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LABOUR, FOOD, AND MORALS.
If the ox that trode out the corn might not be muzzled, surely the man who tills the ground should not be starved. That man should live by labour is so true, and the verbal acknowledgment of this first principle of justice and humanity is so trite, that one would scarcely venture to repeat it, if it were not too notorious, that in regard to wages, food, and habitation, the just claims of numerous classes of the poor of our country are not yet satisfied. It is equally certain that the deficiencies complained of cannot be supplied by mere private effort, although much is done by liberal, wise, and God-fearing employers; and that the combined force of religious influence throughout society, and of well-considered legislation, is requisite to give certain portions of the working-classes a due measure of justice, and thereby deliver them from the depressive and demoralizing influences which, in effect, chiefly weigh upon the women and children.
For many years past Government has been looking into this matter, and the results of much close inquiry are published, from time to time. Among other publications, the “Sixth Report of the Medical Officer of the Privy Council,” issued during the last session of Parliament, now engages our attention. One of the objects of investigation was to ascertain the circumstances which determine the distribution of disease in England, and much attention was given to the food of the poorer labouring classes, the occupations which are naturally hurtful to health, and the incidence of death on infant population. The Reports of Doctors Edward Smith, William Ord, and Henry Julian Hunter, abound in facts which it concerns the Christian public, no less than physicians and magistrates, to know and understand.
In the five years, from 1858 to 1862 inclusive, various special inquiries had been carried on by orders of the Privy Council; and in 1863 was begun an inquiry" as to the sufficiency with which the primary wants of the body are satisfied among the poorer classes of the population.” The necessity of proper food is universally acknowledged, and so is the “morbific influence” of the want of proper nourishment, or, in other words, of under-feeding. For health may be impaired and life shortened, although the deficiency of nourishment may be far short of what is popularly known as starvation or famine. “ Local defects, or local peculiarities of diet, may exercise important influence in determining or colouring particular localizations of disease. And generally it may be said, that in order justly to estimate the sanitary circumstances of a people, scientific regard must be had to the quantity and quality of the people's meat and drink.” Inquiry made in Cheshire and Lancashire, in 1862, into the nourishment of the distressed operatives had made it obvious that there was a want of information with regard to the dietaries of the poor ; and also indicated the principles on which such information could best be collected and generalized ; and Dr. Smith, who had made the former local inquiry, was instructed to conduct one more general.
Whether amongst in-door or out-door operatives, the want of proper and sufficient food lowers vitality, predisposes to disease, weakens the mind as well as the body, occasions morbid appetites, induces excess in intoxicating drinks when they can be had, leads to crime, and shortens life. In all this there is much personal degradation, much domestic misery, and an incalculable deterioration of society wherever these causes are at work. But we observe in general that the men suffer least. They must work, and therefore must eat; but the women and children often barely exist, not having necessary food, either in kind or quantity,
A few examples may suggest reflection.
Needle-women in general,-poor women who cannot live at home, –are described as exceedingly ill-fed, and showing a feeble state of health. The sanitary circumstances of needle-women and dress-makers in London are fully exhibited by Dr. Ord, who estimates their number at 17,500 in the large houses; but when the isolated workers in back streets are added, they are counted 54,870, and are of various degrees. On the whole, since the “Song of the Shirt” wakened public sympathy, the benevolent have done a little to relieve this class of the female population of the metropolis
, and their condition has been somewhat improved ; but still, even at the best, it is far beneath what it should be. Thousands of homeless girls and young women can only earn about nine shillings per week ; and Dr. Ord concludes, after careful inquiry, “that girls living alone, and without other means of support, cannot obtain proper nourishment upon nine shillings a week. Many, without doubt, find means of increasing their earnings, mostly by taking work home, or by taking in work on their own account, or by less praiseworthy means; but in all cases by encroaching on their hours of rest. The position of girls going home late at night,-say nine, ten, or eleven P.M.,—to cold garrets, is full of discomfort. If they can afford fuel, they light their fire, and cook what is often the only real meal in the day ; and after that they have their own needlework to do, so that they have to stay up till twelve or one o'clock. But if, as has been more than once described to me, they do not or cannot light a fire, they must go to bed, even in the nights of winter, cold, supperless, and often imperfectly clothed. That under such circumstances many girls should be tempted to habits of dissipation is not surprising."
As to the dressmakers who drudge in large establishments, the summary of diseases to which they are peculiarly liable is appalling. They are,
“1st. Symptoms of brain distress, referrible to the constant use of the eyes, more particularly by lamp-light : these consist chiefly in headache and giddiness.
“2d. Dyspepsia ; attributable to the very long hours of sedentary employment, the want of compensatory exercise, and the hasty taking of food.
“ 30. Diseases associated with depression of vitality ; such as phthisis, chlorosis, and hysteria.
“ 4th. Affections of vision; which are comparatively rare among the well fed in-door hands, but are more common among the day-workers.”
Now if it could be imagined that these multitudes of weary and sickly females were all of tender conscience, all accustomed to offer prayer in those cold garrets to their Father and the Guide of their youth, and all of them accustomed to resort to the house of God and mingle with Christian society on the Lord's day,-all which is utterly improbable,-can it be believed that under such a pressure of want, and such a negation of the most common comforts, with the brain distress, and the depression of vitality evidenced by innumerable symptoms, the mind could maintain even an ordinary degree of firmness ? Nay; that is impossible. Prematurely worn out, disheartened, craving for change, longing for excitement as for life, they are only too open to temptation, and the deplorable consequences are notorious. But this evil does not exist in London only. It is a marked one in various parts of the country ; and Dr. Smith states that the needle-women of London did not impress his mind so unfavourably as the stitchers of gloves at Yeovil ; since the former were, for the most part, in middle or advanced life, so far as his inquiries led him to observe, whilst here were children or young women consuming their health, and losing the pleasures of life, for the barest pittance. “Their occupation,” he adds, “is an ill-requited and unhealthy one, and must produce unfavourable results upon the body, mind, and morals of female children, and upon the women generally.”
In short, where the father of a family cannot nearly maintain his wife and
young children by his own labour, and where the woman, who should be at liberty for the discharge of her domestic duties, is compelled to work day by day to get food for herself and them, all the household suffers, relative duties cannot be performed, and the common decencies of Christian life are likely to be neglected. Even the poorest, no doubt, ought not to neglect these decencies and duties, and we rejoice to know that, by the grace of God, some of the most indigent and most afflicted do struggle through these obstacles ; but it is, nevertheless, the duty of Christian society to look to the welfare of its feeblest members, and to guard against abuses whereby more is laid upon them than they are able to bear. This observation is forcibly suggested by Dr. Hunter's Report on the excessive mortality of infants in some rural districts of England, where a strange scene opens before us.
From tables founded on the estimated population of England and Wales it appeared that the average rate of mortality of infants was 17,731 in 100,000. But the infantile mortality, generally speaking, is greater in large towns than in the country districts, as might be expected from the habits of the people. The highest average was in Liverpool, 27,703. The rate of the whole northern counties was 16,906. But in the three pastoral districts of Bellingham, Glendale, and Rothbury, the average rate sank to 8,000; and it was also noted that in these districts there is a minimum of female labour as well as of infantile mortality. This remarkable coincidence stimulated inquiry ; the statistics of death throughout the country were examined ; and a minutely searching investigation followed, disclosing some startling facts, and leaving stains of ill repute to be removed from many districts which are specified in the Report. These districts were all visited in the latter part of March, 1864 ; and the opinions of about seventy medical practitioners, with those of other gentlemen well acquainted with the condition of the poor, were obtained.
“With wonderful accord the cause of the mortality was traced by nearly all these well-qualified witnesses to the bringing of the land under tillage ; that is, to the cause which has banished malaria, and has substituted a fertile though unsightly garden for the winter marshes and summer pastures of fifty or a hundred years ago. It was generally thought that the infants no longer received any injury from soil, climate, or malarious influences ; but that a more fatal enemy had been introduced by the employment of mothers in the field, raising the average mortality of infants in England from eight to nearly eighteen per cent."
On the recently reclaimed light lands the work can be more easily done by women than on any other lands in the kingdom, and the wages paid for their labour, too, are very low. Women not only receive lower wages than
men, but as they can combine their work more readily with that of boys and girls, whose pay is trifling, women and children are formed into “gangs.” An“ undertaker” hires to a farmer, for a fixed som, the gang he has collected ; the gang, so engaged, travels in the morning many miles from the village to which it belongs, and returns at night. The dress of the women is as suited to their work as it is unsuitable for their ser. They look strong and healthy, are extremely independent, care little for what goes on at home, and submit to few domestic restraints. One consequence of this demoralizing state of things is the neglect of their offspring. Sometimes the infant is born in the field; but wherever it may come into existence, it seldom has the benefit of maternal care, and is often left to the charge of elder children, instead of professed nurses. Better were it for most of these if, like many more, they had never seen the light. Often these wonien neglect their infants with the scarcely disguised intention that they may not live.* Infants born in the workhouse for the most part live, and do well, until carried away by their mothers, who take to the field again. Of course some of these have a degree of natural affection, and see that their infants are provided with food, which, however, is generally dirty and indigestible : for as their time is too valuable for them to stay at home, the children are left with old women, each of whom keeps
* Our correspondent restrains his pen; but it is sufficiently evident how dark a picture on this subject may be drawn. The few particulars here given indicate what sort of work remains to be done by every section of the Christian church, even in our own land, before the masses of the population are really leavened by the Gospel.-ED.
several more than she can manage, and has them hushed into a morbid sleep by means of a mixture of laudanum made in the village, and sold under the name of “Godfrey's cordial.” “It has not unfrequently happened that the nurse, frightened at its effects, has summoned the surgeon, who finds half a dozen babies, some snoring, some squinting, all pallid and eye-supken, lying about the room all poisoned." These die, or grow up sickly, and perhaps are stupefied opium-eaters for life.
A worse degree of criminality is found in older mothers. After losing a child or two, they begin to view the subject as one for ingenuity and speculation. It is reported that “on the birth of a second or third, the neighbours will say, “So-and-so has another baby ; you 'll see it won't live;' and that this becomes a sort of joke, in which the mother will join ; public opinion expressing no condemnation of her cruelty. A medical man is called to the wasting infant, because there is so much bother with registering.' The mother says the child is dying, and won't touch food. When he offers food, the child is ravenous, and “fit to tear the spoon to pieces.' On some of the few occasions on which the surgeon in his disgust has insisted on opening the body, the stomach has been found quite empty."
All this goes on in Christian England, where humanity itself is sacrificed for the sake of gain. In one class of cases, excessive labour is exacted for insufficient wages ; and in the other, women and children are employed as cheap labourers to do men's work. In both classes, the error is fatal : common morality is outraged, and religion set at nought. How much population is diminished by the murderous wreck of life, or to what extent all sense of religion perishes in very large portions of our population, both in town and country, it is not possible to conjecture ; but we do not forget that it is the special calling of Methodism to spread the Gospel in those very rural districts where infanticide is becoming a daily custom ; and to awaken to repentance the sinning multitudes of this class to be found in such towns as Wisbeach, King's Lyon, Ely, and other parts of Norfolk, Lincolnshire, and Cambridgeshire; and to visit with “the ministry of reconciliation " the teeming populations of our commercial and manufacturing centres. It is wit Wesleyan Methodists in such neighbourhoods to give this painful subject renewed and practical consideration.
THE UNITY OF THOUGHT IN SCRIPTURE. The Divine unity of thought, which in the writings of inspired men is been to ally itself to human variety, distinguishes them from all other writings, and in so far modifies our canons of interpretation applicable to Scripture.
The Bible is not one book, but many. It is a collection of writings ranging over a period of fifteen hundred years in the history of our race. It gathers within it the thoughts of many minds; it speaks with the
VOL. XI.- FIFTH SERIES.