THE SEVEN AGES OF A VILLAGE PAUPER.*
Anour one in every twenty of our English population is a pauper. The bare fact may be a key to ranch that is passing under our eyes in the agricultural districts, and it is not without some sense of satisfaction we may regard the action of those who decree that such a state of things shall cease. True, it may be argued, better pay will not teach thrift, and the man with eighteen shillings a week will be as likely as the man with twelve in old age or sickness to seek parish relief. Possibly, but his children, better housed, better fed, better educated, will not. Mr. Bartley draws a dark picture, but we think, like most specialists, he occasionally weakens his case by over-statement, and we incline at this moment to let a little light into his dark shading. For instance, when he tells us that "this country, which it is our boast to claim as the finest, the best, the richest, the most charitable kingdom in the world, allows its escutcheon to be defaced by the deepest and largest blot of pauperism, poverty, and misery,"—had he omitted these super- latives, we should have agreed with him utterly, but perhaps because we feel intensely how large and dark the blot is, we do not care to have it oraggerated ; and did our space admit, it would not be difficult to show that, dark as the picture is, it grows light beside the whitewashed misery, the hidden hunger, the cruel serfdom of nations whose chances of social pro- gress have been equal to our own. But it is with our own burden we have to deal, and we propose to follow Mr. Bartley carefully through his valuable little book, and note the suggestions he makes for remedying or ameliorating some of the evils which threaten to sap the very life-blood of our constitution as a people. The village from which Mr. Bartley has chosen to illustrate his text was certainly not selected for its special grievances, but rather the reverse ; the author chose -the spot as one in every way suitable, when taking one of his own children into the country for his health, but he tells Hs one thing about it which is noteworthy.. He says, though within twenty-four miles of the metropolis, it is one of the most out-of-the-way places in the country, and is four miles from a railway station ; this little fact, to the mind of the present writer, reveals a good deal. With a pretty considerable acquaintance with country- villages, especially in the quarter where we suspect this village to have been situated, we have noted the well- being of any given place to be in almost exact ratio with its means of communication with the outer world; a terrible thought this, for those who persist in believing in rural innocence and Arcadian simplicity. Ask any clergyman who is a man as well as a priest what is the most hopeless population with which he could be called to deal, and if he knows his business, and is not thinking of a life of ease, he will not answer a Whitechapel crowd, but the bucolic inhabitants of some village where no man passeth through. "You have a pleasant, clean-looking village here," we said some time since to the rector, on our first arrival at one of these remote villages. He shrugged his shoulders. And a week's further acquaintance made us ready to endorse the darkest picture Mr. Bartley could draw. It was a place of no thrift, and with wages at a rate which made thrift well - nigh impossible ; drunken- ness, apparently, was the local precaution against ague ; there were few marriages, except under compulsion ; all the- varied forms of scrofula were to be found in almost every other house, and children of the tenderest years at work in the fields.; "the Parish" being the most actual Providence with which the peasants) were acquainted. For forty years well-meaning, easy- going men had been futilely trying to improve the place. This was four years ago, but "none avons change tout cela." A little light has been let in from without ; the railway has come within five miles of the place; a Government Inspector has been there, the "Education Act" has begun its work. " Ah ! " said one of the old inhabitants, "it's all so different, you see, from when the old dame flacked her duster." "Did what?" said we, inquiringly. "Well, you see, when Mrs. — had the school, she had young ones of her own growing up about her, F40 on washing-days she set one of her big girls to mind the school while she washed outside; but if there was any row, she up and took a wet cloth from her tub, and &eked it just all round on 'em." But we are making a digression more apparent than real from our immediate subject, and must return to Mr. Bartley's little book. Certainly his village differed from the one we have quoted above in very many respects. The cottages were good, the rents low, varying from two to five guineas a year, the farm-labourers earning from twelve to fifteen shillings a week, the mechanics and brickmakers from a pound to. thirty shillings. But Mr. Bartley's argument is that through the • The Sewn Ages of a Viiiaps Pauper. By George C. T. Bartley. loodeal Chapman and Hall. 1674. pernicious influence of the Poor Law, as at present administered, from infancy to old age, "the Parish" stands in the relation of foster-parent to the villager, and proves a willing and faithful helper in proportion as the recipient of its favours is unworthy, thriftless, and destitute. So minutely does Mr. Bartley trace the workings of this system through all its numerous ramifications, that we are reminded of Esop's fable of the mouse and the lion. The lion, in this case, is the British pauper enclosed in the net of the Poor Law, and Mr. Bartley, the mouse who nibbles at bit after bit of the net till it falls to pieces and the prisoner is free. For Mr. Bartley does not complain in any case without suggesting at once the practical remedy ; he follows the village pauper from his birth, under the care of parish nurse and parish doctor, through a childhood in which the first principles of truth, honesty, and independence are stifled by the early incalculated necessity of appearing poor and miserable to the relieving officer; till in youth, it may be, he struggles out of the thraldom in which his childhood has been held, but even so, a hasty and improvident mar- riage soon brings him again within the parish clutches. Mr. Bartley is distinctly favourable, as a rule, to early marriage, and is opposed only to the thoughtlessness by which such marriages are too often distinguished. When the young couple begin life, he argues, there is nothing to hinder their putting by their sixpences into medical, provident, and other clubs, but here the evil influence of the parish system comes in. Should distress and sickness overtake -the man and make external aid imperative, then his thrift and self-denial, his wife's constant struggle to make the best of every- thing, are all against him. As one woman told Mr. Bartley, "You see the relieving officer always asks you, the first thing, if -you belong to a club, and if you do, it's sure to go against you." In fact, our author is hardly too bitter when he says, -speaking still of the parish, "With free and impartial hand having helped to nurse him as a baby, she comes back to him and ministers to his wants,—that is to say, if he has been true to his creed, is desti- tute, and has done nothing at all for himself." In old age, the same tale is but repeated. A pound a year saved might have bought a pension, but not an adequate one, and in such case the parish 'would do nothing ; sons and daughters might help, but too often they get away to an inconvenient distance—" why should they do anything, just to save the parish ?"—so that the old proverb may fairly be reversed, and we may read,—" The Parish will help those who will not help themselves."
It is a dark picture, doubtless, in but too many instances an 4' owre true tale "—witness the simple fact of the disinclination of landlords in the country to build cottages, because of the subse- .quent inevitable (?) burden on the rates—but it is by no means as universal as Mr. Bartley would lead us to suppose. He would have improved legislation on the subject, and many of his sugges- tions are admirable in themselves ; for instance, he suggests that thrift should be made a condition of out-door relief, in other words, that relief in money or kind should not be given, except on proof of previous thrift. We would go a step farther, and make willing- .ness to take work when offered a condition of in-door relief also, except for the sick and aged. The present writer made three ap- plications to one of the best managed workhouses in the metropolis, for a woman, old or young, of whom nothing was required beyond the most ordinary common-sense, to nurse a woman who was dying without attendance. The promise of payment was quite ineffectual ; with plenty of inmates in the workhouse, the authorities at once said they could not comply with the request. Mr. Bartley further suggests that the fact of belonging to a club, or having secured a small pension, should, instead of disqualifying a man, for relief, be a real reason for additional aid. And he enters largely into the subject of medical clubs or dispensaries, as the legitimate substitute for the parish doctor. These are already very widely established, and the poor in towns certainly look upon it as a distinct fall in their own social scale, a mark of hopeless poverty, to have to apply to the parish for medical aid ; but even dispensaries, invalu- able as they are, need a good deal yet to make them thoroughly efficient. In London, for instance, and its neighbourhood, men and women are fast learning that if they would get really skilful medical aid for themselves or their children, they must seek it as outdoor patients at our great hospitals. The private dispensary, into which, as they Proudly explain, they have paid,' will supply them with an order for wine, to be ob- tained generally from the clergyman, but rarely indeed with the quinine which is its more efficient substitute ; and the work of visiting sick patients falls too often, perhaps of sheer necessity, as things are at present ordered, into the hands of young and un- skilled "assistants." Mr. Bartley's little volume is worth careful attention. He paints his picture too dark on the one side,
and:does not go quite far enough in reform on the other ; but after all, legislation is not everything. We would have overcrowd- ing put down by law, but "pure air, and plenty of it," has not taught the villager thrift, nor the first elements of a healthy morality ; but he has been learning a few lessons lately which promise a beginning of better things. It is the chance of a wider life, with fresh motives for action, which kills drink, and it needs no social reformer to show that drunkenness is at the root of Pauperism.