Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/540

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

while authority fights without ceasing against frauds in weights and measures, and adulteration. Free libraries, museums, picture galleries, parks, public gardens and promenades have multiplied, and it is almost sufficient to observe that no one seems to be too poor to command the use of a bicycle. But with all this progress it is to be feared that housekeeping is no better understood than it was two centuries ago—perhaps not even so well. In the interval it has become enormously simplified. The complete housewife is no longer a brewer, a baker, a dyer, a tailor and a host of other specialists rolled into one. But among the working classes the advent of the factory system has increased the employment of women and girls away from home to such an extent that many of them now marry with a minimum of domestic experience, and are with the best intentions the innocent agents of inefficiency and waste, even in this simplified household.

If we were suddenly swallowed up by the ocean, it appears probable that the foreign student would find it easier to describe from existing documents the life and home of the British craftsman in the middle ages than of his descendant of to-day. In part, no doubt, our fiscal system, with its few taxes upon articles of food and its light pressure on the working classes, is responsible for this neglect. During the Napoleonic war Pitt sent for Arthur Young to ask him what were the ordinary and necessary expenses of a workman's family, and the question would again become one of practical politics if any large addition were required in the proceeds of indirect taxation. Taxation has the one advantage of providing us with statistics. We know tolerably well the facts in the mass about the consumption of tea and coffee, dried fruits and tobacco, and of alcohol, while the income tax (aided in the near future by returns of the death duties) may give us some idea of the stratification of the wealthier classes. But the details of consumption are still obscure. It has already been suggested that some restraint may arise from the sentiment that individuals are likely to resent what they may regard as a prying into their affairs. But when we travel abroad we are curious to notice, and do notice without giving offence, the dress, the habits and the food of peasants and workmen; and it is difficult to resist the conclusion that we are less observant at home because these common and trivial details appear to us unworthy of attention. In his 'Principles of Economics' Professor Marshall says: "Perhaps £100,000,000 annually are spent, even by the working classes, and £400,000,000 by the rest of the population of England, in ways that do little or nothing towards making life nobler or truly happier." And, again, speaking before the Royal Statistical Society in 1893: "Something like the whole imperial revenue, say 100 millions a year, might be saved if a sufficient number of able women went about the country and induced the other women to manage their households as