The Laboring Classes of England/Letter 1
LABORING CLASSES OF ENGLAND.
In offering the following work to the public, I have been actuated by a desire to diffuse as widely as possible the information it contains; believing it will be interesting and instructive to every well-wisher of the human race.
I have been led to publish the following facts, in consequence of the curiosity manifested by almost every person with whom I have become acquainted in America, to know my history, &c. So great has been the desire to question me upon this subject, that I have felt it, sometimes, to be my duty to refuse to give any information; my own feelings requiring me to forget, as far as possible, the injuries of former years. Whenever I feel my heart beat quicker, occasioned by a retrospective view of my sufferings, my peace of mind demands that I should instantly cry, "peace, be still." I believe, that had I fallen from some distant planet in the Solar system, the desire to know my history, and that of my species, could not have been greater. A single glance at my person, as I walk along the street, or stand in the presence of any one, is sufficient to awaken this curiosity in a country like America, where no such cripples are made by hard labor; but in England, where they are to be met in almost every street, it is very different. In order, therefore, to gratify this laudable curiosity, and spare my own feelings, publishing became necessary.
It may be asked how I gained the whole of my information upon this subject. To this I would answer, my situation has been in many respects peculiar. For twenty-five years of my short life, I have been actively engaged as an operative in the English factories. I am not aware that any one else who has published upon the factory system can make a similar assertion. I have not only toiled, but have been a sufferer from protracted mill labor to a painful extent. My experience, therefore, of the factory system has been dear-bought experience. I can speak feelingly, and I trust temperately. I have endeavored to avoid to the uttermost, every unguarded expression, every word which it would not become an humble operative to use; and I can add with truth, that I am not conscious of one unkindly or resentful feeling towards any human being.
In addition to the experience I have had in factories, I was employed in part of the years 1841 and 1842, by a benevolent Nobleman in London to assist him in his laudable endeavors to benefit the laboring classes. It may be interesting to the American reader to know, that my salary under this Nobleman was forty-five shillings per week, (about $11,) and coach hire, while travelling, and twenty shillings per week, ($5,) while stationary in London. Under this engagement I travelled through the West Riding of Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cheshire and Derbyshire; and being well supplied with letters of introduction, I had ample opportunities of conversing with all parties likely to afford me any information on the subject of factory life. In particular, I waited upon Clergymen of various denominations, Manufacturers, Surgeons, Inspectors and Overlookers. I had also opportunities of studying the habits and manners of the operatives, in the mills, cottages, places of amusement, public houses, &c., and of investigating the various causes of decrepitude, mutilation or death;—whether arising from long hours of labor, or accidents by machinery.
The facts contained in this volume have been carefully inquired into on the spot, and in many cases taken from the parties themselves, and corroborated by others not interested in the matter. I have no doubt the reader will be interested in perusing the following letters, which, with many others, I received from this nobleman while in his service.
Oct. 12, 1841.
Dear——. You have discharged your commission admirably, and I am much obliged to you for the trouble you take, and the accuracy with which you furnish details.
I trust you will derive from your present duty that real satisfaction, which is the portion of those who labor, in God's name, for the welfare of their fellow creatures. I commit you most heartily to His care, and wish you every happiness in this world, and in that which is to come.
St. G—— House, Nov. 24, 1841.
Dear——. So far from thinking that you travel beyond your duty, when you write to me your opinions on all matters affecting the moral condition of the working classes, I am exceedingly pleased with your remarks; I altogether concur in them, and request you to continue your observations. I have always been convinced that a reduction in the hours of labor is only a preliminary to the measures we must introduce for the benefit of the working classes; but it is an indispensable preliminary. We must first settle this just principle, and then go on, by God's blessing, to draw long advantages from it. Limited as I am in Parliament, and out of it, I cannot undertake more than one thing at a time; but I think of a great many, and hope to be able hereafter to effect a few of them.
Your labors have been very serviceable. It must be a pleasure to you, to find yourself by God's mercy, in a way to be of use to your fellow sufferers, to make at least an ingenuous effect. I hope that your remaining days may be so assured to you in comfort, that you may have leisure and means to pursue your plans for the welfare of the operatives.
Your faithful servant,A——.
March 31, 1842.
——. Pray go to the house of Mrs. Torvey, 41 A——t Street, Regent's Park.
You will there see a poor girl whose arm has been torn off by a wheel in a silk mill. Pray talk to her, and tell me what you think of the case.
You will be able to judge whether I can assist her by giving her a false hand, such as you have.
Your humble servant, A——.
My "plans" alluded to in letter No. 2, were chiefly the establishment of a self-acting asylum in the neighborhood of London, for the reception of the thousands of destitute factory cripples, in which they might be provided with the means of spending the remainder of their days in comfort, and in preparing for another and a better world. I had also formed some plans for preventing, as far as human means could prevent, the making of cripples in future. Although I did not succeed in carrying out these desirable objects, it was gratifying for me to know that "I had discharged my commission admirably," and that my "labors had been very serviceable."
My statements respecting agricultural laborers, have been chiefly derived from the reports of Commissioners laid before Parliament; and which were borne out by my own observation and experience.
In a country like America, where all men, in the eye of the law, are born equal, it is extremely difficult for the majority of readers to comprehend the real position of the laboring classes, in countries under a monarchical form of government. It is, in the first place, difficult to understand what is meant by "classes." For the information of such readers, it may be proper to say a few words upon this subject.
English society may be conveniently divided into eight classes:
1st. The Royal Family.—Under this general term are comprehended all who are of the blood royal.
2d. The Nobility.—In this class we have Archbishops, Dukes, Marquisses, Earls, Viscounts, Bishops, Barons, &c. They are commonly denominated "the upper ten thousand."
3d. The Millionaires, commonly called "the vulgar rich." This class comprehends a great number of individuals who have amassed immense wealth by manufactures, commerce, railroad speculations, &c.
4th. This class is composed of the clergy, professional gentlemen, merchants, tradesmen, &c. The gentlemen composing this class, with the exception of the humbler order of the clergy of all denominations, are well remunerated for their services, perhaps better than a similar class in any other country on the globe.
5th. The higher order of Mechanics, known as "skilled laborers," (from their being obliged to pay large fees, and to serve an apprenticeship of seven years to the trade which they follow,) shopkeepers, &c., compose this class. Generally speaking, they are an industrious and intelligent class, and are sufficiently remunerated for their services to enable them to bring up their families in a respectable manner, and to lay by something for the comforts of old age.
6th. This class comprehends a great number of individuals who get their living by the "sweat of their brow," but who are not required to serve seven years at their trade or calling. Manufacturing, agricultural, and many other kinds of laborers, come under this head. This class is a hard-working, ill-paid, and ill-used set of human beings; frequently dying with every symptom of premature decay, at from 35 to 50 years of age.
Each individual is compelled to pay taxes to the government, the taxes being levied upon their provisions, clothes, furniture, &c. They are also compelled to obey upwards of 1500 laws, without having a voice in making or amending one. Their appeals to Parliament by petition, are scarcely ever listened to, unless seconded by some of the "privileged" classes. It is to this class my observations in this work principally apply.
7th. Paupers. Of this class there is known to be in Great Britain and Ireland, 4,000,000 of individuals, of all ages and both sexes. It may be said of them, that they have lost all but their integrity, and that there is little hope left for them, of bettering their condition in this world. 8th. This is a class who have lost what the class above still retain, their honor, integrity, good names; who have no recognized means of existence, but live by their wits upon the property of others. Thieves, gamblers, prostitutes, and the like, are of this class.
The outlines of these several classes are broad and well defined; there are, however some peculiarities common to two or more classes. Thus if we couple together classes 1 and 2, we shall have a mass of individuals commonly known as the "head;" and following the same rule with 7 and 8, we get what is called the "tail" of society.
The first four may be called "privileged classes;" and the last four non-privileged classes. The first five as law-making classes, the last three as classes having nothing to do with the laws but to obey, to do, and to suffer as others may direct.
It is a matter of some doubt with the writer, whether there are to be found in the world the same number of people enjoying equal privileges, as the first four classes; or a portion of any community enduring privations and sufferings such as are patiently endured by the last four.
There is something which makes some of these classes attract and repel each other. Thus the poorer portion of class 2, have a great affinity for class 3, and many of class 3 having got all but a "title," reciprocate this sympathy, and marriage is the consequence. Repulsion takes place when any members of the "head" are brought into contact with a member of the "tail."
The ascent in these classes is attended with difficulty and danger to the adventurous individual who attempts it; the descent is accomplished much easier.
I am a native of class 4, and was reduced in childhood to class 6. I rose again after I had quitted the factories to my native element 4; after I had lost my arm I again sunk to 6, and it was with great difficulty I prevented myself falling to 7.
With respect to the beautiful poem, I may say, that I do not know the name of the author. It appears, it was printed for private circulation among the upper classes; a copy of it was put into my hand by the late celebrated publisher, Mr. Murray, of Albemarle Street, London.
In perusing the following pages, it will be necessary that the reader should bear in mind, that the author is a working man, that he never went to school, that he is here describing things which he has witnessed in everyday life, and that his observations are confined to that portion of society in which he has lived and moved.
With these preliminary remarks, I leave the work to the candid reader, and to God's blessing, believing that it does not contain a single sentence which on my deathbed I could wish to erase.
P. S. Should any lady or gentleman feel desirous of seeing for themselves the horrors of the English factory system, as it is stamped on my person, a letter to my address, post paid, will be attended to.
No. 8 Mount Vernon Avenue.