London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry

1851

The Effects of Casual Labour in General.

Having now pointed out the causes of casual labour, I proceed to set forth its effects.

All casual labour, as I have said, is necessarily labour; and wherever uncertainty exists, there can be no foresight or pro-vidence. Had the succession of events in nature been irregular,—had it been ordained by the Creator that similar causes under similar circumstances should be attended with similar effects,—it would have been impossible for us to have had any knowledge of the future, or to have made any preparations concerning it. Had the seasons followed each other fitfully,—had the sequences in the external world been variable instead of invariable, and what are now termed "constants" from the regularity of their succession been changed into inconstants,—what provision could even the most prudent of us have made? Where all was dark and unstable, we could only have guessed instead of reasoned as to what was to come; and who would have deprived himself of present enjoyments to avoid future privations, which could appear neither probable nor even possible to him? Pro-vidence, therefore, is simply the result of certainty, and whatever tends to increase our faith in the uniform sequences of outward events, as well as our reliance on the means we have of avoiding the evils connected with them, necessarily tends to make us more prudent. Where the means of sustenance and comfort are fixed, the human being becomes conscious of what he has to depend upon; and if he feel that such means may fail him in old age or in sickness, and be fully impressed with the of suffering from either, he will immediately proceed to make some provision against the time of adversity or infirmity. If, however, his means be —abundant at time, and deficient at another—a spirit of speculation or gambling with the future will be induced, and the individual get to believe in "luck" and "fate" as the arbiters of his happiness rather than to look upon himself as "the architect of his fortunes" —trusting to "chance" rather than his own powers and foresight to relieve him at the hour of necessity. The same result will necessarily ensue if, from defective reasoning powers, the ordinary course of nature be not sufficiently apparent to him, or if, being in good health, he grow too confident upon its continuance, and, either from this or other causes, is led to believe that death will overtake him before his powers of self-support decay.

The ordinary effects of uncertain labour, then, are to drive the labourers to improvidence, recklessness, and pauperism.

Even in the classes which we do not rank among labourers, as for instance, authors, artists, musicians, actors, uncertainty or irregularity of employment and remuneration produces a spirit of wastefulness and carelessness. The steady and daily accruing gains of trade and of some of the professions form a certain and staple income; while in other professions, where a large sum may be real- ized at time, and then no money be earned until after an interval, incomings are rapidly spent, and the interval is of suffering. This is part of the very nature, the very essence, of the casualty of employment and the delay of remuneration. The past privation gives a zest to the present enjoyment; while the present enjoyment renders the past privation faint as a remembrance and unimpressive as a warning. "Want of providence," writes Mr. Porter, "on the part of those who live by the labour of their hands, and whose employments so often depend upon circumstances beyond their control, is a theme which is constantly brought forward by many whose lot in life has been cast beyond the reach of want. It is, indeed, greatly to be wished, for their own sakes, that the habit were general among the labouring classes of saving some part of their wages when fully employed, against less prosperous times; but it is difficult for those who are placed in circumstances of ease to It must be a hard trial for who has recently, perhaps, seen his family enduring want, to deny them the small amount of indulgences, which are, at the best of times, placed within their reach."

It is easy enough for men in smooth circumstances to say, "the privation is a man's own fault, since, to avoid it, he has but to apportion the sum he may receive in a lump over the interval of nonrecompense which he knows will follow." Such a course as this, experience and human nature have shown not to be easy—perhaps, with a few exceptions, not to be possible. It is the starving and not the well-fed man that is in danger of surfeiting himself. When pestilence or revolution are rendering life and property in a country, the same spirit of improvident recklessness breaks forth. In London, on the last visitation of the plague, in the reign of Charles II., a sort of Plague Club indulged in the wildest excesses in the very heart of the pestilence. To these orgies no was admitted who had not been bereft of some relative by the pest. In Paris, during the reign of terror in the revolution, the famous Guillotine Club was composed of none but those who had lost some near relative by the guillotine. When they met for their half-frantic revels every wore some symbol of death: breast pins in the form of guillotines, rings with death's-heads, and such like. The duration of their own lives these Guillotine Clubbists knew to be uncertain, not merely in the ordinary uncertainty of nature, but from the character of the times; and this feeling of the jeopardy of existence, from the practice of violence and bloodshed, wrought the effects I have described. Life was more than naturally casual. When the famine was at the worst in Ireland, it was remarked in the , that in that city there never had been seen more street "larking" or street gambling among the poor lads and young men who were really starving. This was a natural result of the casualty of labour and the consequent casualty of food. Persons, it should be remembered, do not insure houses or shops that

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are "doubly or trebly hazardous;" they gamble on the uncertainty.

Mr. Porter, in his "Progress of the Nation," cites a fact bearing immediately upon the present subject.

The formation of a canal, which has been in progress during the last five years, in the north of Ireland (this was written in 1847), has afforded steady employment to a portion of the peasantry, who before that time were suffering all the evils, so common in that country, which result from the precariousness of employment. Such work as they could previously get came at uncertain intervals, and was sought by so many competitors, that the remuneration was of the scantiest amount. In this condition of things the men were improvident, to recklessness; their wages, insufficient for the comfortable sustenance of their families, were wasted in procuring for themselves a temporary forgetfulness of their misery at the whiskey-shop, and the men appeared to be sunk into a state of hopeless degradation. From the moment, however, that work was offered to them which was constant in its nature and certain in its duration, and on which their weekly earnings would be sufficient to provide for their comfortable support, men who had been idle and dissolute were converted into sober hard-working labourers, and proved themselves kind and careful husbands and fathers; and it is stated as a fact, that, notwithstanding the distribution of several hundred pounds weekly in wages, the whole of which must be considered as so much additional money placed in their hands, the consumption of whiskey was absolutely and permanently diminished in the district. During the comparatively short period in which the construction of this canal was in progress, some of the most careful labourers—men who most probably before then never knew what it was to possess five shillings at any one time—saved sufficient money to enable them to emigrate to Canada.

There can hardly be a stronger illustration of the blessing of constant and the curse of casual labour. We have competence and frugality as the results of system; poverty and extravagance as the results of the other; and among the very same individuals.

In the evidence given by Mr. Galloway, the engineer, before a parliamentary committee, he remarks, that "when employers are competent to show their men that their business is , and when men find that they are likely to have employment, they have always , which will make them and , and will produce great benefits to all who are interested in their employment."

Moreover, even if payment be assured to a working man regularly, , so as to make the returns lose all appearance of regularity, he will rarely be found able to resist the temptation of a tavern, and, perhaps, a long-continued carouse, or of some other extravagance to his taste, when he receives a month's dues at once. I give an instance of this in the following statement:—

For some years after the peace of the staffs of the militias were kept up, but not in any active service. During the war the militias performed what are now the functions of the regular troops in the kingdoms, their stations being changed more frequently than those of any of the regular regiments at the present day. Indeed, they only differed from the "regulars" in name. There was the same military discipline, and the sole difference was, that the militia-men—who were balloted for periodically—could not, by the laws regulating their embodiment, be sent out of the United Kingdom for purposes of warfare. The militias were embodied for days' training, once in years (seldom less) after the peace, and the staff acted as the drill sergeants. They were usually steady, orderly men, working at their respective crafts when not on duty after the militia's disembodiment, and some who had not been brought up to any handicraft turned out —perhaps from their military habits of early rising and orderliness—very good gardeners, both on their own account and as assistants in gentlemen's grounds. No few of them saved money. Yet these men, with very few exceptions, when they received a month's pay, fooled away a part of it in tippling and idleness, to which they were not at all addicted when attending regularly to their work with its regular returns. If they got into any trouble in consequence of their carousing, it was looked upon as a sort of legitimate excuse, "Why you see, sir, it was the " (the of each month being the pension day).

The thoughtless extravagance of sailors when, on their return to port, they receive in sum the wages they have earned by severe toil amidst storms and dangers during a long voyage, I need not speak of; it is a thing well known.

These soldiers and seamen cannot be said to have been employed, but the results were the same as if they had been so employed; the money came to them in a lump at so long an interval as to appear uncertain, and was consequently squandered.

I may cite the following example as to the effects of uncertain earnings upon the household outlay of labourers who suffer from the casualties of employment induced by the season of the year. "In the long fine days of summer, the little daughter of a working brickmaker," I was told, "used to order chops and other choice dainties of a butcher, saying, 'Please, sir, father don't care for the price just a-now; but he must have his chops good; line-chops, sir, and tender, please—'cause he's a brickmaker.' In the winter, it was, 'O please, sir, here's a fourpenny bit, and you must send father something cheap. He don't care what it is, so long as it's cheap. It's winter, and he hasn't no work, sir—'cause he's a brickmaker.'"

I have spoken of the tendency of casual labour to induce intemperate habits. In confirmation of this I am enabled to give the following account as to the increase of the sale of malt liquor in the metropolis The account is derived from the personal observations of a gentleman long familiar with the brewing

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trade, in connection with of the largest houses. In short, I may state that the account is given on the very best authority.

There are large brewers in London; of these the firms transacting the greatest extent of business supply, daily, barrels each firm to their customers; the others, among them, dispose, altogether, of barrels daily. All these barrels a day are solely for town consumption; and this may be said to be the supply the year through, but the publichouse sale is far from regular.

After a wet day the sale of malt liquor, principally beer (porter), to the metropolitan retailers is from to barrels more than when a wet day has not occurred; that is to say, the supply increases from barrels to and . Such of the publicans as keep small stocks go the next day to their brewers to order a further supply; those who have better-furnished cellars may not go for or days after, but the result is the same.

The reason for this increased consumption is obvious; when the weather prevents workmen from prosecuting their respective callings in the open air, they have recourse to drinking, to pass away the idle time. Any who has made himself familiar with the habits of the working classes has often found them crowding a publichouse during a hard rain, especially in the neighbourhood of new buildings, or any public open-air work. The street-sellers, themselves prevented from plying their trades outside, are busy in such times in the "publics," offering for sale braces, belts, hose, tobacco-boxes, nuts of different kinds, apples, &c. A bargain may then be struck for so much and a half-pint of beer, and so the consumption is augmented by the trade in other matters.

Now, taking barrels as the average of the extra sale of beer in consequence of wet weather, we have a consumption beyond the demands of the ordinary trade in malt liquor of gallons, or pints. This, at a pint, is for a day's needless, and often prejudicial, outlay caused by the casualty of the weather and the consequent casualty of labour. A censor of morals might say that these men should go home under such circumstances; but their homes may be at a distance, and may present no great attractions; the single men among them may have no homes, merely sleeping-places; and even the more prudent may think it advisable to wait awhile under shelter in hopes of the weather improving, so that they could resume their labour, and only an hour or so be deducted from their wages. Besides, there is the attraction to the labourer of the warmth, discussion, freedom, and excitement of the public-house.

That the great bulk of the consumers of this beer are of the classes I have mentioned is, I think, plain enough, from the increase being experienced only in that beverage, the consumption of gin being little affected by the same means. Indeed, the statistics showing the ratio of beer and gin--drinking are curious enough (were this the place to enter into them), the most gin, as a general rule, being consumed in the most depressed years.

It is a fact worth notice," said a statistical journal, entitled "Facts and Figures," published in 1841, "as illustrative of the tendency of the times of pressure to increase spirit drinking, that whilst under the privations of last year (1840) the poorer classes paid 2,628,286l. tax for spirits; in 1836, a year of the greatest prosperity, the tax on British spirits amounted only to 2,390,188l. So true is it that to impoverish is to demoralise.

The numbers who imbibe, in the course of a wet day, these barrels, cannot, of course, be ascertained, but the following calculations may be presented. The class of men I have described rarely have spare money, but if known to a landlord, they probably may obtain credit until the Saturday night. Now, putting their beerdrinking on wet days—for on fine days there is generally a pint or more consumed daily per working man—putting, I say, the potations at a pot (quart) each man, we find consumers (out of people, or, discarding the women and children, not )! A number doubling, and trebling, and quadrupling the male adult population of many a splendid continental city.

Of the data I have given, I may repeat, no doubt can be entertained; nor, as it seems to me, can any doubt be entertained that the increased consumption is directly attributable to the casualty of labour.

 
 
Footnotes:

[] The Great Exhibition, I am informed, produced a very small effect on the consumption of porter; and, according to the official returns, 160,000 gallons less spirits were consumed in the first nine months of the present year, than in the corresponding months of the last: thus showing that any occupation of mind or body is incompatible with intemperate habits, for drunkenness is essentially the vice of idleness, or want of something better to do.

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 Title Page
 INTRODUCTION
Of the Street-Sellers of Second-Hand Articles
Of the Street-Sellers of Live Animals
Of the Street-Sellers of Mineral Productions and Natural Curiosities
Of the Street-Buyers
Of the Street-Jews
Of the Street-Finders or Collectors
Of the Streets of London
Of the London Chimney-Sweepers
Of the London Chimney-Sweepers
Of the Sweepers of Old, and the Climbing Boys
Of the Chimney-Sweepers of the Present Day
Of the General Characteristics of the Working Chimney-Sweepers
Sweeping of the Chimneys of Steam-Vessels
Of the 'Ramoneur' Company
Of the Brisk and Slack Seasons, and the Casual Trade among the Chimney- Sweepers
Of the 'Leeks' Among the Chimney-Sweepers
Of the Inferior Chimney-Sweepers -- the 'Knullers' and 'Queriers'
Of the Fires of London
Of the Sewermen and Nightmen of London
Of the Wet House-Refuse of London
Of the Means of Removing the Wet House-Refuse
Of the Quantity of Metropolitan Sewage
Of Ancient Sewers
Of the Kinds and Characteristics of Sewers
Of the Subterranean Character of the Sewers
Of the House-Drainage of the Metropolis as Connected With the Sewers
Of the London Street-Drains
Of the Length of the London Sewers and Drains
Of the Cost of Constructing the Sewers and Drains of the Metropolis
Of the Uses of Sewers as a Means of Subsoil Drainage
Of the City Sewerage
Of the Outlets, Ramifications, Etc., of the Sewers
Of the Qualities, Etc., of the Sewage
Of the New Plan of Sewerage
Of the Management of the Sewers and the Late Commissions
Of the Powers and Authority of the Present Commissions of Sewers
Of the Sewers Rate
Of the Cleansing of the Sewers -- Ventilation
Of 'Flushing' and 'Plonging,' and Other Modes of Washing the Sewers
Of the Working Flushermen
Of the Rats in the Sewers
Of the Cesspoolage and Nightmen of the Metropolis
Of the Cesspool System of London
Of the Cesspool and Sewer System of Paris
Of the Emptying of the London Cesspools by Pump and Hose
Statement of a Cesspool-Sewerman
Of the Present Disposal of the Night-Soil
Of the Working Nightmen and the Mode of Work
Crossing-Sweepers