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"Two men I honour, and no third. First, the toilworn Craftsman that
with earth-made Implement laboriously conquers the Earth, and makes
her man's. . . . A second man I honour, and still more highly: Him
who is seen toiling for the spiritually indispensable; not daily
bread, but the Bread of Life. . . . Unspeakably touching is it,
however, when I find both dignities united; and he that must toil
outwardly for the lowest of man's wants, is also toiling inwardly
for the highest."

To understand the many and bewildering changes which followed one
another in rapid succession during the early years of Victoria's
reign it is necessary to read the literature, more especially the
works of those writers who took a deep and lasting interest in the
lives and work of the people.

Democracy, the people, or the toiling class, was engaged in a fierce
battle with those forces which it held to be its natural enemies.
It was a battle of the Rich against the Poor, of the masters against
the men, of Right against Might. England was a sick nation, at war
with itself, and Chartism and the Chartists were some of the signs
of the disease. The early Victorian age is the age of Thomas Carlyle,
the stern, grim prophet, who, undaunted by poverty and ill-health,
painted England in dark colours as a country hastening to its ruin.

His message was old and yet new--for men had forgotten it, as they
always have from age to age. This was an age of competition, of
'supply and demand'; brotherly love had been forgotten and 'cash
payment' had taken its place. Carlyle denounced this system as "the
shabbiest gospel that had been taught among men." He urged upon
Government the fact that it was their duty to educate and to uplift
the masses, and upon the masters that they should look upon their
workers as something more than money-making machines. The old system
of Guilds, in which the apprentice was under the master's direct care,
had gone and nothing had been put in its place.

The value of Carlyle's teaching lies in the fact that he insisted
upon the sanctity of work. "All true work is religion," he said, and
the essence of every true religion is to be found in the words, "Know
thy work and do it."

The best test of the worth of every nation is to be found in their
standard of life and work and their rejection of a life of idleness.
"To make some nook of God's Creation a little fruitfuller, better,
more worthy of God; to make some human hearts, a little wiser,
manfuler, happier--more blessed, less accursed! It is work for a
God. . . . Unstained by wasteful deformities, by wasted tears or
heart's-blood of men, or any defacement of the Pit, noble, fruitful
Labour, growing ever nobler, will come forth--the grand sole Miracle
of Man, whereby Man has risen from the low places of this Earth, very
literally, into divine Heavens. Ploughers, Spinners, Builders,
Prophets, Poets, Kings: . . . all martyrs, and noble men, and gods
are of one grand Host; immeasurable; marching ever forward since the
beginnings of the World."[5]

[Footnote 5: Carlyle, Past and Present.]

Carlyle was, above all things, sincere; he looked into the heart of
things, and hated half-beliefs. Men, he said, were accustoming
themselves to say what they did not believe in their heart of hearts.
The standard of English work had become lower; it was 'cheap and
nasty,' and this in itself was a moral evil. Good must in time prevail
over Evil; the Christian religion was the strongest thing in the
world, and for this reason had conquered. He believed in wise
compassion--that is to say, he kept his sympathy for those who truly
deserved it, for the mass of struggling workers with few or none to
voice their bitter wrongs.

His teachings are a moral tonic for the age, and though for a long
time they were unpopular and distasteful to the majority, yet he
lived to see much accomplished for which he had so earnestly striven.

Literature was beginning to take a new form. The novel of 'polite'
society was giving place to the novel which pictured life in cruder
and harsher colours. The life of the toiling North, of the cotton
spinners and weavers was as yet unknown to most people.

In 1848 appeared Mary Barton, a book dealing with the problems of
working life in Manchester. Mrs Gaskell, its author, who is best
known to most readers by her masterpiece Cranford, achieved an
instant success and became acquainted with many literary celebrities,
including Ruskin, Dickens, and Charlotte Bronte, whose Life she
wrote.

Mary Barton was written from the point of view of labour, and North
and South, which followed some years later, from that of capital.
Her books are exact pictures of what she saw around her during her
life in Manchester, and many incidents from her own life appear in
their pages.

North and South shows us the struggle not only between master and
men, as representing capital and labour, but also between ancient
and modern civilizations. The South is agricultural, easy-going,
idyllic; the North is stern, rude, and full of a consuming energy
and passion for work. These are the two Englands of Mrs Gaskell's
time.

The ways of the manufacturing districts, which seem unpleasing to
those who do not really know them, are described with a faithful yet
kindly pen, and we see that each life has its trials and its
temptations.

In the South all is not sunshine, and the life of the labourer can
be very hard--"a young person can stand it; but an old man gets racked
with rheumatism, and bent and withered before his time; yet he must
work on the same, or else go to the workhouse."

In the North men are often at enmity with their masters, and fight
them by means of the strike. "State o' trade! That's just a piece
of masters' humbug. It's rate o' wages I was talking of. Th' masters
keep th' state o' trade in their own hands, and just walk it forward
like a black bug-a-boo, to frighten naughty children with into being
good. I'll tell yo' it's their part--their cue, as some folks call
it--to beat us down, to swell their fortunes; and it's ours to stand
up and fight hard--not for ourselves alone, but for them round about
us--for justice and fair play. We help to make their profits, and
we ought to help spend 'em. It's not that we want their brass so much
this time, as we've done many a time afore. We'n getten money laid
by; and we're resolved to stand and fall together; not a man on us
will go in for less wage than th' Union says is our due. So I say,
'Hooray for the strike.'"

The story appeared in Household Words, a new magazine of which
Charles Dickens was the editor. He expressed especial admiration for
the fairness with which Mrs Gaskell had spoken of both sides.
Nicholas Higgins, whose words are quoted above, is a type of the best
Lancashire workman, who holds out for the good of the cause, even
though it might mean ruin and poverty to himself--"That's what folk
call fine and honourable in a soldier, and why not in a poor
weaver-chap?"

Dickens himself wrote Hard Times, dealing with the same subject.
This appeared about the same time, and the two books should be read
and compared, for, although Hard Times is not equal in any way to
North and South, it is interesting. As Ruskin said of Dickens'
stories, "Allowing for the manner of telling them, the things he
tells us are always true. . . . He is entirely right in his main drift
and purpose in every book he has written; and all of them, but
especially Hard Times, should be studied with close and earnest
care by persons interested in social questions."

During all these years the 'Chartists' had been vainly struggling
to force Parliament to proceed with reform of their grievances. In
1848 a monster Petition was to be presented to both Houses by their
leaders, but London was garrisoned by troops under the Duke of
Wellington on the fateful day, and the Chartist army broke up, never
to be reunited. Quarrels among themselves proved, in the end, fatal
to their cause.

A new party, the Christian Socialists, took their place; force gave
way to union and co-operation. A new champion, Charles Kingsley, or
'Parson Lot,' stood forth as the Chartist leader.

The hard winter and general distress of the year 1848 nearly provoked
another rising, and in his novel entitled Yeast Kingsley pictures
the 'condition of England' question as it appeared to one who knew
it from the seamy side. Especially did he blame the Church, which,
he said, offered a religion for "Jacob, the smooth man," and was not
suited for "poor Esau." This was indeed most true as regards the
agricultural classes, where the want was felt of a real religion
which should gain a hold upon a population which year by year was
fast drifting loose from all ties of morality and Christianity.

The peasantry, once the mainstay of England and now trodden down and
neglected, cannot rise alone and without help from those above them.
"What right have we to keep them down? . . . What right have we to
say that they shall know no higher recreation than the hogs, because,
forsooth, if we raised them they might refuse to work--for us? Are
we to fix how far their minds may be developed? Has not God fixed
it for us, when He gave them the same passions, talents, tastes, as
our own?"

The farm labourer, unlike his brothers in the North, had no spirit
left to strike. His sole enjoyment--such as it was--consisted in
recalling "'the glorious times before the war . . . when there was
more food than there were mouths, and more work than were hands.'

"'I say, vather,' drawled out some one, 'they say there's a sight
more money in England now than there was afore the war-time.'

"'Ees, booy,' said the old man, 'but it's got into too few hands.'"

The system of 'sweating' among the London tailors had grown to such
an extent that Kingsley was determined, if possible, to put an end
to it, and with this purpose in view he wrote Cheap Clothes and
Nasty.

The Government itself, he declares, does nothing to prevent
sweating; the workmen declare that "Government contract work is the
worst of all, and the starved-out and sweated-out tailor's last
resource . . . there are more clergymen among the customers than any
other class; and often we have to work at home upon the Sunday at
their clothes in order to get a living."

He followed this up with Alton Locke, dealing especially with the
life and conditions of work of the journeymen tailors, and the
Chartist riots. Both sides receive some hard knocks, for Kingsley
was a born fighter, and his courage and fearlessness won him many
friends, even among the most violent of the Chartists.

The character of Alton Locke was probably drawn from life, and was
intended to be William Lovett, at one time a leader in the Chartist
ranks. After a long fight with poverty, when he frequently went
without a meal in order to save the money necessary for his education,
he rose to a position of some influence. He was one of the first to
propose that museums and public galleries should be opened on Sundays,
for he declared that most of the intemperance and vice was owing to
the want of wholesome and rational recreation. He insisted that it
was necessary to create a moral, sober, and thinking working-class
in order to enable them to carry through the reforms for which they
were struggling. Disgust with the violent methods of many of his
associates caused him at last to withdraw from their ranks.

Kingsley looked up to Carlyle as his master, to whom he owed more
than to any other man. "Of the general effect," he said, "which his
works had upon me, I shall say nothing: it was the same as they have
had, thank God, on thousands of my class and every other."

When, finally, violent methods proved of no avail and the Chartist
party dissolved, the democratic movement took a fresh lease of life.
As Carlyle had already pointed out, the question of the people was
a 'knife and fork' question--that is to say, so long as taxes were
levied upon the necessities of life, the poorer classes, who could
least of all afford to pay, would become poorer.

Sir Robert Peel was the first to remove this injustice, by
substituting a tax upon income for the hundred and one taxes which
had pressed so heavily upon the poor. Manufacturers were now able
to buy their raw materials at a lower price, and need no longer pay
such low wages to keep up their profits.

In 1845 Peel went a step farther, and in order to relieve the famine
in Ireland, he removed the duty on corn. Thus, since corn could now
be imported free, bread became cheaper.

The Corn Law Repealers had fought for years to bring this about. Their
leader and poet, Ebenezer Elliott, declared that "what they wanted
was bread in exchange for their cottons, woollens, and hardware, and
no other thing can supply the want of that one thing, any more than
water could supply the want of air in the Black Hole of Calcutta."
Bad government

Is the deadly will that takes
What Labour ought to keep,
It is the deadly power that makes
Bread dear and Labour cheap.

It was not until there had been many riots and much bloodshed that
the Irish Famine forced Peel at last to give way.

A third party of reformers were working for the same end. This was
the 'Young England' party, whose leader was Disraeli, a rising young
politician. By birth a Jew, he had joined the English Church and the
ranks of the Tory party. His early works are chiefly sketches of
social and political life and are not concerned with the 'question
of the People.' He took as his motto the words Shakespeare puts into
Ancient Pistol's mouth,

Why, then the world's mine oyster,
Which I with sword will open,

thus showing at an early age that he had a firm belief in his own
powers. From the beginning of his career he never hesitated in
championing the cause of the People, and declared that "he was not
afraid or ashamed to say that he wished more sympathy had been shown
on both sides towards the Chartists."

The people had begun to look upon the upper classes as their
oppressors, who were living in comfort upon the profits wrung from
their poorer brethren.

Thomas Cooper in his Autobiography describes the reckless and
irreligious spirit which continued poverty was creating among the
half-starved weavers:

"'Let us be patient a little longer, lads, surely God Almighty will
help us.' 'Talk no more about thy Goddle Mighty,' was the sneering
reply; 'there isn't one. If there was one, He wouldn't let us suffer
as we do.'"

The Chartists were opposed to the Anti-Corn Law party, for they
thought that the cry of 'cheap bread' meant simply 'low wages,' and
was a trap set to catch them unawares.

The Young England party believed in themselves as the leaders of a
movement which should save England through its youth. They were,
however, known in Parliament in their early days as "young gentlemen
who wore white waistcoats and wrote spoony poetry."

'Young England' wished for a return of the feudal relations between
the nobility and their vassals; the nobles and the Church, as in olden
days, were to stretch out a helping hand to the poor, to feed the
hungry, and succour the distressed. National customs were to be
revived, commerce and art were to be fostered by wealthy patrons.
The Crown was once more to be in touch with the people. "If Royalty
did but condescend to lower itself to a familiarity with the people,
it is curious that they will raise, exalt, and adore it, sometimes
even invest it with divine and mysterious attributes. If, on the
contrary, it shuts itself up in an august seclusion, it will be mocked
and caricatured . . . if the great only knew what stress the poor
lay by the few forms that remain, to join them they would make many
sacrifices for their maintenance and preservation."[6]

[Footnote 6: George Smythe, Viscount Strangford, Historic
Fancies.]

It was to lay the views of his party and himself before the public
that Disraeli published the three novels, Coningsby, Sybil, and
Tancred. Coningsby deals with the political parties of that time,
and is full of thinly-disguised portraits of people then living;
Sybil, from which a quotation is given elsewhere, is a study of
life among the working-classes; Tancred discusses what part the
Church should take in the government of the people.

Though the life of the 'Young England' party was short, it succeeded
by means of agitation in and out of Parliament in calling public
attention to the harshness of the New Poor Law and the need for social
reform.

Carlyle was again the writer who influenced the young Disraeli, for
the latter saw that to accomplish anything of real value he must form
his own party and break loose from the worn-out beliefs and
prejudices of both political parties. Though in later days he will
be remembered as a statesman rather than as a novelist, it is
necessary to study those three books in order to understand what
England and the English were in Victoria's early years.

Each of these Reform parties had rendered signal service in their
own fashion: Church, Government, and People were no longer disunited,
distinctions of class had been broken down, and with their
disappearance Chartism came to an end. The failure of the "physical
force" Chartists in 1848 had served to enforce the lesson taught by
Carlyle and Kingsley, that the way to gain reform was not through
deeds of violence and bloodshed. Each man must learn to fit himself
for his part in the great movement toward Reform. Intelligence, not
force, must be their weapon.

After years of bitter strife between the Two Nations, England a last
enjoyed peace within her own borders--that peace which a patriot poet,
Ernest Jones, during a time of bitter trial had so earnestly prayed
for:

God of battles, give us peace!
Rich with honour's proud increase;
Peace that frees the fettered brave;
Peace that scorns to make a slave;
Peace that spurns a tyrant's hand;
Peace that lifts each fallen land;
Peace of peoples, not of kings;
Peace that conquering freedom brings;
Peace that bids oppression cease;
God of battles, give us peace!





Next: Victorian Era

Previous: Family Life



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