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Will you consider this passage from “Field and Hedgerow," by Richard Jefferies, a beautiful book, and well worth buying:
“Of the broad surface of the golden wheat and its glory I have already spoken, yet these fower-encircled acres, these beautiful fields of peaceful wheat, are the battle-fields of life.
The wheat-fields are the battlefields of the world. If not so openly invaded as of old time, the struggle between nations is still one for the ownership or for the control of corn. When Italy became a vineyard and could no more feed armies, slowly power slipped away, and the great empire of Rome split into many pieces. It has long been foreseen that if ever England is occupied with a great war, the question of our corn supply, so largely derived from abroad. will become a weighty matter.
“As persons, each of us, in our voluntary and involuntary struggle for money, is really striving for those little grains of wheat that lie so lightly in the palm of the hand. Corn is coin, and coin is corn, and whether it be a laborer in the field, who no sooner receives his weekly wage than he exchanges it for bread, or whether it be the financier in Lombard street who loans millions, the object is really the same=wheat.
“All ends in the same: iron mines, coal mines, factories, furaaces, the counter, the desk-no one can live on iron, or coal, or cotton--the object is really sacks of wheat.”
Now, John, is that good sense ? Is it nothing to you that the tory land-grabber and the liberal money-grubber are killing the wheat fields of England ?
Oh, John, and you call yourself a practical man. don't even know that men live by bread, and think me a fool when I tell you so.
THE LIFE OF THE WORKER. The people live in squalid dens, where there can be no health and no hope, but dogged discontent at their own lot, and futile discontent at the wealth which they see possessed by others. – Thorold Rogers.
It is very evident what mean and sneaking lives many of you live, for my sight has been whetted by experience; always on the limits, trying to get into business and trying to get out of debt, a very ancient slough, called by the Latins aes alienum, another's brass, for some of their coins were made of brass; still living, and dying, and buried by this other's brass; always promising to pay, promising to pay to-morrow, and dying to-day insolvent; seeking to curry favor, to get custom, by how many, modes-only not state-prison offenses; lying, flattering, voting, contracting yourselves into a nutshell of civility, or dilating into an atmosphere of thin and vaporous generosity, that you may persuade your neighbor to let you make his shoes, or his bat, or. his coat, or his carriage, or import his groceries for him; making yourselves sick that you may lay up something against a sick day, something to be tucked away in an old chest or in a stocking behind the plastering, or more safely in the brick bank, no matter where, no matter how much or how little- Thoreau.
I feel sure that the time will come when people will find it difficult to believe that a rich community such as ours, having such command over external nature, could have submitted to live such a mean, shabby, dirty life as we do.- Wm. Morris.
The problem of life is, “Given a country and people, show how the people can make the most of the country and themselves." Before we go on, let us try to judge how far we in Britain have succeeded in answering the problem. The following are facts which no man attempts to deny:
1. Large numbers of honest and industrious people are badly fed, badly clothed, and badly housed.
2. Many thousands of people die every year from preventable diseases.
3. The average duration of life among the population is unnaturally short.
4, Very many people, after lives of toil, are obliged to seek refuge in the workhouse, where they die, despised and neglected, branded with the shameful brand of pauperism.
5. It is an almost invariable rule that those who work hardest and longest in this country are the worst paid and the least respected.
6. The wealthiest men in our nation are men who never did a useful day's work.
7. Wealth and power are more prized and more honored than wisdom, or industry, or virtue.
8. Hundreds of thousands of men and women, willing to work, are unable to find employment.
9. While on the one hand wages are lowered on account of over-production of coal, of cotton, and of corn, on the other hand many of our working people are short of bread, of fuel, and of clothing
10. Nearly all the land and property in this country are owned by a few idlers, and most of the laws are made in the interest of those few rich people.
11. The national agriculture is going rapidly to ruin, to the great injury and peril of the state.
12. Through competition, millions of men are employed in useless and indignified work, and all the industrial machinery of the nation is thrown out of gear, so that one greedy rascal may overreach another.
And we are told that all these things must remain as they are, in order that you may be able to "get a living."
What sort of a living do you get?
Your life may be divided into four sections: Working, eating, recreation, and sleeping.
As to work. You are employed in a factory for from 53 to 70 hours a week. Some of your comrades work harder, and longer, and in worse places, Still, as a rule, it may be said of all your class that the hours of labor are too long, that the labor is monotonous, mechanical, and severe, and that the surroundings are often unhealthy, nearly always disagreeable, and in many cases dangerous.
Do you know the difference between “work" and "toil"? It is the difference between the work of the gardener and the toil of the navvy-between the work of the wood carver and the toil of the wood chopper.
We hear a good deal of talk about the idleness of the laboring classes and the industry of the professional classes. There is a difference in the work. The surgeon, or the sculptor, following the work of his choice, may well work harder than the collier, drudging for a daily wage.
An artist loves his work, and sees in it the means of winning fame, perhaps fortune; an artisan sees in his toil a dull mechanical task, to be done for bread, but never to be made to yield pleasure, or praise, or profit.
As a rule, your work is hard and disagreeable.
I don't mean how many shillings a week do you get; but what life do you get as the reward of your toil?
You may get fifteen shillings a week, or a pound, or twentyfive or thirty-five shillings, or two pounds; but the question is how do you live? What will your money buy?
As I have shown already, you do not get enough leisure, nor enough fresh air, nor enough education, nor enough health, and your town is very ugly and very dirty and very dull. But let us go into details. I have often seen you turn up your '
nose with scorn at the sight of a gipsy. Yet the gipsy is a healthier, a stronger, a braver, and a wiser man than you, and lives a life more pleasant and free and natural than yours.
Not that the gipsy is a model citizen; but you may learn a great deal from him; and I doubt whether there is anything he could learn from you.
And now let us see how you live. First of all, in the matter of food. Your diet is not a good one. It is not varied enough, and nearly all the things you eat and drink are adulterated.
I am much inclined to think that a vegetarian diet is the best, and I am sure that alcoholic liquors are unnecessary. But this by the way. If you drink beer and spirits, it would be better to have them pure. At present nearly all your liquors are abominable.
But there is one thing about your diet worse even than the quality of the food, and that is the cookery. Mrs. Smith is an excellent woman, and I hereby make my bow to her, but she does not know what cookery means.
John Smith, it is a solemn and an awful truth, one which it pains me to utter, but you never ate a beefsteak, and you never saw a cooked potato.
God strengthen thy digestion, John, 'tis sore tried. Oh, the soddened vegetables, the flabby fish, the leathery steak, and the juiceless joint, I know them. Alas! Cookery is an art, and almost a lost art in this country; or, shall we say, an art unfound ?
Poor Mrs. Smith gets married and faces the paste-board and the oven with the courage of desperation, and the hope of ignorance. She resembles the young man who had never played the fiddle, but had no doubt he could play it if he tried. And sometimes he does try, and so Mrs. Smith tries to cook.
From food we will turn to clothing. Oh, it is pitiful! Do you know the meaning of the words “form" and “ color.” Look at our people's dress. Observe the cut of it, the general drabness, grayness, and gloom. Those awful black bugles, those horrific sack coats, those deadly hats and bonnets, and, they do say, that crinoline-ah, heaven! That we should call these delicate creatures ours and not their fashion plates. The dresses, but especially the Sunday clothes, of the British working-classes, are things too sad for tears.
Costume should be simple, healthy, convenient, and beautiful. Modern British costume is none of these. This is chiefly because the fashion of our dress is left to fops and tailors, whereas it ought to be left to artists and designers. But, beside the ugliness of your dress, it is also true that it is
It is mean because hardly anything you wear is what it pretends to be, because it is adulterated and jerry-made, and because it is insufficient. Yes, in nearly all your houses there is, despite our factory system, a decided scarcity of shirts and socks and sheets and towels and table linen.
Come we now to the home. Your houses are not what they should be. I do not allude to the inferior cottage-that is beneath notice. . Here in Manchester we have some forty thousand houses unfit for habitation. But let us consider the abode of the more fortunate artisan. It has many faults. It is badly built, badly arranged, and badly fitted. The sanitation is bad. The rooms are much too small. There are no proper appliances for cleanliness. The windows are not big enough. There is a painful dearth of light and air. The cooking appliances are simply barbarous.
Again, the houses are very ugly and mean. The streets are too narrow. There are no gardens. There are no trees. Few working-class families have enough bedrooms, and the bathroom is a luxury not known in cottages.
In fine, your houses are ugly, unhealthy, inconvenient, dark, ill-built, ill-fitted, and dear. This is due, in a great measure, to the cost of land. I will tell you soon why land is so expensive.
Moreover, instead of your making the most of your room, you will persist in crowding your house with hideous and unneces. sary furniture.
Furniture is one of your household gods. You are a victim to your furniture, and your wife is a slave. Did it ever occur to you that your only use for the bulk of your household goods is to clean them? It is so, and yet you keep on striving to get more and more furniture for your wife to wait upon.
Just cast your eye over the following description of a Japanese house, John, and see if it does not suggest something to you; and do read “Walden." It is only a shilling, and if you read it well it will save you much money in furniture, and your wife much toil in acting as a slave to the sideboard and best parlor suite:
“Simplicity and refinement are the essential characteristics of life in Japan, observes the Hospital. The houses, which are öpacious, are constructed without foundations. Light wooden. uprights resting on flat stones support the thatched or tiled roof. The walls, both outside and those which divide the rooms, are formed of latticed panels which slide over one another, or can be removed altogether if desired. These panels are filled with translucent paper.
At night the house is closed in with wooden shutters. The rooms, which are raised about a foot above the ground, are covered with soft padded matting kept spotlessly clean. In the center of the living room is a shallow, square pit lined with metal and filled with charcoal, for the purposes of cooking and warming, or the rooms are warmed with movable metal braziers. There is no furniture present, no chairs, tables, beds, chests of drawers, pictures, or knick-knacks. The matted floor serves alike for chairs, table, and bed. To keep it absolutely clean, all boots, shoes, and sandals are left on the ground outside. The absence of furniture means the absence of many cares, and as two wooden chopsticks and small lacquer bowls serve for all the purposes of eating, there is no need for plate, glass, knives, forks, spoons, dinner services, and table linen. Thus life is simplified, though it loses at the same time none of its refinement, for no people can be more dainty and particular in their food, more neat and beautiful in dress, and more courteous and self-restrained in manner, than the Japanese. Kneeling on the