Hodge and His Masters
Richard Jefferies

Part 6 out of 6

substance to the shadow.

Past those two new cottages which have been mentioned there runs a road
which is a main thoroughfare. Along this road during the year this change
was worked there walked a mournful procession--men and women on tramp.
Some of these were doubtless rogues and vagabonds by nature and choice;
but many, very many, were poor fellows who had really lost employment, and
were gradually becoming degraded to the company of the professional
beggar. The closing of collieries, mines, workshops, iron furnaces, &c.,
had thrown hundreds on the mercy of chance charity, and compelled them to
wander to and fro. How men like these on tramp must have envied the
comfortable cottages, the well-stocked gardens, the pigsties, the
beehives, and the roses of the labourers!

If the labourer has never gone up on the floodtide of prosperity to the
champagne wages of the miner, neither has he descended to the woe which
fell on South Wales when children searched the dust-heaps for food, nor to
that suffering which forces those whose instinct is independence to the
soup-kitchen. He has had, and still has, steady employment at a rate of
wages sufficient, as is shown by the appearance of his cottage itself, to
maintain him in comparative comfort. The furnace may be blown out, and
strong men may ask themselves, What shall we do next? But still the plough
turns up the earth morning after morning. The colliery may close, but
still the corn ripens, and extra wages are paid to the harvest men.

This continuous employment without even a fear of cessation is an
advantage, the value of which it is difficult to estimate. His wages are
not only sufficient to maintain him, he can even save a little. The
benefit clubs in so many villages are a proof of it--each member
subscribes so much. Whether conducted on a 'sound financial basis' or not,
the fact of the subscriptions cannot be denied, nor that assistance is
derived from them. The Union itself is supported in the same way; proving
that the wages, however complained of, are sufficient, at any rate, to
permit of subscriptions.

It is held out to the labourer, as an inducement to agitate briskly, that,
in time, a state of things will be brought about when every man will have
a small farm of four or five acres upon which to live comfortably,
independent of a master. Occasional instances, however, of labourers
endeavouring to exist upon a few acres have already been observed, and
illustrate the practical working of the scheme. In one case a labourer
occupied a piece of ground, about three acres in extent, at a low rental
paid to the lord of the manor, the spot having originally been waste,
though the soil was fairly good. He started under favourable conditions,
because he possessed a cottage and garden and a pair of horses with which
he did a considerable amount of hauling.

He now set up as a farmer, ploughed and sowed, dug and weeded, kept his
own hours, and went into the market and walked about as independent as any
one. After a while the three acres began to absorb nearly all his time, so
that the hauling, which was the really profitable part of the business,
had to be neglected. Then, the ready money not coming in so fast, the
horses had to go without corn, and pick up what they could along the
roadside, on the sward, and out of the hedges. They had, of course, to be
looked after while thus feeding, which occupied two of the children, so
that these could neither go to school nor earn anything by working on the
adjacent farms. The horses meantime grew poor in condition; the winter
tried them greatly from want of proper fodder; and when called upon to do
hauling they were not equal to the task. In the country, at a distance
from towns, there is not always a good market for vegetables, even when
grown. The residents mostly supply themselves, and what is raised for
export has to be sold at wholesale prices.

The produce of the three acres consequently did not come up to the
tenant's expectation, particularly as potatoes, on account of the disease,
could not be relied on. Meantime he had no weekly money coming in
regularly, and his wife and family had often to assist him, diminishing
their own earnings at the same time; while he was in the dilemma that if
he did hauling he must employ and pay a man to work on the 'farm,' and if
he worked himself he could not go out with his team. In harvest time, when
the smaller farmers would have hired his horses, waggon, and himself and
family to assist them, he had to get in his own harvest, and so lost the
hard cash.

He now discovered that there was one thing he had omitted, and which was
doubtless the cause why he did not flourish as he should have done
according to his calculations. All the agriculturists around kept live
stock--he had none. Here was the grand secret--it was stock that paid: he
must have a cow. So he set to work industriously enough, and put up a
shed. Then, partly by his own small savings, partly by the assistance of
the members of the sect to which he belonged, he purchased the desired
animal and sold her milk. In summer this really answered fairly well while
there was green food for nothing in plenty by the side of little-frequented
roads, whither the cow was daily led. But so soon as the winter approached
the same difficulty as with the horses arose, i.e., scarcity of fodder.
The cow soon got miserably poor, while the horses fell off yet further, if
that were possible. The calf that arrived died; next, one of the horses.
The 'hat' was sent round again, and a fresh horse bought; the spring came
on, and there seemed another chance. What with milking and attending to
the cow, and working on the 'farm,' scarcely an hour remained in which to
earn money with the horses. No provision could be laid by for the winter.
The live stock--the cow and horses--devoured part of the produce of the
three acres, so that there was less to sell.

Another winter finished it. The cow had to be sold, but a third time the
'hat' was sent round and saved the horses. Grown wiser now, the 'farmer'
stuck to his hauling, and only worked his plot at odd times. In this way,
by hauling and letting out his team in harvest, and working himself and
family at the same time for wages, he earned a good deal of money, and
kept afloat very comfortably. He made no further attempt to live out of
the 'farm,' which was now sown with one or two crops only in the same
rotation as a field, and no longer cultivated on the garden system. Had it
not been for the subscriptions he must have given it up entirely long
before. Bitter experience demonstrated how false the calculations had been
which seemed to show--on the basis of the produce of a small
allotment--that a man might live on three or four acres.

He is not the only example of an extravagant estimate being put upon the
possible product of land: it is a fallacy that has been fondly believed in
by more logical minds than the poor cottager. That more may be got out of
the soil than is the case at present is perfectly true; the mistake lies
in the proposed method of doing it.

There was a piece of land between thirty and forty acres in extent,
chiefly arable, which chanced to come into the possession of a gentleman,
who made no pretence to a knowledge of agriculture, but was naturally
desirous of receiving the highest rental. Up to that time it had been
occupied by a farmer at thirty shillings per acre, which was thought the
full value. He did not particularly want it, as it lay separated from the
farm proper, and gave it up with the greatest alacrity when asked to do so
in favour of a new tenant. This man turned out to be a villager--a
blustering, ignorant fellow--who had, however, saved a small sum by
hauling, which had been increased by the receipt of a little legacy. He
was confident that he could show the farmers how to do it--he had worked
at plough, had reaped, and tended cattle, and had horses of his own, and
was quite sure that farming was a profitable business, and that the
tenants had their land dirt cheap. He 'knowed' all about it.

He offered three pounds an acre for the piece at once, which was accepted,
notwithstanding a warning conveyed to the owner that his new tenant had
scarcely sufficient money to pay a year's rent at that rate. But so rapid
a rise in the value of his land quite dazzled the proprietor, and the
labourer--for he was really nothing better, though fortunate enough to
have a little money--entered on his farm. When this was known, it was
triumphantly remarked that if a man could actually pay double the former
rent, what an enormous profit the tenant-farmers must have been making!
Yet they wanted to reduce the poor man's wages. On the other hand, there
were not wanting hints that the man's secret idea was to exhaust the land
and then leave it. But this was not the case--he was honestly in earnest,
only he had got an exaggerated notion of the profits of farming. It is
scarcely necessary to say that the rent for the third half year was not
forthcoming, and the poor fellow lost his all. The land then went begging
at the old price, for it had become so dirty--full of weeds from want of
proper cleaning--that it was some time before any one would take it.

In a third case the attempt of a labouring man to live upon a small plot
of land was successful--at least for some time. But it happened in this
way. The land he occupied, about six acres, was situated on the outskirts
of a populous town. It was moderately rented and of fairly good quality.
His method of procedure was to cultivate a small portion--as much as he
could conveniently manage without having to pay too much for
assistance--as a market garden. Being close to his customers, and with a
steady demand at good prices all the season, this paid very well indeed.
The remainder was ploughed and cropped precisely the same as the fields of
larger farms. For these crops he could always get a decent price. The
wealthy owners of the villas scattered about, some keeping as many horses
as a gentleman with a country seat, were glad to obtain fresh fodder for
their stables, and often bought the crops standing, which to him was
especially profitable, because he could not well afford the cost of the
labour he must employ to harvest them.

In addition, he kept several pigs, which were also profitable, because the
larger part of their food cost him nothing but the trouble of fetching it.
The occupants of the houses in the town were glad to get rid of the refuse
vegetables, &c.; of these he had a constant supply. The pigs, too, helped
him with manure. Next he emptied ash-pits in the town, and sifted the
cinders; the better part went on his own fire, the other on his land. As
he understood gardening, he undertook the care of several small gardens,
which brought in a little money. All the rubbish, leaves, trimmings, &c.,
which he swept from the gardens he burnt, and spread the ashes abroad to
fertilise his miniature farm.

In spring he beat carpets, and so made more shillings; he had also a small
shed, or workshop, and did rough carpentering. His horse did his own work,
and occasionally that of others; so that in half a dozen different ways he
made money independent of the produce of his land. That produce, too, paid
well, because of the adjacent town, and he was able to engage assistance
now and then. Yet, even with all these things, it was hard work, and
required economical management to eke it out. Still it was done, and under
the same conditions doubtless might be done by others. But then everything
lies in those conditions. The town at hand, the knowledge of gardening,
carpentering, and so on, made just all the difference.

If the land were subdivided in the manner the labourer is instructed would
be so advantageous, comparatively few of the plots would be near towns.
Some of the new 'farmers' would find themselves in the centre of Salisbury
Plain, with the stern trilithons of Stonehenge looking down upon their
efforts. The occupier of a plot of four acres in such a position--many
miles from the nearest town--would experience a hard lot indeed if he
attempted to live by it. If he grew vegetables for sale, the cost of
carriage would diminish their value; if for food, he could scarcely
subsist upon cabbage and onions all the year round. To thoroughly work
four acres would occupy his whole time, nor would the farmers care for the
assistance of a man who could only come now and then in an irregular
manner. There would be no villa gardens to attend to, no ash-pits to
empty, no tubs of refuse for the pig, no carpets to beat, no one who
wanted rough carpentering done. He could not pay any one to assist him in
the cultivation of the plot.

And then, how about his clothes, boots and shoes, and so forth? Suppose
him with a family, where would their boots and shoes come from? Without
any wages--that is, hard cash received weekly--it would be next to
impossible to purchase these things. A man could hardly be condemned to a
more miserable existence. In the case of the tenant of a few acres who
made a fair living near a large town, it must be remembered that he
understood two trades, gardening and carpentering, and found constant
employment at these, which in all probability would indeed have maintained
him without any land at all. But it is not every man who possesses
technical knowledge of this kind, or who can turn his hand to several
things. Imagine a town surrounded by two or three thousand such small
occupiers, let them be never so clever; where would the extra employment
come from; where would be the ashpits to empty? Where one could do well, a
dozen could do nothing. If the argument be carried still further, and we
imagine the whole country so cut up and settled, the difficulty only
increases, because every man living (or starving) on his own plot would be
totally unable to pay another to help him, or to get employment himself.
No better method could be contrived to cause a fall in the value of

The examples of France and China are continually quoted in support of
subdivision. In the case of France, let us ask whether any of our stalwart
labourers would for a single week consent to live as the French peasant
does? Would they forego their white, wheaten bread, and eat rye bread in
its place? Would they take kindly to bread which contained a large
proportion of meal ground from the edible chestnut? Would they feel merry
over vegetable soups? Verily the nature of the man must change first; and
we have read something about the leopard and his spots. You cannot raise
beef and mutton upon four acres and feed yourself at the same time; if you
raise bacon you must sell it in order to buy clothes.

The French peasant saves by stinting, and puts aside a franc by pinching
both belly and back. He works extremely hard, and for long hours. Our
labourers can work as hard as he, but it must be in a different way; they
must have plenty to eat and drink, and they do not understand little

China, we are told, however, supports the largest population in the world
in this manner. Not a particle is wasted, not a square foot of land but
bears something edible. The sewage of towns is utilised, and causes crops
to spring forth; every scrap of refuse manures a garden. The Chinese have
attained that ideal agriculture which puts the greatest amount into the
soil, takes the greatest amount out of it, and absolutely wastes nothing.
The picture is certainly charming.

There are, however, a few considerations on the other side. The question
arises whether our labourers would enjoy a plump rat for supper? The
question also arises why the Six Companies are engaged in transhipping
Chinese labour from China to America? In California the Chinese work at a
rate of wages absolutely impossible to the white man--hence the Chinese
difficulty there. In Queensland a similar thing is going on. Crowds of
Chinese enter, or have entered, the country eager for work. If the
agriculture of China is so perfect; if the sewage is utilised; if every
man has his plot; if the population cannot possibly become too great, why
on earth are the Chinese labourers so anxious to get to America or
Australia, and to take the white man's wages? And is that system of
agriculture so perfect? It is not long since the Chinese Ambassador
formally conveyed the thanks of his countrymen for the generous assistance
forwarded from England during the late fearful famine in China. The
starvation of multitudes of wretched human beings is a ghastly comment
upon this ideal agriculture. The Chinese yellow spectre has even
threatened England; hints have been heard of importing Chinese into this
country to take that silver and gold which our own men disdained. Those
who desire to destroy our land system should look round them for a more
palatable illustration than is afforded by the great Chinese problem.

The truth in the matter seems to be this. A labourer does very well with a
garden; he can do very well, too, if he has an allotment in addition,
provided it be not too far from home. Up to a quarter of an acre--in some
cases half an acre--it answers, because he can cultivate it at odd times,
and so receive his weekly wages without interruption. But when the plot
exceeds what he can cultivate in this way--when he has to give whole weeks
to it--then, of course, he forfeits the cash every Saturday night, and
soon begins to lose ground. The original garden of moderate size yielded
very highly in proportion to its extent, because of the amount of labour
expended on it, and because it was well manured. But three or four acres,
to yield in like degree, require an amount of manure which it is quite out
of a labourer's power to purchase; and he cannot keep live stock to
produce it. Neither can he pay men to work for him consequently, instead
of being more highly cultivated than the large farms, such plots would not
be kept so clean and free from weeds, or be so well manured and deeply
ploughed as the fields of the regular agriculturist.



The altered tone of the labouring population has caused the position of
the landlord, especially if resident, to be one of considerable
difficulty. Something like diplomatic tact is necessary in dealing with
the social and political problems which now press themselves upon the
country gentleman. Forces are at work which are constantly endeavouring to
upset the village equilibrium, and it is quite in vain to ignore their
existence. However honestly he may desire peace and goodwill to reign, it
is impossible for a man to escape the influence of his own wealth and
property. These compel him to be a sort of centre around which everything
revolves. His duties extend far beyond the set, formal lines--the easy
groove of old times--and are concerned with matters which were once
thought the exclusive domain of the statesman or the philosopher.

The growth of a public opinion among the rural population is a great fact
which cannot be overlooked. Some analogy may be traced between the awaking
of a large class, hitherto almost silent, and the strange new developments
which occur in the freshly-settled territories of the United States.
There, all kinds of social experiments are pushed to the extreme
characteristic of American energy. A Salt Lake City and civilised
polygamy, and a variety of small communities endeavouring to work out new
theories of property and government, attest a frame of mind escaped from
the control of tradition, and groping its way to the future. Nothing so
extravagant, of course, distinguishes the movement among the agricultural
labourers of this country. There have been strikes; indignation meetings
held expressly for the purpose of exciting public opinion; an attempt to
experimentalise by a kind of joint-stock farming, labourers holding
shares; and a preaching of doctrines which savour much of Communism. There
have been marches to London, and annual gatherings on hill tops. These are
all within the pale of law, and outrage no social customs. But they
proclaim a state of mind restless and unsatisfied, striving for something
new, and not exactly knowing what.

Without a vote for the most part, without an all-embracing
organisation--for the Union is somewhat limited in extent--with few
newspapers expressing their views, with still fewer champions in the upper
ranks, the agricultural labourers have become in a sense a power in the
land. It is a power that is felt rather individually than collectively--it
affects isolated places, but these in the aggregate reach importance. This
power presses on the landlord--the resident country gentleman--upon one
side; upon the other, the dissatisfied tenant-farmers present a rugged

As a body the tenant-farmers are loyal to their landlords--in some cases
enthusiastically loyal. It cannot, however, be denied that this is not
universal. There are men who, though unable to put forth a substantial
grievance, are ceaselessly agitating. The landlord, in view of
unfavourable seasons, remits a percentage of rent. He relaxes certain
clauses in leases, he reduces the ground game, he shows a disposition
to meet reasonable, and even unreasonable, demands. It is useless.
There exists a class of tenant-farmers who are not to be satisfied
with the removal of grievances in detail. They are animated by a
principle--something far beyond such trifles. Unconsciously, no doubt,
in many cases that principle approximates very nearly to the doctrine
proclaimed in so many words by the communistic circles of cities. It
amounts to a total abolition of the present system of land tenure. The
dissatisfied tenant does not go so far as minute subdivisions of land
into plots of a few acres. He pauses at the moderate and middle way which
would make the tenant of three or four hundred acres the owner of the soil.
In short, he would step into the landlord's place.

Of course, many do not go so far as this; still there is a class of
farmers who are for ever writing to the papers, making speeches,
protesting, and so on, till the landlord feels that, do what he may, he
will be severely criticised. Even if personally insulted he must betray no
irritation, or desire to part with the tenant, lest he be accused of
stifling opinion. Probably no man in England is so systematically
browbeaten all round as the country gentleman. Here are two main
divisions--one on each side--ever pressing upon him, and, besides these,
there are other forces at work. A village, in fact, at the present day, is
often a perfect battle-ground of struggling parties.

When the smouldering labour difficulty comes to a point in any particular
district the representatives of the labourers lose no time in illustrating
the cottager's case by contrast with the landlord's position. He owns so
many thousand acres, producing an income of so many thousand pounds.
Hodge, who has just received notice of a reduction of a shilling per week,
survives on bacon and cabbage. Most mansions have a small home farm
attached, where, of course, some few men are employed in the direct
service of the landlord. This home farm becomes the bone of contention.
Here, they say, is a man with many thousands a year, who, in the midst of
bitter wintry weather, has struck a shilling a week off the wages of his
poor labourers. But the fact is that the landlord's representative--his
steward--has been forced to this step by the action and opinion of the

The argument is very cogent and clear. They say, 'We pay a rent which is
almost as much as the land will bear; we suffer by foreign competition,
bad seasons and so on, the market is falling, and we are compelled to
reduce our labour expenditure. But then our workmen say that at the home
farm the wages paid are a shilling or two higher, and therefore they will
not accept a reduction. Now you must reduce your wages or your tenants
must suffer.' It is like a tradesman with a large independent income
giving his workmen high wages out of that independent income, whilst other
tradesmen, who have only their business to rely on, are compelled by this
example to pay more than they can afford. This is obviously an unjust and
even cruel thing. Consequently though a landlord may possess an income of
many thousands, he cannot, without downright injustice to his tenants, pay
his immediate _employes_ more than those tenants find it possible to pay.

Such is the simple explanation of what has been described as a piece of
terrible tyranny. The very reduction of rent made by the landlord to the
tenant is seized as a proof by the labourer that the farmer, having less
now to pay, can afford to give him more money. Thus the last move of the
labour party has been to urge the tenant-farmer to endeavour to become his
own landlord. On the one hand, certain dissatisfied tenants have made use
of the labour agitation to bring pressure upon the landlord to reduce
rent, and grant this and that privilege. They have done their best, and in
great part succeeded, in getting up a cry that rent must come down, that
the landlord's position must be altered, and so forth. On the other hand,
the labour party try to use the dissatisfied tenant as a fulcrum by means
of which to bring their lever to bear upon the landlord. Both together, by
every possible method, endeavour to enlist popular sympathy against him.

There exists a party in cities who are animated by the most extraordinary
rancour against landlords without exception--good, bad, and
indifferent--just because they are landlords. This party welcomes the
agitating labourer and the discontented tenant with open arms, and the
chorus swells still louder. Now the landlords, as a body, are quite aware
of the difficulties under which farming has been conducted of late, and
exhibit a decided inclination to meet and assist the tenant. But it by no
means suits the agitator to admit this; he would of the two rather the
landlord showed an impracticable disposition, in order that there might be
grounds for violent declamation.

Fortunately there is a solid substratum of tenants whose sound common
sense prevents them from listening to the rather enchanting cry, 'Every
man his own landlord.' They may desire and obtain a reduction of rent, but
they treat it as a purely business transaction, and there lies all the
difference. They do not make the shilling an acre less the groundwork of a
revolution; because ten per cent, is remitted at the audit they do not cry
for confiscation. But it is characteristic of common sense to remain
silent, as it is of extravagance to make a noise. Thus the opinion of the
majority of tenants is not heard; but the restless minority write and
speak; the agitating labourer, through his agent, writes and speaks, and
the anti-landlord party in cities write and speak. A pleasant position for
the landlord this! Anxious to meet reasonable wishes he is confronted with
unreasonable demands, and abused all round.

Besides the labour difficulty, which has been so blazed abroad as to
obscure the rest, there are really many other questions agitating the
village. The school erected under the Education Act, whilst it is doing
good work, is at the same time in many cases a scene of conflict. The
landlord can hardly remain aloof, try how he will, because his larger
tenants are so closely interested. He has probably given the land and
subscribed heavily--a school board has been avoided; but, of course, there
is a committee of management, which is composed of members of every party
and religious denomination. That is fair enough, and the actual work
accomplished is really very good. But, if outwardly peace, it is inwardly
contention. First, the agitating labourer is strongly of opinion that,
besides giving the land and subscribing, and paying a large voluntary
rate, the landlord ought to defray the annual expenses and save him the
weekly pence. The sectarian bodies, though neutralised by their own
divisions, are ill-affected behind their mask, and would throw it off if
they got the opportunity. The one thing, and the one thing only, that
keeps them quiet is the question of expense. Suppose by a united
effort--and probably on a poll of the parish the chapel-goers in mere
numbers would exceed the church people--they shake off the landlord and
his party, and proceed to a school board as provided by the Act? Well,
then they must find the annual expenses, and these must be raised by a

Now at present the cottager loudly grumbles because he is asked to
contribute a few coppers; but suppose he were called upon to pay a heavy
rate? Possibly he might in such a case turn round against his present
leaders, and throw them overboard in disgust. Seeing this possibility all
too clearly, the sectarian bodies remain quiescent. They have no real
grievance, because their prejudices are carefully respected; but it is not
the nature of men to prefer being governed, even to their good, to
governing. Consequently, though no battle royal takes place, it is a
mistake to suppose that because 'education' is now tolerably quiet there
is universal satisfaction. Just the reverse is true, and under the surface
there is a constant undermining process proceeding. Without any downright
collision there is a distinct division into opposing ranks.

Another matter which looms larger as time goes on arises out of the
gradual--in some cases the rapid--filling up of the village churchyards.
It is melancholy to think that so solemn a subject should threaten to
become a ground for bitter controversy; but that much animosity of feeling
has already appeared is well known. Already many village graveyards are
overcrowded, and it is becoming difficult to arrange for the future. From
a practical point of view there is really but little difficulty, because
the landlords in almost every instance are willing to give the necessary
ground. The contention arises in another form, which it would be out of
place to enter upon here. It will be sufficient to recall the fact that
such a question is approaching.

Rural sanitation, again, comes to the front day by day. The prevention of
overcrowding in cottages, the disposal of sewage, the supply of
water--these and similar matters press upon the attention of the
authorities. Out of consideration for the pockets of the ratepayers--many
of whom are of the poorest class--these things are perhaps rather shelved
than pushed forward; but it is impossible to avoid them altogether. Every
now and then something has to be done. Whatever takes place, of course the
landlord, as the central person, comes in for the chief share of the
burden. If the rates increase, on the one hand, the labourers complain
that their wages are not sufficient to pay them; and, on the other, the
tenants state that the pressure on the agriculturist is already as much as
he can sustain. The labourer expects the landlord to relieve him; the
tenant grumbles if he also is not relieved. Outside and beyond the
landlord's power as the owner of the soil, as magistrate and _ex-officio_
guardian, and so on, he cannot divest himself of a personal--a
family--influence, which at once gives him a leading position, and causes
everything to be expected of him. He must arbitrate here, persuade there,
compel yonder, conciliate everybody, and subscribe all round.

This was, perhaps, easy enough years ago, but it is now a very different
matter. No little diplomatic skill is needful to balance parties, and
preserve at least an outward peace in the parish. He has to note the
variations of public opinion, and avoid giving offence. In his official
capacity as magistrate the same difficulty arises. One of the most
delicate tasks that the magistracy have had set them of recent years has
been arbitrating between tenant and man--between, in effect, capital and
labour. That is not, of course, the legal, but it is the true, definition.
It is a most invidious position, and it speaks highly for the scrupulous
justice with which the law has been administered that a watchful and
jealous--a bitterly inimical party--ever ready, above all things, to
attempt a sensation--have not been able to detect a magistrate giving a
partial decision.

In cases which involve a question of wages or non-fulfilment of contract
it has often happened that a purely personal element has been introduced.
The labourer asserts that he has been unfairly treated, that implied
promises have been broken, perquisites withheld, and abuse lavished upon
him. On the opposite side, the master alleges that he has been made a
convenience--the man staying with him in winter, when his services were of
little use, and leaving in summer; that his neglect has caused injury to
accrue to cattle; that he has used bad language. Here is a conflict of
class against class--feeling against feeling. The point in dispute has, of
course, to be decided by evidence, but whichever way evidence leads the
magistrates to pronounce their verdict, it is distasteful. If the labourer
is victorious, he and his friends 'crow' over the farmers; and the farmer
himself grumbles that the landlords are afraid of the men, and will never
pronounce against them. If the reverse, the labourers cry out upon the
partiality of the magistrates, who favour each other's tenants. In both
cases the decision has been given according to law. But the knowledge that
this kind of feeling exists--that he is in reality arbitrating between
capital and labour--renders the resident landlord doubly careful what
steps he takes at home in his private capacity. He hardly knows which way
to turn when a question crops up, desiring, above all things, to preserve

It has been said that of late there has come into existence in the
political world 'a power behind Parliament.' Somewhat in the same sense it
may be said that the labourer has become a power behind the apparent
authorities of the rural community. Whether directly, or through the
discontented tenant, or by aid of the circles in cities who hold advanced
views, the labourer brings a pressure to bear upon almost every aspect of
country life. That pressure is not sufficient to break in pieces the
existing order of things; but it is sufficient to cause an unpleasant
tension. Should it increase, much of the peculiar attraction of country
life will be destroyed. Even hunting, which it would have been thought
every individual son of the soil would stand up for, is not allowed to
continue unchallenged. Displays of a most disagreeable spirit must be
fresh in the memories of all; and such instances have shown a disposition
to multiply. Besides the more public difficulties, there are also social
ones which beset the landowner. It is true that all of these do not
originate with the labourer, or even concern him, but he it dragged into
them to suit the convenience of others. 'Coquetting with a vote' is an art
tolerably well understood in these days; the labourer has not got a
nominal vote, yet he is the 'power behind,' and may be utilised.

There is another feature of modern rural life too marked to be ignored,
and that is the increased activity of the resident clergy. This energy is
exhibited by all alike, irrespective of opinion upon ecclesiastical
questions, and concerns an inquiry into the position, of the labourer,
because for the most part it is directed towards practical objects. It
shows itself in matters that have no direct bearing upon the Church, but
are connected with the everyday life of the people. It finds work to do
outside the precincts of the Church--beyond the walls of the building.
This work is of a nature that continually increases, and as it extends
becomes more laborious.

The parsonage is often an almost ideal presentment of peace and repose.
Trees cluster about it that in summer cast a pleasant shade, and in winter
the thick evergreen shrubberies shut out the noisy winds. Upon the one
side the green meadows go down to the brook, upon the other the cornfields
stretch away to the hills. Footpaths lead out into the wheat and beside
the hedge, where the wild flowers bloom--flowers to be lovingly studied,
food for many a day-dream. The village is out of sight in the hollow--all
is quiet and still, save for the song of the lark that drops from the sky.
The house is old, very old; the tiles dull coloured, the walls grey, the
calm dignity of age clings to it.

A place surely this for reverie--the abode of thought. But the man within
is busy--full of action. The edge of the great questions of the day has
reached the village, and he must be up and doing. He does not, indeed,
lift the latch of the cottage or the farmhouse door indiscreetly--not
unless aware that his presence will not be resented. He is anxious to
avoid irritating individual susceptibilities. But wherever people are
gathered together, be it for sport or be it in earnest, wherever a man may
go in open day, thither he goes, and with a set purpose beforehand makes
it felt that he is there. He does not remain a passive spectator in the
background, but comes as prominently to the front as is compatible with
due courtesy.

When the cloth is cleared at the ordinary in the market town, and the
farmers proceed to the business of their club, or chamber, he appears in
the doorway, and quietly takes a seat not far from the chair. If the
discussion be purely technical he says nothing; if it touch, as it
frequently does, upon social topics, such as those that arise out of
education, of the labour question, of the position of the farmer apart
from the mere ploughing and sowing, then he delivers his opinion. When the
local agricultural exhibition is proceeding and the annual dinner is held
he sits at the social board, and presently makes his speech. The village
benefit club holds its fete--he is there too, perhaps presiding at the
dinner, and addresses the assembled men. He takes part in the organisation
of the cottage flower show; exerts himself earnestly about the allotments
and the winter coal club, and endeavours to provide the younger people
with amusements that do not lead to evil--supporting cricket and such
games as may be played apart from gambling and liquor.

This is but the barest catalogue of his work; there is nothing that
arises, no part of the life of the village and the country side, to which
he does not set his hand. All this is apart from abstract theology.
Religion, of course, is in his heart; but he does not carry a list of
dogmas in his hand, rather keeping his own peculiar office in the
background, knowing that many of those with whom he mingles are members of
various sects. He is simply preaching the practical Christianity of
brotherhood and goodwill. It is a work that can never be finished, and
that is ever extending. His leading idea is not to check the inevitable
motion of the age, but to lone it.

He is not permitted to pursue this course unmolested; there are parties in
the village that silently oppose his every footstep. If the battle were
open it would be easier to win it, but it is concealed. The Church is not
often denounced from the housetop, but it is certainly denounced under the
roof. The poor and ignorant are instructed that the Church is their
greatest enemy, the upholder of tyranny, the instrument of their
subjection, synonymous with lowered wages and privation, more iniquitous
than the landowner. The clergyman is a Protestant Jesuit--a man of deepest
guile. The coal club, the cricket, the flower show, the allotments, the
village _fete_, everything in which he has a hand is simply an effort to
win the good will of the populace, to keep them quiet, lest they arise and
overthrow the property of the Church. The poor man has but a few shillings
a week, and the clergyman is the friend of the farmer, who reduces his
wages--the Church owns millions and millions sterling. How self-evident,
therefore, that the Church is the cottager's enemy!

See, too, how he is beautifying that church, restoring it, making it light
and pleasant to those who resort to it; see how he causes sweeter music
and singing, and puts new life into the service. This a lesson learnt from
the City of the Seven Hills--this is the mark of the Beast. But the
ultimate aim may be traced to the same base motive--the preservation of
that enormous property.

Another party is for pure secularism. This is not so numerously
represented, but has increased of recent years. From political motives
both of these silently oppose him. Nor are the poor and ignorant alone
among the ranks of his foes. There are some tenant-farmers among them, but
their attitude is not so coarsely antagonistic. They take no action
against, but they do not assist, him. So that, although, as he goes about
the parish, he is not greeted with hisses, the clergyman is full well
aware that his activity is a thorn in the side of many. They once
reproached him with a too prolonged reverie in the seclusion of the
parsonage; now they would gladly thrust him back again.

It may be urged, too, that all his efforts have not produced much visible
effect. The pews are no more crowded than formerly; in some cases the
absence of visible effect is said to be extremely disheartening. But the
fact is that it is yet early to expect much; neither must it be expected
in that direction. It is almost the first principle of science that
reaction is equal to action; it may be safely assumed, then, that after
awhile these labours will bear fruit. The tone of the rising generation
must perforce be softened and modified by them.

There exists at the present day a class that is morally apathetic. In
every village, in every hamlet, every detached group of cottages, there
are numbers of labouring men who are simply indifferent to church and to
chapel alike. They neither deny nor affirm the primary truths taught in
all places of worship; they are simply indifferent. Sunday comes and sees
them lounging about the cottage door. They do not drink to excess, they
are not more given to swearing than others, they are equally honest, and
are not of ill-repute. But the moral sense seems extinct--the very idea of
anything beyond gross earthly advantages never occurs to them. The days go
past, the wages are paid, the food is eaten, and there is all.

Looking at it from the purely philosophic point of view there is something
sad in this dull apathy. The most pronounced materialist has a faith in
some form of beauty--matter itself is capable of ideal shapes in his
conception. These people know no ideal. It seems impossible to reach them,
because there is no chord that will respond to the most skilful touch.
This class is very numerous now--a disheartening fact. Yet perhaps the
activity and energy of the clergyman may be ultimately destined to find
its reaction, to produce its effect among these very people. They may
slowly learn to appreciate tangible, practical work, though utterly
insensible to direct moral teaching and the finest eloquence of the
pulpit. Finding by degrees that he is really endeavouring to improve their
material existence, they may in time awake to a sense of something higher.

What is wanted is a perception of the truth that progress and civilisation
ought not to end with mere material--mechanical--comfort or wealth. A
cottager ought to learn that when the highest wages of the best paid
artisan are readied it is _not_ the greatest privilege of the man to throw
mutton chops to dogs and make piles of empty champagne bottles. It might
almost be said that one cause of the former extravagance and the recent
distress and turbulence of the working classes is the absence of an ideal
from their minds.

Besides this moral apathy, the cottager too often assumes an attitude
distinctly antagonistic to every species of authority, and particularly to
that _prestige_ hitherto attached to property. Each man is a law to
himself, and does that which seems good in his own eyes. He does not pause
to ask himself, What will my neighbour think of this? He simply thinks of
no one but himself, takes counsel of no one, and cares not what the result
may be. It is the same in little things as great. Respect for authority is
extinct. The modern progressive cottager is perfectly certain that he
knows as much as his immediate employer, the squire, and the parson put
together with the experience of the world at their back. He is now the
judge--the infallible authority himself. He is wiser far than all the
learned and the thoughtful, wiser than the prophets themselves. Priest,
politician, and philosopher must bow their heads and listen to the dictum
of the ploughman.

This feeling shows itself most strikingly in the disregard of property.
There used to be a certain tacit agreement among all men that those who
possessed capital, rank, or reputation should be treated with courtesy.
That courtesy did not imply that the landowner, the capitalist, or the
minister of religion, was necessarily in himself superior. But it did
imply that those who administered property really represented the general
order in which all were interested. So in a court of justice, all who
enter remove their hats, not out of servile adulation of the person in
authority, but from respect for the majesty of the law, which it is every
individual's interest to uphold. But now, metaphorically speaking, the
labourer removes his hat for no man. Whether in the case of a manufacturer
or of a tenant of a thousand-acre farm the thing is the same. The cottager
can scarcely nod his employer a common greeting in the morning. Courtesy
is no longer practised. The idea in the man's mind appears to be to
express contempt for big employer's property. It is an unpleasant symptom.

At present it is not, however, an active, but a passive force; a moral
_vis inertiae_. Here again the clergyman meets with a cold rebuff. No
eloquence, persuasion, personal influence even, can produce more than a
passing impression. But here again, perhaps, his practical activity may
bring about its reaction. In time the cottager will be compelled to admit
that, at least, coal club, benefit society, cricket, allotment, &c., have
done him no harm. In time he may even see that property and authority are
not always entirely selfish--that they may do good, and be worthy, at all
events, of courteous acknowledgment.

These two characteristics, moral apathy and contempt of property--i.e., of
social order--are probably exercising considerable influence in shaping
the labourer's future. Free of mental restraint, his own will must work
its way for good or evil. It is true that the rise or fall of wages may
check or hasten the development of that future. In either case it is not,
however, probable that he will return to the old grooves; indeed, the
grooves themselves are gone, and the logic of events must force him to
move onwards. That motion, in its turn, must affect the rest of the
community. Let the mind's eye glance for a moment over the country at
large. The villages among the hills, the villages on the plains, in the
valleys, and beside the streams represent in the aggregate an enormous
power. Separately such hamlets seem small and feeble--unable to impress
their will upon the world. But together they contain a vast crowd, which,
united, may shoulder itself an irresistible course, pushing aside all
obstacles by mere physical weight.

The effect of education has been, and seems likely to be, to supply a
certain unity of thought, if not of action, among these people. The solid
common sense--the law-abiding character of the majority--is sufficient
security against any violent movement. But how important it becomes that
that common sense should be strengthened against the assaults of an
insidious Socialism! A man's education does not come to an end when he
leaves school. He then just begins to form his opinions, and in nine cases
out of ten thinks what he hears and what he reads. Here, in the
agricultural labourer class, are many hundred thousand young men exactly
in this stage, educating themselves in moral, social, and political

In short, the future literature of the labourer becomes a serious
question. He will think what he reads; and what he reads at the present
moment is of anything but an elevating character. He will think, too, what
he hears; and he hears much of an enticing but subversive political creed,
and little of any other. There are busy tongues earnestly teaching him to
despise property and social order, to suggest the overthrow of existing
institutions; there is scarcely any one to instruct him in the true lesson
of history. Who calls together an audience of agricultural labourers to
explain to and interest them in the story of their own country? There are
many who are only too anxious to use the agricultural labourer as the
means to effect ends which he scarcely understands. But there are few,
indeed, who are anxious to instruct him in science or literature for his
own sake.



The aspect of a corn-growing district in the colder months is perhaps more
dreary than that of any other country scene. It is winter made visible.
The very houses at the edge of the village stand out harsh and angular,
especially if modern and slated, for the old thatched cottages are not
without a curve in the line of the eaves. No trees or bushes shelter them
from the bitter wind that rushes across the plain, and, because of the
absence of trees round the outskirts, the village may be seen from a great

The wayfarer, as he approaches along the interminable road, that now rises
over a hill and now descends into a valley, observes it from afar, his
view uninterrupted by wood, but the vastness of the plain seems to shorten
his step, so that he barely gains on the receding roofs. The hedges by the
road are cropped--cut down mercilessly--and do not afford the slightest
protection against wind, or rain, or sleet. If he would pause awhile to
rest his weary limbs no friendly bush keeps off the chilling blast.
Yonder, half a mile in front, a waggon creeps up the hill, always just so
much ahead, never overtaken, or seeming to alter its position, whether he
walks slow or fast. The only apparent inhabitants of the solitude are the
larks that every now and then cross the road in small flocks. Above, the
sky is dull and gloomy; beneath, the earth, except, where some snow
lingers, is of a still darker tint. On the northern side the low mounds
are white with snow here and there. Mile after mile the open level fields
extend on either hand; now brown from the late passage of the plough, now
a pale yellow where the short stubble yet remains, divided by black lines;
the low-cropped hedges bare of leaves. A few small fir copses are
scattered about, the only relief to the eye; all else is level, dull,

When the village is reached at last, it is found to be of considerable
size. The population is much greater than might have been anticipated from
the desert-like solitude surrounding the place. In actual numbers, of
course, it will not bear comparison with manufacturing districts, but for
its situation, it is quite a little town. Compared with the villages
situate in the midst of great pastures--where grass is the all-important
crop--it is really populous. Almost all the inhabitants find employment in
the fields around, helping to produce wheat and barley, oats and roots. It
is a little city of the staff of life--a metropolis of the plough.

Every single house, from that of the landowner, through the rent; that of
the clergyman, through the tithe--down to the humblest cottage, is
directly interested in the crop of corn. The very children playing about
the gaps in the hedges are interested in it, for can they not go gleaning?
If the heralds had given the place a coat of arms it should bear a sheaf
of wheat. And the reason of its comparative populousness is to be found in
the wheat also. For the stubborn earth will not yield its riches without
severe and sustained labour. Instead of tickling it with a hoe, and
watching the golden harvest leap forth, scarifier and plough, harrow and
drill in almost ceaseless succession, compel the clods by sheer force of
iron to deliver up their treasure. In another form it is almost like the
quartz-crushing at the gold mines--the ore ground out from the solid rock.
And here, in addition, the ore has to be put into the rock first in the
shape of manure.

All this labour requires hands to do it, and so--the supply for some time,
at all events, answering the demand--the village teemed with men. In the
autumn comes the ploughing, the couch-picking and burning, often second
ploughing, the sowing by drill or hand, the threshing, &c. In the spring
will come more ploughing, sowing, harrowing, hoeing. Modern agriculture
has increased the labour done in the fields. Crops are arranged to succeed
crops, and each of these necessitates labour, and labour a second and a
third time. The work on arable land is never finished. A slackness there
is in the dead of winter; but even then there is still something
doing--some draining, some trimming of hedges, carting manure for open
field work. But beyond this there are the sheep in the pens to be attended
to as the important time of lambing approaches, and there are the horned
cattle in the stalls still fattening, and leaving, as they reach maturity,
for the butcher.

The arable agriculturist, indeed, has a double weight upon his mind. He
has money invested in the soil itself, seed lying awaiting the genial warm
rain that shall cause it to germinate, capital in every furrow traced by
the plough. He has money, on the other hand, in his stock, sheep, and
cattle. A double anxiety is his; first that his crops may prosper, next
that his stock may flourish. He requires men to labour in the field, men
to attend to the sheep, men to feed the bullocks; a crowd of labourers are
supported by him, with their wives and families. In addition to these he
needs other labour--the inanimate assistance of the steam-engine, and the
semi-intelligent co-operation of the horse. These, again, must be directed
by men. Thus it is that the corn village has become populous.

The original idea was that the introduction of machinery would reduce all
this labour. In point of fact, it has, if anything, increased it. The
steam-plough will not work itself; each of the two engines requires two
men to attend to it; one, and often two, ride on the plough itself;
another goes with the water-cart to feed the boiler: others with the
waggon for coal. The drill must have men--and experienced men--with it,
besides horses to draw it, and these again want men The threshing-machine
employs quite a little troop to feed it; and, turning to the stock in the
stalls, roots will not pulp or slice themselves, nor will water pump
itself up into the troughs, nor chaff cut itself. The chaff-cutter and
pump, and so on, all depend on human hands to keep them going. Such is but
a very brief outline of the innumerable ways in which arable agriculture
gives employment. So the labourer and the labourer's family flourish
exceedingly in the corn tillage. Wages rise; he waxes fat and strong and
masterful, thinking that he holds the farmer and the golden grain in the
hollow of his hand.

But now a cloud arises and casts its shadow over the cottage. If the
farmer depends upon his men, so do the men in equal degree depend upon the
farmer. This they overlooked, but are now learning again. The farmer, too,
is not independent and self-sustained, but is at the mercy of many
masters. The weather and the seasons are one master; the foreign producer
is another; the markets, which are further influenced by the condition of
trade at large, form a third master. He is, indeed, very much more in the
position of a servant than his labourer. Of late almost all these masters
have combined against the corn-growing farmer. Wheat is not only low but
seems likely to remain so. Foreign meat also competes with the dearly-made
meat of the stalls. The markets are dull and trade depressed everywhere.
Finally a fresh master starts up in the shape of the labourer himself, and
demands higher wages.

For some length of time the corn-grower puts a courageous face on the
difficulties which beset him, and struggles on, hoping for better days.
After awhile, however, seeing that his capital is diminishing, because he
has been, as it were, eating it, seeing that there is no prospect of
immediate relief, whatever may happen in the future, he is driven to one
of two courses. He must quit the occupation or he must reduce his
expenditure. He must not only ask the labourer to accept a reduction, but
he must, wherever practicable, avoid employing labour at all.

Now comes the pressure on the corn village. Much but not all of that
pressure the inhabitants have brought upon themselves through endeavouring
to squeeze the farmer too closely. If there had been no labour
organisation whatever when the arable agriculturist began to suffer, as he
undoubtedly has been suffering, the labourer must have felt it in his
turn. He has himself to blame if he has made the pain more acute. He finds
it in this way. Throughout the corn-producing district there has been
proceeding a gradual shrinkage, as it were, of speculative investment.
Where an agriculturist would have ploughed deeper, and placed extra
quantities of manure in the soil, with a view to an extra crop, he has,
instead, only just ploughed and cleaned and manured enough to keep things
going. Where he would have enlarged his flock of sheep, or added to the
cattle in the stalls, and carried as much stock as he possibly could, he
has barely filled the stalls, and bought but just enough cake and foods.
Just enough, indeed, of late has been his watchword all through--just
enough labour and no more.

This cutting down, stinting, and economy everywhere has told upon the
population of the village. The difference in the expenditure upon a
solitary farm may be but a trifle--a few pounds; but when some score or
more farms are taken, in the aggregate the decrease in the cash
transferred from the pocket of the agriculturist to that of the labourer
becomes something considerable. The same percentage on a hundred farms
would amount to a large sum. In this manner the fact of the corn-producing
farmer being out of spirits with his profession reacts upon the corn
village. There is no positive distress, but there is just a sense that
there are more hands about than necessary. Yet at the same moment there
are not hands enough; a paradox which may be explained in a measure by the
introduction of machinery.

As already stated, machinery in the field does not reduce the number of
men employed. But they are employed in a different way. The work all comes
now in rushes. By the aid of the reaping machine acres are levelled in a
day, and the cut corn demands the services of a crowd of men and women all
at once, to tie it up in sheaves. Should the self-binders come into
general use, and tie the wheat with wire or string at the moment of
cutting it, the matter of labour will be left much in the same stage. A
crowd of workpeople will be required all at once to pick up the sheaves,
or to cart them to the rick; and the difference will lie in this, that
while now the crowd are employed, say twelve hours, then they will be
employed only nine. Just the same number--perhaps more--but for less time.
Under the old system, a dozen men worked all the winter through, hammering
away with their flails in the barns. Now the threshing-machine arrives,
and the ricks are threshed in a few days. As many men are wanted (and at
double the wages) to feed the machine, to tend the 'elevator' carrying up
the straw to make the straw rick, to fetch water and coal for the engine,
to drive it, &c. But instead of working for so many months, this rush
lasts as many days.

Much the same thing happens all throughout arable agriculture--from the
hoeing to the threshing--a troop are wanted one day, scarcely anybody the
next. There is, of course, a steady undercurrent of continuous work for a
certain fixed number of hands; but over and above this are the periodical
calls for extra labour, which of recent years, from the high wages paid,
have been so profitable to the labourers. But when the agriculturist draws
in his investments, when he retrenches his expenditure, and endeavours, as
far as practicable, to confine it to his regular men, then the
intermittent character of the extra work puts a strain upon the rest. They
do not find so much to do, the pay is insensibly decreasing, and they
obtain, less casual employment meantime.

In the olden times a succession of bad harvests caused sufferings
throughout the whole of England. Somewhat in like manner, though in a
greatly modified degree, the difficulties of the arable agriculturist at
the present day press upon the corn villages. In a time when the
inhabitants saw the farmers, as they believed, flourishing and even
treading on the heels of the squire, the corn villagers, thinking that the
farmer was absolutely dependent upon them, led the van of the agitation
for high wages. Now, when the force of circumstances has compressed wages
again, they are both to submit. But discovering by slow degrees that no
organisation can compel, or create a demand for labour at any price, there
are now signs on the one hand of acquiescence, and on the other of partial

Thus the comparative density of the population in arable districts is at
once a blessing and a trouble. It is not the 'pranks' of the farmers that
have caused emigration, or threats of it. The farmer is unable to pay high
wages, the men will not accept a moderate reduction, and the idle crowd,
in effect, tread on each other's heels. Pressure of that kind, and to that
extent, is limited to a few localities only. The majority have sufficient
common sense to see their error. But it is in arable districts that
agitation takes its extreme form. The very number of the population gives
any movement a vigour and emphasis that is wanting where there may be as
much discontent but fewer to exhibit it. That populousness has been in the
past of the greatest assistance to the agriculturist, and there is no
reason why it should not be so in the future, for it does not by any means
follow that because agriculture is at present depressed it will always be

Let the months roll by and then approach the same village along the same
road under the summer sun. The hedges, though low, are green, and bear the
beautiful flowers of the wild convolvulus. Trees that were scarcely
observed before, because bare of leaves, now appear, and crowds of birds,
finches and sparrows, fly up from the corn. The black swifts wheel
overhead, and the white-breasted swallows float in the azure. Over the
broad plain extends a still broader roof of the purest blue--the landscape
is so open that the sky seems as broad again as in the enclosed
countries--wide, limitless, very much as it does at sea. On the rising
ground pause a moment and look round. Wheat and barley and oats stretch
mile after mile on either hand. Here the red wheat tinges the view, there
the whiter barley; but the prevailing hue is a light gold. Yonder green is
the swede, or turnip, or mangold; but frequent as are the fields of roots,
the golden tint overpowers the green. A golden sun looks down upon the
golden wheat--the winds are still and the heat broods over the corn. It is
pleasant to get under the scanty shadow of the stunted ash. Think what
wealth all that glorious beauty represents. Wealth to the rich man, wealth
to the poor.

Come again in a few weeks' time and look down upon it. The swarthy reapers
are at work. They bend to their labour till the tall corn overtops their
heads. Every now and then they rise up, and stand breast high among the
wheat. Every field is full of them, men and women, young lads and girls,
busy as they may be. Yonder the reaping-machine, with its strange-looking
arms revolving like the vast claws of an unearthly monster beating down
the grain, goes rapidly round and round in an ever-narrowing circle till
the last ears fall. A crowd has pounced upon the cut corn. Behind
them--behind the reapers--everywhere abroad on the great plain rises an
army, regiment behind regiment, the sheaves stacked in regular ranks down
the fields. Yet a little while, and over that immense expanse not one
single, solitary straw will be left standing. Then the green roots show
more strongly, and tint the landscape. Next come the waggons, and after
that the children searching for stray ears of wheat, for not one must be
left behind. After that, in the ploughing time, while yet the sun shines
warm, it is a sight to watch the teams from under the same ash tree,
returning from their labour in the afternoon. Six horses here, eight
horses there, twelve yonder, four far away; all in single file, slowly
walking home, and needing no order or touch of whip to direct their steps
to the well-known stables.

If any wish to see the work of farming in its full flush and vigour, let
them visit a corn district at the harvest time. Down in the village there
scarcely any one is left at home; every man, woman, and child is out in
the field. It is the day of prosperity, of continuous work for all, of
high wages. It is, then, easy to understand why corn villages are
populous. One cannot but feel the strongest sympathy with these men. The
scene altogether seems so thoroughly, so intensely English. The spirit of
it enters into the spectator, and he feels that he, too, must try his hand
at the reaping, and then slake his thirst from the same cup with these
bronzed sons of toil.

Yet what a difficult problem lies underneath all this! While the reaper
yonder slashes at the straw, huge ships are on the ocean rushing through
the foam to bring grain to the great cities to whom--and to all--cheap
bread is so inestimable a blessing. Very likely, when he pauses in his
work, and takes his luncheon, the crust he eats is made of flour ground
out of grain that grew in far distant Minnesota, or some vast Western
State. Perhaps at the same moment the farmer himself sits at his desk and
adds up figure after figure, calculating the cost of production, the
expenditure on labour, the price of manure put into the soil, the capital
invested in the steam-plough, and the cost of feeding the bullocks that
are already intended for the next Christmas. Against these he places the
market price of that wheat he can see being reaped from his window, and
the price he receives for his fattened bullock. Then a vision rises before
him of green meads and broad pastures slowly supplanting the corn; the
plough put away, and the scythe brought out and sharpened. If so, where
then will be the crowd of men and women yonder working in the wheat? Is
not this a great problem, one to be pondered over and not hastily

Logical conclusions do not always come to pass in practice; even yet there
is plenty of time for a change which shall retain these stalwart reapers
amongst us, the strength and pride of the land. But if so, it is certain
that it must be preceded by some earnest on their part of a desire to
remove that last straw from the farmer's back--the last straw of
extravagant labour demands--which have slowly been dragging him down. They
have been doing their very best to bring about the substitution of grass
for corn. And the farmer, too, perhaps, must look at home, and be content
to live in simpler fashion. To do so will certainly require no little
moral courage, for a prevalent social custom, like that of living fully up
to the income (not solely characteristic of farmers), is with difficulty
faced and overcome.



On the ground beside the bramble bushes that project into the field the
grass is white with hoar frost at noon-day, when the rest of the meadow
has resumed its dull green winter tint. Behind the copse, too, there is a
broad belt of white--every place, indeed, that would be in the shadow were
the sun to shine forth is of that colour.

The eager hunter frowns with impatience, knowing that though the eaves of
the house may drip in the middle of the day, yet, while those white
patches show in the shelter of the bramble bushes the earth will be hard
and unyielding. His horse may clear the hedge, but how about the landing
on that iron-like surface? Every old hoof-mark in the sward, cut out sharp
and clear as if with a steel die, is so firm that the heaviest roller
would not produce the smallest effect upon it. At the gateways where the
passage of cattle has trodden away the turf, the mud, once almost
impassable, is now hardened, and every cloven hoof that pressed it has
left its mark as if cast in metal. Along the furrows the ice has fallen
in, and lies on the slope white and broken, the shallow water having dried
away beneath it. Dark hedges, dark trees--in the distance they look almost
black--nearer at hand the smallest branches devoid of leaves are clearly
defined against the sky.

As the northerly wind drifts the clouds before it the sun shines down, and
the dead, dry grass and the innumerable tufts of the 'leaze' which the
cattle have not eaten, take a dull grey hue. Sheltered from the blast
behind the thick, high hawthorn hedge and double mound, which is like a
rampart reared against Boreas, it is pleasant even now to stroll to and
fro in the sunshine. The longtailed titmice come along in parties of six
or eight, calling to each other as in turn they visit every tree. Turning
from watching these--see, a redbreast has perched on a branch barely two
yards distant, for, wherever you may be, there the robin comes and watches
you. Whether looking in summer at the roses in the garden, or waiting in
winter for the pheasant to break cover or the fox to steal forth, go where
you will, in a minute or two, a redbreast appears intent on your

Now comes a discordant squeaking of iron axles that have not been greased,
and the jolting sound of wheels passing over ruts whose edges are hard and
frost-bound. From the lane two manure carts enter the meadow in slow
procession, and, stopping at regular intervals, the men in charge take
long poles with hooks at the end and drag down a certain quantity of the
fertilising material. The sharp frost is so far an advantage to the tenant
of meadow land that he can cart manure without cutting and poaching the
turf, and even without changing the ordinary for the extra set of
broad-wheels on the cart. In the next meadow the hedge-cutters are busy,
their hands fenced with thick gloves to turn aside the thorns.

Near by are the hay-ricks and cow-pen where a metallic rattling sound
rises every now and then--the bull in the shed moving his neck and
dragging his chain through the ring. More than one of the hay-ricks have
been already half cut away, for the severe winter makes the cows hungry,
and if their yield of milk is to be kept up they must be well fed, so that
the foggers have plenty to do. If the dairy, as is most probably the case,
sends the milk to London, they have still more, because then a regular
supply has to be maintained, and for that a certain proportion of other
food has to be prepared in addition to the old-fashioned hay. The new
system, indeed, has led to the employment of more labour out-of-doors, if
less within. An extra fogger has to be put on, not only because of the
food, but because the milking has to be done in less time--with a
despatch, indeed, that would have seemed unnatural to the old folk.
Besides which the milk carts to and fro the railway station require
drivers, whose time--as they have to go some miles twice a day--is pretty
nearly occupied with their horses and milk tins. So much is this the case
that even in summer they can scarcely be spared to do a few hours

The new system, therefore, of selling the milk instead of making butter
and cheese is advantageous to the labourer by affording more employment in
grass districts. It is steady work, too, lasting the entire year round,
and well paid. The stock of cows in such cases is kept up to the very
highest that the land will carry, which, again, gives more work. Although
the closing of the cheese lofts and the superannuation of the churn has
reduced the number of female servants in the house, yet that is more than
balanced by the extra work without. The cottage families, it is true, lose
the buttermilk which some farmers used to allow them; but wages are
certainly better.

There has been, in fact, a general stir and movement in dairy districts
since the milk selling commenced, which has been favourable to labour. A
renewed life and energy has been visible on farms where for generations
things had gone on in the same sleepy manner. Efforts have been made to
extend the area available for feeding by grubbing hedges and cultivating
pieces of ground hitherto given over to thistles, rushes, and rough
grasses. Drains have been put in so that the stagnant water in the soil
might not cause the growth of those grasses which cattle will not touch.
Fresh seed has been sown, and 'rattles' and similar plants destructive to
the hay crop have been carefully eradicated. New gales, new carts, and
traps, all exhibit the same movement.

The cowyards in many districts were formerly in a very dilapidated
condition. The thatch of the sheds was all worn away, mossgrown, and bored
by the sparrows. Those in which the cows were placed at calving time were
mere dark holes. The floor of the yard was often soft, so that the hoofs
of the cattle trod deep into it--a perfect slough in wet weather. The cows
themselves were of a poor character, and in truth as poorly treated, for
the hay was made badly--carelessly harvested, and the grass itself not of
good quality--nor were the men always very humane, thinking little of
knocking the animals about.

Quite a change has come over all this. The cows now kept are much too
valuable to be treated roughly, being selected from shorthorn strains that
yield large quantities of milk. No farmer now would allow any such
knocking about. The hay itself is better, because the grass has been
improved, and it is also harvested carefully. Rickcloths prevent rain from
spoiling the rising rick, mowing machines, haymaking machines, and horse
rakes enable a spell of good weather to be taken advantage of, and the hay
got in quickly, instead of lying about till the rain returns. As for the
manure, it is recognised to be gold in another shape, and instead of being
trodden under foot by the cattle and washed away by the rain, it is
utilised. The yard is drained and stoned so as to be dry--a change that
effects a saving in litter, the value of which has greatly risen. Sheds
have been new thatched, and generally renovated, and even new roads laid
down across the farms, and properly macadamised, in order that the milk
carts might reach the highway without the straining and difficulty
consequent upon wheels sinking half up to the axles in winter.

In short, dairy farms have been swept and garnished, and even something
like science introduced upon them. The thermometer in summer is in
constant use to determine if the milk is sufficiently cooled to proceed
upon its journey. That cooling of the milk alone is a process that
requires more labour to carry it out. Artificial manures are spread abroad
on the pastures. The dairy farmer has to a considerable extent awakened to
the times, and, like the arable agriculturist, is endeavouring to bring
modern appliances to bear upon his business. To those who recollect the
old style of dairy farmer the change seems marvellous indeed. Nowhere was
the farmer more backward, more rude and primitive, than on the small dairy
farms. He was barely to be distinguished from the labourers, amongst whom
he worked shoulder to shoulder; he spoke with their broad accent, and his
ideas and theirs were nearly identical.

In ten years' time--just a short ten years only--what an alteration has
taken place! It is needless to say that this could not go on without the
spending of money, and the spending of money means the benefit of the
labouring class. New cottages have been erected, of course on modern
plans, so that many of the men are much better lodged than they were, and
live nearer to their work--a great consideration where cows are the main
object of attention. The men have to be on the farm very early in the
morning, and if they have a long walk it is a heavy drag upon them.
Perhaps the constant intercourse with the towns and stations resulting
from the double daily visit of the milk carts has quickened the minds of
the labourers thus employed. Whatever may be the cause, it is certain that
they do exhibit an improvement, and are much 'smarter' than they used to
be. It would be untrue to say that no troubles with the labourers have
arisen in meadow districts. There has been some friction about wages, but
not nearly approaching the agitation elsewhere. And when a recent
reduction of wages commenced, many of the men themselves admitted that it
was inevitable. But the average earnings throughout the year still
continue, and are likely to continue far above the old rate of payment.
Where special kinds of cheese are made the position of the labourer has
also improved.

Coming to the same district in summer time, the meadows have a beauty all
their own. The hedges are populous with birds, the trees lovely, the brook
green with flags, the luxuriantly-growing grass decked with flowers. Nor
has haymaking lost all its ancient charm. Though the old-fashioned sound
of the mower sharpening his scythe is less often heard, being superseded
by the continuous rattle of the mowing machine, yet the hay smells as
sweetly as ever. While the mowing machine, the haymaking machine, and
horse rake give the farmer the power of using the sunshine, when it comes,
to the best purpose, they are not without an effect upon the labouring

Just as in corn districts, machinery has not reduced the actual number of
hands employed, but has made the work come in spells or rushes; so in the
meadows the haymaking is shortened. The farmer waits till good weather is
assured for a few days. Then on goes his mowing machine and levels the
crop of an entire field in no time. Immediately a whole crowd of labourers
are required for making the hay and getting it when ready on the waggons.
Under the old system the mowers usually got drunk about the third day of
sunshine, and the work came to a standstill. When it began to rain they
recovered themselves, and slashed away vigorously--when it was not wanted.
The effect of machinery has been much the same as on corn lands, with the
addition that fewer women are now employed in haymaking. Those that are
employed are much better paid.

The hamlets of grass districts are not, as a rule, at all populous. There
really are fewer people, and at the same time the impression is increased
by the scattered position of the dwellings. Instead of a great central
village there are three or four small hamlets a mile or two apart, and
solitary groups of cottages near farmhouses. One result of this is, that
allotment gardens are not so common, for the sufficient reason that, if a
field were set apart for the purpose, the tenants of the plots would have
to walk so far to the place that it would scarcely pay them. Gardens are
consequently attached to most cottages, and answer the same purpose; some
have small orchards as well.

The cottagers have also more firewood than is the case in some arable
districts on account of the immense quantity of wood annually cut in
copses and double-mound hedges. The rougher part becomes the labourers'
perquisite, and they can also purchase wood at a nominal rate from their
employers. This more than compensates for the absence of gleaning. In
addition, quantities of wood are collected from hedges and ditches and
under the trees--dead boughs that have fallen or been broken off by a

The aspect of a grazing district presents a general resemblance to that of
a dairy one, with the difference that in the grazing everything seems on a
larger scale. Instead of small meadows shut in with hedges and trees, the
grazing farms often comprise fields of immense extent; sometimes a single
pasture is as large as a small dairy farm. The herds of cattle are also
more numerous; of course they are of a different class, but, in mere
numbers, a grazier often has three times as many bullocks as a dairy
farmer has cows. The mounds are quite as thickly timbered as in dairy
districts, but as they are much farther apart, the landscape appears more

To a spectator looking down upon mile after mile of such pasture land in
summer from an elevation it resembles a park of illimitable extent. Great
fields after great fields roll away to the horizon--groups of trees and
small copses dot the slopes--roan and black cattle stand in the sheltering
shadows. A dreamy haze hangs over the distant woods--all is large, open,
noble. It suggests a life of freedom--the gun and the saddle--and, indeed,
it is here that hunting is enjoyed in its full perfection. The labourer
falls almost out of sight in these vast pastures. The population is sparse
and scattered, the hamlets are few and far apart; even many of the
farmhouses being only occupied by bailiffs. In comparison with a dairy
farm there is little work to do. Cows have to be milked as well as
foddered, and the milk when obtained gives employment to many hands in the
various processes it goes through. Here the bullocks have simply to be fed
and watched, the sheep in like manner have to be tended. Except in the
haymaking season, therefore, there is scarcely ever a press for labour.
Those who are employed have steady, continuous work the year through, and
are for the most part men of experience in attending upon cattle, as
indeed they need be, seeing the value of the herds under their charge.

Although little direct agitation has taken place in pasture countries, yet
wages have equally risen. Pasture districts almost drop out of the labour
dispute. On the one hand the men are few, on the other the rise of a
shilling or so scarcely affects the farmer (so far as his grass land is
concerned, if he has much corn as well it is different), because of the
small number of labourers he wants.

The great utility of pasture is, of course, the comparatively cheap
production of meat, which goes to feed the population in cities. Numbers
of bullocks are fattened on corn land in stalls, but of late it has been
stated that the cost of feeding under such conditions is so high that
scarcely any profit can be obtained. The pasture farmer has by no means
escaped without encountering difficulties; but still, with tolerably
favourable seasons, he can produce meat much more cheaply than the arable
agriculturist. Yet it is one of the avowed objects of the labour
organisation to prevent the increase of pasture land, to stop the laying
down of grass, and even to plough up some of the old pastures. The reason
given is that corn land supports so many more agricultural labourers,
which is so far true; but if corn farming cannot be carried on profitably
without great reduction of the labour expenses the argument is not worth
much, while the narrowness of the view is at once evident. The proportion
of pasture to arable land must settle itself, and be governed entirely by
the same conditions that affect other trades--i.e.. profit and loss.

It has already been pointed out that the labourer finds it possible to
support the Union with small payments, and also to subscribe to
benefit-clubs. The fact suggests the idea that, if facilities were
afforded, the labourer would become a considerable depositor of pennies.
The Post-office Savings Banks have done much good, the drawback is that
the offices are often too distant from the labourer. There is an office in
the village, but not half the population live in the village. There are
far-away hamlets and things, besides lonely groups of three or four
farmhouses, to which a collective name can hardly be given, but which
employ a number of men. A rural parish is 'all abroad'--the people are
scattered. To go into the Post-office in the village may involve a walk of
several miles, and it is closed, too, on Saturday night when the men are
flush of money.

The great difficulty with penny banks on the other hand is the
receiver--who is to be responsible for the money? The clergyman would be
only too glad, but many will have nothing to do with anything under his
influence simply because he is the clergyman. The estrangement that has
been promoted between the labourer and the tenant farmer effectually shuts
the latter out. The landlord's agent cannot reside in fifty places at
once. The sums are too small to pay for a bank agent to reside in the
village and go round. There remain the men themselves; and why should not
they be trusted with the money? Men of their own class collect the Union
subscriptions, and faithfully pay them in.

Take the case of a little hamlet two, three, perhaps more miles from a
Post-office Savings Bank, where some thirty labourers work on the farms.
Why should not these thirty elect one of their own number to receive their
savings over Saturday--to be paid in by him at the Post-office? There are
men among them who might be safely trusted with ten times the money, and
if the Post-office cannot be opened on Saturday evenings for him to
deposit it, it is quite certain that his employer would permit of his
absence, on one day, sufficiently long to go to the office and back. If
the men wish to be absolutely independent in the matter, all they have to
do is to work an extra hour for their agent's employer, and so compensate
for his temporary absence. If the men had it in their own hands like this
they would enter into it with far greater interest, and it would take root
among them. All that is required is the consent of the Post-office to
receive moneys so deposited, and some one to broach the idea to the men in
the various localities. The great recommendation of the Post-office is
that the labouring classes everywhere have come to feel implicit faith in
the safety of deposits made in it. They have a confidence in it that can
never be attained by a private enterprise, however benevolent, and it
should therefore be utilised to the utmost.

To gentlemen accustomed to receive a regular income, a small lump sum like
ten or twenty pounds appears a totally inadequate provision against old
age. They institute elaborate calculations by professed accountants, to
discover whether by any mode of investment a small subscription
proportionate to the labourer's wages can be made to provide him with an
annuity. The result is scarcely satisfactory. But, in fact, though an
annuity would be, of course, preferable, even so small a sum as ten or
twenty pounds is of the very highest value to an aged agricultural
labourer, especially when he has a cottage, if not his own property, yet
in which he has a right to reside. The neighbouring farmers, who have
known him from their own boyhood, are always ready to give him light jobs
whenever practicable. So that in tolerable weather he still earns
something. His own children do a little for him. In the dead of the winter
come a few weeks when he can do nothing, and feels the lack of small
comforts. It is just then that a couple of sovereigns out of a hoard of
twenty pounds will tide him over the interval.

It is difficult to convey an idea of the value of these two extra
sovereigns to a man of such frugal habits and in that position. None but
those who have mixed with the agricultural poor can understand it. Now the
wages that will hardly, by the most careful management, allow of the
gradual purchase of an annuity, will readily permit such savings as these.
It is simply a question of the money-box. When the child's money-box is at
hand the penny is dropped in, and the amount accumulates; if there is no
box handy it is spent in sweets. The same holds true of young and old
alike. If, then, the annuity cannot be arranged, let the money-box, at all
events, be brought nearer. And the money-box in which the poor man all
over the country has the most faith is the Post-office.



After all the ploughing and the sowing, the hoeing and the harvest, comes
the miserable end. Strong as the labourer may be, thick-set and capable of
immense endurance; by slow degrees that strength must wear away. The limbs
totter, the back is bowed, the dimmed sight can no longer guide the plough
in a straight furrow, nor the weak hands wield the reaping-hook, Hodge,
who, Atlas-like, supported upon his shoulders the agricultural world,
comes in his old age under the dominion of his last masters at the
workhouse. There, indeed, he finds almost the whole array of his rulers
assembled. Tenant farmers sit as the guardians of the poor for their
respective parishes; the clergyman and the squire by virtue of their
office as magistrates; and the tradesman as guardian for the market town.
Here are representatives of almost all his masters, and it may seem to him
a little strange that it should require so many to govern such feeble

The board-room at the workhouse is a large and apparently comfortable
apartment. The fire is piled with glowing coals, the red light from which
gleams on the polished fender. A vast table occupies the centre, and
around it are arranged seats, for each of the guardians. The chairman is,
perhaps, a clergyman (and magistrate), who for years has maintained
something like peace between discordant elements. For the board-room is
often a battle-field where political or sectarian animosities exhibit
themselves in a rugged way. The clergyman, by force of character, has at
all events succeeded in moderating the personal asperity of the contending
parties. Many of the stout, elderly farmers who sit round the table have
been elected year after year, no one disputing with them that tedious and
thankless office. The clerk, always a solicitor, is also present, and his
opinion is continually required. Knotty points of law are for ever arising
over what seems so simple a matter as the grant of a dole of bread.

The business, indeed, of relieving the agricultural poor is no light
one--a dozen or fifteen gentlemen often sit here the whole day. The
routine of examining the relieving officers' books and receiving their
reports takes up at least two hours. Agricultural unions often include a
wide space of country, and getting from one village to another consumes as
much time as would be needed for the actual relief of a much denser
population. As a consequence, more relieving officers are employed than
would seem at first glance necessary. Each of these has his records to
present, and his accounts to be practically audited, a process naturally
interspersed with inquiries respecting cottagers known to the guardians

Personal applications for out-door relief are then heard. A group of
intending applicants has been waiting in the porch for admission for some
time. Women come for their daughters; daughters for their mothers; some
want assistance during an approaching confinement, others ask for a small
loan, to be repaid by instalments, with which to tide over their
difficulties. One cottage woman is occasionally deputed by several of her
neighbours as their representative. The labourer or his wife stands before
the Board and makes a statement, supplemented by explanation from the
relieving officer of the district. Another hour thus passes. Incidentally
there arise cases of 'settlement' in distant parishes, when persons have
become chargeable whose place of residence was recently, perhaps, half
across the country. They have no parochial rights here and must be
returned thither, after due inquiries made by the clerk and the exchange
of considerable correspondence.

The master of the workhouse is now called in and delivers his weekly
report of the conduct of the inmates, and any events that have happened.
One inmate, an ancient labourer, died that morning in the infirmary, not
many hours before the meeting of the Board. The announcement is received
with regretful exclamations, and there is a cessation of business for a
few minutes. Some of the old farmers who knew the deceased recount their
connection with him, how he worked for them, and how his family has lived
in the parish as cottagers from time immemorial. A reminiscence of a grim
joke that fell out forty years before, and of which the deceased was the
butt, causes a grave smile, and then to business again. The master
possibly asks permission to punish a refractory inmate; punishment is now
very sparingly given in the house. A good many cases, however, come up
from the Board to the magisterial Bench--charges of tearing up clothing,
fighting, damaging property, or of neglecting to maintain, or to repay
relief advanced on loan. These cases are, of course, conducted by the

There is sometimes a report, to be read by one of the doctors who receive
salaries from the Board and attend to the various districts, and
occasionally some nuisance to be considered and order taken for its
compulsory removal on sanitary grounds. The question of sanitation is
becoming rather a difficult one in agricultural unions.

After this the various committees of the Board have to give in the result
of their deliberations, and the representative of the ladies' boarding-out
committee presents a record of the work accomplished. These various
committees at times are burdened with the most onerous labours, for upon
them falls the duty of verifying all the petty details of management.
Every pound of soap, or candles, scrubbing-brushes, and similar domestic
items, pass under their inspection, not only the payments for them, but
the actual articles, or samples of them, being examined. Tenders for
grocery, bread, wines and spirits for cases of illness, meat, coals, and
so forth are opened and compared, vouchers, bills, receipts, invoices, and
so forth checked and audited.

The amount of detail thus attended to is something immense, and the
accuracy required occupies hour after hour. There are whole libraries of
account-books, ledgers, red-bound relief-books, stowed away, pile upon
pile, in the house; archives going back to the opening of the
establishment, and from which any trifling relief given or expenditure
inclined years ago can be extracted. Such another carefully-administered
institution it would be hard to find; nor is any proposed innovation or
change adopted without the fullest discussion--it may be the suggested
erection of additional premises, or the introduction of some fresh feature
of the system, or some novel instructions sent down by the Local
Government Board.

When such matters or principles are to be discussed there is certain to be
a full gathering of the guardians and a trial of strength between the
parties. Those who habitually neglect to attend, leaving the hard labour
of administration to be borne by their colleagues, now appear in numbers,
and the board-room is crowded, many squires otherwise seldom seen coming
in to give their votes. It is as much as the chairman can do to assuage
the storm and to maintain an approach to personal politeness. Quiet as the
country appears to the casual observer, there are, nevertheless, strong
feelings under the surface, and at such gatherings the long-cherished
animosities burst forth.

Nothing at all events is done in a corner; everything is openly discussed
and investigated. Every week the visiting committee go round the house,
and enter every ward and store-room. They taste and test the provisions,
and the least shortcoming is certain to be severely brought home to those
who are fulfilling the contracts. They pass through the dormitories, and
see that everything is clean; woe betide those responsible if a spot of
dirt be visible! There is the further check of casual and unexpected
visits from the guardians or magistrates. It is probable that not one
crumb of bread consumed is otherwise than good, and that not one single
crumb is wasted. The waste is in the system--and a gigantic waste it is,
whether inevitable as some contend, or capable of being superseded by a
different plan.

Of every hundred pounds paid by the ratepayers how much is absorbed in the
maintenance of the institution and its ramifications, and how very little
reaches poor deserving Hodge! The undeserving and mean-spirited, of whom
there are plenty in every village, who endeavour to live upon the parish,
receive relief thrice as long and to thrice the amount as the
hard-working, honest labourer, who keeps out to the very last moment. It
is not the fault of the guardians, but of the rigidity of the law. Surely
a larger amount of discretionary power might be vested in them with
advantage! Some exceptional consideration is the just due of men who have
worked from the morn to the very eve of life.

The labourer whose decease was reported to the Board upon their assembling
was born some seventy-eight or seventy-nine years ago. The exact date is
uncertain; many of the old men can only fix their age by events that
happened when they were growing from boys into manhood. That it must have
been nearer eighty than seventy years since is known, however, to the
elderly farmers, who recollect him as a man with a family when they were
young. The thatched cottage stood beside the road at one end of a long,
narrow garden, enclosed from the highway by a hedge of elder. At the back
there was a ditch and mound with elm-trees, and green meadows beyond. A
few poles used to lean against the thatch, their tops rising above the
ridge, and close by was a stack of thorn faggots. In the garden three or
four aged and mossgrown apple-trees stood among the little plots of
potatoes, and as many plum-trees in the elder hedge. One tall pear-tree
with scored bark grew near the end of the cottage; it bore a large crop of
pears, which were often admired by the people who came along the road, but
were really hard and woody. As a child he played in the ditch and hedge,
or crept through into the meadow and searched in the spring for violets to
offer to the passers-by; or he swung on the gate in the lane and held it
open for the farmers in their gigs, in hope of a halfpenny.

As a lad he went forth with his father to work in the fields, and came
home to the cabbage boiled for the evening meal. It was not a very roomy
or commodious home to return to after so many hours in the field, exposed
to rain and wind, to snow, or summer sun. The stones of the floor were
uneven, and did not fit at the edges. There was a beam across the low
ceiling, to avoid which, as he grew older, he had to bow his head when
crossing the apartment. A wooden ladder, or steps, not a staircase proper,
behind the whitewashed partition, led to the bedroom. The steps were
worm-eaten and worn. In the sitting-room the narrow panes of the small
window were so overgrown with woodbine as to admit but little light. But
in summer the door was wide open, and the light and the soft air came in.
The thick walls and thatch kept it warm and cosy in winter, when they
gathered round the fire. Every day in his manhood he went out to the
field; every item, as it were, of life centred in that little cottage. In
time he came to occupy it with his own wife, and his children in their
turn crept through the hedge, or swung upon the gate. They grew up, and
one by one went away, till at last he was left alone.

He had not taken much conscious note of the changing aspect of the scene
around him. The violets flowered year after year; still he went to plough.
The May bloomed and scented the hedges; still he went to his work. The
green summer foliage became brown and the acorns fell from the oaks; still
he laboured on, and saw the ice and snow, and heard the wind roar in the
old familiar trees without much thought of it. But those old familiar
trees, the particular hedges he had worked among so many years, the very
turf of the meadows over which he had walked so many times, the view down
the road from the garden gate, the distant sign-post and the red-bricked
farmhouse--all these things had become part of his life. There was no hope
nor joy left to him, but he wanted to stay on among them to the end. He
liked to ridge up his little plot of potatoes; he liked to creep up his
ladder and mend the thatch of his cottage; he liked to cut himself a
cabbage, and to gather the one small basketful of apples. There was a kind
of dull pleasure in cropping the elder hedge, and even in collecting the
dead branches scattered under the trees. To be about the hedges, in the
meadows, and along the brooks was necessary to him, and he liked to be at

Three score and ten did not seem the limit of his working days; he still
could and would hoe--a bowed back is no impediment, but perhaps rather an
advantage, at that occupation. He could use a prong in the haymaking; he
could reap a little, and do good service tying up the cut corn. There were
many little jobs on the farm that required experience, combined with the
plodding patience of age, and these he could do better than a stronger
man. The years went round again, and yet he worked. Indeed, the farther
back a man's birth dates in the beginning of the present century the more
he seems determined to labour. He worked on till every member of his
family had gone, most to their last home, and still went out at times when
the weather was not too severe. He worked on, and pottered round the
garden, and watched the young green plums swelling on his trees, and did a
bit of gleaning, and thought the wheat would weigh bad when it was
threshed out.

Presently people began to bestir themselves, and to ask whether there was
no one to take care of the old man, who might die from age and none near.
Where were his own friends and relations? One strong son had enlisted and
gone to India, and though his time had expired long ago, nothing had ever
been heard of him. Another son had emigrated to Australia, and once sent
back a present of money, and a message, written for him by a friend, that
he was doing well. But of late, he, too, had dropped out of sight. Of
three daughters who grew up, two were known to be dead, and the third was
believed to be in New Zealand. The old man was quite alone. He had no hope
and no joy, yet he was almost happy in a slow unfeeling way wandering
about the garden and the cottage. But in the winter his half-frozen blood
refused to circulate, his sinews would not move his willing limbs, and he
could not work.

His case came before the Board of Guardians. Those who knew all about him
wished to give him substantial relief in his own cottage, and to appoint
some aged woman as nurse--a thing that is occasionally done, and most
humanely. But there were technical difficulties in the way; the cottage
was either his own or partly his own, and relief could not be given to any
one possessed of 'property' Just then, too, there was a great movement
against, out-door relief; official circulars came round warning Boards to
curtail it, and much fuss was made. In the result the old man was driven
into the workhouse; muttering and grumbling, he had to be bodily carried
to the trap, and thus by physical force was dragged from his home. In the
workhouse there is of necessity a dead level of monotony--there are many
persons but no individuals. The dining-hall is crossed with forms and
narrow tables, somewhat resembling those formerly used in schools. On
these at dinner-time are placed a tin mug and a tin soup-plate for each
person; every mug and every plate exactly alike. When the unfortunates
have taken their places, the master pronounces grace from an elevated desk
at the end of the hall.

Plain as is the fare, it was better than the old man had existed on for
years; but though better it was not his dinner. He was not sitting in his
old chair, at his own old table, round which his children had once
gathered. He had not planted the cabbage, and tended it while it grew, and
cut it himself. So it was, all through the workhouse life. The dormitories
were clean, but the ward was not his old bedroom up the worm-eaten steps,
with the slanting ceiling, where as he woke in the morning he could hear
the sparrows chirping, the chaffinch calling, and the lark singing aloft.
There was a garden attached to the workhouse, where he could do a little
if he liked, but it was not his garden. He missed his plum-trees and
apples, and the tall pear, and the lowly elder hedge. He looked round
raising his head with difficulty, and he could not see the sign-post, nor
the familiar red-bricked farmhouse. He knew all the rain that had fallen
must have come through the thatch of the old cottage in at least one
place, and he would have liked to have gone and rethatched it with
trembling hand. At home he could lift the latch of the garden gate and go
down the road when he wished. Here he could not go outside the
boundary--it was against the regulations. Everything to appearance had
been monotonous in the cottage--but there he did not feel it monotonous.

At the workhouse the monotony weighed upon him. He used to think as he lay
awake in bed that when the spring came nothing should keep him in this
place. He would take his discharge and go out, and borrow a hoe from
somebody, and go and do a bit of work again, and be about in the fields.
That was his one hope all through his first winter. Nothing else enlivened
it, except an occasional little present of tobacco from the guardians who
knew him. The spring came, but the rain was ceaseless. No work of the kind
he could do was possible in such weather. Still there was the summer, but
the summer was no improvement; in the autumn he felt weak, and was not
able to walk far. The chance for which he had waited had gone. Again the
winter came, and he now rapidly grew more feeble.

When once an aged man gives up, it seems strange at first that he should
be so utterly helpless. In the infirmary the real benefit of the workhouse
reached him. The food, the little luxuries, the attention were far
superior to anything he could possibly have had at home. But still it was
not home. The windows did not permit him from his bed to see the leafless
trees or the dark woods and distant hills. Left to himself, it is certain
that of choice he would have crawled under a rick, or into a hedge, if he
could not have reached his cottage.

The end came very slowly; he ceased to exist by imperceptible degrees,
like an oak-tree. He remained for days in a semi-unconscious state,
neither moving nor speaking. It happened at last. In the grey of the
winter dawn, as the stars paled and the whitened grass was stiff with hoar
frost, and the rime coated every branch of the tall elms, as the milker
came from the pen and the young ploughboy whistled down the road to his
work, the spirit of the aged man departed.

What amount of production did that old man's life of labour represent?
What value must be put upon the service of the son that fought in India;
of the son that worked in Australia; of the daughter in New Zealand, whose
children will help to build up a new nation? These things surely have
their value. Hodge died, and the very grave-digger grumbled as he delved
through the earth hard-bound in the iron frost, for it jarred his hand and
might break his spade. The low mound will soon be level, and the place of
his burial shall not be known.


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