Strife





"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!





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