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Chapter II.: HOMES ON THE WASTE. - 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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HOMES ON THE WASTE.
While the deliberations were going forward, some rumours which arose out of them reached the ears of a very influential gentleman in the neighbourhood, to whom they were not at all agreeable. Mr. Fellowes was a young man of large property, who had just come of age, and whose kindly disposition and activity of observation equally inclined him to make the condition of the surrounding poor one of his first objects of interest. He had for some time been investigating their state and its causes, with a view to doing something for their relief when he should have the control of his fortune. He had fully satisfied himself of the evils of the poor-law system, and that the one thing wanted was an increased production of food,—an object, in his belief, very easy of accomplishment. This he intended to prove by an experiment of his own; or that which his friends called an experiment,— and he a demonstration. His plan became known to Mr. Jackson in due time, as well as to many others less willing to listen to what he had to say, and to regard his exertions with the seriousness and kindness which their importance, and the benevolence of their motives deserved. It was with equal good will that these two gentlemen met at the parsonage-door one day, each having questions to put to the other.
“Pray is it true,” inquired Mr. Fellowes, “that you are encouraging the Castles and others of your parishioners to emigrate?”
“Perfectly true; and I was coming to you to make a request as to something I wish you to do as soon as they are gone.”
“Let us see first whether it is necessary for them us go. Is it quite settled? Are they past being persuaded?”
“Their passage is not taken, but their minds are made up, and Ellen Castle's name is sent in to government.”
“It may be refused; and in that case there is time to save them yet.”
“Save them from what?”
“From what! From the manifold woes of the emigrant. Is it no evil to leave the country, and the kindred, and the father's house? Is it no evil to be severed from old connexions, and wrenched from all that has been beloved from birth? Is it no evil to be set down in a wilderness, where climate, soil, the habits of the people where there are any, and the solitude where there are not, are all uncongenial, and whatever happens is new and strange? Is it no evil to be banished?”
“All these are great evils, I grant: but from which of them are the Castles likely to suffer so much as by remaining here? Their country affords no kindly home for them. They will be disgraced in the eyes of their kindred by becoming a public burden; and their father's house long ago passed into hands better able to keep it up than theirs. They leave little behind that they love; for want has chilled their affections towards their country, and hardship is fast breeding hatred to the powers which have not hitherto succeeded in securing the happiness of the people. As for the rest,—they are going to a fine climate, a fertile soil, and among inhabitants who speak their language, and are under the same government with themselves. While they have plenty and independence before them, and leave only want and woe behind, I cannot think there is any cruelty in assisting them to go whither they wish.”
“But, Sir, you are assuming that they must prosper abroad and be destitute at home; whereas I assert that neither the one nor the other need be the case. Look at the Swan-river settlement! There was no end of the praise we heard of the climate, and the soil, and the facilities of every kind; and yet where was there ever a more complete failure?”
“Through these very facilities the failure happened,” replied Mr. Jackson. “Land was so cheap, and required so little capital to be laid out on it at first, that every labourer chose to have land, instead of letting his labour to capitalists. The consequence was, that capitalists could do nothing for want of labourers; and by the time their goods were rotted on the beach, and their cattle had strayed or died for want of proper care, the provisions they took out with them were consumed, the new crops had not come up, and all were reduced to equal distress. It was because all would be capitalists at first that all became labourers,—and very poor labourers, at last. This need not be the case again; and, in fact, the Castles hire themselves by contract to capitalists long settled in the parts they are going to.— And now tell me why it need not be that these people should be exposed to want and woe at home.”
“Simply because they might be colonized here instead of abroad. I am sure we have waste land enough and to spare for all our population.”
“As to space, undoubtedly; but what say you to its quality? Why is it still waste in the midst of a hungry population, if it is worth being tilled?”
“Let us try whether it is not; that is all I ask. Send the Castles, and twenty other families to me, and let us see whether corn will not come up upon well-dug ground, as it has ever done till now. — Remember that the condition of land varies under the influences of nature, and that soil once barren need not remain barren for ever. Nature works,—more slowly it is true,—but not less surely than man, in preparing the waste for his support; and there is always a point of time, sooner or later, when he may take the work out of her hands and feed upon the fruits of her ministrations. Wherever there are furrows, wherever there are mounds, there is a growth of fertile soil. Particles of sand are brought by the winds to mix with decaying herbage. Minute seeds of plants and the decomposed elements of vegetable substances float in the atmosphere, are arrested by the first elevation they come in contact with, and settle down to enrich the land. The vegetation which springs up attracts the moisture of the air, and thus is fertility again promoted. It spreads and spreads till a desert becomes a field, or in a condition to be made one. O, you may trust to nature to provide for man!”
“I question nothing of what you have said,” replied Mr. Jackson. “On the contrary, when I preach of Providence, I use as arguments whatever processes of co-operation and amelioration we can distinguish among the workings of nature, from the counteracting forces by which the planets are retained in their orbits, to the method by which the crevice of the rock exchanges, in due time, its carpet of moss for a crest of branching oaks. But nature is slow in her workings; and since the life of man is short, his business is to work with her, not to wait for her. Every acre of ground may in course of ages become capable of tillage; but our business meanwhile is to place our hungry brethren where nature's work is forwardest. Among the many grades of fertility prepared by her, it is our wisdom to choose the highest. This is what I preach as the truest gratitude to Providence.”
“I have rather wondered, I own, at the style of your preaching lately. It would strike a stranger as unusual.”
“I do not preach for strangers, but for my own flock; and if they are not enlightened enough to apply abstract principles, I must help them to do so. I must not only tell them to be honest, but show that honesty can scarcely subsist under overwhelming temptations to theft and fraud. I must not only recommend the domestic affections, but warn against turning them to bitterness by rashly incurring the risk of that destitution under which parents and children learn to look coldly on each other. I must not only speak of gratitude to God, but show how it may be made to spring up by distributing to all a share of his gifts, instead of being starved out by want and woe. If, as I believe, it be true that hardness of the lot brings hardness of the heart, and that blasphemy is a disease of the spiritbroken, how can I and other ministers of the gospel promote its influences so well as by teaching how to bring about that state of society which is most congemal to those influences?”
“Yours is a more likely way to gain your object than theirs who carefully separate the interests of the other world from those of the present.—Well! I am about to preach to the same effect by my actions as you from your pulpit.”
“Then, if you would second my doctrines, you must do the thing I told you I meant to ask of you. You must take down the cottages inhabited by those about to emigrate; and it must be done immediately on their departure, or I shall have to publish the banns of nobody knows how many young couples the very next Sunday. Unless you have inquired into the fact, you will hardly believe how many marry just because there is a house ready. We have too many dwellings in proportion to our food.”
“I have had thoughts already of removing to my new farm some cottages that belong to me, and of buying others from the speculators in our parish funds, who are far too ready to build in our neighbourhood. There will be little encouragement for them to build again when all the surplus population of the parish is located on my pauper farm, where no strangers may intermeddle. You must come and see the ground I have laid out.”
Mr. Jackson readily agreed to go, but had great doubts about the final results of the scheme. This seemed to Mr. Fellowes very strange, as they agreed upon the extent of relief at present wanted, and upon the capability of this farm to supply it.
“It was you yourself who told me, Jackson, that it is not the whole of the people now distressed that it is necessary to relieve. It is only the redundancy that we have to take care of.”
“Certainly: but it should be so relieved as not to produce a further redundancy.—We have among us, as we agree, sixty labourers more than we want. Of these none actually starve, and they therefore deprive some others of a portion of necessaries. It appears accordingly that three hundred are insufficiently fed and clothed because there is a redundancy of sixty.”
“Well! my district farm will take off sixty at once, and more afterwards.”
“And will therefore produce an immediate relief, restoring to the remainder of the three hundred their proper share of necessaries; so would the emigration of sixty. But mark the difference three generations hence. Our young people who emigrate carry their descendants with them to a land where they are wanted. The descendants of your pauper cultivators must be turned out upon society after all, in greater numbers than you now abstract from it. It will be well if the grandchildren of your present dependants have not to emigrate at last, after the expenditure of much capital that might have been better employed, and at a much greater ultimate cost than at present.”
“You seem to forget, Jackson, that the capital I am laying out is all to be reproduced, and that the people on my farm are to work themselves free. If any reliance is to be placed on calculations which have been conducted with the utmost care, if experience is to be trusted, if I may believe what I saw last month with my own eyes in the Belgian colonies (which it is worth a long journey to see), a good deal more than the cost of settling my paupers and providing for them will be raised by their labour upon the ground. The best of them will in time repay me, and go out with money in their pockets to make room for others.”
“And where are they to go? To carry more labour and new families into a market which is already overstocked. How much easier to remove them at once to a labour market where they and their children will be permanently welcome!”
“I am for ever met with objections about raising rents and overstocking the labour-market,” cried Mr. Fellowes—“I that take no rent, and bind myself to employ all the labour!”
“I said nothing about rent,” replied the clergyman. “I am quite aware that a farm like yours, made out of a forced application of capital, bears no relation to the natural process of rent. But I do not see how you can escape the charge of ultimately obliging a portion of society to pay too dear for their food.”
“What can you mean, when the very essence of my plan is, ——”
“Tell me your plan, and then I will tell you my meaning”
“My plan is to show, on a small scale, how the charity-funds of this country might be employed productively, and therefore so as to fulfil the ends of charity. I would have the unappropriated wastes of Great Britain, amounting to, some say, 15,000,000 of acres, (and some say much more.) set apart to be the People's Farm. It should be cultivated by means of public funds, say our present poor-rates; and it should be so portioned out as that every pauper should have the interest of private property in his allotment.— The further internal arrangements should be made according to the judgment of the directors. Mine are to be as like as I can make them to those adopted in the pauper farms in the Netherlands. Each family shall have its portion of ground and its cottage, with food and clothing till these can be procured by themselves. The soil shall be improved to the utmost by spadehusbandry, and by preparations of manure requiring more labour than can be devoted to the object in a general way. The productiveness of the ground being usually very great under these methods, I expect a considerable surplus every harvest; of which a part will go to repay the original expenses, and a part to set forward the family when they re-enter the world. Meanwhile, the women and children will spin and weave, and we shall produce within our own bounds all that we want. We shall not even need money: for the people will pay one another in commodities.”
“That is, you are about to carry back a portion of society to a primitive condition;—to delving, and a state of barter. If there was no choice between the starvation of a number and this state of society, I might be brought to look upon it with some degree of complacency: but when other ways are open,—when the question is,— not whether all shall relapse into barbarism or some starve,—but whether multitudes shall pass their lives in unassisted digging at home, or a few wander to distant parts of this fair earth to leave the many in possession of the blessings of advanced civilization,—I am for applying labour to its highest purposes, and for elevating instead of depressing the pursuits of society. No one doubts that if every hand was employed in tillage there would be food enough for all: the question is whether it be not thus obtained at too great a cost,—every higher pursuit being sacrificed to it. Only convey to fertile regions abroad the half of those who are eager to go, and there will be abundance of food for all,—and of many more things equally essential to the full enjoyment of life. If the Greeks had not done so, what would have become of all that they did to enlighten and bless the world? If they had fed their surplus numbers by employing more and more in tillage at home, as their numbers increased and the produce required was greater, there would now have been little of the philosophy, the literature, the fine arts, which have spread from their country over the world; while, after all, fewer would have lived, and fewer of the living would have been fed than under their system of emigration.”
“They seem indeed never to have thought of the more obvious mode of providing for the people. Away they sent them, as fast as they overflowed their bounds.”
“Because they were so circumstanced as to perceive at once the fallacy of the supposed remedies which you and other benevolent persons here are advocating. The great body of the people among the Greeks were slaves, maintained by masters, and not, as with us, free labourers supported by their own toil. The deficiency of food was there first felt by the masters, in the cost of supporting their slaves. Here, it is felt mainly by the labourers in the fall of the real value of wages, In Greece, there was no dispute about the fact, from the moment that food became deficient. Here, such a deficiency is even now questioned by multitudes who declare that we have not a redundant, but only a poor population; that nobody wants food who has enough to give for it; and that therefore it is money, or work that is wanted, and not food. Such observers give alms, or pay their poor neighbours for digging holes and filling them up again, or doing things equally useless; never dreaming that all the while they are taking food from somebody who has earned it by a better kind of toil. Such follies as this could never be suggested by the state of things in Greece; and I see no reason why, because our lower orders are not slaves, we should not abjure our errors, and adopt such parts of the Grecian policy as were wise.”
“Well, but, the long and short of the matter is this. If the quantity of food in Great Britain is too small, cannot it be increased?”
“To be sure it can. If ten thousand individuals can live this year only by taking a portion from their neighbours, we may raise as much food in addition next year as may feed ten thousand people; but if the people at the same time increase still faster, how are we better off than we were before?”
“But cannot we raise enough that year for twenty thousand people instead of ten thousand to meet the difficulty? The People's Farm would admit of this.”
“It would: but here the question recurs, whether it will not answer better to send the ten or twenty thousand people where they may obtain food at much less cost of toil and capital, and where their descendants will not be liable to tax the mother country for food for generations yet unborn. At home it is only by a considerable sacrifice that the growth of food can be made for any length of time to equal,—or by any extraordinary effort to outstrip the demands upon it; while, abroad, it spontaneously keeps ahead of population, and will do so in many parts, till men have grown wise enough to regulate population. Our best present policy, then, is to send our surplus numbers abroad to eat and prosper, instead of obliging more and more of our multitudes to dig of at home. It is on your wish to make them do so much labour for a lesser instead of a greater production, that I founded my charge of your ultimately making a part of society pay too dear for their food.”
“You mean because labour is the price of food?”
“Yes; and food would be almost as much too dear under your system as under the present. At present, the competition for food is so excessive that men bid their labour against each other to desperation. Under your pauper-farm system, the same thing would take place in time; and in the meanwhile, every bushel of wheat would cost twice or thrice as much labour as in Van Diemen's Land; so that both immediately and ultimately, you oblige a certain number to pay higher for their food than they need do and therefore ought to do.—And this without taking into consideration the change in the proportion of capital to population which is caused by emigration,—a change most beneficial to the mother country.”
“And how extensive do you conceive that change to be? There is very little difference between the cost of conveying persons to Van Diemen's Land, and settling them on a pauper farm,—too small a difference to warrant such an expression as yours.”
“In addition to this difference, there is all the increase of production which will take place abroad, and which is so much gained to the mother country, since it maintains her people. Besides this, all that would have been unproductively consumed by the pauper descendants of these emigrants may be considered as so much clear gain to the community. Again,— the thriving population of our colonies will want more and more of our manufactures, and will send us their agricultural produce in exchange; and I suppose you will not question the advantage of investing our capital in manufactures, and receiving wool and wheat of the best quality in return, instead of laying it out on lands of inferior fertility at home, while the people scantily supply themselves with the coarse manufactures of their own firesides? You will not question the duty of availing ourselves of the advantages of division of labour in the case of our greatest need? Yet you would, by your plan of home colonization deprive the people of this reciprocity of benefits. You would set up new manufactures instead of a new market for them; and all for the sake of producing food at a greater cost than under the emigration system. You are clearly wrong, Fellowes, depend upon it. What a pity that you should not turn your zeal and benevolence and your other resources to the best account!”
“The fact is,” replied Fellowes, “that on a matter of so much importance as this, I am anxious to go on sure ground. I have heard so much on good authority of the miseries of emigrants in Canada and elsewhere, and I have seen so much with my own eyes of the benefits of the Home-Colonization system in the Netherlands, that I am induced to do that which I know will produce great and immediate good, instead of that whose consequences I cannot witness or calculate. I want to give our poor neighbours food; and I dare not run the risk of having them perish with cold and hunger in the woods before they can get any.”
“If you mix up the abuses of a system with its principles,—if you take the conduct of a few ignorant adventurers as an example of what is to be done by all emigrants,” continued Mr. Jackson, “I do not wonder at our differing as we do. It is true that too many of our poor neighbours, heartsick at their condition here, have wandered forth with nothing but the clothes on their backs and a hatchet in their hands, without the guidance and assistance which are necessary to their very lives in a new climate and condition of society; but this folly, and the consequent hardship, have nothing to do with emigration. It is to preclude such evils that I would have benefactors like you demonstrate to the people what is essential to a successful emigration, and that emigration is sure to be successful if well conducted. As for its ultimate results, time will teach them to all; but you, my dear Sir, with your objects and your resources, will be inexcusable if you do not endeavour to anticipate them. It will be unpardonable in you to adopt a manifestly short-sighted policy while the philosophy of principles and the evidence of facts lie open before you.”
“Fact is enough for me, romantic as many of my friends think me,” replied Fellowes, smiling. “The fact will be, as you will witness, if we both live, that two years hence our sixty superabundant labourers with their families will have food without burthening the parish. This is enough for me.”
“It will not always be enough. If you should live to see the multiplied descendants of these sixty persons either suffering themselves under pauperism, or displacing an equal number from the ranks of employed labourers, you may wish that they had been located where there was room for all without any arbitrary direction of capital, or factitious employment of labour. If, in your old age, you do not witness this, it will be because Others have repaired your mistake by conveying elsewhere the surplus you have created.”
“If we both live ten years, friend, you shall come and see how I send forth those who once were paupers, with money in their hands, ready to establish themselves reputably in society. There will be nothing in this to make me repent.”
“No; your time for repentance will be when each of these monied men sends two paupers to your gates; —when you find poverty growing up round you, which you can relieve,—if at all,— only by a late emigration. I am sure you will make your confessions to me honestly, if that day should ever come.”
“I will, if you will give me faithful tidings of the Castles, and the others who are going with them. Let me hear of all their struggles and trials, from the outset till the end.”
“You shall, as far as I know them myself. Meanwhile, let us help one another where we agree. Do you be on the watch to lessen the number of dwellings as much as you can, and I will use my pastoral influence in inducing the young folks to delay the publication of their banns till they have secured something besides a bare shelter to begin with.”