Page images

with their state at any antecedent period! It is astonishing how any one could have thought of countenancing such a scheme; and yet it is impossible to say how long it might have been persisted in, had not the ministry by which it was adopted been soon after dissolved. So soon, however, as a new ministry had been formed, they took measures, at the suggestion, we believe, of Mr Poulett Thomson, for the revival of the system so improperly abandoned. The accounts for 1830, the only ones made out on the average or indigesta moles plan, were subsequently withdrawn and replaced by others.

We could, however, in some measure, excuse the want of all authentic statements as to the industry and trade of the country, had our attention been withdrawn from them by the variety, extent, and comprehensive nature of our enquiries as to the condition of the people. But our inattention to the former has not certainly been occasioned by our devotion to the latter. On the contrary, we know decidedly less of the past or present condition of the great bulk of the people, than we do of the past or present state of that branch of industry of which we are most uninformed. Every one who knows any thing of what goes on in Parliament, or who looks, however carelessly, into a Newspaper, must be aware that there is no subject about which so many contradictory assertions are made, by those pretending to be acquainted with it, as the state of the middle and lower classes in all parts of the country. We, in fact, have no real knowledge of the matter. There are no authentic accounts of the qualities and current prices of articles in any great market, the rent of houses and lodgings, the rate of wages in proportion to the work done, and a variety of other particulars, indispensable to be known before any one can pretend to estimate the condition of the bulk of the people, or to compare their state at one period with their state at another. No one need, therefore, be surprised at the conflicting statements daily put forth as to the condition of the population; or that while, according to some, it is the best possible, this fair realm of England,' should, according to others, be little better than a great pauper warren. Ministers are quite as much in the dark as to these matters as other people. The Secretary for the Home Department is about as well informed respecting the demand for labour, wages, diet, dress, and other accommodations of the people of Canton and Manilla, as of those of Manchester and Paisley. Were he questioned on the subject, he would, of course, affirm, and perhaps truly, that the manufacturing labourers in the last-mentioned towns were highly prosperous; but we are quite sure that, with the exception of the equivocal circumstance of an increase in the imports and exports of cotton and silk, he could not assign one other apparently satisfactory reason for the faith that is in him. He might write to some of the leading manufacturers to send him a statement of the rate of wages, and their opinion as to the condition of the people. But we might as well try to estimate the proportions, size, and magnificence of St Paul's or St Peter's by the specimen of a brick, as to attempt to estimate the condition of the inhabitants of a great town from such data. There is not one in fifty of the Manchester manufacturers who can give any really accurate information as to the condition of the people even in their own factories. They can tell the wages they pay them, by time or by the piece, whether they are regular in their attendance, and skilful in their respective departments; but they know little or nothing more about them. The people are dispersed all over the town; and how is it to be expected that a manufacturer, employing from 500 to 2500 hands, should be informed as to their habitations, the mode in which they live, the articles, and their prices, on which they principally expend their incomes, their habits, the moral and physical condition of their families, &c. ? On all these interesting points the manufacturers, however disposed, can communicate very little information ; and even the statements they supply as to wages, &c. may, unless thoroughly understood, and carefully sifted, lead to the most fallacious inferences.

It is, therefore, indisputably certain, however extraordinary the allegation may seem, that no means have existed, or do at this moment exist, in England, of estimating the real influence of our political and civil institutions, our system of taxation, and the wonderful extension of manufactures and commerce, on the interests and well-being of any class of the community. We may and do guess at these results; but we have very few ascertained and well-defined facts from which to deduce any conclusion. Almost all our legislation, in so far as it is intended directly to affect the interests of the labouring part of the population, is bottomed only on presumptions and conjectures, which experience proves are very often quite erroneous and unfounded. It is frequently objected to our political philosophers, that they are too much disposed to deal in hypothesis, and that they too often leave facts out of view in their reasonings. But what can they do else? When there are either no facts, or few, except such as are false or misleading, if they are to reason at all, they must reason principally on hypothesis. If we had possessed circumstantial, and at the same time really accurate accounts of the various changes, however minute, in the wages, habits, accommodations, and condition of the population since the peace

of Paris in 1763, we should now have been able to try principles and doctrines by the test of experience; and to appreciate, with considerable accuracy, the influence of particular systems and measures. But we have no such information. All that we know of the state of the population in the interval referred to, is, in the last degree, partial, vague, and undefined; and is, in fact, much more likely to mislead than to instruct. We have tried conflicting plans on the largest scale, and sometimes at an expense of hundreds of millions of money, and of hundreds of thousands of lives; and yet from neglecting to minute and mark the results of these gigantic experiments, they have added comparatively little to our previous knowledge ; and there is not one of them as to the operation or influence of which we are agreed. No nation ever had such an opportunity of profiting by experience, and none certainly ever threw it so completely away.

It is surely high time that an end were made of this most disgraceful state of things ; and that we set about adopting measures, and organizing machinery, capable of making us reasonably well acquainted with the state of the principal branches of industıy carried on in the country, and of those engaged in them. Now we are fully convinced that this cannot be effected otherwise than by the intervention of Government. Private individuals, even if they had the necessary funds, are wholly without the means of making complete and effective enquiries; and of ensuring their being continuously and systematically carried on. Most of the details as to the numbers and classes of the people, with the ratio of births, marriages, and deaths, to the population, might be learned, by making improvements in the census; and by enforcing the registration of the occurrences alluded to. But to obtain what is of still more importance, an intimate acquaintance with the state of the principal businesses carried on in the country, and of the real condition of the persons engaged in them, new machinery must be set in motion. It was proposed by one of the witnesses examined by the Committee on Public Documents, that a Statistical Board should be established in London ; and that this Board should have agents in all the principal towns, whose sole employment should be to make themselves acquainted with every particular respecting the leading branches of industry carried on in such towns, the demand for, and wages of labour, the hours of employment, prices of provisions, the improvements and alterations of machinery; and, in short, with all facts and circumstances that might serve to throw light on the state and mutations of industry, and the condition and habits of the people. We are disposed to concur in this suggestion.



The desired information can never, we are well satisfied, be obtained otherwise than by the agency of active, intelligent men, employed for that special purpose, and constantly resident on the spot. It has been said that manufacturers would be jealous of such persons, and that they would not furnish them with the necessary statements. But such illiberal suspicions are now seldom entertained ; and considering the number and variety of channels through which agents on the spot could acquire information, its being withheld by a few individuals would not be of the slightest consequence. The agents should be bound to send to London monthly statements, or oftener, if the circumstances required it; and it should be part of their duty to make up a detailed Report at the end of the year, which should be printed and distributed in the place or district to which it applied. Were some such arrangements adopted, an opportunity would be afforded to all individuals of canvassing the Reports transmitted to London. If they contained any erroneous or questionable statements, they could hardly fail to be pointed out and corrected by those familiar with the subject ; at the same time that the Statistical Board would learn the merits of its officers, and how they discharged their duties. The public would, in this way, obtain really accurate information as to the state of industry and the condition of the population ; there would be an end of the contradictory statements now put forth as to these matters, and which, in fact, are good for nothing, except to destroy each other's credit; we should no longer have to legislate in the dark; and the accumulation of minute and detailed information from all parts of the country would, at length, enable politicians and legislators to come to a correct conclusion as to many highly interesting practical questions that have hitherto been involved in the greatest doubt and uncertainty.

It would not be necessary, in order to bring about this highly beneficial result, to have agents any where except in a few of the principal towns; and we should think that ten for England, and eight or ten for Scotland and Ireland, would be quite sufficient. Much, of course, would depend on the character and ability of the persons selected ; and to obtain the services of competent individuals, and give them opportunities for collecting information, by mixing in society, their salaries should not be less than L.650 or L.700 a-year. Supposing they were fixed at the latter sum, and that twenty were employed, the whole expenditure would not exceed L.14,000 a-year. Those who object to the outlay of so trifling a sum, where the objects in view are of such magnitude and importance, must undoubtedly have rather an extraordinary fondness for groping in the dark. Our various establishments of one sort and another cost above twenty millions a-year; and we are certainly come to a poor pass, if we cannot afford to give L.20,000, were it only to learn their precise influence on the condition of the population.

An opinion has been thrown out, that the services to be rendered by resident agents might be accomplished at a less expense by Parliamentary committees, or by Commissions of Enquiry, sent into the country to collect evidence. Instead, however, of being cheaper, these, we apprehend, would be found to be decidedly more costly as well as cumbrous instruments; but, how useful soever in some respects, they could not certainly accomplish the object in view in the appointment of resident agents. Circumstances are every now and then occurring in different parts of the country, that either result from, or cause some material change in some department of industry, or in the state or habits of the population. An agent resident on the spot would speedily become acquainted with these circumstances ; would mark every thing peculiar concerning them; and would notify these to the authorities in London. But these circumstances might, and most probably would, be entirely unknown to committees or commissions of enquiry: Neither could these bodies be suffieiently acquainted with the characters, prejudices, and objects of the individuals they might call before them as witnesses ; though, without knowing these, their evidence might be worse than useless. This sort of knowledge can only be acquired by persons resident on the spot, and who mix familiarly in the society to which the parties belong. But though the impossible supposition were admitted, that committees or commissions of enquiry might make us sufficiently acquainted with the state of industry and the condition of the people, at a particular period, that would not do much to recommend them. It is not enough that we know the state of Glasgow or Manchester at present, and some years hence. We would wish to be constantly informed of its situation; to be made aware of changes the moment they occur, and of their precise nature and influence; and to have, as it were, a picture completed to the last moment of the state of industry and the condition of the inhabitants. Without we accomplish this, we shall have done little that is really useful. Neither the Government, the legislature, nor the public, can at present form any just estimate of the influence of any measure, or of the truth of any statement, that may be made as to the condition of any class of people. It is surely, however, most undesirable that a state of things which has had, and can have none, but the most pernicious results, should be allowed to continue. But there cannot be the shadow of a doubt that this ignorance as to all that is most important in our statistics, will continue, if nothing be

« PreviousContinue »