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THE MANUFACTURING POPULATION;
THEIR MORAL, SOCIAL, AND PHYSICAL CONDITION. THE moral, social, and domestic relations of the immense portion of the productive population of the kingdom now engaged in manufactures, present a picture as strange and as deeply interesting as any in the whole circle of the history of mankind. Comprising as it does so large a portion of the whole population, it must be a most important object to furnish data of its present state and prospects to all those who may be led from humane and political motives to an attempt to give that healthy tone to society, from want of which the body politic must meet with premature decay. To the Philanthropist to the man anxious for the well-being and social happiness of his species, the state of this portion of our countrymen is calculated to fill the mind with sorrow and apprehension. It has been little attended to, and still less understood. Remedies are wanted, are loudly called for; but before they can be efficiently applied, the disease must be studied: mere empiricism, even when founded on the purest motives, is dangerous; and when the interests and happiness of a multitude are at stake, a clear and distinct understanding of the wants and feelings should precede any attempt to satisfy the one or rectify the other.
When we think how large a proportion of the national wealth and of the prosperity of the entire population is involved in this class, it is astonishing how little is the amount of the information which exists on these subjects. Erroneous opinions are afloat in all quarters both on the remote and immediate causes of the miseries that are proved to exist: some attribute them to poverty; others to the lack of education: but it has not arisen from these alone, but from far more fatal causes: it has arisen from the separation of families, the breaking up of households, the destruction of all those ties which link man's heart to the better portion of his nature-viz., his instincts and social affections, which can alone render him a respectable and praiseworthy member of society, both in his domestic relations and in his capacity of a citizen; and these causes have finally led him to abandon the pure joys of home, and to seek for pleasures and excitements in pursuits fatal alike to his bodily health and his moral prosperity.
The domestic manners and modes of living, are the best means by which the judgment may be formed of the condition of a community; and the habitation, furniture, dress, &c. are subsidery ends of no mean value. The inquirer into the progress of the civilization of man, finds that as man removes from utter barbarism, he first secures a habitation, instead of being contented with the cave or the shelter of a tree, as in his primeval condition; from the wild produce of the forest, he picks up a scanty subsistence by fishing or the chase: in his next advance he improves his hut, and adds the production of esculent roots, by the cultivation of the earth; he lays the foundation of the relation of husband and wife; and in his continued advance towards society, his habitation and his means of comfort and convenience come out into bolder relief. His moral attributes develope themselves in the same de
gree; and his wife becomes to him more than a creature retained solely for the gratification of his appetites: he then learns to submit to certain rules, simple at first, but as his relations multiply, augmented into codes of laws, and municipal regulations; which, although they may be partially inconvenient, are submitted to for the public benefit. Man is now said to be stationary, has lost his predatory habits, and has assumed his rank as a social and moral being. In his further advances, he still improves his habitation, builds his house in a more desirable manner, and with better materials; divides it into distinct compartments, and separates the sexes; his wife is no longer an instrument of labour, but depends upon him for support; promiscuous intercourse between the sexes is prohibited as injurious to the marriage contract; and thus, step after step, man goes on to the maximum of civilization and excellence of social confederation, exhibiting in habitation, dress, and manners, a conformity-an homogeneousness of improvement, showing how intimately all these separate conditions are essential to the perfection of the whole system. If the progress of civilization is thus clearly marked, and we take the middle classes as exhibitory of the civilized state, and contrast them with the lowest classes in the manufacturing districts, we must confess that their advancement from a savage state is made but very few steps forward; and though their primitive nature is disguised and modified by the force of external circumstances, they differ but little in inherent qualities from the uncultivated child of nature; and show their distinction rather in the mode, than in the reality of their barbarous and debased condition.
The degraded condition of this portion of the people is most re. markable, when we consider that it exists in the midst of a nation celebrated for its cultivation of the arts and sciences; for its benevolence; for its efforts to extend the benefits of moral and religious instruction over every part of the globe. When we consider further, that this tion of the population are important and indispensable agents in upholding the nation's stability; nay, the very corner stone of a great portion of its preeminence, we are almost led to exclaim "How can these things be."
The houses of the greater number of the labouring community in the manufacturing districts, present many traces of savage life. Filthy, unfurnished, deprived of all the accessaries to decency or comfort, they are indeed but too truly the index of the vicious and depraved lives of their inmates. What little furniture is found in them is of the rudest and most common sort, and very often in fragments: one or two rushbottomed chairs, a deal table, a few stools, broken earthenware, such as dishes, teacups, &c. ; one or more tin kettles and cans, a few knives and forks, which are never cleaned; a piece of broken iron answering for a poker, no fender, sometimes no bedstead: blankets and sheets, in the strict meaning of the words, are unknown; their place is often made up of sacking, a heap of flocks or a bundle of straw supplying the want of a proper bedstead and a feather bed; and all these cooped up in a single room, which serves as a place for domestic and household occupations.
The houses thus inhabited by often five or six families, are generally tenanted by the week, and the owners seldom laying out any money upon them, except such as will just keep them from tumbling down, in a very few years they become ruinous to a degree. One of the circumstances in which they are particularly defective is that of drainage and water closets; whole ranges of these houses are either totally undrained, or only very partially soughed, the whole of the washings and filth from them are consequently thrown into the front or back streets, which being often unpaved and cut up in deep ruts, allow them to collect into stagnant and stinking pools; while fifty, or more even than that number, having only a single convenience common to them all, it is in a very short time choaked up with excrementitious matter, which often overflows itself, and runs into the already defiled streets, thus leading to a violation of all those decencies, which shed a protection over family morals.
It very frequently happens that a tenement is held by several families; one room, or at most two, being generally looked upon as affording sufficient convenience for all the household purposes of four or five individuals. The demoralizing effects of this utter absence of social and domestic privacy, must be seen before they can be thoroughly understood, or their extent appreciated. By laying bare all the acts of the sexes, it strips them of outward regard for decency;modesty is annihilated: the father and mother, the brother and sister, the male and female lodger, do not scruple to commit acts in the presence of each other, which even the savage hides from the eyes of his fellows.
The brutalizing agency of this mode of life is very strongly displayed in the language employed by the manufacturing population, young and old alike. Coarse and obscene expressions are their household words; indecent allusions are heard proceeding from the lips of brothers to sisters; the infant lisps words which, by common consent, are banished general society; epithets are bandied from mother to child, and from child to mother, and between child and child, containing the grossest terms of indecency; and husband and wife address each other in a form of speech which would be disgraceful to a brothel. These things may be imputed, in a very considerable degree, to the promiscuous way in which families herd together,—a way that prevents all privacy, and which, by bringing into open day, things which delicacy commands should be shrouded from observation, destroys all notion of sexual decency and domestic chastity.
It may be questioned whether, in any other quarter of the world, or in any other condition of society, such an absence of the observances of modesty and personal cleanliness can be found. Nothing can be more brutalizing;-nothing can render individuals more debased in their feelings and habits;-nothing can tend more powerfully to produce that personal coarseness of habits and filthy indelicacy, which are so disgusting and repulsive in women.
Many of these ranges of houses are built back to back, fronting one way into a narrow court, across which the inmates of the opposite houses may shake hands without stepping out of their own doors, and VOL. I.-Feb. 1835.
the other way into a back street unpaved and unsewered. Most of these houses have cellars beneath them occupied (if it is possible to find a lower class) by a still lower class than those living above them. From some recent enquiries into the subject, it would appear that upwards of twenty thousand people live in cellars in Manchester alone. These are generally Irish families, hand-loom weavers, bricklayers labourers, &c., whose children are beggars or matchsellers, in conjunction with their mothers. The crowds of beings that emerge from these dwellings every morning are truly astonishing, and present very little variety as to respectability of appearance; all are ragged-all are filthy-all are squalid. They separate to pursue their various callings, either shutting up their dens till night, or leaving a child as sole occupant. These cells are the very picture of loathsomeness: placed upon the soil, though partly flagged, without drains; subjected to being occasionally overflowed; seldom cleaned; every return of their inmates bringing with it a further occasion of filth; they speedily become disgusting receptacles of every species of vermin that can affect the human body.
Another fertile source cf the licentiousness in domestic manners, exists in the number of lodging houses, which are very abundant in all the manufacturing districts: in towns they are thickly scattered through those divisions occupied by the poor. By an inquiry made in Manchester, in 1832, there were found very nearly three hundred of these houses. When it is remembered that these are but the temporary asylums of want and depravity, their number, great as it is, affords no criterion for ascertaining how many persons become their inmates during the year. In another point of view they are very injurious: the breaking up of families, the consequence of mill labour, drives many of those who should be sheltered under a very different roof, to take up their abode in these haunts of crime; where, if not already debased by other causes, they are speedily reduced to the lowest ebb of moral depravity. Their influence, in this respect, resembles very closely that brought about by a residence in prison; for the persons that are the habitual occupants of the one, are, in their turn, found living in the other. The extraordinary sights presented by these lodging houses, during the night, are deplorable in the extreme, and must fill the heart of any man, open to feelings of humanity, with pain and unutterable disgust. Five, six, or seven beds, according to the capacity of the rooms, are arranged on the floor, their being, in the generality of cases no bedsteads, nor any substitute for them. These are covered with clothing of the most scanty and filthy description. They are occupied indiscriminately by persons of both sexes, strangers perhaps to each other, except a few of the regular occupants: young men and young women; men, wives, and their children; all lying in a noisome atmosphere, swarming with vermin, and often intoxicated. But a veil must be drawn over the atrocities which are committed: suffice it to say, that villainy, debauchery, and licentiousness, are here found in their darkest character. They serve as so many foci for crime -so many hot-beds for bringing into existence vices which must have laid dormant, if not roused into vitality by their unnatural stimulus.
Thus surrounded by circumstances so appalling, can we wonder that no regard to religion is paid by the manufacturing population. A disregard for the common observances of religious worship, and the spending of the Sabbath in drunkenness, being almost universal in the lowest classes. The proportion of those degraded beings, who possess no knowledge whatever of the most simple portions of the Christian faith, is truly astonishing. Inquiries made amongst them have shown that often there is no belief of the superintending care of a great and beneficent Creator, nor of a state of future rewards and punishments; much less of the sacrifice and death of Christ, and of the benefits which we receive thereby; in fact, machinery has placed them in these respects, upon a level with the beasts that perish; and they are less susceptible of religious impressions than even the savage. He, indeed, from his familiarity with the operations of Nature, in all their wild wonders, is impressed with her power, and yields obedience to the dictates of a whispering consciousness that there is, that there must be, a CAUSE for all that he sees around him. But different is he who is cooped up from morning till night in a factory. He knows nothing of nature-her very face is hidden from him: he is surrounded and hemmed in by a vast circle of human inventions; he is at perpetual warfare with the world and with himself, and his bad passions are consequently in constant play. Thus circumstanced, the pure and holy impulses of religion can find no home with him; but like the dove, hanging with trembling wings over the agitated waters of the deluge, seek a refuge in the ark of some more peaceful bosom, and leave him occupied solely by his own impure sensations.
Religion thus obliterated, the operative, having no home which can cheer the brief period allowed him from labour, destitute of mental knowledge, unguarded and uninfluenced by good example, flies for relief to the gin vault or the beer house; disipating, in these haunts of vice and depravity, resources which if properly applied would furnish his house decently, supply his table with wholesome and nutritious food, and provide means to make him a respectable member of society.
His labor is continued so uninteruptedly, that whether it is morning, or noon, or night, he leaves the mill or workshop, and devours his ill prepared and watery meal with feelings of such mental depression from exhaustion of the physical powers, and consequent derangement of the digestive organs, that he eagerly swallows a stimulus in the shape of spirits or beer, to supply by its temporary exciting influence the want of proper food on the one hand and of due relaxation on the other.
The habit of dram drinking and of opium eating so fatal in its consequences, is of the most extensive prevalence. To satisfy the cravings for support, and to rouse into activity the mental faculties, the labourers, male as well as female, swallow the pernicious poison; and take it as a boon which relieves them from their horrifying sensations. They resemble the hypocondriac, who flies readily to a stimulant which in his better senses he avoids as a curse; and there is this lamentable difference, that the labourers have no lucid interval