LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Passages of a Working Life during Half a Century
Chapter V

Contents Vol. I
Prelude 1
Prelude 2
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Contents Vol. II
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Note to Chapter XV
Contents Vol. III
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
‣ Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Note to Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Note to Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Note to Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Index of Persons
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THE dreaded tenth of April, 1848, had passed over without harm. Not a drop of blood had been shed. A soldier had not been seen in the thoroughfares of London, but two hundred thousand of its inhabitants, from the peer to the coal-whipper, had patroled the streets, to maintain the supremacy of Law and Order. A self-styled National Convention had interrupted the usual course of industrious occupation by an attempted display of brute force, which they believed to be all-powerful, as they affirmed, “to defy the Parliament, to overawe the Government.” The impostors and fanatics who constituted this Convention called themselves “The People.” They had taken up the notion, so industriously propagated in the French Revolution of 1848, that the noncapitalist portion of the industrious classes were exclusively the People. There were many delusions connected with this dominant idea, not only of Chartists, but of moderate and sensible Reformers. In the endeavour to combat them by argument, I set up a Weekly Journal, “The Voice of the People.”

In this undertaking I had the assistance of writers who, like myself, were not politicians in the ordinary sense of the word; who were not anti-reformers whilst they combated the abuse of the democratic principle. But we were too moderate to produce
any impression in times of great excitement; we were too honest to be abusive. Our Journal commenced on the 22d of April; it came to an end on the 13th of May.
Miss Martineau, who had assisted me most ably and strenuously, wrote to me when she expected that our “Voice” would no longer be heard, “Well!—you have done what you could; and you are, at all events, free from the ‘night-mare’ feeling of having omitted to try what you could do, in these times.”

Without dwelling too much upon the characteristics of this little publication, of which there is probably no perfect copy in existence, I may mention one or two particulars that may have something of an abiding interest, especially when they refer to the condition of society as it existed about the tenth year of our present Queen. The first Article, written by myself, is entitled “What is ‘The People?’” M. Michelet had recently produced two works which had a great reputation in France, and were popular in this country by their translations,—the one, “Priests, Women, and Families,” the other, “The People.” In one of these he says, “Next to the conversation of men of genius and profound erudition, that of the people is certainly the most instructive.” He then defines what is the People, by asking, “What is to be learned from the middle class?” adding, “as to the salons, I never left them without finding my heart shrunk and chilled.” The question then arises, Are the middle classes and the wealthy classes to be no longer a part of the People? The complicated state of Society, which we call the British People, was, at this period, made up of various elements, which I will briefly notice.


The most numerous division was that of the Agricultural Labourers, amounting to about twelve hundred thousand. The farmers and others (exclusive of labourers), amounted to four hundred thousand. I asked, “Are they not all workers? Is not each class in its several capacities, promoting the prosperity of the country? There is inequality of condition, no doubt, between the one-fourth who exchange wages for labour, and the three-fourths who exchange labour for wages. There are inequalities which might be mitigated; and inequalities which no wisdom could remove, nor should attempt to remove.” The second great class was that of all persons engaged in manufactures, amounting to about twelve hundred thousand. The miners, and others of the labouring class, not agricultural or manufacturing, amounted to nearly eight hundred thousand. The employers in manufacturing and mining industry were not separated in the Population Returns from the employed. One of the first acts of the Provisional Government of France, which had undertaken to guarantee employment to all citizens, was to expel from France English artisans and railroad-workers. It was the French fashion to look with the most profound contempt upon the English workman. “He excels not as man, but as a useful and powerful thing—as an excellent tool,” says M. Michelet. He despises the living tool who is not diverted from his work—who employs all the resources of meat and drink to execute quickly and earnestly the task imposed upon him. “The manufacturer and the enterpriser of every kind prefer this man-machine. The Frenchman must not attempt to offer himself in competition. He is a man, and
therefore does not suit. Whilst working he occasionally stops, he thinks. He digs the soil of France; he thus stirs History itself. He knows too well, as he handles the pick-axe, that his father wielded the sword.” This rant, so characteristic of most French writers, even of a man of talent like M. Michelet, led me to glance at the real character of the English worker, such as he existed in the days of steam-engines and railways, and long before. “Yes!” I wrote, “we do go straight forward; we are not dreaming; we are up to our work; when at work we work vigorously; we remember a saying in a Book which is not obsolete amongst us—‘Whatever thy hand applieth itself to do, do it with thy might;’ we seldom have reveries about Trafalgar or Waterloo—it is by preference that we bear in mind that our fathers did make difficult but peaceful campaigns, in the struggle to produce instead of the struggle to destroy. They were engaged in a campaign against the intractable and the hidden forces of nature,—and they subdued them, and made them their willing servants, to fill the world with the conveniences and the comforts of life.”

M. Michelet, as the Apostle of War and Democracy, says, “Ancient France had three classes. New France has but two,—the People and the Bourgeoisie.” The latter class in England embraces two millions and a quarter of individuals, all engaged in trade and commerce, and in the professions. The socialists wished to draw a nice distinction between the draper and the draper’s assistant,—the one was a bourgeois, the other a son of the people. A great deal of this nonsense was exploded by the issue of the tenth of April. On that day I saw this bour-
geoisie—the race despised by the glory-seekers of France—firm, imperturbable, guarding their silent streets from the incendiaries that were threatened to be let loose upon them. No flourishings of the constable’s staff which each man held. No hurrahs. Quiet obedience; exact discipline; every man in his place, and a place for every man. This was a demonstration that at once gave the true answer to the question, “What is The People?”

There were in England, at this period, five and twenty thousand teachers of Religion, of every denomination. I asked, Did they not belong to the People, in the broad sense of the word, although the laity and the clergy belonged to two parts of the Church? These were the reformers—the civilizers. They had their work to do at a period when they were awakened to their duties; without them the demon of avarice would have been in constant antagonism with the demon of ignorance,—cold-heartedness would have looked with contempt upon misery,—vice would have fortified itself in its resentment to pride. I said, “They live much for the people; they must live more for the people—Interpreters, teachers, friends.”

In the Population Returns there were five hundred thousand persons described as of independent means; two-thirds of this class were females. The philosophers of the National Convention had their especial eye upon that portion of the class which we call gentlemen. It was time that many of the landed proprietors should have been stirred to a sense of their obligations as well as their rights. The English absentees in their terror of the turmoil that was going on in Europe, were rushing home, without
stopping to see the result of the great experiment that was in progress in France, in Italy, and in Germany. I advised that every absentee should, as soon as possible, renew the local associations amidst which he was reared. “He must return with the temper of the Prodigal: ‘My country! I have sinned before God and against thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.’ The fatted calf shall then be his. If his expatriation have enabled him to accumulate, he has urgent calls upon his accumulations. There is land to drain, farm-houses to repair, cottages to clean and ventilate. Depend upon it he will find all that claimed his care in wild disorder. Let him bring back no profligate habits of expenditure. The decent, unostentatious household of a gentleman is what these times require. He has examples to give of economy without parsimony,—of benevolence regulated by justice. He will find England full of a class that regards wealth as the one thing needful. If he herd with them he is lost. He will hear that a man may do what he likes with his own. Let him assure himself that, if the doctrine went on to any great practical extent, there would soon be no ‘own’ to do anything with. Our minds want much more reform than our institutions. If we keep the spirit sound, the institutions are safe.”

Concurrent with the movements of the English Chartists was an outbreak in Ireland, which only looked formidable in the bloodthirsty declarations of some of its leaders. “The God of battles” was to be invoked; a War Directory was to be appointed. There was no exaggeration in the tone, nor even in the phrase, of a Parody which I wrote in “The Voice of the People,” of the loving correspondence of Mr.
Meagher and Mr. Mitchell. I give three stanzas, which embody the practical directions, set forth by these “friends of all humankind,” for the swift destruction of the Saxon mercenaries in the anticipated conflict in the streets of Dublin:—
Mea. Bold Guido Vaux devised a ready way
His long arrear of sacred debts to pay.
Mine every street; in air the Saxons fly!
A carcase-cloud shall blacken all the sky.
Mit. Open your windows wide, angelic fair!
Arm’d be your holds with missiles new and rare:
The legions rush!—hark to their dying cries
As showers of vitriol sear their sightless eyes.
Mea. Is there an alley where some scared dragoon
May rush for safety in that blazing noon?
Vainly the horse with broken bottles strives,—
Falls the dragoon beneath a hundred knives.

The street-fight never took place. The insurrection came to an end when Mr. Smith O’Brien led his warriors to a pitched battle with the Police. Some of the insane leaders escaped. Others were tried and convicted, but their capital sentence was commuted for transportation. In the summer of 1849, I saw the ship lying in the bay of Dublin which was to convey these erring men to Australia. Even Repealers acknowledged the justice of their punishment.

The great Irish famine of 1846 and 1847 had reached its highest point of misery two summers before that in which I looked upon some of the evidences which it had left behind of its ravages. The lives of three millions of persons were being wholly preserved in July, 1847, by administrative regulations under which they were daily fed in the
neighbourhood of their own homes. That organization was still necessary in July, 1849. But then the green isle had again begun to put on a smiling face. Railways had attained a certain completeness, during the period when a cottier-peasantry could obtain no subsistence through their labour. The continent was still unquiet, and tourists began to think of looking for the picturesque in their own land. The Great Southern and Western Railway Company issued tickets for an excursion from London to Killarney.
Douglas Jerrold proposed to me to accompany him for a fortnight’s holiday, and I gladly agreed. I not only saw exquisite scenery under the most delightful circumstances of companionship; but I had a glimpse of Ireland in her transition state from a destructive social system to one that had in it some promise of good.

I had never seen Dublin. Its noble public buildings claimed my admiration, especially when I contrasted them with the low architectural pretensions of the greater number of civil edifices that had been erected since the beginning of the century, and were still in progress, in our own capital. We enjoyed the hospitalities of Dublin for a day or two, and I was glad to make the personal acquaintance of a rising barrister, who had contributed to the Penny Cyclopædia, and was known as a poet of no common order, especially by his “Forging of the Anchor.” When we set out on our Killarney expedition, at six o’clock on a brilliant morning, to our surprise and pleasure, Mr. Samuel Fergusson appeared, with his wife, on the platform, with the purpose of accompanying us. How much the company of a man of letters, well versed in the history and legends of his
country, and of a most intelligent and highly cultivated lady, could add to our week’s enjoyment, it is scarcely necessary to dwell upon. The journey from Dublin to Killarney was at that time accomplished in about thirteen hours. The railway went only to Mallow, a distance of a hundred and forty-five miles. Its steady progress of twenty miles an hour enabled the traveller to see the country much more advantageously than the forty miles an hour of an English express train. There was little of the picturesque about the line, and very few manifestations of prosperous industry. The small towns were mostly dilapidated, and all somnolent. The inevitable course of agricultural improvement had not yet awakened them. When we reached Mallow, the portentous beggary that we encountered at the railway station was an unusual sight which might well make an Englishman sad. Yet, if education were to do anything for the slow but sure removal of social miseries, there was evidence that something was going forward that might one day produce good fruits. Amongst the ragged boys that had just rushed out of one of the schools established under the National system, there was a manifestation of quickness that was very different from the incurious eyes and shy demeanour of English boys let loose from a village school. Half-a-dozen of them crowded round
Jerrold and myself. “Plase, sir, to hear me say my lesson,” says one. “Plase, sir, examine me in history,” says another. Jerrold laughed heartily, and took the historical student’s book. He opened it at random, and asked, “Who was the first emperor of Rome?” “Augustus.” “Who was Julius Cæsar?” “His uncle.” “When was Julius Cæsar assassinated?” “B.C. 44.”
The boy had a sixpence, and we soon had about us another crowd of candidates for examination. The competitive system was in full vigour, “I can say it as well as he, sir.” “So can I.” How much of this learning remained for the guidance of these poor boys in the hard life that was before them may be matter of doubt; but even this cramming was, perhaps, a better knowledge upon which to engraft a true Irish nationality, than the traditions of the barbaric splendours of the O’Neales and Mac-Murroughs, and the glories of the Hill of Tara. Out of these lesson-books they might acquire some notion as to those who had been the real benefactors of their race by identifying Ireland with English Literature—the
Swifts, the Goldsmiths, the Burkes. They might find in time that between Catholic and Protestant brotherly love was better than social hatred; that no country, and theirs especially, was ever prosperous when political agitation took the place of steady industry; that vengeance was the worst cure for real or imaginary injustice; and that where life and property were insecure, the rich and the poor were equally tending to sudden ruin or slow decay.

The forty miles which we had to travel by car were not very interesting, and there was little consolation in the refreshments provided at Millstreet, the only stage between Mallow and Killarney. Distant mountains appeared as if we should never reach them through some miles of dreary bog. At length, at a turn of the road, we are in the long street of Killarney, and are welcomed by such a clamour of mendicancy that the change to a real rickety Irish car, shaking one to pieces, is welcomed as a blessing. The driver whips, and the horse gallops, and, scarcely
able to hold on, we ask in vain for a quieter and safer transit to the Victoria Hotel. “Niver fear,” says the driver. “But, I tell you, I do fear,” says
Jerrold. All remonstrance was useless, but we found comfort in a capital dinner, and excellent beds. I have written down the thoughts of that first night at Killarney. “Sleep—the sleep of fatigue for a few hours—and then reveries and sorrowful remembrances. Faces, such as we never saw till this day, array themselves before us. Sounds, such as we have heard in the solitary wail of some one of the unhappy, but never before in the fearful clamour of a multitude, ring in our ears. There is speechless gesticulation, too, more dread to recall than any sound. We used to read of Irish beggary as a compound of misery and fun. At Mallow, and Millstreet, and Killarney, there were professional beggars in abundance; but even with them the fun was gone. There were other beggars—pallid girls, boys prematurely old, tall skeletons of men bending with inanition and not with years, mothers with unsmiling infants vainly stretching towards the fevered breast. And yet the workhouses, we were told, were open to all, and they were not filled. Many of the beings that we saw would have been in their graves but for the pound of Indian meal a day that a humane law was allowing them during the terrible season of scarcity that precedes the harvest.”

The glorious scenery of Killarney is not for me here to describe. Sufficient to say that I saw it under every possible advantage of brilliant weather, and of society unusually agreeable. We climbed the hills, we explored the lakes. “The boys,” as we soon learned to call our boatmen, were for awhile silent,
but we soon began to hear their stories of the O’Donaghues, whose legends are associated with every island of these lakes.
Jerrold, too, brought out the native humour of one of them, who displayed no mean skill in a passage at arms with the great wit of our Clubs. A friend, who visited Killarney some ten years after us, wrote to me that Jerrold, and Jerrold’s jokes, were still remembered and retailed by these good-tempered fellows. I fear that Gansey, the famous piper of Killarney,—who was old and blind when he kept us entranced by his wonderful genius, from eight o’clock till midnight,—is no longer alive to pour out strain after strain, wild and solemn, gay or pathetic, with a power that seemed like inspiration. Perhaps, too, the bugle of Spillane, the trusty guide, no longer awakens the echoes of the Tore Lake, with the tender air of “Eileen a Boon.” I shall never visit these charming scenes again; perhaps, if I had the power, I should think too much of him who made them doubly delightful.

Amidst the immediate scenery of the Lakes, we saw very little, of the desolation of the country. But a mile or two from Mucross there was ample testimony of the change which the famine had produced in the habits of the people. As we ascended the Mangerton mountain on sure-footed ponies, we were surrounded by troops of girls offering goat’s milk and potheen. They were not dirty beggars. If their garments were ragged, they knew how to conceal their penury under their shawls, arranged with that grace which seems to belong to the Irish female before she has sunk to those lowest depths of want in which self-respect is utterly forgotten. But they all implored us to give. They clung to our stirrups
as we toiled up the mountain; some laughed and some cried; but they were universally eager for doles of money. One and all had a dream of some distant land where poverty would be unknown. Their land of promise was the United States, where some had relatives. Four pounds would secure a passage, and there they should marry and know some comfort. It was the heroism of desperation for them thus to prepare to snap asunder all the ties which bind women to their native soil, and cast themselves, without a guide or a protector, upon the great wave of fate. Thousands of Irish women thus went off by themselves, in this crisis. Two years before this time the Exodus from Ireland had commenced, which, during one decade, added two millions and a half to the population of the United States.

We quitted Killarney with the intention of exploring the wonderful scenery of Glengariff, and then returning to Dublin by Cork. The morning was bright when we had our last look of the mountains from the road to Kenmare. The town and its neighbourhood bore the marks of a beneficent proprietor the late Lord Lansdowne. There were cottages in this district which contrasted happily with the customary mud-cabins. We saw the wondrous prospect of mountains, bays, islands, and the Atlantic, as we descended the hill to Glengariff. But we saw no more of the picturesque. A rain set in. A mist hung over the whole region the next morning. We pursued our journey, shut up in a car; but there was one sight not to be passed by or forgotten. As we emerged from the pass of Camineagh we witnessed a strange procession of laden carts, followed by crowds of women shrouded in their dark blue cloaks
from the falling torrent. The carts were bringing Indian meal from Bantry, for distribution at various stations along the road. Every now and then we saw groups of women patiently waiting for the dole that was to avert starvation for another week. At a miserable public house we had to wait several hours for another conveyance and fresh horses. We had to proceed in an open car. When we reached Macroom I was really ill. The cholera was prevalent in the district through which we had passed, and my companions had their fears for me. The circumstance is associated in my remembrance with the tender friendship of
Jerrold, who sate by my bed in a wretched inn, watching over me during a dreary night.

When I left home for Ireland at the end of June, 1849, the cholera had appeared in London; but there was no great apprehension of its ravages, for the weekly average of deaths from that mysterious scourge was under fifty. But in the month of July, the weekly average of fatal cases in the metropolis was nearly five hundred. In August it was above a thousand; in September, thirteen hundred. In October the epidemic had nearly disappeared. At this period throughout England and Wales, with the exception of the metropolis, there was a far more effective organization ready to meet the evil by sanitary precautions than in 1831-2. The Health of Towns Act of 1848 established a General Board of Health, for the purpose of improving the sanitary condition of towns and populous places. Many Local Boards were formed, after a searching inquiry by the Inspectors of the General Board. In 1857 two hundred and fifty places had been brought within the operation of the Health of Towns Act. London,
after much opposition from Parish Vestries, under the popular outcry against what they called centralization, was left to the enjoyment of its ancient nuisances till 1855, when the Metropolis Local Management Act was passed. In 1853 Cholera again attacked the population of London. I was then Publisher to the General Board of Health, of which the Commissioners were
Lord Shaftesbury, Mr. Chadwick, and Dr. Southwood Smith. Looking over the various directions that had been given by public bodies and individuals for family guidance under a visitation of Cholera, I considered them too technical and elaborate to be useful to persons of imperfect education. I drew up an address, homely and practical, adapted for all ranks. My “Plain Advice” was printed as a Broadside, and was purchased and distributed throughout the country by the Local Boards of Health. The circulation of this sheet exceeded a hundred thousand. I mention this to shew what a medium exists for reaching the whole population, upon all sanitary matters affecting their own welfare and that of the general community, through the combination of Local Activity with Central Regulation. The reader of these “Passages” will probably not be displeased, if I vary this subject, not very agreeable or attractive, by the introduction of some verses of mine which were printed in “The Times” of September 24th, 1854. The signature S. T., being the final letters of my Christian and surname, was often used by me. Cholera was then again threatening to desolate the pestilence-breeding dwellings of our enormous Capital, which were generally left to their impurities till public opinion was stimulated by terror into inquiry and action.


Scene.—A Lodging-house. Typhus Hovers over a Crowd
of Sleepers
Cholera (without).
Sister! Sister!
I am here
Doing my work for to-morrow’s bier.
Nine and seven lie each in a row—
Two are gone, and two will go.

Cholera (enters).
Sister! Sister! you work too slow;
For here, where the tide has left its slime
To mix with the filth of a hundred drains,
And the hovels are rotting in damp and grime,
While the landlord is counting his daily gains,
And his slaves are groaning with chronic pains,
You linger about, till famine and gin
Must finish the work which you begin.

Chide me not, Sister! My work is sure.
The days are many since last you came;
But you pass’d away, and your fearful name
Was soon forgotten; but I endure.

Again I come.
The knell shall be toll’d,
But not for one:
Ere set of sun
Some work shall be done;
For a hurried grave shall these sleepers hold,
And the proud shall then think of the earth’s poor scum.

No meddling spies disturb my reign,
The black ditch creeps in the populous lane;
In the mouldy cellar the infants huddle;
The alley is dank with the filthy puddle;
And the breath of heaven ne’er visits the den
Where the poorest dwell. Leave, leave me here.
I make no noise, and the well-fed men
See my victims die,
And pass quietly by,
With no vain lament, and no idle fear.

Me they shall fear.

But stay not long.
Take a few away that are wholly mine;
My pleasant places are willingly thine,
But go not the rich and the happy among.

I’ll take thy leavings, with nobler prey.
Shall wretches pine beneath thy sway,
And those escape who have known the wrong?

Leave me, rash Sister, leave me here,
To fill the graves from year to year;
For our trade shall go to a swift decay
If you gather the crop from day to day.
Then the hovels will fall and houses rise;
The rich and the poor will both get wise;
And the Law will open its hoodwink’d eyes.
No more shall we ride on the tainted gale,
Where foul trades flourish and men grow pale;
Where the slaughter-house floods the slippery stones,
And the reek is heavy of boiling bones.
They will drain their streets, and build their schools,
And hunt us out.

Twice warned, the fools
Still keep us here, and they still will keep;
For the Justices wink and the Vestries sleep,
And Red Tape ties the willing hand,
And Laissez-faire still rules the land.
Sept 23. S. T.