EMIGRATION IN THE DARK.
NEARLY all emigration, even that of the most intelligent and best educated members of the community, is more or less a leap in the dark. The emigrant is far better aware of the ills from which he is escaping, than of the exact nature of the prospects that he has chosen to exchange them for. And remembering how much this is the case of those who leave their native country fairly well provided with knowledge of the life they intend to lead, and with means to assist them towards leading it, one can perhaps realise how hopelessly dark are the prospects of their poorer and more ignorant fellow-countrymen who go forth, driven by the stress of cir- cumstances or tempted by fallacious hopes, unprovided with either the means or the knowledge that should pro- tect them from disappointment. The emigrant, especially if he is one of those who emigrate in masses, is generally utterly ignorant of the country which he is about to adopt, except for the information which he has been given by the agent who has persuaded him to take the momentous step : all that he knows is, that things are very bad with him at home, and he does not think it possible that they can be worse elsewhere. The emigration agent draws before his eyes the most seductive pictures of future comfort and wealth, and actually assures him of the certainty of a daily pay for his labour which is double or treble that which he could ever hope to earn at home : his own sharp and bitter experience of the pinching poverty from which he wishes to escape, and his utter inexperience and ignorance of any land or life except his own, • renders him a credulous and easy victim to one whose only interest in the matter is a fee for every emigrant whom he can induce to land upon the shores of the country that employs him as its agent. There is little cause for surprise that public attention is con- stantly being called to the misery and suffering that this unsatisfactory system produces, or that the German Government, which every year is adopting a more paternal
method of legislation, should have set itself to the task of drawing up a Bill for the regulation of emigration and the proper surveillance of agents who make a business of pro- moting it. That Bill, we learn, will probably be drawn up on lines similar to those adopted by Swiss legislation on the same subject, and will have the possible effect of greatly restricting German emigration. For many reasons we should think it highly undesirable that our Government at home should interfere after a similar fashion; but still, we cannot but wish that greater efforts were made, by the help of our Consuls abroad and the authorities at home, to spread a more accurate knowledge among the poorer classes of the foreign countries that invite them to their shores, and of the kind of treatment they will be likely to experience there. It is hardly possible that the agent who procures emigrants—for the Argentine or the Brazilian Republics, let us say—should not be tempted by the capitation-fee to better his instructions by sending out those who are utterly unfit and unsuited for life in those countries, or to exceed the bounds of truth and draw upon his imagination in depicting the future prospects of his dupes. Some kind of counterblast is necessary to the deceptive promises of this gentleman. The best way of counteracting his influence is by the publication of the letters sent home by disappointed emigrants, a way which provincial newspapers are always willing to adopt ; but one could wish that the knowledge had been spread earlier, and that there had been no reason for such letters.
On Saturday last there arrived at Southampton a woman with her child, who told a story which was probably that of many others besides herself. She had emigrated to the Argentine Republic, together with her husband and her little boy, in search of work. They had found work there, but not of the kind that they expected, nor paid so highly as they anticipated. They had been told, apparently, that work would be paid at the rate of so many dollars, and that each dollar was worth four shillings ; when they arrived there, they found that a dollar was worth one shilling and three-halfpence. The child sickened of yellow-fever, and recovered, but with the loss of its sight : the husband was also attacked, and had to be left behind in the hospital. The woman, whose home was in Dublin, had landed at Southampton utterly penniless, without her husband, and with her blind child. By the kindness of the authorities at Southampton she seems to have been well cared for there, and provided with means to take her home. No doubt the British Consul in Buenos Ayres could tell of hundreds of similar cases. The Italian Consul in the same city would probably know of very few among his own people ; and yet to that country, where the English have gone in hundreds, the Italians have gone in tens of thousands. Much of this difference between the two classes of emigrants is owing, of course, to the greater natural suitability of the Italian to that climate and his greater powers of adaptability ; but much also is owing to the different system of emigration. The Italian Emigration Agent is the emigrant himself. When he has been in the country suffi- cient time to save money for his purpose, he returns to his native country and brings out with him his relations or his friends. Very often he is sent out with that end in view at the expense of his village or his commune. The small country community in Italy is always in constant communication with its members abroad, and receives the best information as to the possibilities of work and the opening for either labour or capital. Of late years, when bad times fell upon the Argentine Republic, the Italian element-there suffered less than any of the other foreign emigrants. Those who had become colonists remained in the country, and supported each other through the crisis; those who were dependent upon their daily wage as navvies or artisans, directly the work stopped, took their passages, and returned quietly to Italy, where they could live more cheaply and wait for better times. In Italy, the note of alarm was sounded at once ; the day that profitable employ- ment was stopped in the Argentine Republic, the Italian emigration ceased also. That is the time that English emigration thither would begin; the agents would be spurred to further efforts by the failure of the Italian emigration, and without those efforts the Englishman would never have been induced to go there at all. There is something very pathetic in the story of this poor woman, who complains that she and her husband could not find the work they were led to expect, or the pay that they were promised. It was hardly probable that
they should find the same kind of work at Buenos Ayres as they had in Dublin. As to the value of the dollar, very many years have passed since the day when it fell below 4s. What can be done to protect such ignorance and incapacity as many of these poor victims display ? As a matter of fact, the Englishman is the worst emigrant imaginable to a country like the Argentine Republic, where the initial hardships and difficulties of his new departure are complicated for him by his ignorance of the language, and his inability to do without certain comforts in his daily life. The lot of the English emigrant at home, however hard it may seem to him before he leaves it, is as a role infinitely more pleasant and com- fortable than that which falls to him during the first months of his stay abroad. The Italian can hardly fail to change for the better, but the Englishman generally changes for the worse, or at least so it appears to him. The former has never known the little comforts and decencies of life which have become the necessities of the latter's existence. Ten Italian families will cheerfully consent to be stowed away in a corner of some building which serves as a refuge for immi- grants, where they will "pig" together, doing their own cooking and everything for themselves, quarrelling with each other, amusing each other, and passing the time amicably, until an employer can be found for them. One English family would find the same accommodation insufficient for itself, and regard the arrangement made for its benefit with loathing and helpless dismay. They have no idea of catering for them- selves in a foreign country ; they miss the village shops, they cannot accommodate themselves to the strange ways and the strange food. It is not what they expected ; therefore they sit down in helpless, incapable despair. Even the workhouse, which loomed so dismally before them at home, would have been better, they think, than this squalid misery.
It would be perfectly possible even to-day to draw a picture of life in the Argentine Republic which would be very attrac- tive to the labourer at home, and yet which could hardly be said to be untruthful. He might be told that the lowest possible wage was a dollar a day, and that he had a reasonable prospect of earning two, or even three : of course, if be chooses to fancy that a dollar is worth four shillings instead of four- teen pence, it is not the fault of the agent. He might also be told that beef and mutton could be bought at a little over twopence a pound, and that all other food-stuffs were equally plentiful and cheap : why should the agent explain to him that a lodging in which to eat his dinner would cost so much, that the cheapness of his food would help him but little ? It is to the benefit of the agent that the emigrant should start ; he is hardly likely to show him much of the reverse of the picture. The unlucky man does go, and with his first letters home, or perhaps with his speedy return, the truth is known in that district, and the agent is known there no more. He has gone elsewhere in search of more ignorance and more capitation-fees. The most unfortunate part of the business is, that the returned and discontented emigrant brings back more than the truth with him, and tells a tale which will deter that district from emigration, even under better and more favourable circum- stances, for a long time to come. We should be disposed to say that the one thing necessary for emigration, if it is to be useful, is that it should be spontaneous and free. Emigration should neither be artificially fostered nor artificially restricted. The more adventurous spirits of our village or town communi- ties find out openings for themselves and their friends, and their letters and examples are the best incentives or warnings, as the case may be, to emigration that can be devised. The Irish in America, and the Italians in the Argentine Re- public, are fair instances of the most successful form of emigration in our time. We might prevent the intrusion and interference of the emigration agent, it is true ; but it would be far better not to do so. We have not the same military reasons that Germany has for wishing to put any restraint upon emigration ; indeed, we have every reason to wish it to be as free and as extended as possible. But we have also reasons for wishing it to be intelligent, and we do not seem to be doing our best to provide it with proper informa- tion and instruction.