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tithes were abolished in England; the poor-laws were made less
favourable to the increase of pauperism; and the growth of prosperity
and independence among the poor was assisted by the introduction of a
system of unsectarian education, in 1839, though the bishops would
have preferred that one-third of the people of England should remain
illiterate. Penny postage was established in 1840, the last year when
Great Britain was governed by the Whigs.

Parliament was so philanthropic and tolerant as to reject repeatedly a
proposal to impose heavy fines for attending secular meetings, visiting
eating-houses, travelling, fishing, or hiring horses on Sunday. Labour,
too, was to be forbidden, but not that of "menial servants." This bill
would have prevented the poor from enjoying their only holiday; but
there was to be no interference with the pleasures of the rich; and the
fact was pointed out by a young man, whose _Pickwick Papers_ had just
begun to appear in monthly parts. His illustrated pamphlet is entitled:
_Sunday as it Is; as Sabbath Bills would Make it; as it might be Made_.
It has been reprinted with his plays and poems. He tells how much was
done for the health and happiness of London by those privileges which
the Sabbatarians were trying to abolish; and he shows what gain there
would be in knowledge and virtue from opening all the museums and
galleries Sunday afternoons.

The pamphlet shows that delight in the bright side of life, and that
sympathy with the pleasures of the poor, which won popularity for _The
Pickwick Papers_ in 1836, and afterwards for _The Old Curiosity Shop_
and the _Christmas Carol_. The novels most like _Sunday as it Is_,
however, are such protests against bigotry and cruelty as _Oliver Twist,
Nicholas Nickleby, and Barnaby Rudge_. Powerful pictures of the gloom
of that British Sabbath which locked up everything "that could by any
possibility afford relief to an overworked people," may be found in
_Little Dorrit_; and the plot turns on the Sabbatarianism of a cruel
fanatic who had made felony part of her religion. Much was done by this
novel, as well as by _Pickwick_ and _Nicholas Nickleby_ towards the
abolition of imprisonment for debt in 1869. His tone was very mild,
compared with that of the popular orators. Resistance to bad laws was
urged by Richard Carlile; and a clergyman named Taylor, who held the
Gospel to be a solar myth, was imprisoned on October 24, 1827, for
saying that the first martyrs for Jesus Christ were the Gadarene pigs.
Another London lecturer declared on Sunday evening, December 2, 1832,
that "The elective franchise should belong to women, as a part of the
people," and again that "Women are qualified to elect and to be elected
to all public offices." "Any argument for exclusion is of that kind
which has justified every tyranny," says this discourse, which was
printed for the first time, on May 11, 1833, in an American newspaper,
_The Free Enquirer_. Its columns show that a young lady had already
presented very advanced ideas as a lecturer at the Rotunda in London;
but the general opinion of the sex was expressed by the wife of the
Rev. John Sandford, whose popular book declared that "There is something
unfeminine in independence. A really sensible woman... is conscious of
inferiority." The Irish have supported themselves so successfully in
America, and obeyed the laws so generally, as to prove that failure to
do either in Ireland should not be attributed to their race or their
religion, but wholly to their oppression. Memory of the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries was all the more bitter in the nineteenth, because
the destitution of the peasantry was increasing hopelessly. Removal of
religious disabilities and reform of Parliament did not prevent bands of
armed peasants from fighting against attempts to take away their cattle
in payment of the tithes exacted by well-paid dignitaries of the hated
Church. It sometimes happened that a dozen of the combatants were
killed. Sydney Smith estimated that this way of keeping up a state
church cost a million lives, from first to last, and Ireland had to
be as heavily garrisoned as India, until a less vexatious system was
established in 1838. Municipal government was wholly in the hands of
little corporations, which had the sole power of electing new members
and seldom admitted a Catholic. The ruling oligarchy was to the
population as one to two hundred in Limerick, and only as one
to twenty-five hundred in Protestant Belfast. The right of local
self-government was given to the people of these cities and a few others
in 1840; but even this small and tardy justice provoked an English
bishop to threaten that it would call down vengeance from God. Full
municipal suffrage throughout the island and a domestic Parliament
were demanded by all Ireland, under the guidance of the mighty orator
O'Connell; but the prejudice against his cause in Great Britain was made
invincible by his denouncing "the Saxons," as he called the English, for
the crimes of their ancestors.

VII. All reforms stopped in 1841, when the Whigs lost the supremacy.
It was not their fault that excess in speculation on both sides of the
Atlantic had brought on a panic which threw thousands of people out of
work in the factory towns, and reduced other thousands to earning only
twopence a day. A succession of bad harvests, just before 1841, made
wages very low on the farms, and food too dear everywhere. Bread was
sold in halfpenny slices; labourers robbed pigs of swill; children
fought with dogs for bones in the streets; one person in every eleven
was a pauper; and England seemed to Dickens like one vast poorhouse. The
old ways of giving charity had been so lavish and indiscriminate as to
encourage pauperism; the new system of relief proved really kinder;
but at first it was administered too slowly and cautiously for the
emergency; and there was some ground for the complaints in _Oliver
Twist_. Knowledge that paupers were neglected strengthened the belief of
the working-men, that all they needed to make them as well off as their
brethren in America was the ballot. Paine, Cobbett, and Hetherington
were widely read; manhood suffrage and a secret ballot were called "the
People's Charter"; and there were more than a million signatures to
the Chartist petition in 1839. These demands were just; but about one
Englishman in three was unable to write his name at this time; and
many who had acquired this accomplishment knew dangerously little about
politics. When we think how much mischief has recently been done in the
United States by illiterate and venal votes, we cannot blame Englishmen
of the upper and middle classes for delaying to grant universal
suffrage. They ought to have made rapid preparation for it, by liberal
encouragement of popular education through free schools and a cheap
press; but even the Whigs were too indignant at the violence of the
Chartists, who made bloody riots in 1841. How ignorant these men
were was shown by their doing their worst that year to help carry the
elections against the Whigs, who were much less hostile to Chartism than
the Conservatives, as those Tories were called who still condescended to
politics.

The most culpable blunder of the Whigs had been that of allowing the
revenue to fall below the expenses; and the policy they had proposed for
making up the deficit was too much like that halfhearted way of dealing
with slavery which brought ruin upon the party of the same name in
America. The British tariff was raised by the war against Napoleon, as
the American was under similar pressure afterwards, so high as in some
cases to prohibit imports and actually check revenue. Either tariff
could have been used as an almost complete list of the world's products;
and both were framed on the principle of protecting everybody, except
consumers, against competition. Great Britain unfortunately could
produce only part of the food needed by the people; and the tariff was
so much in the interest of owners of land as to make bread and meat
dearer than if the island had been barren. Importation of cattle was
prohibited; and that of wheat and other grain was not permitted until
prices were high enough to cause famine. Then importation would begin
slowly, and keep increasing until the supply of both foreign- and
home-grown wheat would become large enough to glut the market and make
farmers bankrupt. These duties on grain, which were known as the corn
laws, acted with similar taxes on all other necessaries of life in
impoverishing factory hands and other members of the working class. They
were told that the laws which kept living dear kept wages high; but we
shall see that this turned out not to be the fact. The only real gainers
by the corn laws were those wealthy owners of great estates of whom
Parliament was composed entirely, with the exception of a few members of
the House of Commons.

That body allowed Manchester and other factory towns to send
representatives who had found out the tendency of protectionism from
their own business experience, as well as from study of political
economy. Among these men was Cobden, who had already planted himself in
the road to wealth, but who preferred to remain poor that he might make
England rich. He and his associates knew that imports are paid for by
exporting what can be produced most profitably; that nothing is imported
which could be produced as cheaply at home; that large imports make
large exports; that the average Englishman knows how to carry on his
own business; and that the Government could not encourage any otherwise
unprofitable industry without checking the really profitable ones. On
these facts were based the following predictions. In the first place,
free trade in grain and cattle would lower the average price of food
in England, and make the supply so regular that there would be no more
famines. Second, those countries which were allowed to send grain and
cattle, cotton and other raw materials, etc., to England would buy
British manufactures in return. Third, removal of duties from raw
materials would enable factories to produce goods more cheaply, and
sell larger quantities at home as well as abroad. Then, fourth, this
increased activity in manufacturing would raise wages, while remission
of duties would make all the necessaries of life cheaper, so that
pauperism would diminish and prosperity become more general in the
working class. And finally, the commerce of England with other countries
would grow rapidly to their mutual benefit; and thus international
relations would be kept friendly by free trade.

In this faith the reformers at Manchester and Birmingham asserted the
right of all men to buy and sell freely, and demanded the removal of
all duties except those best adapted to bring in necessary revenue. They
were wise enough to attack the monstrous tariff at its weakest point,
the tax on bread. The Anti-Corn-Law League was organised in 1839; the
spot where the Peterloo massacre had been perpetrated, twenty years
before, was soon used for a free trade banquet in which five thousand
working-men took part; and appeals to the people were made in all parts
of England. The Conservatives were all protectionists; and so many Whigs
were on that side that those leaders who were opposed to the bread tax
did not dare to come out against it. They did propose in 1841 to meet
the deficit in the revenue by reducing some duties which were so high as
to prevent importation, for instance, the tax on all sugar not grown in
British colonies. The protectionist Whigs voted with the Conservatives
against the Ministry; and it had to go out of office without having
done enough against the corn laws to secure the support of the League.
Protectionists, Chartists, and opponents of the new poor-law helped
to give the Conservatives control of the next Parliament, where the
free-traders were one to four.

Such was the state of things in October, 1841, when the League went to
work more vigorously than before in educating the people, and especially
voters of the poorer class. During the next twelve months, half a
million dollars was spent in this work. In 1843, there were fourteen
regular lecturers in the field, besides countless volunteers, and five
hundred distributors of tracts. The annual number of publications was
about ten million copies; and the annual weight exceeded a hundred tons.
The dissenting ministers did good work for reform; but the Episcopalian
clergy were too friendly to a tax which kept up the value of tithes. The
League soon had the support of John Bright, who was one of the greatest
of British orators. Prominent among opponents was the Chartist leader,
Feargus O'Connor; and those Chartists who were not protectionists held
that their cause ought to take the lead. Public opinion was so strongly
for free trade in 1845 that Parliament took off the duties from cotton
and other raw materials, in hope of conciliating the manufacturers;
but these latter redoubled their efforts to abolish the tax on food.
Subscriptions were larger than ever; and much land was bought by
free-traders who wished to qualify themselves as voters for members of
the next Parliament, which would have to be elected in or before 1848.

Reform seemed still distant, when Shelley's prophecy was fulfilled.
Freedom's eternal foe, Famine, came suddenly to her help. Dearness of
wheat and meat had obliged half of the Irish and many of the
English to live entirely on potatoes. Wages were often paid in Ireland
by loan of land for raising this crop. The rot which began in August,
1845, soon became so destructive that Peel, who was then Prime Minister,
proposed in October that grain should be made free of duty. Wellington
and other members of the Cabinet demurred; and the question had to be
submitted to Parliament. Disraeli insisted to the last on keeping up the
tariff; but famine was increasing; and both Houses finally agreed, after
long debate, to accept Peel's proposal, that not only the duties on food
and raw materials, but most of the others, should be either reduced or
abolished. His conservatism did not keep him from seeing that the
whole system of protecting home industries must stand or fall together.
Prominent among obstructionists were the bishops. The House of Lords did
not agree before June 25, 1846, to the reform which had been accepted on
May 15th by the House of Commons, and which was publicly acknowledged
by Wellington to be inevitable. Such was the exasperation of the
protectionists that they helped the opponents, of coercion in Ireland
to drive Peel out of office, by a vote which was taken in the House
of Commons on the very day when his plan of tariff reform gained that
victory in the House of Lords which made free trade for ever the system
of Great Britain.

About one-half of the import duties are now levied on tobacco,
one-fourth more on wine and strong drink; and most of the rest on tea
and other groceries. Duties on articles which could be produced in Great
Britain are offset by internal-revenue taxes. No monopoly is given to
farm or factory; no necessary article is made too dear for the poor; and
there are no needless violations of the right of the labourer to spend
his wages in the best market.

This reform made the relief of Ireland possible, though the loss of life
was terrible. Never again has England been so near to a famine as in
1841. Food is now so plenty that five times as much sugar is used in
proportion to population as in 1842, and more than twice as much butter
and eggs. This does not mean that the millionaire eats five times as
much sugar, or twice as many eggs, as before, but that poor people can
now buy freely what formerly were almost unattainable luxuries. The
proportion of money in savings banks in England and Wales has doubled;
and that of paupers sank from 1 in 11 in 1842 to 1 in 37 in 1895. Wages
have risen fifty per cent., while other prices have fallen; and British
workmen are better off than any others in Europe. The annual value of
English exports declined steadily from 1815 to 1842; but it is now four
times as great as in the latter year; and it is more than twice as large
in proportion to population as in those highly protected countries,
the United States and France. Low tariffs also enable Belgium to export
nearly three times as much for each inhabitant as France, and New South
Wales to export five times as much as the United States. Large exports
do not depend on density of population but on ability to import freely.
Readiness of any country to buy freely of her neighbours keeps them able
and willing to buy whatever she has to sell. Free trade has given
Great Britain, New South Wales, and Belgium their choice of the world's
markets. Great Britain has also been enabled to keep up much more
friendly relations with the rest of Europe than would otherwise have
been the case. Liberty of commerce has helped her enjoy peace; and peace
has preserved free institutions.

The reforms which culminated in free trade showed Englishmen that they
could right any wrong without resort to violence. The attempt of the
Chartists to overawe Parliament in 1848 was seen to be inexcusable; and
it failed ridiculously. Never since then has insurrection in England
been even possible. The atmosphere of thought has been so quiet that
suffrage was greatly extended in 1867, and made practically universal
in 1894. Voters gained the protection of a secret ballot in 1872; and
municipal self-government was given in 1894 to every part of England
where it had not already been established.

No wonder that there is little of the revolutionary ardor of Shelley and
Byron in Tennyson, Browning, and other recent poets. They have delighted
in progress; but they have seen that it must come through such peaceable
changes in public opinion, and then in legislation, as are caused by
free discussion. The benign influence of peace has enabled them to
display such brilliancy as had not been seen in England for more than
two hundred years. No other writers ever paid so much attention to
public health and the general happiness. The ablest thought of the
century has been devoted to enriching human life, and not to destroying
it. This has enabled science to make unprecedented progress. A new
period of intellectual history has been opened by Spencer and Darwin.

VIII. Prominent among reformers who had no wish for revolution, and no
respect for science, were Dickens and Carlyle. The latter's ("former's"
Ed.) aversion to political economy as "the dismal science" was echoed in
the pages of _Hard Times_; and the absence of any reference in _Dombey
and Son_ to the great movement against the corn laws is characteristic
of a novelist whose _Pickwick Papers_ made fun of scientific
investigation. What was there called the "tittlebat" is really that
nest-building fish, the stickleback. Passages ridiculing the use of
statistics might be quoted at great length from both authors. Dickens
had too much sympathy with paupers, especially those who suffered under
the poor-law of 1834; and Carlyle had much too little. They agreed in
opposition to model prisons and other new forms of philanthropy. Perhaps
it was mainly the habit of indiscriminate ridicule which suggested such
caricatures as Mrs. Jellaby and Mrs. Pardiggle. Carlyle's belief that
abolitionism was "an alarming Devil's Gospel" and his denunciation of
"the sugary, disastrous jargon of philanthropy" were legitimate results
of idolatry of what he called "early, earnest times," namely the Dark
Ages. His sympathy with mediaeval methods was so narrow that he spoke
of a poet of weak health and high culture, whom he saw suffering under
a sentence of two years in a pestilential prison, forbidden books or
writing materials, kept most of the time alone and on bread and water,
but guilty of nothing worse than a Chartist speech, as "master of his
own time and spiritual resources to, as I supposed, a really enviable
extent." Dickens shows much more appreciation of the real superiority
of modern times, though personal disappointments, during his visit
to America, prevented him from acknowledging the merits of democracy.
Carlyle's reverence for the early Hebrews and other primitive barbarians
made him present hero-worship as the only secure corner-stone of
politics. His receipt for a perfect government is this: "Find in any
country the ablest man that exists there; raise him to the supreme
place; and loyally reverence him." "Such a government is not to be
improved by voting or debating." "Neither except in obedience to the
Heaven-chosen is freedom so much as conceivable." This theory showed its
own absurdity in prompting eulogies on Francia and other despots; but
Carlyle's apologies for Cromwell were of some service to the cause
of liberty fifty years ago, when England had forgotten to honour
the champions of the Long Parliament. Dickens thought more about the
asceticism than the independence of the Puritans. He and Carlyle
have dispelled some of the prejudices against the heroes of the First
Republic; but they perpetuated others. Carlyle's best work was in
encouraging the readers of his first books to think for themselves. The
power of Dickens to call out sympathy with the unfortunate will never
cease to bless mankind.

As much pity for the outcast has been shown by his great rival, Victor
Hugo, and even more fellow-feeling with the oppressed. The spirit which
has made France free animates all his writings, especially those
grand poems which were called out by the usurpation of Louis Napoleon
Bonaparte. His early dramas dealt so vigorously with royal weakness and
vice that _Marion de Lorme_ was suppressed by Charles X. and _Le Roi
s'amuse_ by Louis Philippe. The work which has made him best known,
and which appeared in 1862 in nine languages, is a plea for mercy to
criminals, or in his own words, to "the miserable." The chief aim is to
show "the oppression of laws," and the mistake of aiding the tyranny
of the police by thinking too severely of the fallen. He finds an
opportunity to introduce an enthusiastic panegyric on the victories of
Napoleon, closing with the question: "What could be more grand?" "To be
free," is the reply. Full justice to the French Revolution is done by
that most dramatic of novels, _Ninety-Three_. Here he says: "The agony
of the nations ended with the fall of the Bastile." "Perhaps the
Convention is the culmination of history." "It declared poverty and
disability sacred." "It branded the slave-trade, and freed the blacks."
"It decreed gratuitous education." "The object of two-thirds of its
decrees was philanthropic." Such facts are all the more worthy of
mention, because they were omitted by Carlyle.


SUPPLEMENT TO CHAPTER II

I. Thomas Carlyle's prejudice against democracy was strengthened by
the failure of the revolutions of 1848. Constitutional monarchy was as
hostile to reform in France as it was friendly in England.

Only one Frenchman in thirty could vote; and the legislature cared
nothing for public opinion. Louis Philippe was hated for habitual
dishonesty. There had been several attempts at regicide and some bloody
revolts. One of the latter gave a basis from history for Victor Hugo's
_Misérables_. Restrictions on the press and on public meetings increased
the unwillingness of the working-men at Paris to be governed by
the rich. Socialism was popular, and employment insufficient. The
prohibition of a reform banquet caused barricades to be thrown up on
February 22d in Paris. The militia took sides with the populace; the
King fled to England; and all France accepted the Republic, which was
proclaimed on February 24th. Slavery had been reestablished in the
colonies by Napoleon; but it was now abolished; and so was capital
punishment for political offences.

The example of Paris was followed in March by successful insurrections
at Berlin, Vienna, and other German cities, as well as in Lombardy
and Venice. Home rule was demanded by Hungary and Bohemia, and
constitutional governments were soon established there as well as in
Austria, Prussia, and other German states, and in every part of Italy.
The King of Sardinia took the lead in a war for driving back the
Austrians across the Alps. Co-operation of French, German, Hungarian,
and Italian patriots might have made all these countries permanently
free.

Such a union would have been difficult on account of international
jealousies; and it was made impossible by the Socialists at Paris.
Scarcely had a provisional government been set up, when recognition of
"the right of employment" was demanded by a workman, who came musket in


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Online LibraryFrederic May HollandLiberty in the nineteenth century → online text (page 4 of 16)