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The English workhouses are reckoned among the “ Charities.” Perhaps it would be well to find for them some other name. Some of these workhouses do, indeed, afford comfortable homes for the poor (as the word comfort is defined in the vocabulary of men who have learned to dispense with a greater part of what other men call the necessaries of life). But there is nothing so painful, I find, to a man of spirit and sensibility, as the thought of being one day compelled to enter a workhouse. It is a dark cloud, that hangs on the vision of every poor man in England when he looks into the future.
These workhouses are often the scenes of great cruelty, privation, and suffering. The description which that master painter of human wo, Charles Dickens, has given of the workhouse, will not do, we all know, for the majority of them; but it will do for many. You have read Parliamentary reports, books, pamphlets, etc., on this subject; conversed with those who are familiar with it; perhaps witnessed the workhouse system in England with your own eyes. You are aware that in
many stances the keepers speculate on the stomachs of parish paupers ; keeping them upon short or damaged food; denying them many of the most common necessaries of life, and all its comforts.
Instances are not a few in which the inmates of these houses die in lonely, filthy chambers by night, without medical aid; without an attendant ;-without even a rush-light to flicker over their pillows
THE DYING PAUPER.
while they are passing through death's struggles. The selfish avarice of the keeper combines with the interest of the parish to shorten the pauper's days, and rid themselves of the thankless burden as quickly as possible. To accomplish this, the cords of life are cut asunder by cold neglect and barbarous treatment.
All that is known about such cases is, that the prayer of the dying pauper is often denied, when he asks that the physician come may to him, or some one watch by his bed ; or the minister of religion be called to breathe out a prayer for his soul; or, if he is to be left entirely alone while the soul is breaking away from its shattered house, that they will have mercy and bring a light, that the darkness of night may not mingle with the death shades of the grave as they settle over his bed of rags.
In the morning they go to his chamber, and find that he is dead. It causes no grief; no friend was with him when he died_but God. A rough coffin is ordered-price 7s. 6d. the body is taken away, and that is the end of the pauper ; his dying groan heard only by the ear of a merciful God; over his grave no tear of affection is shed ; no monument ever rises, and in a little while no one but He whose all-seeing eye notices the falling sparrow, can tell whose grave it is where the pauper sleeps.
The workhouse is a gloomy place for the poor to go to; it is one of the most dismal places I ever entered. In the best of them England does not pay
back to the pauper half the law has taken from his former earnings. It would be a difficult matter, I apprehend, to find many persons in the parish workhouse who have not paid far more to support the government which has impoverished them, than the parish pays for their support when they can work no longer.
For any who may think I exaggerate the miseries of these places, I will quote a short description from the writings of Dr. Southey: “ When the poor are incapable of contributing any longer to their own support, they are removed to what is called the workhouse. I cannot express to you the feeling of hopelessness and dread with which all the decent
look on to this wretched termination of a life of labour. To this place all vagrants are sent for punishment; unmarried women with child go here to be delivered ; and poor orphans and baseborn children are brought up here till they are of age to be apprenticed off: the other inmates are those unhappy people who are utterly helpless—parish idiots and madmen, the blind and the palsied, and the old who are fairly worn out.
“It is not in the nature of things that the superintendents of such institutions as these should be gentle-hearted, when the superintendence is undertaken merely for the salary. There are always enough competitors for the management among those people who can get no better situation ; but, whatever kindness of disposition they may bring with them to
THE PARISH WORKHOUSE.
the task, it is soon perverted by the perpetual sight of depravity and of suffering. The management of children who grow up without one natural affection, where there is none to love them, and, consequently, none whom they can love, would alone be sufficient to sour a happier disposition than is usually brought to the government of a workhouse.
“To this society of wretchedness the labouring poor of England look as their last resting-place on this side the grave; and, rather than enter abodes so miserable, they endure the severest privations as long as it is possible to exist. A feeling of honest pride makes them shrink from a place where guilt and poverty are confounded : and it is heart-breaking for those who have reared a family of their own, to be subjected in their old age to the harsh and unfeeling authority of persons younger than themselves, neither better born nor better bred. They dread, also, the disrespectful and careless funeral, which public charity, or, rather, law bestows; and many a wretch denies himself the few sordid comforts within his reach, in order that he may hoard up enough to purchase a more decent burial, a better shroud, or a firmer coffin than the parish will afford.”
No! let things be called by their right namas; this is not charity. I love the generous spirit which prompts private individuals to do all they can to relieve the suffering and enlighten the ignorance of the lower classes; but the vast sum raised by private munificence is not worthy to be compared with the
enormous amount which the law wrings from these same classes.
It will be said that such persons should bear their share of burdens imposed by the state, for the protection of its citizens and the administration of its affairs. True: but I claim they bear vastly more than their share; and the sums which they pay to the government above what the government can justly draw from them, would in the aggregate make a fund more than sufficient for the comfortable sup, port of all the paupers in England: a fund which would furnish them the comforts as well as necessaries of life; would educate their children, and elevate the whole labouring class.
After all that is said, then, about the humane provision for the parish poor, they are great sufferers. All the charity they receive from private beneficence or the parish is no recompense for the injustice they endure, although great credit should, I admit, be awarded to their private benefactors. I suppose
there is no land where so much money is raised by voluntary contribution for humane objects; neither is there a land where the government imposes such heavy burdens upon its subjects.
But I alluded to her system of domestic industry. I have visited some of the principal manufacturing towns in the kingdom; and by spending two weeks in Manchester and its immediate neighbourhood, I have had an opportunity of somewhat carefully examining the Factory System, and the condition of the operatives.