It did not appear to me desirable, in the course of the spoken lecture, to enter into details or offer suggestions on the questions of the regulation of labour and distribution of relief, as it would have been impossible to do so without touching in many disputed or disputable points, not easily handled before a general audience. But I must now supply what is wanting to make my general statement clear.
I believe, in the first place, that no Christian nation has any business to see one of its members in distress without helping him, though, perhaps, at the same time punishing him: help, of course—in nine cases out of ten—meaning guidance, much more than gift, and, therefore, interference with liberty. When a peasant mother sees one of her careless children fall into a ditch, her first proceeding is to pull him out; her second, to box his ears; her third, ordinarily, to lead him carefully a little way by the hand, or send him home for the rest of the day. The child usually cries, and very often would clearly prefer remaining in the ditch; and if he understood any of the terms of politics, would certainly express resentment at the interference with his individual liberty: but the mother has done her duty. Whereas the usual call of the mother nation to any of her children, under such circumstances, has lately been nothing more than the foxhunter's, —" Stay still there; I shall clear you." And if we always could clear them, their requests to be left in muddy independence might be sometimes allowed by kind people, or their cries for help disdained by unkind ones. But we can't clear them. The whole nation is, in fact, bound together, as men are by ropes on a glacier—if one falls, the rest must either lift him or drag him along with them as dead weight, not without much increase of danger to themselves. And the law of right being manifestly in this, as, whether manifestly or not, it is always, the law of prudence, the only question is, how this wholesome help and, interference are to be administered.
The first interference should be in education. In order that men may be able to support themselves when they are grown, their strength must be properly developed while they are young; and the state should always see to this—not allowing their health to be broken by too early labour, nor their powers to be wasted for want of knowledge. Some questions connected with this matter are noticed farther on under the head " Trial Schools": one point I must notice here, that I believe all youths of whatever rank, ought to learn some manual trade thoroughly; for it is quite wonderful how much a man's views of life are cleared by the attainment of the capacity of doing any one thing well with his hands and arms. For a long time, what right life there was in the upper classes of Europe depended in no small degree on the necessity which each man was under of being able to fence; at this day, the most useful things which boys learn at public schools, are, I believe, riding, rowing, and cricketing. But it would be far better that members of Parliament should be able to plough straight, and make a horseshoe, than only to feather oars neatly or point their toes prettily in stirrups. Then, in literary and scientific teaching, the great point of economy is to give the discipline of it through knowledge which will immediately bear on practical life. Our literary work has long been economically useless to us because too much concerned with dead languages; and our scientific work will yet, for some time, be a good deal lost, because scientific men are too fond or too vain of their systems, and waste the student's time in endeavouring to give him large views, and make him perceive interesting connections of facts; when there is not one student, no, nor one man, in a thousand, who can feel the beauty of a system, or even take it clearly into his head; but nearly all men can understand, and most will be interested in, the facts which bear on daily life. Botanists have discovered some wonderful connection between nettles and figs, which a cowboy who will never see a ripe fig in his life need not be at all troubled about; but it will be interesting to him to know what effect nettles have on hay, and what taste they will give to porridge; and it will give him nearly a new life if he can be got but once in a spring time, to look well at the beautiful circlet of the white nettle blossom, and work out with his schoolmaster the curves of its petals, and the way it is set on its central mast. So, the principle of chemical equivalents, beautiful as it is, matters far less to a peasant boy, and even to most sons of gentlemen, than their knowing how to find whether the water is wholesome in the back-kitchen cistern, or whether the seven-acre field wants sand or chalk.
The Need For Pensions
Having, then, directed the studies of our youth so as to make them practically serviceable men at the time of their entrance into life, that entrance should always be ready for them in cases where their private circumstances present no opening. There ought to be government establishments for every trade, in which all youths who desired it should be received as apprentices on their leaving school; and men thrown out of work received at all times. At these government manufactories the discipline should be strict, and the wages steady, not varying at all in proportion to the demand for the article, but only in proportion to the price of food; the commodities produced being laid up in store to meet sudden demands, and sudden fluctuations in prices prevented: —that gradual and necessary fluctuation only being allowed which is properly consequent on larger or more limited supply of raw material and other natural causes. When there was a visible tendency to produce a glut of any commodity, that tendency should be checked by directing the youth at the government schools into other trades; and the yearly surplus of commodities should be the principal means of government provision for the poor. That provision should be large, and not disgraceful to them. At present there are very strange notions in the public mind respecting the receiving of alms: most people are willing to take them in the form of a pension from government, but unwilling to take them in the form of a pension from their parishes. There maybe some reason for this singular prejudice, in the fact of the government pension being usually given as a definite acknowledgment of some service done to the country; —but the parish pension is, or ought to be, given precisely on the same terms. A labourer serves his country with his spade, just as a man in the middle ranks of life serves it with his sword, pen, or lancet: if the service is less, and therefore the wages during health less, then the reward, when health is broken, may be less, but not, therefore, less honourable; and it ought to be quite as natural and straightforward a matter for a labourer to take his pension from his parish, because he has deserved well of his parish, as for a man in higher rank to take his pension from his country, because he has deserved well of his country. If there be any disgrace in coming to the parish, because it may imply improvidence in early life, much more is there disgrace in coming to the government: since improvidence is far less justifiable in a highly educated than in an imperfectly educated man; and far less justifiable in a high rank, where extravagance must have been luxury, than in a low rank, where it may only have been comfort. So that the real fact of the matter is, that people will take alms delightedly, consisting of a carriage and footmen, because those do not look like alms to the people in the street; but they will not take alms consisting only of bread water and coals, because everybody would understand what those meant. Mind, I do not want any one to refuse the carriage who ought to have it; but neither do I want them to refuse the coals. I should indeed be sorry if any change in our views on these subjects involved the least lessening of self-dependence in the English mind: but the common shrinking of men from the acceptance of public charity is not self-dependence, but mere base and selfish pride. It is not that they are unwilling to live at their neighbours' expense, but that they are unwilling to confess they do: it is not dependence they wish to avoid, but gratitude. They will take places in which they know there is nothing to be done—they will borrow money they know they cannot repay—they will carry on a losing business with other people's capital—they will cheat the public in their shops, or sponge on their friends at their houses; but to say plainly they are poor men, who need the nation's help, and go into an almshouse—this they loftily repudiate, and virtuously prefer being thieves to being paupers.
I trust that these deceptive efforts of dishonest men to appear independent, and the agonizing efforts of unfortunate men to remain independent, may both be in some degree checked by a better administration and understanding of laws respecting the poor. But the ordinances for relief and the ordinances for labour must go together; otherwise distress caused by misfortune will always be confounded, as it is now, with distress caused by idleness, unthrift, and fraud. It is only when the state watches and guides the middle life of men, that it can, without disgrace to them, protect their old age, acknowledging in that protection that they have done their duty, or at least some portion of their duty, in better days.
Business Mens View Of The Economy
I know well how strange, fanciful, or impracticable these suggestions will appear to most of the business men of this day; men who conceive the proper state of the world to be simply that of a vast and disorganized mob, scrambling each for what he can get, trampling down its children and old men in the mire, and doing what work it finds must be done with any irregular squad of labourers it can bribe or inveigle together, and afterwards scatter to starvation. A great deal may, indeed, be done in this way by a nation strong-elbowed and strong-hearted as we are—not easily frightened by pushing, nor discouraged by falls. But it is still not the right way of doing things for people who call themselves Christians. Every so named soul of man claims from every other such soul, protection and education in childhood—help or punishment in middle life—reward or relief, if needed, in old age; all of these should be completely and unstintingly given; and they can only be given by the organization of such a system as I have described.
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