THE FARM LABOURERS OF THE WISBECH DISTRICT.
[TO THE EDITOR OF THE "SPECTATOR...1
SIR,—Allow me very briefly to reply to the wholesale charges of falsehood that were brought against me by an aggrieved farmer -of Tydd St. Mary, in your issue of the 1st inst. Owing to my con- tinued absence from home, the delay in answering his letter has been unavoidable. The story that I told of the agreement between him and his labourers is well known in the neighbourhood, and was first told me by a brother farmer, who was naturally somewhat wroth at the way in which the attention of the farm-labourers of his district had been drawn to the Union by its strangely- worded formulary. Like all tales, it doubtless lost nothing by vepetition; but I did not report it on hearsay, but from the lips of .certain of the labourers who were themselves parties to the agree- ment. That tale is in almost every particular strictly true, and has been since confirmed from the same source, as well as from independent inquiry.
The agreement did state that the men were not to attend a Union meeting under pain of a £10 penalty. It is pure nonsense to say that any master would draw up an agreement to prevent the men from striking, as, of coarse, every properly signed agreement has this effect, by making them liable for breach of -contract.
Two of the men were not able to write (I enclose you their names), and affixed their marks to the agreement ; and one of those who could write, and signed it, repented immediately he got home, when it was read over to him by his wife, and returned it to his employer, saying that he had not understood it, or he should never have signed it. He did not live in one of his em- ployer's cottages, and was allowed to continue at his work although he repudiated the contract. It is true that one man, as the farmer states, refused in the first instance to sign it, but he forgets to tell you that on his refusal he was served with a week's notice to quit his cottage. You should also have been told that the man who left for work in the North was compelled to come back, or else have his family turned out of doors. Surely, then, I was quite justified in remarking in my former letter that "several of them (the labourers) were not able to write, and did not understand to what they were putting their mark."
I feel I should not be justified in going categorically through the other " falsehoods " of which your correspondent alleges that I am guilty. Suffice it to say, that I find them all (with perhaps one exception) amply confirmed by careful inquiry. The agree- ments do not now exist, but the contracting parties on the one side, even if there was no independent testimony, are as entitled to credit as the contracting party on the other.
The employer seems desirous of preserving his incognito, and, as I war against the system and not individuals, I wish to respect it : I therefore content myself with enclosing you the names of my