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MORAL ECONOMY OF LARGE TOWNS.
BY DR. W. C. TAYLOR.
MARTINUS SCRIBLERUS, in his Essay on the Art of Sinking in Poetry, quotes, as an instance of excessive absurdity, the modest wish of an amorous pair,
“ Ye Gods! annihilate but time and space,
And make two lovers happy!” It is possible that the poet's eye “ in fine frenzy rolling,” may have caught an anticipatory glimpse of railroads, steam, and locomotives ; his train of thought may have suggested a train of carriages; and the lovers may have deemed it wise to profit by hot water before marriage, as they were likely to be kept in it afterwards. To be sure, railing does not often form a part of courtship, neither have etymologists discovered any connection between steam and esteem; but such trifles as these should not stand in the way of a theory; so let us suppose that the lovers personified Liverpool and Manchester, and we shall have the satisfaction to find that the lovers were reasonable, and that their wishes have been gratified. In rather less time than it takes a Londoner to walk from his suburban residence to his counting-house, the visiter of Manchester may be transported to Liverpool, and deposited in the very heart of the town. Though this wonder has existed several years, it is still an object of curiosity to the strangers who are constantly arriving in this great seaport; and it is sometimes amusing to hear the comments made on the machinery by the crowd surrounding the gates in Lime Street.
“ By Japers !” said an Irish squire, fresh from Connaught, after a long examination of the locomotive, “I should not be astonished to find myself some fine morning out hunting on my tay-kettle ! ”
« Mon Dieu !” exclaimed a Frenchman, “ voilà un cheval à vapeur !”
Americans guessed and calculated; Portuguese swore and crossed themselves alternately ; a stately Osmanlee was so far startled from his propriety as to utter “Allah Acbar!” and a shivering Hindoo made poojah before the engine, as if it had been an incarnation of Bramah or Vishnoo. Here was an important fact in the moral economy of Liverpool brought before the visiter at the very moment of his arrival ; namely, that there is a large fluctuating population, composed of persons from almost every quarter of the globe, here to-day and gone to-morrow. It follows that Liverpool must possess a greater number of lodging-houses than the manufacturing town we had quitted, and that much of the morality of the town must depend on the nature of the accommodations provided for this everchanging population. If in Manchester the rapid increase of a settled and resident population had so far outstripped the means of accommodation as to become the pregnant source of great moral evil, it was manifestly probable that Liverpool, which had to provide for
an immense increase both in its fixed, and in its fluctuating population, must exhibit still more lamentable deficiencies.
This anticipation was far surpassed by the reality ; the lodgingroom, crowded with three or four families, was an abomination; but the lodging-cellar, the under-ground cave, in which drainage, light, and ventilation, were utterly unattainable—where every drop of moisture that sunk into the earthen floor fermented into contagion -and where every exhalation from animate to inanimate bodies rolled in volumes of pestilential mist round the apology for a ceiling, without being able to find a vent,-presented an accumulation of horrors, such as no one, without personal examination, could believe to exist in a civilised community. It has often been said that “ sailors will sleep anywhere ;” but it was scarcely known that they would make their bed in a cesspool. Some of them were interrogated on the subject; and it was found to be one on which they felt bitterly. Several declared that they had visited in their voyages every region of the earth, and that “Jack ashore” was nowhere so miserably lodged as in Liverpool.
Though Manchester and Liverpool are so close to each other, and so intimately connected; yet the difference between the two towns is very striking, and the contrast is, probably, the cause of the jealousy which subsists between their inhabitants. The most prominent distinction is, that the population of Liverpool is more diversified, and more obviously divisible into classes, than that of Manchester; there is more splendour among its rich, and more squalor among its poor. The connections between the employer and the employed in Liverpool are not so intimate or so permanent as in a manufacturing district; the seaport requires a much greater proportion of rude labour and uninstructed industry; there is less demand for trained skill, the acquisition of which is in itself a species of moral culture, and there is a greater need for mere brute strength, -the capacity of raising weights, and carrying burthens. In Liverpool, also, there is a far greater proportion of casual to settled employment than in Manchester, as must necessarily be the case when the demand for a very large amount of labour depends upon the wind and tide. The manufacturer must feel some sympathy with the operative whom he sees every day in his mill; but the same opportunity is not afforded to the ship-agent, who hires day-labourers to load a vessel, or to discharge a cargo.
It is not meant that the merchants of Liverpool have no regard for the physical and moral welfare of the labourers they employ; the very contrary is the fact; no place on the globe possesses a greater number, in proportion to the population, of the energetically benevolent than the town of Liverpool. Nowhere are schemes of philanthropy more zealously encouraged, or more ardently supported; but, from the very nature of the relations which exist be. tween the rich and the poor, the former are irresistibly compelled to look on the latter in the mass, and not to take each case individually. The merchant does not, and cannot know every labourer whom he employs ; personal communication between them is nearly impossible; he is anxious to do good, and to prevent evil ; but he is driven to provide for classes of cases, instead of single cases; hence his bounty assumes to the recipient somewhat of the form of cold calculation, and he is accused of forgetting the physio
logical fact, that the poor have hearts as well as stomachs. When we assert that the distinction between the employers and the employed is far more broad and rigid in Liverpool than in Manchester, we do not mean to say that the merchant is more proud than the manufacturer, or the labourer more subservient than the operative; but we mean that the circumstances of position render the distance between the factor and the labourer wider and more obvious than it is between the manufacturer and the operative.
The demand for untrained labour, and what may be called unskilful industry, renders the immigration into Liverpool much lower, both morally and intellectually, than that into Manchester. No one can visit the streets in the vicinity of the docks without feeling that he has seen something very like savage life in close contact with civilisation. The Welsh and the Irish seem to supply the greater part of the labourers, and, it must be added, to send some of the worst specimens of their respective populations. But it must be borne in mind, that the nature of the demand regulates the supply; brute force, and capacity of endurance, are the only requi. sites regarded by an employer; and, therefore, he receives men rarely possessing any other qualifications. If the conditions of employment were fixed by a higher standard, Wales and Ireland would supply the better class just as they now do the inferior. The distinction of classes in Liverpool is, therefore, not only the result of circumstances, but some of these circumstances, and particularly the nature of the demand for labour, collect in Liverpool a Pariah caste, whose inferiority is obvious and undeniable.
The great object of the writer of these papers is to show that much, if not most, of the vice and misery usually attributed either to the pravity of human nature, to defects in our political institutions, or to errors in our social regulations, may be traced to circumstances in the physical condition of the working-classes, of which many can be removed, most modified, and ali alleviated. Preventive legislation is both cheaper and more effective than remedial legislation; but to render it available we must carefully examine where the checks are to be placed. If sometimes in the discussion a lighter tone has been assumed than graver moralists deem appropriate, they should not too hastily believe that a smile at absurdity betrays any want of sympathy for the suffering, or pity for the errors, of humanity. These few words of explanation may be pardoned ; and now let us resume the consideration of the circumstances which most seriously affect the moral condition of Liverpool.
It would be a serious error to suppose that the evils and horrors of cellarage affect only, or even chiefly, the floating population of Liverpool; they press still more forcibly on the permanent part of it, that supplies the labour of the docks. These labourers are accumulated in unsuspected masses in the streets near the docks; and it really is a perplexing problem to discover how so many persons as are found to reside in one of the cellars, can find space to lie down. It would far transcend the power of words to describe the horrors of these dens; and it can scarcely be necessary to dwell upon the fact that malignant disease is perpetually generated in them ; but their moral results have not hitherto received much attention; and to these we shall confine ourselves for the present.
We have said that the crowded state of the lodging-rooms in
Manchester is highly prejudicial to female delicacy and modestythe great safeguards of virtue. But this evil is not so immediately felt where the fellow-lodgers have been long known to each other, and have formed friendly intimacies ; a feeling of respect, even under the most unfavourable circumstances, is engendered by an intimacy between two families. The cellars of Liverpool, however, want even this miserable compensation; strangers are received as lodgers in most of them; strangers, too, fresh from the sea, with passions fermenting from the long absence of gratification, and with the recklessness of consequences which the prospect of immediate separation inspires. The crowd is brought together under the very circumstances best suited to render the assemblage dangerous ; and, to those who have seen the circumstances - the physical circumstances, to which poor girls round the docks are exposed, the wonder is not that many have fallen, but that any have escaped.
Juvenile employment is very scarce in Liverpool; with all the evils of the factory system, it certainly is productive of one great good, it gives the young something to do. The very worst-managed mill that ever disgraced a country is still a better place for the youth of both sexes than the streets. It is true that schools in some degree remedy this deficiency; and it is but justice to say that the schools for the lower classes in Liverpool, without any reference to distinction of party, are admirably managed ; yet, between the ages of fourteen and twenty it is rare to find youth at school, and this is precisely the period when the first developement of nascent passions renders restraint most necessary. Casual employment is particularly dangerous to persons of this class; it gives them notions of independence; it renders them impatient of parental authority; but at The same time it leaves them in the midst of seduction and temptation, with the greater portion of their time hanging heavy on their hands. Some of these are the children of parents who have no sensibility to the evils of their condition, because they themselves had no experience of a better condition in their youth; and not a few of them are initiated in the ways of vice by fathers and mothers, whose precepts, and, still more, whose example, might corrupt children the most strongly inclined to virtue and obedience. Others, and perhaps the greatest number, are the children of inefficient parents, who do not control, and who believe that they are not able to control, the waywardness and vagrant propensities of their children. To all remonstrances against letting their children wander about the street, they answer, “ we have no home to keep them in." It may be fairly confessed that a great number of these youths find employment as errand-boys in shops and offices; but they form only a fragment of the juvenile population, and the species of employment which they obtain, instead of inclining and qualifying them for the steady labours of an apprenticeship, has the most direct tendency to lead them into the class of idlers and vagrants. This evil is not felt so sensibly in the manufacturing districts as it is in Liverpool, because there is a demand for juvenile labour in the factories ; were there not such a demand, the accumulation of such dense masses in narrow limits, with such miserably inadequate means of accommodation, would produce an amount of vice-and particularly of juvenile vice, which would render the system unendurable.
The sea is in Liverpool the only resource for youths; but this is
only open to one sex, and to a small fragment even of that sex. It is very doubtful whether it would be desirable to increase the number of boys employed in the merchant service. Taken as a class, they are physically worse off than the children in the factories, and they are infinitely more exposed to corrupting influences. Those who have been educated are indeed as much exposed to the dangers enumerated as those who are destitute of instruction ; but in the Liverpool schools for the poor, it deserves to be particularly marked, that more attention is paid to the training and the formation of habit than to the communication of mere book instruction. Everybody knows that education is a very sore subject in Liverpool, and that the Corporation and National schools have been made the theme of party controversy, which both in amount and degree resembled rather the fanatical feuds of Cromwell's age than a civil contention of the nineteenth century. But this rivalry has not been an unmixed evil: the leaders of parties soon discovered that cries and watchwords lost their force by repetition; and that the schools which paid most attention to the proper business and purpose of education would triumph in spite of oratory and misrepresentation ; they therefore adjourned their speeches to improve their schools ; and now, whenever a comparison is instituted, the test is not which can display the more theatrical orators, but which can produce the better scholars. Granting, however, everything that can be said for the influence of such training as a preventive check to juvenile delinquency, it is obvious that its influence must diminish after the child leaves school; and that if the youths between fourteen and twenty-one are exposed to the corrupting circumstances already noticed, a large number must become paupers and criminals, and the very education they have received in the schools may minister to their capacity for crime.
There are many other circumstances, of perilous consequence to society, in the state of the juvenile portion of the lower ranks in Liverpool, on which it would be of importance to dwell, if there were reasonable hopes that measures for their amelioration would be adopted. One, however, is so striking to a casual visiter, and so generally unknown to the residents, that it deserves a little notice. Sunday in Liverpool is the day when the seductions of vice, and the corrupting influences of unhappy circumstances, act most intensely on the old and the young. A day of rest is enjoined; but how can those enjoy rest who have no place for repose? Issuing from his pestiferous cellar, the working man has only a choice between the place of worship and the alehouse. He ought to choose the former; but it needs not to tell that he does not, and that there are not, and cannot be, means for constraining him. The tavern affords him social converse, a comfortable place in which he can sit down, and the reading of a newspaper. Sunday is the only day on which he can see his friends, and the alehouse the only place in which he can meet them. We have made long and anxious inquiries on the subject, and we feel convinced that far the greater number of those who frequent the alehouse on Sunday are drawn thither, not by the love of liquor, but by the innocent and laudable desire for social communion. Many worthy persons are of opinion that the poor ought not to read newspapers, especially on Sunday. It is unnecessary to inquire whether this opinion is well or ill founded ; because they will read the news on Sunday, whether we approve or disapprove of the