RILE ETHICS OF THE POOR.
14 TT has often struck me that it might be an assistance to
those who are trying to improve the condition of the poor, and who have realised that, to be successful, they must not ignore the beliefs and prejudices of their clients, if notes of the ethical views prevalent among them were furnished by district nurses and other persons intimately acquainted with their home life." These words are quoted from the third chapter of Miss Loane's new book, " The Next Street But One" (Edward Arnold, 6s.), and they form the text of the whole. Miss Loane is a district nurse; she has lived among the poor and for the poor; she knows the society of the poor from the inside, yet she comes in from the outside, conse- quently she sees closely enough to descry details accurately, and not so closely as to miss the meaning of the whole. There are no volumes of statistics, however precise, and no books about poor relief, however true to history, which can teach us what Miss Loane has learned. For all that, much of the experience of this sympathetic and lively writer reads like a living illustration of the principles of the Charity Organisa- tion Society. It is as though several volumes of their " case papers" had been vivified by an editor of great literary gift who had had the advantage of personally witnessing the work described.
But to return to our "ethics." "The more one sees of the poor in their own homes, the more one becomes con- vinced that their ethical views, taken as a whole, can be more justly described as different from those of the upper classes than as better or worse." Their strong points, we gather, are kindness and endurance, generosity and forgiving- ness, not truth and not honour. " The obligation to tell the truth is by no means generally recognised," neither is the truth expected. " In time one becomes used to what is at first an extraordinarily ignominious experience,—to state quietly and deliberately some simple fact that is well within one's knowledge and to be openly disbelieved."
Again, their ideas of honesty are not precisely our ideas. It is not so much that these ideas are less strict, but they have a narrower scope. For instance, Miss Loane tells us it is very hard to make young people among the poor see that strict honesty enjoins some regard for the preservation of a neighbour's or employer's property. A boy whom nothing would induce to take a farthing belonging to his master will again and again injure his tools, his cart, anything that is his, through utter carelessness, or even intentional neglect of duty. This light-hearted view of the rights of property has, after all, its good side. Miss Loane tells the following story, which is typically English, and which, she assures us, she could hardly induce a French acquaintance to believe :—" I heard some one working in the garden very early this morning ; it must have been soon after four,' I said to my landlady's daughter when she brought in my breakfast, She smiled in the tolerant, in- scrutable, maternal fashion that one sometimes observes even in quite young girls. ' That would be Tim. He's a railway porter who's got married again, and has a fresh lot of children; and at a little station like this there's almost nothing to be picked up in the way of tips. We employ him for a couple of hours in the garden sometimes, and he thinks he has a right to what he wants. He doesn't take the peas or tomatoes, but just potatoes and onions, and so on. Of course mother would let him have them if be asked her, but he is too proud to do that." We cannot resist quoting one more illustration of the same laxity :—" A friend who had been living in her own suburban villa left and went into the country. In the early spring, finding the house still unlet, she went back to fetch all her bulbs, and found the garden entirely denuded. She concluded that some hawker or hedge gardener had cleared the place, and troubled herself no further. A few months later a very worthy old woman told the lady's former house- maid that she had taken the flowers : People was beginning to steal 'em, my dear, and I felt sure your missus 'ud rather they was took respectable.' " Below a certain class one rarely bears : "It is wrong to do so-and-so." The usual comment on conduct decidedly below the ordinary standard is "I wonder he durst ! I wouldn't ha' dared." This daring, however, does not seem to imply any fear of penal consequences, but springs from "the intense fear the poor have of suffering from remorse if ' we don't set up to our lights," a fear which has its corollary in a "perfect confidence that they will enjoy unchequered satisfaction in the ceaseless contemplation and enumeration of their good deeds." This feeling is regarded as self-righteousness by the clergy, who therefore endeavour—in Miss Loaue's opinion, most injudiciously—to destroy what really is a potent factor for good.
Tolerance, both moral and religious, is a marked trait among the poor, and it is amazing how little desire for retributive justice they seem to feel. " The sinner and the criminal rarely meet with harsh judgment. Cruelty to young children is perhaps the only sin uncompromisingly condemned." Tempers, no doubt, are hot among the uneducated; but when once the first unbearable sense of wrong is cooled, no rancour as a rule remains. "No quarrel is ever final and irrevocable," Miss Loans asserts, and she tells many delightful stories too long for us to quote in support of her belief. "Husbands will ungrudgingly work for wives who have failed in almost every duty towards them. Children are forgiven over and over again every injury that it is in their power to inflict, and in many instances the same inexhaustible charity is shown by children to parents."
The rich, Miss Loane is sure, take an entirely false view of family life among the majority of the poor. It is, she thinks, worthy of all praise, and "until the upper classes believe that
the poor really love and cherish their children, they will not understand their nature well enough to help them." Our
author waxes very warm about the current misunderstandings upon this point. "Hardly any one seems able to conceive that the ordinary working man is a faithful and friendly husband, an indulgent father to young children and girls, and at least a tolerant one to growing lads." The self-sacrifice called forth by illness is sometimes almost incredible. • The impression left most strongly upon the mind after reading Miss Loane's book is this,—that the poor deserve far more credit, and for less excuse, than they commonly get from those in a more fortunate position. We have all a tendency to be generous before we are just when we are, as we think, looking down. We begin with a preconceived notion that those below us are not so good as we, and then we set to work to make excuses for them. We graciously forgive their supposed unkindness to their children, on the ground that " they have so much to make them irritable," or their supposed roughness and unfaithfulness to their wives, because "the courting of the lower classes admits of so little romance."
If we would only indulge in a little healthy condemnation without self-consciousness or sentimentality, we should see how unfair our false charity makes us, and should be forced to Miss Loane's conclusion that the vast majority of people, both rich and poor, are very respectable.
Much of this injustice is due to the absurdly circumscribed view of moral rights we most of us unconsciously take. To give an obvious instance. The working classes waste an immense deal of money upon alcohol. Yet when we talk of the fortune of the poor we always reckon without that. We think it inevitable that they should waste it. Why ? Because, forsooth, the rich waste money on luxury. Surely any proud working man must often be struck by the moral patronage implied in this excuse. Is there any law to prevent one class of persons from being better than another ? There is just as little excuse for our reading other people's letters because the poor do not happen to think it dishonourable, as for their continuing to spend more than they can afford because we make a practice of such criminal folly.
Every effort of charity which makes against family life Miss Loane deprecates,—free meals are an abomination in her eyes, and vacation schools and " happy evenings " do not obtain her blessing. Charity administered wholesale and without know- ledge does, she is certain, more harm than good. "So long's the Salvation Army likes to feed my children, I shan't do it!"
said a thoroughly bad mother to her upon one occasion, and she was certain that the only way to improve her
was to make the children—to whom, after all, she was not indifferent—dependent upon her care. It is a misfortune to the community, Miss Losne would persuade her readers, that any woman should work outside her house, and an almost equal misfortune that she should give to "home industries" the time which rightly belongs to her children. Economically, she believes women do wrong when they exchange their natural work for that of the wage-earner. It Is impossible, however, to convince them of this. Even if in individual instances it is possible to prove that "by the time they had paid to have their children ' minded,' paid some one to do the family washing, paid the difference between ready-made clothing for the children and the price of the materials used in them, paid for the extra wear and tear of their own clothing, and paid the difference between the price of tinned food and fresh," the ten shillings or so made are entirely swallowed up, they still doubt the result of the calculation. The reason is this :—" Every person in that state of mental development is blinded by the magic of money, unable to conceive that money can pass through her hands without benefiting her, or that she can be benefited unless it does pass through them."
How much we are all blinded by the magic of money. How many charitable people think it can do everything—thrown down to the populace without consideration. How many mean people, on the other hand, catch at any excuse which will enable them to say it can do nothing. Neither of these will get any encouragement from the reading of Miss Loane's book. There is no worse use to which a man can put his money than that of undermining his neighbour's sense of responsibility,— that she will teach any reader who is willing to learn. On the other hand, she will not tell him that wise methods of charity are always cheap methods. Money can never supply the place of thought, but giving is often the result of thinking. The present writer knew a rector who originally discouraged his curate from working upon a Charity Organisation Committee because of their reputed hardness of heart, and when the curate persisted, and came back to the pariah full of his new experience, the rector changed his ground, and continued his discouragement on the score of expense.
Taken as a whole, we believe that there is to be found in the book we are now noticing, " The Next Street But One," and in "The Queen's Poor," a reprint of which, we are delighted to see, is announced by Mr. Edward Arnold, more wisdom on the problems of poverty than in half the books on political economy and sociology published within the present generation. They are a veritable armoury of wit and good sense for those who are determined to oppose the attacks of the Socialists on the family, and who mean to resist with all their might the pauperisation of the nation. We would not merely recommend, but would urge, their attentive perusal upon all men and women who are concerned with the question of poor relief, and who are sincerely anxious to help the people without harming them. They will find in Miss Loane's womanly common-sense and robust humour an admirable corrective to the pleas for sapping the strength of the nation which are the evil fashion of the hour.