Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter III.: A MATE FOR MOTHER HUBBARD. - Illustrations of Taxation (1. The Park and the Paddock, 2. The Haycock, 3. The Jerseymen Meeting, 4. The Jerseymen Parting, 5. The Scholars of Arneside)
Return to Title Page for Illustrations of Taxation (1. The Park and the Paddock, 2. The Haycock, 3. The Jerseymen Meeting, 4. The Jerseymen Parting, 5. The Scholars of Arneside)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Chapter III.: A MATE FOR MOTHER HUBBARD. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Taxation (1. The Park and the Paddock, 2. The Haycock, 3. The Jerseymen Meeting, 4. The Jerseymen Parting, 5. The Scholars of Arneside) 
Illustrations of Taxation (1. The Park and the Paddock, 2. The Haycock, 3. The Jerseymen Meeting, 4. The Jerseymen Parting, 5. The Scholars of Arneside) (London: Charles Fox, 1834).
About Liberty Fund:
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
A MATE FOR MOTHER HUBBARD.
Do criminals feel glad or sorry when they wake and find it broad morning, two hours before their execution? Are they thankful to have been beguiled with sound sleep, or had they rather have had broken slumbers, finding again and again that it is still dark, or only just dawning yet? To those who love their beds, and dread the coming of the hour of rising, and nothing worse, there is something pleasant in being thus repeatedly reminded that it is not time to get up; but how it may be when a worse evil impends has perhaps never been told. Anna’s experience (and she felt that her case was very like a going to execution) could not throw any light upon the matter; for she did not sleep at all.
Breakfast was as much out of the question as sleep. She did not pretend to take any, even to please her mother, for she had something to do which would occupy her whole time till Mrs. Brennan came for her. During the night it had occurred to her that there could be no harm in carrying with her a copy of her father’s letter to the King, lest that which she had put into the post-office should not have reached its destination. The employment was good for her. It prevented her being in quite so disagreeable a state of palpitation and thirst as she might have suffered if she had been quite at liberty for watching the clock. The Brennans came at last before they were expected.
“Your boy with you, Mrs. Brennan! Do you mean him to go too?”
“He is so very anxious, ma’am, to be of use to you; and it struck him that you might wish, in the middle of the business, to send for somebody, or to have some kind of messenger at hand.”
Anna shook her head. Whom could she send for at her utmost need?
“I wonder,” said Anna, when she had put on her shawl, and was casting her last fluttered look around her,—“I wonder whether I should take a pound or two of that tea with me. The gentlemen may require to see it.”
“I should be disposed, ma’am,” said Mrs. Brennan, “to leave it to the informers to show the article that they complain of. It is not your part, I should think, to be aiding their cause.”
Anna had opened the door of the cupboard where her packages of adulterated tea were ranged as neatly as every other article which the house contained. She now quickly closed it, and seeing that there was no further pretence for lingering, solemnly kissed her mother and departed.
As they walked, Mrs. Brennan showed herself to be a partisan of Anna’s. In this leaning towards the defendant she was only like other people. Where the King is prosecutor, not paying for his law, the popular inclination is usually against him; and especially when he sues for his moneyed rights. This indicates the policy of contracting instead of multiplying such proceedings to the utmost.
“I am afraid the judgment will go against you, ma’am,” said the good woman, “and it is the best kindness to tell you so beforehand. There is little hope for you against the King, especially when he makes other people pay his lawyers. A gentleman that I knew was fined 50l. and the costs came to 500l. In this court, however, there are often no costs, and the business is done pretty quickly and cheaply,—which does not, as I say, make it the less a pity that it should have to be done at all. You are lucky, too, ma’am, in not having to do with a jury, as juries were, on excise cases, some time ago. Ma’am, the jury used to have two guineas and a dinner when they found a verdict for the Crown, and only one guinea, and no dinner, when they found for the defendant. You may suppose the accused seldom got his cause.”
“And yet juries seem generally to be thought good things for the accused,” observed Anna.
“Some people consider it a great stretch of power to do without them in excise cases, ma’am; but, dear me, there would be no end of trials by jury, if all that are informed against were so tried. The court would have to be open all day from the first of January to the last of December, and a thousand people a year would be ruined for law expenses. Besides, they say that the quick judgments given by these gentlemen, on the information of their own servants, strike a wholesome terror into folks, without which the laws would not be observed.”
Anna could answer for the terror. Whether it was wholesome was another question.
How she reproached herself for her terrors about her own fate when she witnessed some of the cases presented this day in court! She could have been amused at some, from the apparent frivolity of the charges, if the consequences had not appeared more grave than the accusations: but there were others which could be viewed only with intense commiseration.
What had Dennis Crook done that he was called upon to pay 4l. 15s. 4½d.? Dennis Crook was a paper-stainer, and had neglected to pay the duty of 2l. 7s. 8¼d., and he was therefore called on for the double duty in order that the single might be recovered, with costs. Poor Dennis declared that he had told the collector that he would pay the duty, and the costs with it, the first day that some money which was due to him should come in. It was very cruel of the collector to bring him here, knowing that he had no wish to evade the duty, and that the bringing him here was enough to ruin his business. It had got abroad already, and he had lost two customers by it. God forbid that he should be so inconsiderate to the person who had brought him to this by not paying him to the day! Dennis could not pay the penalty till this person yielded him his due,—not a bit the more for being brought here; but that person should not be exposed by him as he was exposed in this court, to the destruction of his business. If he should never pay another shilling of duty to the king, the court might ascribe it to his difficulties being laid open in this way,—difficulties which might have been got over easily enough if the court had not stepped in between him and his customers.—The court did not see what it had to do with all this. The single duty, with a small increase for costs, was squeezed out of poor Dennis, who went away, pulling his hat over his eyes, and saying that this would be the signal for his landlord to turn him out of the little shop in which he had carried on his business for many years; and God only knew where he was to establish himself next.
What could have brought hither that respectable elderly woman, who looked as if she could never in her life have broken a law or a rule? She came to save her son from a prison, it it might be within her small means to do so. On his coming of age, she had given up to him the small tenement she possessed. She had better have kept it till her death. He had been seduced into a “speculation,” and had set up a private still. The still and all the spirits on the premises were seized, and the mother was now here to pay the penalty of 100l. which was just half of the little portion she had destined for her daughter. She knew that it was more likely that she should have to maintain John than that he would ever repay this 100l., for his character was gone. She cast down her eyes while she held out the money, with a trembling hand, and did not speak to John as they went away, though he looked as if he longed above everything for a word from her. Mrs. Brennan found that much explanation was necessary before Anna could believe that all this ruin was caused by the act of distilling spirits without the leave of the government.
A widow, in shabby mourning, with a babe in her arms, was quietly crying in a corner. She had sold her furniture by auction, and had neglected to get a license. She had better have kept her furniture; for the penalty swallowed up nearly all the proceeds of the sale. Anna thought this the most cruel levy of a tax she had ever heard of; for this poor woman would not have sold her furniture if she had not been in want. To be compelled to pay for permission to do what was in itself a hardship, was a stranger piece of oppression than Anna had witnessed yet,—much as she had seen. She followed the widow, to make sure of the facts, and found that the poor woman had been on the point of setting up a little shop, and sharing a cheap lodging with a brother: but now that her money was almost all gone, she could see nothing before her but selling fruit in the streets; but, in that case, she must look about for some one who would take care of her baby, while the other two little ones must tramp the streets with her. If she had but sold her furniture in any other way! But her brother advised an auction, and had taken upon himself to be auctioneer; and how could she suspect what would happen?
The wonder was how those to whom the public money came at last could enjoy it if they knew of its being wrung in ways like these from the ignorant, the simple, and the distressed. The old and obvious question recurred,—why not ask the nation for the money that is wanted, instead of filching it? Why not settle openly how it is to be paid, and take it directly, as rent is taken, or as contributions for any other object are collected? Surely no objections to this simple method of taxation could long stand when our great nation of buyers and sellers had once found the comfort of natural and regular prices, of wages not arbitrarily and uselessly raised,—the luxury of being rid of the oppression of Custom-houses and Excise courts, and of the plague of a spreading host of revenue spies. Little could be said of the dignity of the circumstances out of which the State funds arise by any one who had seen others of the cases which Anna witnessed, and which really amused her, and beguiled her of her apprehensions for a time. It seemed ridiculous that the king should, by his officers, be seriously complaining of being injured by one man selling pepper without a license, and another removing wine without a permit, and a third having more brandy in his cellar than he declared he had, and a fourth having rum under a certain strength among his stock, and a fifth forgetting to keep an entry-book, and a sixth tying up his pasteboard in a wrong way, and a seventh having neglected one night to put down how much black tea he had sold in small quantities. It did not seem very dignified in any government to concern itself and worry its subjects about such matters as these. Anna could have laughed once, when the mention of black tea brought her back to a consciousness of her own awkward predicament.
What she had seen had much abated her horror, however. She was able, when called upon, to say that she found she had committed an illegal act, but that she was not the least aware, at the time, that she was doing anything improper, as was shown by her offering some of her thorn leaves to persons who were passing through the field. She could not think it very kind of those persons to pass by without giving her warning of what she was doing. She saw, to be sure, that they looked grave upon her; but how was she to know why, unless they told her? In Jersey they would not have treated a stranger so.
“And pray do they make tea of thorn leaves in Jersey?” asked one of the gentlemen.
“Very rarely, because tea is so cheap there that it would not be worth while; but anybody may do it that likes. I should not have thought of doing it here but for the dearness of tea; and I never could have supposed that the custom of the country was first to render tea so dear as to tempt us to make it for ourselves, and then to punish us for so making it;—a thing we should never otherwise have thought of.”
Studley, on whose information, supported by witnesses, the whole proceeded, smiled maliciously, and said that the young woman showed what family she belonged to by her enmity to the Excise. It went in the family; her brother having absconded to escape an excise charge, and her father being now in prison in consequence of one. This statement made the expected impression. How could the gentlemen do otherwise than think ill of such a family of delinquents? Studley followed up the matter by declaring what trouble the Excise had with the Le Brocqs. There was no other set of people that he had had to watch so closely; no other premises that he had been obliged to enter so often.
“It is very easy to watch people, Mr. Studley,” said Anna, “without showing that they have done wrong; and entering premises by day and night, week after week, does not prove that anything amiss is found there.”
“It answers another purpose, if I may say so, gentlemen,” interposed Mrs. Brennan. “If an excise officer has a spite against a family, nothing is easier than to take away their character by frequent search, which I believe is what Mr. Studley is trying to do with this family. I wish, gentlemen, that you would ask Mr. Studley what he has found in any of his searches from the day that Mr. Aaron went away.”
“Impossible,” said one of the commissioners. “We have nothing to do with the character of these people; as you, Studley, ought to have remembered before you entered upon matters with which we have no concern. The charge was admitted. That is all we have to do with.”
Studley was ordered to recover a fine,—a small one, for the gentlemen saw something of the nature of the case,—and to destroy or see destroyed the adulterated tea. Anna humbly listened to the unnecessary admonition not to repeat the offence, and then begged the gentlemen to let her father out of prison, where his health was suffering materially from the confinement. This kind of petition must be sent to the Board, accompanied by a medical certificate of the state of the prisoner’s health, one of the gentlemen was informing her, when Studley interfered to allege that Le Brocq was well able to pay the fine,—better able than a hundred men who had petitioned the Board in vain for their release.
“If that be the case,” said a commissioner, who had a little attention to spare from the case which his colleagues had now called on,—“if that be the case—Is it the case, young woman? Tell me the truth.”
“If my father’s stock could be sold, he might pay,” Anna declared: “but nobody comes to buy; and nobody will come now that Mr. Studley has taken away our good name by following us for evil as he has done.”
“He must do his duty. I can hear no complaints against him for doing his duty. If he has given you cause of complaint, you can have redress by applying in the right quarter.”
“But, sir, what can I do about the fine? My mother and I are willing to work night and day to raise the fine, if we knew which way to turn ourselves: but there seems to be so much danger in employments here that we are afraid to begin any new ones.”
“O, any one will tell you the law, if it is that you are afraid of. What sort of employment were you thinking of?”
“My having been asked for so much of my own tea made us think of selling tea and groceries: but I have seen people fined to-day for selling pepper without leave, and having tobacco in a private room, and forgetting to set down at night what they sold in the day, and also for finding that they had more on hand than they had given an account of. I should be afraid, sir, to sell groceries. But there is another thing that was partly put into my head, and partly thought of by myself, owing to our having a great quantity of duty-paid bottles unsold. My mother and I have always been used to make cider, and some kinds of sweet wine. There is talk of a great deal of ginger wine being likely to be drunk this year, for fear of the cholera. We might make it at little risk, as ginger is so cheap an article, and we have the bottles.”
“Well: you can but try. You are aware, I suppose, that ginger is not so cheap here as you can get it in Jersey? Ginger pays duty here.”
“And sugar is taxed too, and so is your little matter of spirit, ma’am,” interposed Mrs. Brennan. “You must not go to work, reckoning the cost of all your materials at what you might get them for before you came here.”
“She may easily learn the prices of things,” said the condescending commissioner; “and then she has only to take care to give in her name and place of abode, and of her rooms and utensils; and to renew her license (which will cost two guineas) every year; and to give notice when she intends to draw off her wine; and to be careful not to send it out in less quantities than a whole cask containing fifteen gallons.”
Anna looked dismayed, and asked,
“And should we have anything to do with Mr. Studley in that case, sir?”
“If his superiors find that he has reason for suspicion, he may enter at any hour, provided he takes a constable, at night. He may also break walls and pull up floors, if he believes that anything improper in his line is concealed there; but you would be careful to avoid dangers of this kind, and get yourself visited daily, according to law, to obviate suspicion.”
“Every day, sir!”
“Yes; if you make wine. If you only retail it, once in twenty-eight days is all you are subject to; and the annual license for mere retailing is only a guinea, the notices and entries being of the same kind required of makers. If you combine the two—”
“I cannot, sir. I dare not. Your gentleman would be bringing me up and fining me once a week, sir.”
“O, you could not get very deep into any scrape, I assure you; the state gets only between two and three thousand pounds from all the sweet-wine makers in the kingdom. There are four who pay less than 1l. a year, and no more than six who pay above 100l.; and only twenty-three makers altogether. Even the retailers are under nine hundred in number. It is an insignificant concern altogether.”
“To the king, perhaps, sir; but not to me, if I have to pay tax upon what my wine is made of, and a tax for making it, and a tax upon the bottles that hold it, and a tax for selling it; and if I am liable to be watched and tormented by Mr. Studley, or men like him. I think, sir, the government might really give up such a vexation, if it brings in so little—so very little.”
“And employs a good many people like Mr. Studley, at a hundred a year,” added Mrs. Brennan. “I think, ma’am, you must give up your idea of making wine.”
“Yes, indeed,” replied Anna. “Perhaps, sir, as it is for the king’s sake that I am prevented getting money for my father, as I otherwise might; and as you are one of those who manage these affairs, you will not refuse that this letter should go to his majesty. It is from my father, sir, copied by me, and asking no charity at all, but only consulting about what is best for both.”
The commissioner was unwilling to let such a curiosity escape. The letter was wafered, so that he could not ask to glance his eye over it. He would fain keep it, but did not like to deceive the poor girl with false hopes. Anna was pleased to see him hesitate. Studley stopped his laugh of ridicule. Mrs. Brennan could scarcely refrain from nodding triumphantly at him. The commissioner turned from them to say a few words to his colleagues, so that Anna could not see his face. He soon returned, quietly saying,—
“I am not sure that I can get this letter into the king’s hands; but you may leave it with me; and if your father cannot pay his fine by this day week, you may come here again, and we will consult upon his case. Studley, the fine to which this young woman has made herself liable is remitted. It is clearly a case of remarkable ignorance. The adulterated tea must be destroyed, of course. You will see to it; but treat her gently, if you please.”
The commissioner then explained to Anna that all who were discontented with any decision of this court might seek redress in the Court of Appeal. Anna found it difficult to understand exactly what was meant. The only clear idea she carried away was that nobody ever applied to this Court of Appeal; so that most people began to wish that it might be done away as one of the useless burdens of the Excise. She was sure that she should not be the next person to appeal. The court might be done away for anything she had to say against it. Its being seldom or never applied to seemed to show that the court she was now in was thought to conduct its business well; but it appeared to her that it would be a happy thing to sweep away both, and all excise jurisdiction whatsoever.
“Where is Brennan?” asked Anna, when she and her companion had made their low curtsies, and turned round, with lightened hearts, to go away.
“He was off some time since,” Mrs. Brennan replied; “to run and tell your mother how matters were going, I dare say. They have been merciful to you, ma’am; and I give you joy.”
“O, Mrs. Brennan, I think I never will dread anything again. I have often said so before, finding what I most dreaded come to a very little. I never was so frightened in my life before; but I really will try never to be afraid again.”
She spoke a moment too soon.
“And what do you want with us pray, Mr. Studley?” inquired Mrs. Brennan, perceiving that that person walked close to Anna, as if he regarded her as more or less in his custody.
“Going to discharge my duty,” replied Studley. “The adulterated tea is to be publicly destroyed, you know, as bad books are burned by the common hangman.”
“Publicly!” repeated Anna, in consternation. “Where? How?”
“In your father’s yard. There cannot be a more convenient place for a bonfire.”
“Do you mean to burn the tea in sight of all the neighbours?”
“That depends on whether they choose to look. I shall certainly not try to hang up any sort of blind.”
“I wonder at you, ma’am,” said Mrs. Brennan, “that you go on asking him questions, just to give him the pleasure of making sharp answers.”
Anna said no more. She was thrown back into her former state of trepidation. It was as much as she could do to walk straight. Mrs. Brennan seemed to think it a waste of time (or perhaps she considered it bad for Anna) to keep silence for so long a space. She began talking of her boy, and fished for a few compliments for him; but her companion seemed strangely careless of what she was saying.
“What a smell of burning!” Mrs. Brennan exclaimed when they drew near the pottery-yard. All three looked round for tokens of fire; and Studley observed that one might have thought the furnaces were all employed, as they had been in his time. Smoke was coming out of the window of the kitchen, and even oozing from under the door. Anna really believed that the place was on fire, and exclaimed accordingly; when Brennan put his head out at the window, and Mrs. Le Brocq opened the door. Both seemed terribly heated, and made a display of scorched cheeks which would have done honour to a Christmas fire. It was evident from their looks that nothing was the matter.
“Let me in,” said Studley, in a voice of authority. “Clear a space in the yard for the fire. Boy, call the workmen (if there be any now-a-days) to clear the yard for the burning; and if nobody is on the premises, fetch some of the neighbours.”
“What may you be pleased to be going to burn?” asked the boy, briskly.
“My tea,” faltered Anna. “Come this way, Mr. Studley, and I will show you the cupboard where every grain of it is; and if you have any kindness in you, you will be quick with the job, and finish it before the neighbours can gather about us. Mother,” continued she, as she entered the kitchen, whose atmosphere was rapidly clearing, “what have you been about? The hearth is piled up with ashes as high as the grate, and the grate is heaped half way up the chimney; and you look ready to faint with the heat and the vapour.”
“Mistress won’t mind it, since we have got done in time,” observed the boy, cheerfully; and then he began humming a tune. Studley had meanwhile advanced in slow dignity to the place which Anna had indicated to him. There was nothing in it. While he took an astonished survey of the shelves, Brennan went on from his humming to singing, and his words were some that every child is familiar with,—
“The poor dog, ha, ha!” repeated Mrs. Brennan, laughing. “And so the poor dog had none! So he put his tail between his legs, and slunk away, I dare say. Did not he, my dear?”
Studley was now obliged to do something very like this. The boy had been quick. The moment he heard the tea condemned to destruction by the court, he ran with all speed to discharge Studley’s errand for him. The last packet of tea was smouldering when he heard Anna’s exclamation that there must be a fire somewhere. Studley would have Mrs. Le Brocq’s tea-caddy brought down; and he fingered and smelled the contents. They were perfectly unexceptionable; and nothing remained for him but to go away. He felt to his back-bone the slam of the door behind him, and to the bottom of his soul the significance of the buzz of voices that came through the open window as he passed it. That Anna should escape thus easily was the last thing he had designed. And what an impudent little wretch that boy was, to be insulting him,—so lately his superior at the pottery,—with his nursery rhymes! All day, nothing would stay in Studley’s head but