Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter I.: HOME IN A PARADISE. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 4
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Chapter I.: HOME IN A PARADISE. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 4 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1834). Vol. 4.
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HOME IN A PARADISE.
The fair and fertile county of Kent has long suffered peculiarly from the poverty of its labouring population. To the traveller who merely passes through it, it looks like a fruitful garden, capable of affording support to as many inhabitants as can gather round its neat towns, or settle on the borders of its orchards, hop-grounds, and corn-fields; yet it is certain that nowhere,— not. in the alleys of Manchester or the cellars of London,—is more abject, hopeless poverty to be found than in some of the country parishes of Kent. One class murmurs about tithes, and rages about poor-rates, while another sets law at defiance, and fills the country with news of murderous poaching expeditions, and of midnight fires;—guilty adventures, of which the first brings in only a precarious and dearly bought advantage, and the other is the most effectual method that could be devised for increasing the very evils under which the people are groaning. Some years ago,—before the first ruffian or fool of a rick-burner had conceived the bright idea of destroying food because the people were starving,— the parish of A——, in Kent, seemed to some of its inhabitants to be sunk into the lowest depth of poverty that could be found in a country like England; though, alas! it has since been proved that more remained to be endured by its population than had yet been experienced. The parish of A——contained at that time about two thousand persons; the number of labourers, including boys, was about 450, of whom upwards of 300 were of the agricultural class. The farmers were doing badly, and could not employ all these people; or, if they employed all, could not sufficiently pay any. They reckoned that there were between fifty and sixty able-bodied men more than were wanted. The burden on the parish of these men and their wives and families was very grievous to the poorer class of ratepayers; and in proportion as it became more difficult to them to pay, the numbers and the wants of the paupers increased; and among the whole body of the population of A——the effects of want showed themselves more and more every day in the spread of recklessness and crime. It mattered not that in spring the orchards were gay with the delicate pink of the apple-blossom, or that flourishing young plantations put forth their early verdure as if the place had been a paradise; for there were theft in the woods, and murmurs of discontent from beneath the hedgerows. It mattered not that in autumn the hop-pickers were busy gathering in their fragrant harvest; for too many of them had fathers, or brothers, or sons looking on idly from a distance, envious of their employed companions, and thankless that the season had been propitious to the ripening of the delicate crop. It mattered not that the sun shone on fertile valleys and snug homesteads: for many a houseless parent scowled upon comforts which he must not share; many a child shivered with disease and hunger amidst the noonday heat. It mattered not even that new dwellings for the poor were rising up here and there; for their creation was no sign of prosperity. They were reared by speculators in pauperism, who depended on the rents being paid out of the rate. From this circumstance, it was easy to guess by what class they would be occupied; — not by such cottagers as England boasted of a century and a half ago, but by reckless youths with their younger wives, who depended on the parish to help out the insufficient resources of their labour.
These new cottages were an eye-sore to some of the once-prosperous inhabitants of the parish, who were for ever complaining that the bread was snatched from their mouths by new comers. Among the grumblers was Castle; a man who, without fault of his own, was, in the full vigour of life, reduced from a state of comfortable independence to the very verge of pauperism. He had married early, and proved himself justified in doing so, having been able, not only to support the two children of his first marriage, but to fit them for maintaining themselves by proper training in their occupations. Frank had served his apprenticeship to a house-carpenter, and was How a skilful and industrious workman of one-and——twenty years of age. His sister Ellen, three years younger, was a neat-handed dairy-maid, whom any farmer might be glad to have in his establishment. That she was out at service, and that Frank had something to do, however little, were the chief comforts of poor Castle at this time; for his own affairs looked dismal enough. He had married a second time, a woman much younger than himself, who had never known hardship, and was little prepared to meet it, however gay her temper seemed before there was any thing to try it. She did nothing for her husband but bring him children and nurse them till they died, which they almost all did as times grew worse and comforts became scarce. Only one little girl, now six years old, remained at home of all his second family. There were indeed two lads who called him father, though he had for some time disowned them as sons. He declared that Jerry and Bob were born rogues and vagabonds; and gave a peevish notice to all whom it might concern that he had cast them off to follow their evil courses, as they were so given to theft that it would ruin him to be made answerable for their misdeeds. Some people thought that fifteen and sixteen were ages at which some hope of reformation was yet left; and saw moreover that the lads had been driven to crime by want, and prevented from returning by dread of their parents tempers. Castle was now almost invariably low and peevish; and at five-and-forty had the querulous tone, wrinkled face, and lagging gait of an old man. The effect of hardship had been even worse upon his wife than upon himself. Instead of being peevish, she seemed to have lost all feeling; and while her husband yet worked as long as he could get any thing to do, she was as lazy as if she had been brought up to live on parish bread. The only person who believed that any good remained in her was her step-daughter Ellen, who never forgot what a trying change of circumstances she had been exposed to, and persisted in saying, whenever she heard her attacked, that a twelvemonth's health and prosperity would show her to be a very different person from what the neighbours supposed. “Give her help and hope,” she said, “give her work and something to work for, and her voice will come down to what it was when she sang her first baby to sleep; and she will clean up her room herself, instead of preventing any one doing it for her. She will go to church again then, and learn to like Frank as she should do, and not curse her own poor boys as she does.” Some of Ellen's neighbours thought this cant; others believed her sincere in her hopes of her stepmother; but all agreed, when the crisis of Castle's affairs arrived at last, that, honestly or hypocritically, Ellen prophesied wrong.
News came that Jerry and Bob had been taken up for robbing and cruelly beating two young gentlemen whom they had decoyed into a wood on pretence of birds-nesting; and that, if not hanged, they would be transported. Castle declared, though with a quivering lip, that this was what he had always expected. His wife went further. She hoped they would be hanged, and put out of the way of being more trouble to any body. She exhorted her husband to take no steps on their behalf, but be thankful that he was rid of them. The neighbours cried “Shame!” and prevailed with Castle so far as to induce him to go to the magistrate who had committed the lads, and swear to their ages; as they were taken by strangers to be much older than they really were, and an explanation on this point might procure a mitigation of punishment. Castle was unwilling to leave home for two days while his wife was hourly expecting her confinement; but a woman who lodged in the same cottage offered to be with her, on condition of receiving the same attention from her when she should want it a short time hence.—Castle was scarcely gone when his wife had to send for assistance; and before her child was born, the neighbour who was with her was in a similar plight. It was the middle of the night; and the parish surgeon who attended them had no help at hand, and could not leave them to call for any. He wrapped up the two infants in the remains of a blanket, and laid them beside the fire he had himself lighted. It very naturally happened that he did not know which was which of the children, and that he had not presence of mind to conceal the difficulty. On taking them up, it was found that one was dead. His horror was great on perceiving that, instead of there being any regret on this account, each mother was anxious to make out that the dead infant must be her own. Neither of them would touch the living one* .
An unobserved or forgotten witness appeared in the person of Castle's little daughter Susan, who had crept out from her dark corner to peep at the babes in the blanket.
“That is the one you wrapped up first, Sir,” she said, pointing to the living infant.
“How do you know, my dear?”
“She knows well enough,” said the neighbour; “she had nothing to do but to watch. She—”
“How do you know, my dear?” persisted the surgeon.
“Because this corner of the blanket fell under the grate, and got all black; and when you brought the other baby you wrapped it up in the black part. Look!”
“'Tis all true,” said Castle's wife, “and her child was born first.”
The surgeon set her right, and considered the matter decided; but it was far from being so. She scolded her little daughter for her testimony till the child slunk out of the room; she pushed the infant roughly from her, and cursed it for its cries. Her neighbour insultingly told her it was certainly sent to make up to her for one of the lads that was going to be hanged, and that it was only a pity she had not had twins. Words, dreadful to hear from a mother's lips, followed. The contention grew louder and more violent, till the surgeon, fearing for their lives and senses, and being unable any longer to bear a scene so unnatural and horrible, left the room, bearing with him the innocent cause of dispute. Little Susan was on the stairs, still sobbing and afraid to go in; so she was also taken home by the surgeon, when he had sent in a neighbour to tend his two patients.
“Here, my dear,” said he to his wife, on entering his own door, “put this child to bed somewhere, and try if you can contrive to keep the infant alive till we can send it to the workhouse in the morning.”
“What has agitated you so much? Whose children are these?”
“The children of Providence only, my dear; for the hearts of parents are turned against their own offspring in these days. — What have I seen! I have seen the contention of mothers for a dead child. I have been with mothers who would thank any Solomon that should order the living child to be cut in two. Solomon himself could not read mothers' hearts in these days.”
“We will not be hard upon them,” said his wife. “It is want that has done this; — want like that which made a mother of Solomon's nation devour her own child. We will not blame them. Would we could help them!”
The matter ended in the infant's being received into the workhouse, little Susan's testimony, though strong, not being so conclusive as to justify tile surgeon's swearing to the parentage of the child; and there was no one else who could. When Castle returned, he observed that it signified little, as the parish must at all events have maintained the babe; neither he nor his neighbours could keep out of the workhouse much longer. This was soon found to be too true, when Ellen came home, being obliged to give up her place to a parish girl, and Frank appeared, with a grave face, to say that he was out of work, and had been so for so long a time, that he was convinced nothing was to be done but to go and seek his fortune elsewhere.
Many were the consultations between himself and his sister as to where he should go. There was but little chance of being better off in England. He mentioned Canada; he rather inclined to the Swan-river settlement; but when news came that Jerry and Bob were sentenced to transportation, the idea struck the brother and sister at once that the whole family might follow, and by settling near the convicts, keep an eye upon them, and possibly recover them when they should be removed from the temptations which had proved too strong for them. Frank had heard much of the advantages of emigrating to New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land; and it appeared to him that no family was ever in circumstances that made the experiment less perilous than his own at this time. While Ellen took upon herself to mention the scheme to her father, Frank went to the curate of the parish, Mr. Jackson, whom he knew to have been employed in forwarding the emigration of some pauper labourers from the neighbourhood; and from this gentleman he learned much of what he wanted to know.
It was to Van Diemen's Land that Mr. Jackson had assisted in sending out some of his parishioners; and thither he advised Frank to go with his family, as there was a great demand for labour, both agricultural and mechanical, and as it would be the best situation for Ellen, from the great scarcity of female servants, especially dairy women. It seemed very possible that interest might be made to get their brothers sent to the same place, as there were many convicts there already, and more were wanted as farm-servants. As to how the means of conveyance were to be raised,—the common method, Mr. Jackson said, was for labourers to bind themselves for five or seven years to some settler in the colony, at a certain rate of wages, from which the expenses of the passage, and of food, clothing and habitation for the term of years, were to be deducted. Castle and his wife might thus bind themselves, the one as a farm, the other as a domestic servant in a family; and Frank's mechanical skill might enable him to make very good terms in the same sort of agreement. For Ellen, a better way still was open, if she could fortunately get included in the number of young women who were to be sent out by government from time to time, to supply the great want of female population in the Australian colonies. Mr. Jackson lent Frank books which informed him of the state and prospects of the country whither he wished to go, and several papers issued by government which explained the terms under which emigration was authorized by them. Frank found that the sum of money necessary to be raised was somewhat larger than he had supposed, but that the means of repayment were certain and easy. If Ellen could obtain a certificate from the clergyman of her parish, that she was between the ages of eighteen and thirty, that her health and character were good, and that half the expense of her passage, namely, 8l., could be advanced by her parents, or friends, or the parish, she might stand her chance of being chosen by the government to be sent out under safe guardianship, and immediately placed in a service on her arrival in the colony. There would be no impediment to her marrying as soon as she chose to do so; for which there were only too many opportunities from the circumstance of there being a very small proportion of women in the colony. If the parish could be prevailed on to advance the necessary sum for the conveyance of the rest of the family, it seemed that the prospects of all would become far better than they could ever grow at home,—better than Frank had dared to imagine since his childhood. It seemed so clearly the interest of the parish to favour the plan, that Frank returned to the consultation with Mr. Jackson, full of hope that a way was opening for finding, in a new country, those due rewards of labour which his native land seemed no longer in a condition to afford.
“What says your father to your scheme?” inquired Mr. Jackson in the first place.
“Very much what he says to all schemes, Sir, He likes nothing that is proposed, and fears every new plan. But as he dislikes and fears becoming department on the parish more than any thing else, I have great hopes that he will consent to go, if, after further consideration, I view the matter as I do now. We will do nothing hastily; but I certainly feel at present as if redemption was offered from a bondage which wears the soul and sickens the heart of man, There's my poor father——”
“Stay, stay, Frank. What do you mean by bondage?”
“The bondage of poverty, Sir; of hopeless, grinding poverty. What bondage cows a man's spirit more? What sours and debases and goads him more than to work and work from year to year in vain? If it was a curse upon Adam to get bread by the sweat of his brow, what is it to give the sweat of one's brow and get no bread?”
“It is a hardship which ought not to be borne when a fair way is open to shake it off. I only checked you in the fear that you might be laying blame where it is not due. I agree with you as to the evils of your case, and the remedy you would seek.”
“As to where the blame lies, Sir, our institutions must share it among them;—as well those in which the people are concerned, as the government. It is pretty clear, all the while, that the people in this parish are more than can be fed; and so the right way seems to be for some to go where food abounds; and the sooner they are off, the better for themselves and those they leave behind, when once they have settled where to go,”
“And who is to go?—for that is a question of no less importance,” observed Mr. Jackson. “You would not take all your relations, Frank, would you?”
Frank replied that they were all equally in want, his grandfather and grandmother as well as his father.
“But those who will help you to go,” continued Mr. Jackson, “must consider the welfare of the country as well as yours. The parish must pay more for the passage and maintenance of your grandfather than he will probably cost them at home, and this cannot be expected of them if, for the same sum, they could send over a young couple, whose labour is wanted abroad, and whose family will never become burdensome.”
Frank saw at once that in sending over a young couple, the parish sent over also all their descendants, besides supplying a want in the colony abroad. After a few moments' thought, he went on,—
“Surely, Sir, it would relieve the count of its over-fulness at once, to send out a certain number of young people every year, as they become marriageable, instead of spending the same money in giving a passage to old people?”
“It would; and the entire effect of emigration, as a method of relief to the country at large, depends on the selection of those who are to go. The number of persons who become marriageable every year in this country is now 800,000. If these were sent out, it is plain that the country would be depopulated in the course of a single generation; but if we sent out the same number of old persons, it would make a very small difference in the amount of people at home; and it would not be worth the colony's while to receive those who would bring little labour and no population. If, again, we sent out that number of men and boys to a colony where there are too few women already, we should afford ourselves only a half-relief, and give the colony nothing more than the present labour of these men and boys; whereas, by sending equal proportions of men and women, we give the colony all their descendants as well as themselves, and free ourselves from the same amount of labour,—which we do not want,”
“A much smaller number than 800,000 would be enough then, Sir, to thin our population sufficiently?”
“Certainly. If, instead of sending out people of all ages, we were to select those who become marriageable, one-sixth of that number, or about 133,000 persons emigrating annually, would prevent our population increasing; and this might be done at an expense not exceeding a fourth of the sum annually raised for poor-rate, sending half to America and half to Australia. This would be well worth while, even if there were to be no repayment of expenses; which there might and ought to be from colonies where labour is much wanted.”
“I am afraid,” said Frank, “that the parish will refuse to help my father and mother to emigrate, if it would answer so much better to send younger people.”
“Your father is still in the vigour of life, and may benefit the colony by twenty years' active labour yet; and your step-mother is several years younger. The parish sends out many less likely to repay them; but I do think your grandfather and his old lady are quite out of the question, even if they wished ever so much to go. But why should they go where every thing will be strange and therefore uncomfortable to them, and where they must, after all, be quite as dependent as at home? If you mean to maintain them, you can as well send money to them here as carry them over at a great expense, to receive it there; and if you cannot help them, they will be more forlorn there than living on their own parish. But you will he able to help them, since a fourth of your wages is all that the parish will require from you, and this will very soon pay off your debt. Ellen's 8l. will easily be earned; and when she has worked herself free, she will be able to help the old folks.”
“'Tis when I think of her,” said Frank, “that I am most eager to get to a place where toil is not in vain. As often as I hear her laugh, or watch her going about the house with her light step and busy pair of hands, I tremble lest I should see a scowl come over her face by and by, and her gait and actions grow listless, like so many of the women hereabouts. It must be owing to want and helplessness that our girls cannot be merry without being hold; and that they are so given to idleness which has nothing of the nature of play in it. I can remember my step-mother, Sir, just such a pretty, light-hearted woman as Ellen.”
“You will see more such if you go to Van Diemen's Land. There is toil there, and hardship too; but the toil is hopeful, and the hardship not of man's infliction.—I know you do not object to toil and hardship of this kind, Frank, or I should be the last person to encourage you to go. You must give up English likings as to food and lodging, and (what is more difficult) as to ways of doing things. You must bear to be directed what work you are to do, and how you are to do it; you must resolve from the beginning to accommodate yourself to the people and the place, without thinking and talking too much about how things are in England.”
“All this is easy, Sir, for the sake of plenty and independence.”
“I trust you will find it so. But, Frank, there are other things to be considered, both for your own sake and Ellen's. You probably see that in the present state of the colony, particular sobriety and discretion are required in all the young women that go there.”
Frank was quite ready to answer for his sister; and hoped that a settlement with a respectable husband would soon place her out of reach of temptation. He perceived that he would find it less easy to marry than he might wish; and this seemed the greatest drawback to the plan: but, perhaps, when he should be prosperous enough to marry, he might send over for a wife, as he heard some settlers did; or might be fortunate enough so find one that he would like among the new emigrants who would be coming over from time to time.
Mr. Jackson advised him not to think much about this at present, if he really intended to go; and agreed with him that there appeared still less chance of his marrying in England, if he continued to be too conscientious to form such a pauper marriage as many of his neighbours were venturing upon.
From this day, Frank began tutoring himself and his sister for the new way of life they hoped to enter upon. They learned all they could, from books and persons, about the changes they might look for out of their own country. They inured themselves purposely to toil and heat and cold, and strove to bear with patience the trials of temper which continually arose. There was only one thing which they did not try to bear patiently; and that was, receiving parish-pay. Their father was as much disgusted at it as themselves; and this assisted his reconcilement to the emigration plan. He would not give his children the satisfaction of saying that he liked it, or hoped any thing from it; but he vowed he would not stay where he was; but he there was no other place to go to, this implied assent. He looked with sullenness on the preparations that were made; but he did nothing in the way of hinderance; nor did he contradict his neighbours when they took for granted that he was going. So Frank and Ellen considered the matter settled as far as he was concerned; and rather expected to see him much disappointed if any thing should occur to overthrow the plan. His wife seemed utterly indifferent whether she went or staid, or what became of her; and the whole business seemed to rest upon the two young people and their friend, Mr. Jackson.