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The Dorsetshire Labourer

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An article written by Thomas Hardy

The Dorsetshire Labourer

        First appeared in Longman's Magazine, July, 1883.

It seldom happens that a nickname which affects to portray a class is
honestly indicative of the individuals composing that class.  The few
features distinguishing them from other bodies of men have been seized on
and exaggerated, while the incomparably more numerous features common to
all humanity have been ignored.  In the great world this wild colouring of
so-called typical portraits is clearly enough recognised.  Nationalities,
the aristocracy, the plutocracy, the citizen class, and many others have
their allegorical representatives, which are received with due allowance
for flights of imagination in the direction of burlesque.
     But when the class lies somewhat out of the ken of ordinary
society the caricature begins to be taken as truth.  Moreover,
the original is held to be an actual unit of the multitude
signified.  He ceases to be an abstract figure and becomes a
sample.  Thus when we arrive at the farm-labouring community we
find it to be seriously personified by the pitiable picture 'mown
as Hodge; not only so, but the community is assumed to be a
uniform collection of concrete Hodges.
     This supposed real but highly conventional Hodge is a degraded being
of uncouth manner and aspect, stolid understanding, and snail-like movement.
His speech is such a chaotic corruption of regular language that few persons
of progressive aims consider it worth while to enquire what views, if any,
of life, of nature, or of society, are conveyed in these utterances.  Hodge
hangs his head or looks sheepish when spoken to, and thinks Lunnon a place
paved with gold.  Misery and fever lurk in his cottage, while, to
paraphrase the words of a recent writer on the labouring classes, in his
future there are only the workhouse and the grave.  He hardly dares to think
at all.  He has few thoughts of joy, and little hope of rest.  His life
slopes into a darkness not 'quieted by hope.'
     If one of the many thoughtful persons who hold this view were to go by
rail to Dorset, where Hodge in his most unmitigated form is supposed to
reside, and seek out a retired district, he might by and by certainly meet
a man who, at first contact with an intelligence fresh from the contrasting
world of London, would seem to exhibit some of the above-mentioned qualities.
The latter items in the list, the mental miseries, the visitor might hardly
look for in their fulness, since it would have become perceptible to him as
an explorer, and to any but the chamber theorist, that no uneducated
community, rich or poor, bond or free, possessing average health and personal
liberty, could exist in an unchangeable slough of despond, or that it would
for many months if it could.  Its members, like the accursed swine, would
rush down a steep place and be choked in the waters.  He would have learnt
that wherever a mode of supporting life is neither noxious nor absolutely
inadequate, there springs up happiness, and will spring up happiness, of
some sort or other.  Indeed, it is among such communities as these that
happiness will find her last refuge on earth, since it is among them that a
perfect insight into the conditions of existence will be longest postponed.
     That in their future there are only the workhouse and the
grave is no more and no less true than that in the future of the
average well-to-do householder there are only the invalid chair
and the brick vault.
     Waiving these points, however, the investigator would insist
that the man he had encountered exhibited a suspicious blankness
of gaze, a great uncouthness and inactivity; and he might truly
approach the unintelligible if addressed by a stranger on any but
the commonest subject.  But suppose that, by some accident, the
visitor were obliged to go home with this man, take pot-luck with
him and his, as one of the family.  For the nonce the very
sitting down would seem an undignified performance, and at first,
the ideas, the modes, and the surroundings generally, would be
puzzling -- even impenetrable; or if in a measure penetrable,
would seem to have but little meaning.  But living on there for a
few days the sojourner would become conscious of a new aspect in
the life around him.  He would find that, without any objective
change whatever, variety had taken the place of monotony; that
the man who had brought him home -- the typical Hodge, as he
conjectured -- was somehow not typical of anyone but himself.
His host's brothers, uncles, and neighbours, as they became
personally known, would appear as different from his host himself
as one member of a club, or inhabitant of a city street, from
another.  As, to the eye of a diver, contrasting colours shine
out by degrees from what has originally painted itself of an
unrelieved earthy hue, so would shine out the characters,
capacities, and interests of these people to him.  He would, for
one thing, find that the language, instead of being a vile
corruption of cultivated speech, was a tongue with a grammatical
inflection rarely disregarded by his entertainer, though his
entertainer's children would occasionally make a sad hash of
their talk.  Having attended the National School they would mix
the printed tongue as taught therein with the unwritten, dying,
Wessex English that they had learnt of their parents, the result
of this transitional state of theirs being a composite language
without rule or harmony.
     Six months pass, and our gentleman leaves the cottage,
bidding his friends good-bye with genuine regret.  The great
change in his perception is that Hodge, the dull, unvarying,
joyless one, has ceased to exist for him.  He has become
disintegrated into a number of dissimilar fellow-creatures, men
of many minds, infinite in difference; some happy, many serene, a
few depressed; some clever, even to genius, some stupid, some
wanton, some austere; some mutely Miltonic, some Cromwellian;
into men who have private views of each other, as he has of his
friends; who applaud or condemn each other; amuse or sadden
themselves by the contemplation of each other's foibles or vices;
and each of whom walks in his own way the road to dusty death.
Dick the carter, Bob the shepherd, and Sam the ploughman, are, it
is true, alike in the narrowness of their means and their general
open-air life; but they cannot be rolled together again into such
a Hodge as he dreamt of, by any possible enchantment.  And should
time and distance render an abstract being, representing the
field labourer, possible again to the mind of the inquirer (a
questionable possibility) he will find that the Hodge of current
conception no longer sums up the capacities of the class so
defined.
     The pleasures enjoyed by the Dorset labourer may be far from
pleasures of the highest kind desirable for him.  They may be
pleasures of the wrong shade.  And the inevitable glooms of a
straitened hard-working life occasionally enwrap him from such
pleasures as he has; and in times of special storm and stress the
'Complaint of Piers the Ploughman' is still echoed in his heart.
But even Piers had his flights of merriment and humour; and
ploughmen as a rule do not give sufficient thought to the morrow
to be miserable when not in physical pain.  Drudgery in the slums
and alleys of a city, too long pursued, and accompanied as it too
often is by indifferent health, may induce a mood of despondency
which is well-nigh permanent; but the same degree of drudgery in
the fields results at worst in a mood of painless passivity.  A
pure atmosphere and a pastoral environment are a very appreciable
portion of the sustenance which tends to produce the sound mind
and body, and thus much sustenance is, at least, the labourer's
birthright.
     If it were possible to gauge the average sufferings of
classes, the probability is that in Dorsetshire the figure would
be lower with the regular farmer's labourers -- 'workfolk' as
they call themselves -- than with the adjoining class, the
unattached labourers, approximating to the free labourers of the
middle ages, who are to be found in the larger villages and small
towns of the county -- many of them, no doubt, descendants of the
old copyholders who were ousted from their little plots when the
system of leasing large farms grew general.  They are, what the
regular labourer is not, out of sight of patronage; and to be out
of sight is to be out of mind when misfortune arises, and pride
or sensitiveness leads them to conceal their privations.
     The happiness of a class can rarely be estimated aright by
philosophers who look down upon that class from the Olympian
heights of society.  Nothing, for instance, is more common than
for some philanthropic lady to burst in upon a family, be struck
by the apparent squalor of the scene, and to straightway mark
down that household in her note-book as a frightful example of
the misery of the labouring classes.  There are two distinct
probabilities of error in forming any such estimate.  The first
is that the apparent squalor is no squalor at all.  I am credibly
informed that the conclusion is nearly always based on colour.  A
cottage in which the walls, the furniture, and the dress of the
inmates reflect the brighter rays of the solar spectrum is read
by these amiable visitors as a cleanly, happy home while one
whose prevailing hue happens to be dingy russet, or a quaint old
leather tint, or any of the numerous varieties of mud colour, is
thought necessarily the abode of filth and Giant Despair.  'I
always kip a white apron behind the door to slip on when the
gentlefolk knock, for if so be they see a white apron they think
ye be dane,' said an honest woman one day, whose bedroom floors
could have been scraped with as much advantage as a pigeon-loft;
but who, by a judicious use of high lights, shone as a pattern of
neatness in her patrons' eyes.
     There was another woman who had long nourished an
unreasoning passion for burnt umber, and at last acquired a pot
of the same from a friendly young carpenter.  With this pigment
she covered every surface in her residence to which paint is
usually applied, and having more left, and feeling that to waste
it would be a pity as times go, she went on to cover other
surfaces till the whole was consumed.  Her dress and that of the
children were mostly of faded snuff-colour, her natural thrift
inducing her to cut up and re-make a quantity of old stuffs that
had been her mother's; and to add to the misery the floor of her
cottage was of Mayne brick -- a material which has the complexion
of gravy mottled with cinders.  Notwithstanding that the
bed-linen and underclothes of this unfortunate woman's family
were like the driven snow, and that the insides of her cooking
utensils were concave mirrors, she was used with great effect as
the frightful example of slovenliness for many years in that
neighbourhood.
     The second probability arises from the error of supposing
that actual slovenliness is always accompanied by unhappiness.
If it were so, a windfall of any kind would be utilised in most
cases in improving the surroundings.  But the money always goes
in the acquisition of something new, and not in the removal of
what there is already too much of, dirt.  And most frequently the
grimiest families are not the poorest; nay, paradoxical as it may
seem, external neglect in a household implies something above the
lowest level of poverty.  Copyholders, cottage freeholders, and
the like, are as a rule less trim and neat, more muddling in
their ways, than the dependent labourer; and yet there is no more
comfortable or serene being than the cottager who is sure of his
roof.  An instance of probable error through inability to see
below the surface of things occurred the other day in an article
by a lady on the peasant proprietors of Auvergne.  She states
that she discovered these persons living on an earth floor, mixed
up with onions, dirty clothes, and the 'indescribable remnants of
never stirred rubbish'; while one of the houses had no staircase,
the owners of the premises reaching their bedrooms by climbing up
a bank, and stepping in at the higher level.  This was an
inconvenient way of getting upstairs; but we must guard against
the inference that because these peasant proprietors are in a
slovenly condition, and certain English peasants who are not
proprietors live in model cottages copied out of a book by the
squire, the latter are so much happier than the former as the
dignity of their architecture is greater.  It were idle to deny
that, other things being equal, the family which dwells in a
cleanly and spacious cottage has the probability of a more
cheerful existence than a family narrowly housed and
draggletailed.  It has guarantees for health which the other has
not.  But it must be remembered that melancholy among the rural
poor arises primarily from a sense of the incertitude and
precariousness of their position.  Like Burns's field-mouse,
they are overawed and timorous lest those who can wrong them
should be inclined to exercise their power.  When we know that
the Damocles' sword of the poor is the fear of being turned out
of their houses by the farmer or squire, we may wonder how many
scrupulously clean English labourers would not be glad with
half-an-acre of the complaint that afflicts these unhappy
freeholders of Auvergne.
     It is not at all uncommon to find among the workfolk
philosophers who recognise, as clearly as Lord Palmerston did,
that dirt is only matter in the wrong place.  A worthy man
holding these wide views had put his clean shirt on a gooseberry
bush one Sunday morning, to be aired in the sun, whence it blew
off into the mud, and was much soiled.  His wife would have got
him another, but, 'No,' he said, 'the shirt shall wear his week.
'Tis fresh dirt, anyhow, and starch is no more.'
     On the other hand, true poverty -- that is, the actual want
of necessaries -- is constantly trying to be decent, and one of
the clearest signs of deserving poverty is the effort it makes to
appear otherwise by scrupulous neatness.
     To see the Dorset labourer at his worst and saddest time, he
should be viewed when attending a wet hiring-fair at Candlemas,
in search of a new master.  His natural cheerfulness bravely
struggles against the weather and the incertitude; but as the day
passes on, and his clothes get wet through, and he is still
unhired, there does appear a factitiousness in the smile which,
with a self-repressing mannerliness hardly to be found among any
other class, he yet has ready when he encounters and talks with
friends who have been more fortunate.  In youth and manhood, this
disappointment occurs but seldom; but at threescore and over, it
is frequently the lot of those who have no sons and daughters to
fall back upon, or whose children are ingrates, or far away.
     Here, at the corner of the street, in this aforesaid wet
hiring-fair, stands an old shepherd.  He is evidently a lonely
man.  The battle of life has always been a sharp one with him,
for, to begin with, he is a man of small frame.  He is now so
bowed by hard work and years that, approaching from behind, you
can scarcely see his head.  He has planted the stem of his crook
in the gutter, and rests upon the bow, which is polished to
silver brightness by the long friction of his hands.  He has
quite forgotten where he is and what he has come for, his eyes
being bent on the ground.  'There's work in en,' says one farmer
to another, as they look dubiously across; 'there's work left in
en still; but not so much as I want for my acreage.'  'You'd get
en cheap,' says the other.  The shepherd does not hear them, and
there seem to be passing through his mind pleasant visions of the
hiring successes of his prime -- when his skill in ovine surgery
laid open any farm to him for the asking, and his employer would
say uneasily in the early days of February, 'You don't mean to
leave us this year?'
     But the hale and strong have not to wait thus, and having
secured places in the morning, the day passes merrily enough with
them.
     The hiring-fair of recent years presents an appearance
unlike that of former times.  A glance up the high street of the
town on a Candlemas-fair day twenty or thirty years ago revealed
a crowd whose general colour was whity-brown flecked with white.
Black was almost absent, the few farmers who wore that shade
being hardly discernible.  Now the crowd is as dark as a London
crowd.  This change is owing to the rage for cloth clothes which
possesses the labourers of to-day.  Formerly they came in
smock-frocks and gaiters, the shepherds with their crooks, the
carters with a zone of whipcord round their hats, thatchers with
a straw tucked into the brim, and so on.  Now, with the exception
of the crook in the hands of an occasional old shepherd, there is
no mark of speciality in the groups, who might be tailors or
undertakers' men, for what they exhibit externally.  Out of a
group of eight, for example, who talk together in the middle of
the road, only one wears corduroy trousers.  Two wear cloth
pilot-coats and black trousers, two patterned tweed suits with
black canvas overalls, the remaining four suits being of faded
broad-cloth.  To a great extent these are their Sunday suits; but
the genuine white smock-frock of Russia duck and the whity-brown
one of drabbet, are rarely seen now afield, except on the
shoulders of old men.  Where smocks are worn by the young and
middle-aged, they are of blue material.  The mechanic's 'slop'
has also been adopted; but a mangy old cloth coat is preferred;
so that often a group of these honest fellows on the arable has
the aspect of a body of tramps up to some mischief in the field,
rather than its natural tillers at work there.
     That peculiarity of the English urban poor (which M. Taine
ridicules, and unfavourably contrasts with the taste of the
Continental working-people) -- their preference for the cast-off
clothes of a richer class to a special attire of their own --
has, in fact, reached the Dorset farm folk.  Like the men, the
women are, pictorially, less interesting than they used to be.
Instead of the wing bonnet like the tilt of a waggon, cotton
gown, bright-hued neckerchief, and strong flat boots and shoes,
they (the younger ones at least) wear shabby millinery bonnets
and hats with beads and feathers, 'material' dresses, and
boot-heels almost as foolishly shaped as those of ladies of
highest education.
     Having 'agreed for a place,' as it is called, either at the
fair, or (occasionally) by private intelligence, or (with growing
frequency) by advertisement in the penny local papers, the terms
are usually reduced to writing: though formerly a written
agreement was unknown, and is now, as a rule, avoided by the
farmer if the labourer does not insist upon one.  It is signed by
both, and a shiffing is passed to bind the bargain.  The business
is then settled, and the man returns to his place of work, to do
no more in the matter till Lady Day, Old Style -- April 6.
     Of all the days in the year, people who love the rural poor
of the south-west should pray for a fine day then.  Dwellers near
the highways of the country are reminded of the anniversary
surely enough.  They are conscious of a disturbance of their
night's rest by noises beginning in the small hours of darkness,
and intermittently continuing till daylight -- noises as certain
to recur on that particular night of the month as the voice of
the cuckoo on the third or fourth week of the same.  The day of
fulfilment has come, and the labourers are on the point of being
fetched from the old farm by the carters of the new.  For it is
always by the waggon and horses of the farmer who requires his
services that the hired  man is conveyed to his destination; and
that this may be accomplished within the day is the reason that
the noises begin so soon after midnight.  Suppose the distance to
be an ordinary one of a dozen or fifteen miles.  The carter at
the prospective place rises 'when Charles's Wain is over the new
chimney,' harnesses his team of three horses by lantern light,
and proceeds to the present home of his coming comrade.  It is
the passing of these empty waggons in all directions that is
heard breaking the stillness of the hours before dawn.  The aim
is usually to be at the door of the removing household by six
o'clock, when the loading of goods at once begins; and at nine or
ten the start to the new home is made.  From this hour till one
or two in the day, when the other family arrives at the old
house, the cottage is empty, and it is only in that short
interval that the interior can be in anyway cleaned and
lime-whitened for the new comers, however dirty it may have
become, or whatever sickness may have prevailed among members of
the departed family.
     Should the migrant himself be a carter there is a slight
modification in the arrangement, for carters do not fetch
carters, as they fetch shepherds and general hands.  In this case
the man has to transfer himself.  He relinquishes charge of the
horses of the old farm in the afternoon of April 5, and starts on
foot the same afternoon for the new place.  There he makes the
acquaintance of the horses which are to be under his care for the
ensuing year, and passes the night sometimes on a bundle of clean
straw in the stable, for he is as yet a stranger here, and too
indifferent to the comforts of a bed on this particular evening
to take much trouble to secure one.  From this couch he uncurls
himself about two o'clock, a.m. (for the distance we have
assumed), and, harnessing his new charges, moves off with them to
his old home, where, on his arrival, the packing is already
advanced by the wife, and loading goes on as before mentioned.
     The goods are built up on the waggon to a well-nigh
unvarying pattern, which is probably as peculiar to the country
labourer as the hexagon to the bee.  The dresser, with its
finger-marks and domestic evidences thick upon it, stands
importantly in front, over the backs of the shaft horses, in its
erect and natural position, like some Ark of the Covenant, which
must not be handled slightingly or overturned.  The hive of bees
is slung up to the axle of the waggon, and alongside it the
cooking pot or crock, within which are stowed the roots of garden
flowers.  Barrels are largely used for crockery, and budding
gooseberry bushes are suspended by the roots; while on the top of
the furniture a circular nest is made of the bed and bedding for
the matron and children, who sit there through the journey.  If
there is no infant in arms, the woman holds the head of the
clock, which at any exceptional lurch of the waggon strikes one,
in thin tones.  The other object of solicitude is the
looking-glass, usually held in the lap of the eldest girl.  It is
emphatically spoken of as the looking-glass, there being but one
in the house, except possibly a small shaving-glass for the
husband.  But labouring men are not much dependent upon mirrors
for a clean chin.  I have seen many men shaving in the chimney
corner, looking into the fire; or, in summer, in the garden, with
their eyes fixed upon a gooseberry-bush, gazing as steadfastly as
if there were a perfect reflection of their image -- from which
it would seem that the concentrated look of shavers in general
was originally demanded rather by the mind than by the eye.  On
the other hand, I knew a man who used to walk about the room all
the time he was engaged in the operation, and how he escaped
cutting himself was a marvel.  Certain luxurious dandies of the
furrow, who could not do without a reflected image of themselves
when using the razor, obtained it till quite recently by placing
the crown of an old hat outside the window-pane, then confronting
it inside the room and falling to -- a contrivance which formed a
very clear reflection of a face in high light.
     The day of removal, if fine, wears an aspect of jollity, and
the whole proceeding is a blithe one.  A bundle of provisions for
the journey is usually hung up at the side of the vehicle,
together with a three-pint stone jar of extra strong ale; for it
is as impossible to move house without beer as without horses.
Roadside inns, too, are patronised, where, during the halt, a mug
is seen ascending and descending through the air to and from the
feminine portion of the household at the top of the waggon.  The
drinking at these times is, however, moderate, the beer supplied
to travelling labourers being of a preternaturally small brew; as
was illustrated by a dialogue which took place on such an
occasion quite recently.  The liquor was not quite to the taste
of the male travellers, and they complained.  But the landlady
upheld its merits.  ''Tis our own brewing, and there is nothing
in it but malt and hops,' she said, with recititude.  'Yes, there
is,' said the traveller.  'There's water.'  'Oh!  I forgot the
water,' the landlady replied.  'I'm d--d if you did, mis'ess,'
replied the man; 'for there's hardly anything else in the cup.'
     Ten or a dozen of these families, with their goods, may be
seen halting simultaneously at an out-of-the-way inn, and it is
not possible to walk a mile on any of the high roads this day
without meeting several.  This annual migration from farm to farm
is much in excess of what it was formerly.  For example, on a
particular farm where, a generation ago, not more than one
cottage on an average changed occupants yearly, and where the
majority remained all their lifetime, the whole number of tenants
were changed at Lady Day just past, and this though nearly all of
them had been new arrivals on the previous Lady Day.  Dorset
labourers now look upon an annual removal as the most natural
thing in the world, and it becomes with the younger families a
pleasant excitement.  Change is also a certain sort of education.
Many advantages accrue to the labourers from the varied
experience it brings, apart from the discovery of the best market
for their abilities.  They have become shrewder and sharper men
of the world, and have learnt how to hold their own with firmness
and judgment.  Whenever the habitually-removing man comes into
contact with one of the old-fashioned stationary sort, who are
still to be found, it is impossible not to perceive that the
former is much more wide awake than his fellow-worker,
astonishing him with stories of the wide world comprised in a
twenty-mile radius from their homes.
     They are also losing their peculiarities as a class; hence
the humorous simplicity which formerly characterised the men and
the unsophisticated modesty of the women are rapidly disappearing
or lessening, under the constant attrition of lives mildly
approximating to those of workers in a manufacturing town.  It is
the common remark of villagers immediately above the labouring
class, who know the latter well as personal acquaintances, that
'there are no nice homely workfolk now as there used to be.'
There may be, and is, some exaggeration in this, but it is only
natural that, now different districts of them are shaken together
once a year and redistributed, like a shuffled pack of cards,
they have ceased to be so local in feeling or manner as formerly,
and have entered on the condition of inter-social citizens,
'whose city stretches the whole county over.  Their brains are
less frequently than they once were 'as dry as the remainder
biscuit after a voyage,' and they vent less often the result of
their own observations than what they have heard to be the
current ideas of smart chaps in towns.  The women have, in many
districts, acquired the rollicking air of factory hands.  That
seclusion and immutability, which was so bad for their pockets,
was an unrivalled fosterer of their personal charm in the eyes of
those whose experiences had been less limited.  But the artistic
merit of their old condition is scarcely a reason why they should
have continued in it when other communities were marching on so
vigorously towards uniformity and mental equality.  It is only
the old story that progress and picturesqueness do not harmonise.
They are losing their individuality, but they are widening the
range of their ideas, and gaining in freedom.  It is too much to
expect them to remain stagnant and old-fashioned for the pleasure
of romantic spectators.
     But, picturesqueness apart, a result of this increasing
nomadic habit of the labourer is naturally a less intimate and
kindly relation with the land he tills than existed before
enlightenment enabled him to rise above the condition of a serf
who lived and died on a particular plot, like a tree.  During the
centuries of serfdom, of copyholding tenants, and down to twenty
or thirty years ago, before the power of unlimited migration had
been clearly realised, the husbandman of either class had the
interest of long personal association with his farm.  The fields
were those he had ploughed and sown from boyhood, and it was
impossible for him, in such circumstances, to sink altogether the
character of natural guardian in that of hireling.  Not so very
many years ago, the landowner, if he were good for anything,
stood as a court of final appeal in cases of the harsh dismissal
of a man by the farmer.  'I'll go to my lord' was a threat which
overbearing farmers respected, for 'my lord' had often personally
known the labourer long before he knew the labourer's master.
But such arbitrament is rarely practicable now.  The landlord
does not know by sight, if even by name, half the men who
preserve his acres from the curse of Eden.  They come and go
yearly, like birds of passage, nobody thinks whence or whither.
This dissociation is favoured by the customary system of letting
the cottages with the land, so that, far from having a guarantee
of a holding to keep him fixed, the labourer has not even the
stability of a landlord's tenant; he is only tenant of a tenant,
the latter possibly a new comer, who takes strictly commercial
views of his man and cannot afford to waste a penny on
sentimental considerations.
     Thus, while their pecuniary condition in the prime of life
is bettered, and their freedom enlarged, they have lost touch
with their environment, and that sense of long local participancy
which is one of the pleasures of age.  The old casus conscientiae
of those in power -- whether the weak tillage of an enfeebled
hand ought not to be put up with in fields which have had the
benefit of that hand's strength -- arises less frequently now
that the strength has often been expended elsewhere.  The
sojourning existence of the town masses is more and more the
existence of the rural masses, with its corresponding benefits
and disadvantages.  With uncertainty of residence often comes a
laxer morality, and more cynical views of the duties of life.
Domestic stability is a factor in conduct which nothing else can
equal.  On the other hand, new varieties of happiness evolve
themselves like new varieties of plants, and new charms may have
arisen among the classes who have been driven to adopt the remedy
of locomotion for the evils of oppression and poverty -- charms
which compensate in some measure for the lost sense of home.
     A practical injury which this wandering entails on the
children of the labourers should be mentioned here.  In shifting
from school to school, their education cannot possibly progress
with that regularity which is essential to their getting the best
knowledge in the short time available to them.  It is the remark
of village school-teachers of experience, that the children of
the vagrant workfolk form the mass of those who fail to reach the
ordinary standard of knowledge expected of their age.  The rural
schoolmaster or mistress enters the schoolroom on the morning of
the sixth of April, and finds that a whole flock of the brightest
young people has suddenly flown away.  In a village school which
may be taken as a fair average specimen, containing seventy-five
scholars, thirty-three vanished thus on the Lady Day of the
present year.  Some weeks elapse before the new comers drop in,
and a longer time passes before they take root in the school,
their dazed, unaccustomed mood rendering immediate progress
impossible; while the original bright ones have by this time
themselves degenerated into the dazed strangers of other
districts.
     That the labourers of the country are more independent since
their awakening to the sense of an outer world cannot be
disputed.  It was once common enough on inferior farms to hear a
farmer, as he sat on horseback amid a field of workers, address
them with a contemptuousness which could not have been greatly
exceeded in the days when the thralls of Cedric wore their
collars of brass.  Usually no answer was returned to these
tirades; they were received as an accident of the land on which
the listeners had happened to be born, calling for no more
resentment than the blows of the wind and rain.  But now, no
longer fearing to avail himself of his privilege of flitting,
these acts of contumely have ceased to be regarded as inevitable
by the peasant.  And while men do not of their own accord leave a
farm without a grievance, very little fault-finding is often
deemed a sufficient one among the younger and stronger.  Such
ticklish relations are the natural result of generations of
unfairness on one side, and on the other an increase of
knowledge, which has been kindled into activity by the exertions
of Mr. Joseph Arch.
     Nobody who saw and heard Mr.  Arch in his early tours
through Dorsetshire will ever forget him and the influence his
presence exercised over the crowds he drew.  He hailed from
Shakespeare's county, where the humours of the peasantry have a
marked family relationship with those of Dorset men; and it was
this touch of nature, as much as his logic, which afforded him
such ready access to the minds and hearts of the labourers here.
It was impossible to hear and observe the speaker for more than a
few minutes without perceiving that he was a humourist --
moreover, a man by no means carried away by an idea beyond the
bounds of common sense.  Like his renowned fellow-dalesman Corin,
he virtually confessed that he was never in court, and might,
with that eminent shepherd, have truly described himself as a
'natural philosopher,' who had discovered that 'he that wants
money, means, and content, is without three good friends.'
     'Content' may for a moment seem a word not exactly
explanatory of Mr.  Arch's views; but on the single occasion,
several years ago, on which the present writer numbered himself
among those who assembled to listen to that agitator, there was a
remarkable moderation in his tone, and an exhortation to
contentment with a reasonable amelioration, which, to an
impartial auditor, went a long way in the argument.  His views
showed him to be rather the social evolutionist -- what M. Emile
de Laveleye would call a 'Possibilist' -- than the anarchic
irreconcilable.  The picture be drew of a comfortable cottage
life as it should be, was so cosy, so well within the grasp of
his listeners imagination, that an old labourer in the crowd held
up a coin between his finger and thumb exclaiming, 'Here's
zixpence towards that, please God !'  'Towards what?' said a
bystander.  'Faith, I don't know that I can spak the name o't,
but I know 'tis a good thing,' he replied.
     The result of the agitation, so far, upon the income of the
labourers, has been testified by independent witnesses with a
unanimity which leaves no reasonable doubt of its accuracy.  It
amounts to an average rise of three shillings a week in wages
nearly all over the county.  The absolute number of added
shillings seems small; but the increase is considerable when we
remember that it is three shillings on eight or nine -- i.e.,
between thirty and forty per cent.  And the reflection is forced
upon everyone who thinks of the matter, that if a farmer can
afford to pay thirty per cent more wages in times of agricultural
depression than he paid in times of agricultural prosperity, and
yet live, and keep a carriage, while the landlord still thrives
on the reduced rent which has resulted, the labourer must have
been greatly wronged in those prosperous times.  That the maximum
of wage has been reached for the present is, however, pretty
clear; and indeed it should be added that on several farms the
labourers have submitted to a slight reduction during the past
year, under stress of representations which have appeared
reasonable.
     It is hardly necessary to observe that the quoted wages
never represent the labourer's actual income.  Beyond the weekly
payment -- now standing at eleven or twelve shillings -- he
invariably receives a lump sum of 2l. or 3l. for harvest work.  A
cottage and garden is almost as invariably provided, free of
rent, with, sometimes, an extra piece of ground for potatoes in
some field near at hand.  Fuel, too, is frequently furnished, in
the form of wood faggots.  At springtime, on good farms, the
shepherd receives a shilling for every twin reared, while the
carter gets what is called journey-money, that is, a small sum,
mostly a shilling, for every journey taken beyond the bounds of
the farm.  Where all these supplementary trifles are enjoyed
together, the weekly wage in no case exceeds eleven shillings at
the present time.
     The question of enough or not enough often depends less upon
the difference of two or three shillings a week in the earnings
of the head of a family than upon the nature of his household.
With a family of half a dozen children, the eldest of them
delicate girls, nothing that he can hope to receive for the
labour of his one pair of  hands can save him from many hardships
during a few years.  But with a family of strong boys, of ages
from twelve to seventeen or eighteen, he enjoys a season of
prosperity.  The very manner of the farmer towards him is
deferential; for home-living boys, who in many cases can do men's
work at half the wages, and without requiring the perquisites of
house, garden-land, and so on, are treasures to the employer of
agricultural labour.  These precious lads are, according to the
testimony of several respectable labourers, a more frequent cause
of contention between employer and man than any other item in
their reckonings.  As the boys grow, the father asks for a like
growth in their earnings; and disputes arise which frequently end
in the proprietor of the valuables taking himself off to a farm
where he and his will be better appreciated.  The mother of the
same goodly row of sons can afford to despise the farmer's
request for female labour; she stays genteelly at home, and looks
with some superciliousness upon wives who, having no useful
children, are obliged to work in the fields like their husbands.
A triumphant family of the former class, which recently came
under notice, may be instanced.  The father and eldest son were
paid eleven shillings a week each, the younger son ten shillings,
three nearly grown-up daughters four shillings a week each, the
mother the same when she chose to go out, and all the women two
shillings a week additional at harvest; the men, of course,
receiving their additional harvest-money as previously stated,
with house, garden, and allotment free of charge.  And since
'sine prole' would not frequently be written of the Dorset
labourer if his pedigree were recorded in the local history like
that of the other county families, such cases as the above are
not uncommon.
     Women's labour, too, is highly in request, for a woman who,
like a boy, fills the place of a man at half the wages, can be
better depended on for steadiness.  Thus where a boy is useful in
driving a cart or a plough, a woman is invaluable in work which,
though somewhat lighter, demands thought.  In winter and spring a
farm-woman's occupation is often 'turnip-hacking' -- that is,
picking out from the land the stumps of turnips which have been
eaten off by the sheep or feeding the threshing-machine, clearing
away straw from the same, and standing on the rick to hand
forward the sheaves.  In mid-spring and early summer her services
are required for weeding wheat and barley (cutting up thistles
and other noxious plants with a spud), and clearing weeds from
pasture-land in like manner.  In later summer her time is
entirely engrossed by haymaking -- quite a science, though it
appears the easiest thing in the world to toss hay about in the
sun.  The length to which a skilful raker will work and retain
command over her rake without moving her feet is dependent
largely upon practice, and quite astonishing to the uninitiated.
     Haymaking is no sooner over than the women are hurried off
to the harvest-field.  This is a lively time.  The bonus in wages
during these few weeks, the cleanliness of the occupation, the
heat, the cider and ale, influence to facetiousness and vocal
strains.  Quite the reverse do these lively women feel in the
occupation which may be said to stand, emotionally, at the
opposite pole to gathering in corn: that is, threshing it.  Not a
woman in the county but hates the threshing machine.  The dust,
the din, the sustained exertion demanded to keep up with the
steam tyrant, are distasteful to all women but the coarsest.  I
am not sure whether, at the present time, women are employed to
feed the machine, but some years ago a woman had frequently to
stand just above the whizzing wire drum, and feed from morning to
night -- a performance for which she was quite unfitted, and many
were the manoeuvres to escape that responsible position.  A thin
saucer-eyed woman of fifty-five, who had been feeding the machine
all day, declared on one occasion that in crossing a field on her
way home in the fog after dusk, she was so dizzy from the work as
to be unable to find the opposite gate, and there she walked
round and round the field, bewildered and terrified, till three
o'clock in the morning, before she could get out.  The farmer
said that the ale had got into her head, but she maintained that
it was the spinning of the machine.  The point was never clearly
settled between them; and the poor woman is now dead and buried.
     To be just, however, to the farmers, they do not enforce the
letter of the Candlemas agreement in relation to the woman, if
she makes any reasonable excuse for breaking it; and indeed, many
a nervous farmer is put to flight by a matron who has a tongue
with a tang, and who chooses to assert, without giving any reason
whatever, that, though she had made fifty agreements, 'be cust if
she will come out unless she is minded' -- possibly terrifying
him with accusations of brutality at asking her, when he knows
'how she is just now.'  A farmer of the present essayist's
acquaintance, who has a tendency to blush in the presence of
beauty, and is in other respects a bashful man for his years,
says that when the ladies of his farm are all together in a
field, and he is the single one of the male sex present, he would
as soon put his head into a hornet's nest as utter a word of
complaint, or even a request beyond the commonest.
     The changes which are so increasingly discernible in village
life by no means originate entirely with the agricultural unrest.
A depopulation is going on which in some quarters is truly
alarming.  Villages used to contain, in addition to the
agricultural inhabitants, an interesting and better-informed
class, ranking distinctly above those -- the blacksmith, the
carpenter, the shoemaker, the small higgler, the shopkeeper
(whose stock-in-trade consisted of a couple of loaves, a pound of
candles, a bottle of brandy-balls and lumps of delight, three or
four scrubbing-brushes, and a frying-pan), together with
nondescript-workers other than farm-labourers, who had remained
in the houses where they were born for no especial reason beyond
an instinct of association with the spot.  Many of these families
had been life-holders, who built at their own expense the
cottages they occupied, and as the lives dropped, and the
property fell in they would have been glad to remain as weekly or
monthly tenants of the owner.  But the policy of all but some few
philanthropic landowners is to disapprove of these petty tenants
who are not in the estate's employ, and to pull down each cottage
as it falls in, leaving standing a sufficient number for the use
of the farmer's men and no more.  The occupants who formed the
back-bone of the village life have to seek refuge in the
boroughs.  This process, which is designated by statisticians as
'the tendency of the rural population towards the large towns,'
is really the tendency of water to flow uphill when forced.  The
poignant regret of those who are thus obliged to forsake the old
nest can only be realised by people who have witnessed it --
concealed as it often is under a mask of indifference.  It is
anomalous that landowners who are showing unprecedented activity
in the erection of comfortable cottages for their farm labourers,
should see no reason for benefiting in the same way these
unattached natives of the village who are nobody's care.  They
might often expostulate in the words addressed to King Henry the
Fourth by his fallen subject: --

     Our house, my sovereign liege, little deserves
     The scourge of greatness to be used on it;
     And that same greatness, too, which our own hands
     Have holp to make so portly.

     The system is much to be deplored, for every one of these
banished people imbibes a sworn enmity to the existing order of
things, and not a few of them, far from becoming merely honest
Radicals, degenerate into Anarchists, waiters on chance, to whom
danger to the State, the town -- nay, the street they live in, is
a welcomed opportunity.
     A reason frequently advanced for dismissing these families
from the villages where they have lived for centuries is that it
is done in the interests of morality; and it is quite true that
some of the 'liviers' (as these half-independent villagers used
to be called) were not always shining examples of churchgoing,
temperance, and quiet walking.  But a natural tendency to evil,
which develops to unlawful action when excited by contact with
others like-minded, would often have remained latent amid the
simple isolated experiences of a village life.  The cause of
morality cannot be served by compelling a population hitherto
evenly distributed over the country to concentrate in a few
towns, with the inevitable results of overcrowding and want of
regular employment.  But the question of the Dorset cottager here
merges in that of all the houseless and landless poor, and the
vast topic of the Rights of Man, to consider which is beyond the
scope of a merely descriptive article.

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