Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

blished.

But a consequence necessarily follows which seems to have escaped observation, but which affords a signal instance of the principle of compensation to all ranks of the people, as society advances, contended for throughout this treatise. It is in the early stages of society, and in them only, when the artificial wants of individuals are few, and luxuries are scarcely known, that wages of labour are entirely expended in the purchase of raw produce. The peasant, who is then the only labourer, lives in rude and hardy plenty; himself and his children duly fed, he is happy and contented, nor feels a wish for articles which the simple structure of society has never brought within his notice. His immediate superior, the farmer, exhibits to him no provoking contrast of refined and luxurious enjoyment. Nor are the habits of the resident landlord's families, from whose servants and dependants the customs and wishes of the lower ranks are frequently derived, of a nature calculated to foster artificial wants. In such times the rough hospitality of the hall differs rather in quantity than in quality from the more sober plenty of the cottage; they are both derived almost exclusively from the immediate application of the raw produce of the neighbourhood. To constitute the happiness of the labourer, therefore, in that stage of society, nothing more is necessary than that a certain portion of raw produce should always be exchangable against the fair exertion of his industry. And a nominal money-rise of wages occasioned by a rise in the price of corn, as it leaves his real remuneration precisely where it was, neither improves nor deteriorates his condition, but leaves him as it found him, that is, happy and contented.

But as society advances, as manufactures bring into immediate contact in towns the labourer, the master manufacturer, and the independent proprietor living on the fruits of former industry; and as commerce and riches introduce among the two last mentioned classes artificial comforts and enjoyments arising from the extraordinary profits of labour, it is both reasonable to conclude and fair to expect that a portion of this improvement in the condition of the other ranks will be claimed by the lowest. They will by degrees adopt as necessaries many articles which their forefathers either never heard of, or looked upon with contempt, as absurd and pernicious refinements. And it is ridiculous to suppose that, when once these principles have been engrafted into the general habits of the people, they can be torn away without endangering the vital principle of society. It is curious to observe the progress in which the general use of wheaten bread, and of the products of the East and West Indies, have been introduced into general consumption among the lower ranks in England. A Yorkshire peasant, whose father would have thought himself injured past redemption had wheaten bread been substituted for his oat-cake, by an apprenticeship to a clothier or cutler in one of the country towns not only becomes himself a consumer of wheaten bread, but the progenitor of a permanent set of such consumers. His sister, whose parents were satisfied with a competent portion of home brewed beer, by a few years service in a merchant's family not only becomes herself a consumer of tea and sugar, but the mother of a permanent posterity of such consumers. In process of time these new habits travel from the towns to the fur

thest recesses of the agricultural villages, and a lasting change is introduced into the mode of the people's subsistence. That the condition of the labourer should keep pace then with the progress of artificial enjoyment in the rest of the society, it is necessary that a real increase should take place in the wages of labour; that is, that the fair exertion of a man's industry should exchange against a larger portion of the comforts and conveniences of life than it did in the more simple stages of society ; or else that the deficiency should be made up to him in some other way.

I cannot help considering this result to be as fair in theory, as it is inevitable in practical operation in a free country. And it appears to me to be no less tyrannical than impolitic in the proprietors or government of a country to attempt either to counteract its effects by depressing the real wages of labour by positive enactment, or to avail themselves of the increased wants of the labourer, by obliging him in unfavourable times to labour for their supply beyond the fair degree which his bodily strength will bear without ultimate injury, or for a smaller sum than will supply his reasonable wants and those of his family. A machine overworked will the sooner wear out. But a man worn out must, in a christian country at least, be supported by the rest of the community without any further profitable return from himself. It is therefore with some indignation at the want of feeling, and some contempt for the want of policy exhibited, that I have noticed the approbation bestowed upon the economical effects of low and fluctuating wages in Scotland, where rents, it is well known, are extraordinarily high. It

appears to meet with the singular approbation of some political economists, that in dear years a workman, finding himself deprived of his usual enjoyments, is naturally excited to greater industry, and is desirous of working extra hours for the purpose of obtaining those comforts to which he has been accustomed; because “ this disposition,” it is said, “ must naturally increase the supply of labour in “ the market.” But have these gentlemen considered the ultimate sacrifice by which this additional supply of labour is procured? That it is by forcing exertion precisely at that period when the human frame is least capable of affording it; when the mind and body are both lowered by personal distress and the penury of a dependant family. A witness before the Committee of the House of Lords, respecting grain and the corn laws, being asked concerning the relative prices of work done by the piece in Scotland, when grain has been dear, and when it has been cheap, answers,—“ In the year 1813, I contracted with a man to build some rods of masonry work, and the workman informed me that in consequence of the hardness of the times he executed that work at a lower rate than he would have executed it in years in which the prices of grain were lower.” Another witness states; 1st, “I have always considered that when grain and other provisions rose, both manufacturing and agricultural labour fell. On the contrary, when provisions and grain fell, manufacturing and agricultural labour rose: the reason is obvious. Supposing there are in any one parish 100 labourers, who are able to do the work of that parish ; if provisions rise those la

bourers will do double work ; of course there being only a certain demand for labour, the labour falls.” Being further questioned he says; 2dly, “ very often he does too much work and works beyond his strength when grain is very high; at other times he is idle when grain is low.” The witness further stated; 3dly, “ that in a dear year his bailiff requested permission to have some particular work executed then rather than at any other time, because he could do it so much cheaper, a great many labourers being idle from having little work, in consequence of those who were employed doing double work. I desired him” says the witness “to go on with that labour likewise, and he actually contracted for very large ditches at sixpence an ell, which I do not think I could now do under from a shilling to eighteen pence, in consequence of the fall in provisions." Now in the first of these answers we have the fact, that when the labourer is least capable of extra work, he is ground down by a forced exertion of double work. In the 2d we have one extremely natural consequence, that he “ does too much work, and works beyond his strength, when grain is very high;” and 3dly, we have another consequence equally natural and almost equally humane and profitable to society, viz. That this double work and exhaustion of one portion of the labourers by excessive exertion tends to exhaust the other portion by actual starvation, in consequence of their having « little workto do, at a time when a very great deal of work iş absolutely necessary even to provide a scanty supply of food for themselves and their families, I am aware that if the mortality naturally to be expected among the last mentioned portion of

« ForrigeFortsett »