« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
its pallet? Shall it gather the children of famine, the benighted and belated stranger, the tempest-driven wanderer, around its crumbs and embers? Shall it attend on sickness? Shall it give alms to the blind and decrepit? Shall it pour its balm on the heart of helpless age? These are not its excitements, -they are its traditionary usages, its holy superstitions, its very laws. And shall we despise those who thus bear one another's burdens ? who, weeping themselves, still weep for them who weep? Where else is this exalted philanthropy” “The poorest poor Long for some moments, in a weary life, When they can know and feel, that they have been, Themselves, the fathers and the dealers out Of some small blessings—have been kind to such
As needed kindness; for this single cause,
The panegyric of the poet is just: his reason does not comprehend all the amiableness of the fact. It is not a “single cause:” his is but one of many. We may especially applaud the commonalty for their domestic virtues. The prejudice, we know, is against this exemplification. General charges are alleged of unthriftiness and dissipation. The fact, however, demonstrates itself. The cottage is furnished; a weekly rent is paid; food is provided; clothing is obtained; medical attendance is requited. The * Wordsworth,
credit, if allowed at all, is short. During this time, the remuneration of labour fluctuates, more frequently to decline than rise. Can the unsparing imputation of waste and improvidence be just ? Can it with any fairness be generally pressed ? It is easy to complain that the poor labourer has funded nothing for the period of scarcity and age. He never could be but on the verge of want. He has hardly commanded the barest necessaries of life. Except for the strictest precaution he must have suffered the loss of roof and the dearth of bread. Accusation of such a kind betrays and destroys itself. The absence of envy characterises, in a very singular manner, our poorer fellow-countrymen. It can only astonish us that they acquiesce in arrangements of society which do not seem to meditate their good. It might, perhaps, be proved, that their interest is consulted, but the argument would be slow and abstract. They wait not for it, it may be that they could not appreciate it, —they have already bowed to their lot. It was assuredly unjust for the Roman Poet.* to * “Notante Judice quo nosti, populo; qui stultus honores Saepe dat indignis, et famae servit ineptus; Qui stupet in titulis, et imaginibus.” “According to the verdict of the crowd, whose fickleness thou well knowest,--who in their folly often confer honours on the unworthy, and in their misjudgment become slaves to a name: who are affected
with strange amazement at inscriptions and statues.”—Horat: Satir: lib, i. 6.
asperse the people for those dispositions which generously accorded the honours which their civil superiors had grasped. Similar dispositions we may now witness. Our poor delight in eminence of worth and goodness. They murmur not at the establishment of claims which they could never share. They do reverence to the monuments on which they know their name can never be engraved. And instead of deploring the independence of our working people, we should deprecate their servility more than the boldest stubbornness of mien. In this there may be an ill-directed spirit. Though it be strong, it is controllable. It contains in it a capacity of greatness. But the independence which we would encourage is always properly modest and intelligent. It is the port of rectitude. It is the carriage of principle. It abhors the crooked and the mean. Let the artificer and the husbandman stand in the assurance and erectness of an important constituency. They are the essential strength of society. They are the brawny arms of the political body. They cannot be rent from the great system without its overthrow. Who are the labouring poor? Are they an excrescence, or a surplus, or an evil, of which we might rid ourselves? Honour to whom honour! They are the bank of our wealth ! They are the fulcrum of our power! It may be difficult to find fixed data for the proportionate number of capitalists, money-changers, land-owners, and general distributors, – and also of the nonproducing classes, including women, infants, the sick and the infirm, -but we may still confidently determine, that the amount of the labouring, that is the producing, order, cannot be less than 6,218,660, which is the third of the whole population. But are they only a mechanical momentum in the great progress of society? Let us not sneer at their mental influence on all. They do think, however penned upon the glebe, or imprisoned in the loom. Their intellectual nature, though feebly developed, cannot be extinguished. It is now, at least, earnestly awake. These deserve our respect. They glorify our country. They are the People! The Folk! The Nation! Speak of Estates ! This is the Estate for which others merely can be named ! It is humiliating to human virtue when we trace through ages the same unworthy view of the many. The classic names are records of the contempt in which they are held. O%).og, the multitude, is derived from the similar verb, to agitate and vex. Turba, the Latin name for the commonalty, contains the same idea. We carry it into our language when we speak of whatever can disturb. There is, at last, some truth in such disdainful phrase. There is an upward movement. The order which is lowest, in the metaphorical theory of society, really stirs every other which is above. Lowest it is not, save as the strong support of all. Were we to speak according to its relative value, we should unhesitatingly regard it as the highest. Its intentness upon melioration is a disturbing principle, most just in itself, more conducive to the weal of all.
It is often made ground of complaint, that they who earn their bread by labour, are not now what they were. There are those who recall the reminiscences of distant times. They tell us of another state of things. Then the poor showed no desire of improvement. They were as easily driven as the herd. They believed all that was told them. They yielded to every claim which was demanded of them. Their minds were in the hand of a proprietor. Their souls were held by soccage and serfdom. They were virtually the subjects of purchase and transfer. Their cabins were rated as stalls, and their gardens as pastures. Beyond animal wants and appropriations and gambols, they were not to pass. That they no longer can be thus restrained, that higher prerogatives have been asserted by them, that they are not what too recently they were, gladly we concede. We rejoin as gladly, that to such debasement they can never be reduced. Is it to be deplored ? Ought they not to rise in the scale of freedom, thought, and religion ? Were they made for the rich or for themselves? Are they the instruments of our convenience, or constituted to seek out their own happiness? Where society is just, these things go together: but it is an unworthy view which he must take, who can think that any fellow-man is born to wear his livery, - to cringe at his nod, — and drudge for his pleasure.