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land, was working or pretending to work for the improvement of the agricultural labourers, they would probably think that they might be relieved from individual action—that the society would work the regeneration of everything and everybody connected with agriculture; and fondly imagine that the results of such a society would be in proportion to the long list of noble names and the wide extent of its programme.
For these reasons, it is very much better that a society is not to be formed for regenerating agricultural labourers, although it must be said at the same time that the meeting held at St. James' Hall was calculated to do à deal of good, by discussing this important question, by laying bare to the public generally the eminently unsatisfactory state of the life and position of the agricultural labourer in all its bearings, and by the suggestion of various plans for its amelioration. The majority of the speakers at this meeting were practical men, landlords who really understand the actual condition of their tenants' labourers, and employers of labour thoroughly conversant with their position, their wants, their failings and grievances ;-men really inclining and inclined to put their own shoulders to the task of improvement.
Lords Ducie and Lichfield are model landlords who have done much for the working-classes upon their estates in various ways, especially with regard to that most important point, the improvement of their dwellings. It was their advice, and that of nearly all present at this meeting, that no society should be formed, but that each and every one should go
and do all he could in his own district to improve the condition of the agricultural labourers, and to stimulate all others to do the same by precept and example. All the subjects which were to be taken up by the proposed society are treated of in the following pages.
them to go
blished at the meeting at the Society of Arts, was to establish a system of agency to assist and facilitate the migration of agricultural labourers, and by means of local agents to encourage
from places where labour was abundant to places where it was in demand, and consequently where wages ruled higher. There can be no doubt whatever that theoretically this scheme of migration is sound. It seems such a simple remedy for low wages, such an almost self-evident proposition, that it hardly requires a society or a system to work it out; but as a matter of practice it is very doubtful whether it could be satisfactorily carried out, or whether it would be of any benefit to the labouring classes. A Devonshire labourer, for example, receiving eleven shillings a week-which, in spite of all that is alleged to the contrary, is fairly believed to be the minimum average wage even in the western counties,-is urged by the agent to migrate to Kent, where he is told that able-bodied working-men are getting from fifteen shillings to eighteen shillings a week. When he reaches Kent he finds probably that he knows nothing whatever of the kind of work which holds in the locality; that from this ignorance double wear and tear of his body is necessary, and if he stays, in all probability he will find himself disqualified from working at the most remunerative work, and will sink down to a common farm drudge, with the ordinary day pay of the neighbourhood, without a chance of piece work. A
Devonshire or a Dorsetshire man brought up from his youth to potter about a purely arable or pasture farm, if he were draughted to the hop gardens and fruit plantations of Kent, would, if he could get piece-work and could do it skilfully enough to satisfy his employer, be unable to earn very much more than he obtained in the county from which he had migrated. This is of course an extreme case ; but as a general rule it may be fairly assumed that the nature and quality of labour differ in every district; the work of each locality from circumstances of soil and even climate, and peculiarities of cultivation, requires its own special technical training; and the value of labour ranges in direct proportion to its productiveness to a far greater extent than is commonly imagined
However, the law of supply and demand has a primary and generally governing influence upon the value of labour, so the advent of the hypothetical Devonshire man, though it does not much benefit his own position, tends to lower wages in the district to which he has migrated, and to raise them in the locality from which he came. The final result of this migration then evidently must be to bring about a gradual equalisation of the wages of the country-the taking-off from Kent and tacking-on to Devon. Le jeu n'en vaut pas la chandelle—the result is not worth the trouble. It is not worth while to set going machinery to bring about such a miserable end. Just for the poor unsatisfactory purpose of robbing Peter to pay Paul it would be a great mistake to transplant men from their homes—from their accustomed work, and to convey them to strange places, among strange faces, to entirely fresh work. Neither to the whole community of agricultural labourers nor to individuals drifted indiscriminately away would any permanent, practical good accrue. Migration, of a wholesale character must prove a great failure, but it must not therefore be imagined that all migration is altogether deprecated as regards individuals and individual action. On the
contrary, there are instances occurring every day of men leaving their homes spontaneously to better themselves, who really do thereby better themselves. The kindness or discrimination of a friend may have found just the place for them, or their own special aptitude for a particular kind of work, without any displacement of or interference with others. It is far preferable that such migrations and changes should be made in this quiet manner, and that they should as far as possible arise from a man's own consciousness that he requires better things and that he is fitted for a better position in life. Indiscriminate migration conducted in a hap-hazard kind of way by agents paid probably by a species of poll-tax, or at so much a head for each transmitted labourer, can do no general and permanent good to the mass of agricultural labourers, neither in improving their condition nor, as is so strongly urged by the advocates of this scheme, in improving their characters and elevating the moral standard of their lives.
Migration by means of agents might lead to a deal of misery and tend to embitter the relations between employer and employed, and to completely sever those ties which have existed in such peculiar force between farmers and their labourers. The position of an agricultural labourer is in many respects different to that of nearly all other classes. There are many days in the winter and even in the summer when his labours are comparatively of little value and might be dispensed with altogether; but most farmers keep their men at standing wages all through slack times, finding work rather than turn their regular hands off. Added to this, there are arrangements frequently made as to house-rent, firing, and gardens in many counties; also as to the purchase of pigs and flour at cheap rates,—which are great advantages to the labourers, and in many cases are forgotten by those who make the most of their unsatisfactory state. All this would cease directly the employer found that at any time an
agent might persuade his men to forsake him. He would feel that he was never safe, and that it would not pay him to make employment for men who might leave him when the first summer day appeared. He would keep no regular staff, but trust to casual comers or to chance to provide him with hands when he wanted them. Machinery is every day diminishing the absolute necessity for an extraordinary number of hands at particular
Still there are vast numbers of farmers who would rather go on in the old-fashioned way, and
who have not the capital to embark in the purchase of machines. Though this old-established custom, which may be styled the patriarchal custom, is in most respects unsound and by no means calculated to raise the labourers in a moral or social point of view, it cannot be abrogated at once. The great, desirable change must come gradually. It was a long time before the serfs of old were merged into comparative independents, and generations must elapse before the agricultural labourers shake off the patriarchal yoke. Whole districts might be steeped in misery by the hasty or injudicious operation of systematised migration. In cases of strikes or turn-outs the distress and discord thus occasioned would be inconceivable, and no benefit would accrue to the whole agricultural community. Under the present state of things it is hardly to be expected that in mere average corn-growing districts the rate of wages of an agricultural labourer will ever reach that standard which is necessary for his physical, moral, and social welfare. The standard of other agricultural districts not solely corn-growing is not very much higher—at all events, not by any means high enough. It would be a huge blunder to try by systematised efforts to bring these standards to a dead level next akin to pauperism—to reduce the poor wages of Jones of Kent by sending Smith of Devon to compete with him for work.
The present state of the Poor Law precludes anything like a systematised migration. Until paupers and applicants for relief