7 OCTOBER 1882, Page 12


ONE of the reasons, and probably the chief one, for the delay in offering the advantages of the Parcels Post to the public, which Mr. Fawcett was compelled to announce the other day at Hackney, is the fact that the addition of what is prac- tically a new department to St. Martin's involves the organisa- tion of a large and special staff to do its work. The total force at the command of the Postmaster-General is, according to his latest report, 53,772 persons of both sexes, of whom 45,000 con- stitute a regular army of postmasters, clerks, telegraphists, and letter-carriers ; while, to complete the military parallel, there is an irregular contingent of upwards of 8,000, "occupying unestablished positions." When the Parcels Post is organised in all its details, and when the various other schemes at present occupying the attention of Mr. Fawcett and his Secretariat are made effectual, the postal army will probably be as large as any that, in the event of a great war, Mr. Childers could mobilise within a reasonable time, and despatch to any point in Europe. While every year adds to the size of this army and to the variety of its labours, every year seems also to add to its effectiveness and discipline. As one Annual Report from St. Martin's follows another, fewer blunders and frauds have to be recorded. The management of postal and, at last, also of telegraphic business in this country appears destined, in fact, to be a refutation of the doctrine of Mr. Spencer, lately em- phasised by Mr. Jevons, that the State never does such work so well as a private company. When the Parcels Post is not only established, but is developed, as it will be, into the great carriage service of the kingdom, when some system like the Continental one of conveying and delivering money and insuring letters containing it is adopted, when St. Martin's becomes the centre of the national thrift, as it will, when its system of Annuities and Life Assurances is placed on as sound a basis as its Savings Banks, it will not be too much to say that this great postal army will have largely under its control nine-tenths of the vital material interests of the middle and lower classes,—that is to say, of nine-tenths of the nation.

St. Martin's is to this large pacific establishment what the Horse Guards is to our military o.le. In one of the appendices to his Report, Mr. Fawcett analyses and classifies the Postal Staff. He himself stands alone, in Class A,—as the commander- in-chief should. Class B might be described as his council of war, consisting of the Secretary, Financial Secretary, Third Secretary, Assistant-Secretaries, Secretary for Ireland, and Surveyor-General for Scotland, eight in all. Classes C and D are subordinate, but larger, consultative bodies, composed of the managers of the Metropolitan offices and the surveyors for the country generally. The remaining Classes comprise the rank and file of postal, clerical, and telegraphic officials. Still maintaining the parallel with which we started, we might further say. that while the first of these grades corresponds to the infantry, and the last to the cavalry, the Clerks are equiva- lent to the engineers, in the regular army. This comparison holds good of the importance, as well as of the character of the duties performed by the Clerks in the Post Office. The desig- nation is in this connection somewhat misleading, if not an abso- lute misnomer, and is, indeed, one of the few relics of the Circum- locution Office that still cling to the most advanced and progres- sive of the public Services. In the statistics of St. Martin's, you frequently come, under the title of " clerk " to this or that "Branch," upon some official whose responsibilities and salary recall those of the manager of a bank or of a mercantile house, and who has a large clerical and other staff under him. Thus, Mr. Cardin, whose is the popular scheme for placing the whole Life-annuity and Assurance business of the Post Office on a proper footing, is a " clerk " in the Receiver and Accountant-General's Office. A well-known

fld,neur and novelist of the day figured some years ago as " Clerk for Missing-letter Business." It is, indeed, on the shoulders of the Post-Office Clerks that the duty mainly devolves of suc- cessfully carrying out the various suggestions that come from the central bureau, composed of the Postmaster-General and his Council. Mr. Fawcett has done more than any of his pre- decessors to stimulate the organising powers of the members of his Staff, by encouraging them to frame new plans for develop- ing the resources of the Post Office, or to suggest improvements on those already in action. He would be the first to acknow- ledge that he found the germ of many, if not. most, of the " ideas " his giving effect to which has gained him the reputa- tion of being the most successful administrator of the day, in proposals made by some of the veteran experts under him. Such deserving Clerks, of course, expect a reward for thus anonymously devoting themselves to the interests of the nation ; and, as a rule, they obtain it. Although the entrance to St. Martin's is by the gate of competition, there is abundant room for patronage within its walls ; and the Postmaster- General, as is natural, promotes most promptly those Clerks who have shown most energy and initiative capacity. Besides if a now "idea" leads to the establishment of a new branch of postal business, as is not infrequently the case, the " idealist is generally trusted with the superintendence of it. By means like these, Mr. Fawcett keeps his Department alive and vigorous, and prevents the men on whom its success depends from sink- ing into a life of spiritless routine, alleviated only by pleasures of the " bottled beer and chops" type, with indulging in which Mr. Gilbert, in "Patience," credits the somewhat similar class- of " Somerset-House young men."

The staff of Clerks in St. Martin's is larger than that in any of the other public Services. It numbers 512 chief male officials —not to speak of superintendents, controllers, assistants, and such like superior and subordinate servants—whose aggregate salaries amount to £123,000. Somerset House comes next, with 385 Clerks, receiving, in all, 299,000 ; while in the War Office there are 373, earning £104,000. The position of the Postal' Clerk is of the good, middle-class order. Even if he never rises from the ranks into the position of an assistant- secretary or controller, he may attain a salary of £800, exclusive of a handsome allowance for travelling expenses. His hours are not too long. His work — although the besom of reform has left less time for fly-hunting and lounging over the Times in St. Martin's than in any other Government Office—is not too hard. His appointment is practically ad vitam, aut eulpam. His means enable him to maintain a position of quiet substantiality in his villa at Finchley or Streatham. Mr. Trollope, in his latest novel, " Marion Fay," indicates the social distinction accorded to— and also some of the foibles of— members of the Service to which, until not so long ago, he himself belonged. Although the Post-Office Clerks are but little heard of in connection with political or ecclesiastical controversy, and although they are not, like their brethren in the United States, tortured and impoverished by the requisitions of a Jay Hubbell and his "campaigning committee," they frequently identify themselves with the moral and intellectual life of the metropolis, and par- ticularly of the suburbs. They are earnest in supporting schemes of social reform. They take much interest in " courses of winter lectures," and, indeed, they not infrequently figure as lecturers themselves, especially on thaumaturgy, with which the electric wire has now associated their Service.

Yet even Post-Office Clerks are not without grievances,. and two of these they are now, although in a quiet way, bring- ing before the notice of the country and of the Government. The one is that the maximum salary attainable by them is less than that in the other large Government Services. It is only £800, as against esoo in Somerset House and the War Office, and £1,000 in the Admiralty, the Home Office, and the Colonial Office. When the importance of Postal work is considered, when it is remembered, above all, that this work is always in- creasing in amount and variety, such modest " levelling-up " as is desired by the Clerks in St. Martin's may well be believed to be only a question of time. The other grievance is that the chief " prizes " in St. Martin's, especially the two Chief Secre- taryship°, having salaries attached to them of £1,700 and £1,500 a year respectively, are not confined to men trained in the Service, but are often given to members of other Services— or of no Service at all—simply because they happen to be in favour with powerful Ministers. There is something in this grievance also. It would be undesirable, perhaps, that no chance should be given of strengthening the Permanent Staff of St. Martin's by introducing fresh blood from without, for there is always a danger of a Department, hoWever well administered, becoming a stagnant pool of conservative habits and prejudices. At the same time, the rule might be made that none but a servant of long standing in some Government office should be admitted in what is practically the Postmaster-General's Council of Experts. Such a rule would at once prevent the abuse of patronage, and still further encourage ambition in the ranks of the Post-Office Clerks themselves.