Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub
[graphic][subsumed][ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors]

O CIETY in England is said to consist of three classes

-the higher, middle, and lower. These distinctions are artificial, and owe their origin to traditional usages,

or to the supposed degree of opulence of the respective parties. The division into three classes is a thing of modern times. Formerly, the classes in society were only two in number— the aristocracy and their vassals. The Y emancipation of the latter, by which they were enabled to pursue handicraft employment, and carry on trade on their own account, led to the gradual rise of a middle class. This class, which now consists of capitalists, merchants, tradesmen, professional men, and others, is therefore nothing more than an expansion upwards of the lower people—the descendants of the liberated serfs of the middle ages. The rise from a humble and obscure, to a comparatively high and conspicuous position, was effected by no undue means : it is a result of diligent industry, economy, and a reasonable share of ambition.

A foreigner, judging of English society, is apt to form the opinion that each of the three classes is a fixed entity, or at least that great difficulties are in the way of any transference from one to another. Careful examination would soon dispel such a delusion. The remarkable thing about society in Britain is the upward movement in rank. From the lower classes large numbers are continually ascending and taking their place in the middle classes; and from the middle classes a similar, though less extensive movement, is making into the higher classes. So Tar is the aristocracy from being a fixed determinate body, as it

No. 170.

is generally assumed to be, that unless it received constant accessions from the middle classes, it would speedily cease to exist. So also, as respects the middle classes, they would in no long time dwindle into insignificance, unless recruited from the ranks who, in point of fortune, are beneath them. Besides the general upward movement, there is in a lesser degree a movement downward, either actual or relative. In our highly artificial state of society, where so many are learned, skilful, and persevering, the competition is considerable; and unless an individual possess an average capacity, and be animated by a sincere wish to rise, or at least to keep his place, he has little chance of advancement, and will probably be mortified at seeing himself left behind in the general progress. Many, from defective education, and other untoward circumstances, but more frequently from an abandonment to mean habits, either gravitate downwards, or what is equivalent, are left in the rear, while others, more steady and energetic, are moving forwards.

It is a pleasant consideration that there exist no legal or constitutional impediments to the absorption of lower into higher classes. From one class to another the transition is effected by a series of movements, each apparently of little moment, though all tending to produce a distinct change of situation. All usually depends on the first effort. A desire to advance that is, to improve in circumstances-must be formed in the mind, and what follows after is only a natural consequence. Very different ideas, however, are formed respecting the means of advance. In so important a matter, it is best to be governed by the experience of mankind. On looking around on society, we observe that the advance of men from one situation in life to another, has not been achieved by any miraculous or wonderful conjunction of circumstances is not a result of any political or social revolution, or the passing of any particular law. The whole thing has evidently been a consequence of individual exertion-much anxious consideration, much personal trouble, much denial of present enjoyment, perhaps some contumely, certainly a degree of moral courage, self-respect, and ambition ; rarely any assistance. Such is what daily observation brings to light on the subject.

We have been thus particular, from a conviction that erroneous views are afloat respecting the means of improving circumstances. A notion industriously propagated is, that advancement from a lower to a higher position is only to be effected through the means of certain vaguely-defined political changes. We are far from saying that individual does not depend on public liberty; nor can we deny the special advantages to the people of certain fiscal alterations. But, after all, a man's condition is only to be substantially bettered by his own unassisted exertions. He must not look to this or that law for an improvement in his means of living; but push on with a thorough determination to

work out his own advancement; or, at all events, the realisation of that comfort of mind which springs from a consciousness of having performed a prescribed and honourable duty.

Writers who recommend a course of industry, perseverance, and self-denial to the young, are sometimes accused of laying too exclusive a stress on these points, and of concealing from

their readers that much in the way of success or comfort in : life depends on chance circumstances. We are perfectly willing

to allow that circumstances are of immense consequence that many men, with all their industry and saving, would have been drudges all their days but for circumstances. But we must remember that much depends, first, on a person placing him

self in a situation in which circumstances may be expected to : act for his advantage, or, to use a common expression, “putting himself in the way of fortune;" and in the second place, his possessing such skill or abilities, that when favourable cir cumstances do arise, he will be able to make use of them. Of what value are circumstances or opportunities if a man has not the ability to take advantage of them? The circumstances longed for slip away from under him, and form the basis of fortune to some more active, skilful, or careful individual. Still it may be urged that thousands of persons have it never in their power, do what they will, to better their condition. This is, however, urging extreme cases. For example, it may be said, human beings born in slavery, doomed by the most cruel laws to live and die in slavery, and denied all means of mental culture, can never, by any possible means, improve their condition, or take advantage of circumstances. Also, that an innumerable body of artisans in this country in which we live are in a condition pretty nearly as hopeless. But it will not do for the moralist to remain silent, because all cannot profit by his admonitions. It is enough for us to say, that there are many individuals scattered throughout society, who have it in their power to improve their condition by the practices which are recommended. Besides, after all, if no actual benefit arise, as far as the means of daily subsistence are concerned, there is a happiness of no ordinary kind in the consciousness of having done one's duty, of having lost none of those opportunities of well-doing which may have been operating and maturing for our advantage. . It would help materially to improve the prospects of the working-classes, could they be brought to consider that there is no essential difference between their situation and that of persons belonging to the middle classes who possess the same amount of income. Many skilled artisans realise a wage of 30s. per week, or £75 yearly. This is as much as is realised by many clerks in banking-houses, dissenting ministers, and others who are expected to maintain the appearance of gentlemen. How do families in the middle classes with this small income support themselves in a creditable manner? By excessive economy; that is to say, every

shilling is carefully husbanded and dispensed; nothing superfluous is bought; every necessary is procured from the best dealers, and in quantities which insures saving. For example, instead of buying coal in hundredweights, it is purchased by the cart; and thus the very utmost is made of the slender means at command. That which supports families of this class in their economic arrangements, is the constant feeling of self-respect, along with a hope of seeing better days. Pains are taken to appear at all times respectable, and beyond want. The world is asked for no pity. The aim is to keep on an equality of rank with friends — not to lose caste; to give a good education to children, and inspire them with the proper desire of bettering their circumstances. Thousands of families in the middle ranks of life are at this moment engaged in this noble and arduous struggle. Why, then, should not workmen with their families address themselves to the same line of conduct? Why should not a well-employed operative be every whit as respectable, as comfortable, and have as agreeable prospects as hundreds of persons who are his superiors only in name? It is with the view of aiding the well-disposed in their efforts to improve their minds and circumstances, that we throw together the materials of the present sheet. We address ourselves not alone to working-men, skilled and unskilled, but to all who have it in their power to elevate themselves in the social scale.

INDEPENDENCE OF THOUGHT AND ACTION. The working-classes generally are remarkable for their credulity. They too often believe, and allow themselves to be carried away, by opinions propounded by individuals of their own body, although these opinions are at variance with the experience, or with principles professed by the wisest men in the country. For example, every writer of any weight, from the time of Adam Smith, has shown that the rate of wages depends on supply and demand. If the supply of hands exceeds the demand for them, wages will fall; but if the supply falls short of the demand, wages will rise. “Although this principle is consistent with all experience, it is observed that working-men either do not recognise its truth, or that, recognising it, they rarely possess the moral courage to avow their belief. Suffering themselves to be misled by a few forward and perhaps designing men, they proclaim doctrines respecting trade which all intelligent persons have long since given up. No fact more conclusively proves the deficiency of education among the people, than that large masses of men should be found maintaining principles which, sixty years ago, were exploded in every country in

What we should wish to see, is a little more spirit of independent thought and action among working-men. Instead of allowing themselves to be carried away by the harangues of any one

Europe.

who sets up as their leader, let them go to the usual fountains of knowledge, and study the subject of debate for themselves. Books on every topic of interest are open for their perusal. There are few towns in which the works of Smith, and other writers on political and social economy, cannot be easily obtained. On the deficiency of this independence of action, we take leave to present the following passages from the work of an operative in a woollen factory, who may be presumed to speak with impartiality.*

" It is a remarkable proof of the willingness of ignorance to be led away by pompous appearances, that in nearly all instances of extensive turn-outs,' the bulk of the union has been governed by a few dominant self-interested demagogues. In the Bradford district a man arose among them who was a perfect stranger, but he had the requisite qualification of gab,' and a profusion of mysterious hints and observations on equality of wages. He was supported by the misguided men in making his own employment, for he had only to suggest the necessity of a certain turnout, and he was supported with a zeal which would have been worthy of a nobler and a better cause. A succession of turnouts' enabled him to have great power in the disposal of monies, and after having created grievous sores between master and men -having caused the utter ruin and consequent misery of starvation to become the familiar with hitherto comfortable families having thrown still wider open, in that district, the gulf between master and man—and after having been domiciled at the alehouse for several months where the Union Grand Lodge' was held, wallowing in the earnings of industry-an inquiry arose one cold winter's morning, "Where is Mr T- the “ turn-outs” are waiting for their weekly allowance, and it is not forthcoming?' Then there was running to and fro to learn his 'whereabouts ;' and after they had finally come to the conclusion, that he had vacated the chair of his promotion and petty dignitythat he had indeed deserted so glorious a cause'—their next step was to examine his treasury box: but he had scampered away with upwards of one hundred pounds of their money, and the lid of the treasury box went down with a hollow and an ominous sound. This betokened a speedy dissolution of the union. The idler had to think of working again; the committee would have to labour for their next bread; and the dupe who had been drawn out' from the comfortable workshop, where he had toiled honourably and industriously all his life until now-what of him? Where are the hopes that went with him to the 'lodge,' when he was first initiated ? · Where does he bide his shame-miserable delinquent that he is—on this bitter

* Spring Leaves of Prose and Poetry, by J. Bradshawe Walker. London: Simpkin and Marshall. 1845. This work' affords a striking instance of the polish of mind which may be attained in the most untoward circum

stances.

« ForrigeFortsæt »