not yet got even workhouses; and in thrifty Scotland itself, in Glasgow or Edinburgh City, in their dark lanes, hidden from all but the eye of God, and of rare Benevolence the minister of God, there are scenes of woe and destitution and desolation, such as, one may hope, the Sun never saw before in the most barbarous regions where men dwelt. Competent witnesses, the brave and humane Dr. Alison, who speaks what he knows, whose noble Healing Art in his charitable hands becomes once more a truly sacred one, report these things for us : these things are not of this year, or of last year, have no reference to our present state of commercial stagnation, but only to the common state. Not in sharp fever-fits, but in chronic gangrene of this kind is Scotland suffering. A Poorlaw, any and every Poor-law, it may be observed, is but a temporary measure; an anodyne, not a remedy: Rich and Poor, when once the naked facts of their condition have come into collision, cannot long subsist together on a mere Poor-law. True enough: — and yet, human beings cannot be left to die! Scotland too, till something better come, must have a Poor-law, if Scotland is not to be a byword among the nations. Oh, what a waste is there; of noble and thrice-noble national virtues; peasant Stoicisms, Heroisms; valiant manful habits, soul of a Nation's worth,—which all the metal of Potosi cannot purchase back; to which the metal of Potosi, and all you can buy with it, is dross and dust!

Why dwell on this aspect of the matter ? It is too indisputable, not doubtful now to an)- one. Descend where you will into the lower class, in Town or Country, by what avenue you will, by Factory Inquiries, Agricultural Inquiries, by Revenue Returns, by Mining-Labourer Committees, by opening your own eyes and looking, the same sorrowful result discloses itself: you have to admit that the working body of this rich English Nation has sunk or is fast sinking into a state, to which, all sides of it considered, there was literally never any parallel. At Stockport Assizes,—and this too has no reference to the present state of trade, being of date prior to that, —a Mother and a Father are arraigned and found guilty of poisoning three of their children, to defraud a ' burial-society' of some 31. 8s. due on the death of each child: they are arraigned, found guilty; and the official authorities, it is whispered, hint that perhaps the case is not solitary, that perhaps you had better not probe farther into that department of things. This is in the autumn of 1841 ; the crime itself is of the previous year or season. "Brutal savages, degraded Irish," mutters the idle reader of Newspapers; hardly lingering on this incident. Yet it is an incident worth lingering on; the depravity, savagery and degraded Irishism being never so well admitted. In the British land, a human Mother and Father, of white skin and professing the Christian religion, had done this thing; they, with their Irishism and necessity and savagery, had been driven to do it. Such instances are like the highest mountain apex emerged into view; under which lies a whole mountain region and land, not yet emerged. A human Mother and Father had said to themselves, "What shall we do to escape starvation ? We are deep sunk here, in our dark cellar; and help is far.—Yes, in the Ugolino Hunger-tower stern things happen; bestloved little Gaddo fallen dead on his Father's knees! —The Stockport Mother and Father think and hint: Our poor little starveling Tom, who cries all day for victuals, who will see only evil and not good in this world: if he were out of misery at once; he well dead, and the rest of us perhaps kept alive ? It is thought, and hinted; at last it is done. And now Tom being killed, and all spent and eaten, Is it poor little starveling Jack that must go, or poor little starveling Will?—What a committee of ways and means!

In starved sieged cities, in the uttermost doomed ruin of old Jerusalem fallen under the wrath of God, it was prophesied and said, • The hands of the pitiful women have sodden their own children.' The stern Hebrew imagination could conceive no blacker gulf of wretchedness; that was the ultimatum of degraded god-punished man. And we here, in modern England, exuberant with supply of all kinds, besieged by nothing if it be not by invisible Enchantments,

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