AN OPTIMIST SQUIRE.
11R. DOWDESWELL,—the father of the representative of ill West Worcestershire, and himself a Worcestershire land- lord of some note,—is still master of one of those real sources of happiness of which in general the new generation has been de- prived, a sincere belief that the poverty and hardships of those who stand beneath him in the social scale are clearly for the beat, and that those who do not suffer from them, ought to regard them with resignation and even with benignant cheerfulness. That at least is how we understand the following brief report of his speech to his tenants on the condition of the agricultural labourer, which appeared in Tuesday's Daily Telegraph:— " After appropriate religious services, about GOO labourers sat down to dinner. Mr. Dowdeswell, in responding to the toast of his health, is reported to have congratulated the labourers present that they had stood aloof from the wiles of the agitators. He had read a great deal about the puny race of starving men, hardly able to earn their daily bread, who were supposed to form the supply of farm-labourers, but he thought those present did not answer the description, and if any of those who so talked were to come there, he could show them something different. For instance, he would point out to them Nicholls, a man six feet high; or, if that would not do, he would point out his brother, who was waiting at one of the tables. Again, he had heard that this puny race produced no children, but he had a man who had reared twelve children upon 12s. a week, and it was most gratifying to see that man surrounded by his children and grandchildren, to the number of forty. He was very sorry that the labourer did not enjoy his daily meal of meat ; but when he looked at the army in the East living without meat, at the stalwart men in Scotland living upon oatmeal, and the Irish upon potatoes, he felt bound to regard meat as a luxury, and could not admit it was a necessary of life. If it were, where should we be with the eattle plague in our midst, and not enough meat to supply rations for half the country ?"
We have said that the hearty resignation with which Mr. Dowdeswell appears to regard the inevitable meatlesaness and pecuniary hardships of his labourers reminds us of one of those great enjoyments of a previous generation which are beginning to fail this. One of the old-fashioned pleasures of meditation used to consist in comparing the hardships of the poor with the comforts of the higher orders of society, and in dwelling on the mysterious necessity for these great inequalities, by way of excuse for relish- ing still more highly the providential advantages of the better position. Mr. Dowdeswell is, in this respect, of the old world. He evidently dwells with much intellectual satisfaction on the lot of the man who had reared twelve children on 12s. a week, a fact which be appears to regard as one which, in the language of Pope, "justifies the ways of God to man." The airy treatment, too, which he gives to the question of animal food is a master-stroke in the same line. The "army in India,"—the Sepoy Army, remember, not the British Army, which is exceedingly well fed on animal food, —lives without meat, poor Scotchmen live without meat, needy Irishmen live without meat ; if the cattle plague commits its great ravages again, a good many people may have to live without meat, therefore meat is a luxury which it would be wrong to desire too eagerly for our agricultural labourers. Indeed, landlords with a few thousands a year and properly chastened spirits will teach themselves to acquiesce in the ways of Providence on this head, and console themselves by dwelling on such specimens of the rural labourer six feet high as they may happen to be acquainted with. The peculiar excellence of that kind of meditation is that it is applicable to so wide a circle of subjects. Mr. Dowdeswell does not appear in this speech to have applied it, but he might apply it with equal force, to the analogous case of the prevalent ignorance. He might, for instance, have congratulated the labourers that they had kept aloof from the wiles of the educationist agitators, and remarked that he had read a great deal about the brutal race of mere human animals who were hardly able to say in what country they lived, or what right and wrong meant ; but if any of those who so talked were to come there, he could show them something different. For instance, he would point to Thompson, who could write his name and add up the score of all he owed at the beer-house for the last six weeks without making the mistake of a penny ; or if that would not do, he would point to his brother, who could read aloud all the warnings to trespassers on the estate. He was very sorry that the labourer's child did not enjoy his daily lesson in the three R's and in the Church Catechism, but when he looked at the great Hindoo people living totally without any such education, at the stalwart Spaniards wholly destitute of it, and the Russian peasants who never even asked for it, he felt bound to regard education as a luxury, and could not admit it was a necessary of life. If it were, where should we be, with the scepticism and indifference which had become a kind of plague among the educated classes in our midst, and with not enough healthy-minded teachers to give sound instruction to half the children in the
country?" There is not a link in such a train of optimistic thought as that, which is a bit more forced or more out of place than the corresponding links in the chain of Mr. Dowdeswell's actual reflec- tions. Nothing seems to be easier than to find adequate consola- tion in the supposed scheme of Providence for the troubles of others. If our friends are ill, we find with the greatest ease most delightful moral alleviations in the spiritual " discipline " enjoyed by them, till the alleviations impress us almost more than the maladies themselves, and we find ourselves quite exhilarated by the thought of them. If we hear of a friend's grievous loss by his child's death, we immediately remember what a mercy it was that the loss fell upon him as early as it did ; or if it hap- pened late in his son's career, we dwell on the reason for thankfulness that the bereaved parent has so long a life of filial piety to look back upon. If a man loses his fortune by his own fault, there is always some consolation in the thought that he will profit by the lesson ; and if without his own fault, in the con- sideration that, after all, he cannot blame himself, and that he is the kind of man who will find new strength in adversity. The devices by which we console ourselves (and console ourselves most efficiently) for the misfortunes or bad fortunes of others are literally legion, and what one remarks about them is, that one is as good as another, the weakest as the strongest, since all alike are but excuses to ourselves for not taking others' troubles too much to heart, and it is perfectly wonderful how fertile in such excuses the heart of man is.
Still we are disposed to think that this method of self-consolation is becoming inapplicable, at least inapplicable in public, to the political and social grievances of the masses, and that our own generation has been wise in allowing it to fall into disuse. The truth is that it proves too much. If it is worth anything at all, it proves that whatever is, is right, and that there is something like impiety in trying to make things better. We observe, for instance, that Mr. Dowdeswell re- gards all who would persuade the labourers that they may perhaps better their condition, as" agitators" who are only using "wiles." And that is the appropriate conclusion of the method pursued. Strictly speaking, Mr. Dowdeswell ought to congratulate those invalids on his estate who decline medical help on having held them- selves aloof from "the wiles" of the physicians. For observe that he does not attempt to show that "the agitators" are proposing what is impossible and mischievous, and that this is the reason why he describes their suggestions as wiles; but he takes the line of insist- ing on the inevitability of all those evils which the agitators think they could remedy, and of consoling himself and the sufferers for their sufferings, on the score first, that their case is not so bad but what some of them thrive in spite of it—and next, that many other people in the world are in jest the same bad case, which shows that we ought to be resigned to our inability to help them. Clearly, on exactly the same line of reasoning he might argue that a healthy person ought to console himself easily for the sufferings of the rheumatic, and not fret himself to remove them ; for, first, a good many rheumatic people get through a great deal of good work, and seem pretty hearty in spite of all,—and, next, rheumatism is such a common complaint all over the world, that on the whole, freedom from rheumatism ought to be regarded as a luxury rather than as the normal lot of man. We say this is a dangerous style of argument nowadays for social and political complaints, for if there be no cure, the suffering masses who are getting the substantial power into their hands are apt at least to insist that the privileged classes shall not reconcile themselves to the evil with ostentatious resignation, since that savours too much of reluctance to seek for remedies; and then again, they have actually discovered that there are, if not cures, at least great alleviations for some of the complaints formerly pronounced quite incurable,— remedies such as a Ten Hours' Bill, Factory and Mining Bills, an Irish Land Measure, Trades' Unions, Strikes, and others of the same kind. The days when political philosophy consisted in justify- ing fatalism, seem to be over for the present. Mr. Dowdeswell's ostentatious self-congratulation over a labourer who reared twelve children on 12s. a week was at least injudicious, and would have been more prudent if confined to his own breast. His labourers will be apt to say that if any richer squire of the neighbour- hood had offered his congratulations to Mr. Dowdeswell on the show he was able to make on his estate with only so many thousands a year, the congratulations would have been resented by Mr. Dowdeswell as, to say the least, imper- tinent, and very like a covert expression of satisfaction at Mr. Dowdeswell's inferior wealth. We publish in another column a good letter from one of the officers of the "West of England Agricultural Labourers' Improvement Association," which has, as we are happy to see, secured the adhesion of both landlords and clergymen in a neighbouring county to Mr. Dowdeswell's, —Herefordshire. Now, if we understand Mr. Dowdeswell aright, it is of operations like those of the wise and tem- perate and earnest members of this Association, that he speaks as of those "wiles of agitators" for holding aloof from which he eulogises his own labourers. At all events, if it be other- wise, Mr. Dowdeswell took no pains to distinguish between the "wiles of agitators" and the temperate efforts of thoughtful men. A landlord who at such a juncture as the present is guilty of this grave moral blunder is, to say the least, inviting the criticism, that he prefers to be resigned to the evils of a very miserable lot, on behalf of his peasantry, than to aid the efforts of those who alle- viate it, and that he attributes to the order of Providence a whole class of hardships simply because their existence happens to be convenient to the order of landowners. We can only say that resignation of this kind is not a sort of piety. On the con- trary, it is one of those very prevalent impieties of which we are all so often guilty,—that of throwing responsibilities on God which He has thrown upon us, and we have ignored. If Mr. Dowdeswell should at all object to the tenor of these remarks, he has only to remember that public criticism is one of those dis- agreeable incidents of high position to which the poor and the needy find it very easy indeed to resign themselves ; and if he will but question his own mind on the true nature of his feelings in relation to the reflection that his labourers, if they were to hear of it, would be quite resigned to the unpleasant criticism elicited by his speech, he will be able to form a notion how very impertinent it must have seemed to them that he should have expressed himself so willing to acquiesce in the evils of their harsh and dingy lot.