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Title: Change in the Village
Author: Sturt, George, 1863-1927
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Literature in Agriculture (CHLA), Cornell University)





_Printed in Great Britain by Billing & Sons, Ltd., Guildford, England_




    I. THE VILLAGE                    3



   II. SELF-RELIANCE                 21
  III. MAN AND WIFE                  38
   IV. MANIFOLD TROUBLES             50
    V. DRINK                         65
   VI. WAYS AND MEANS                79
  VII. GOOD TEMPER                   97



   IX. THE NEW THRIFT               127
    X. COMPETITION                  143
   XI. HUMILIATION                  151
  XII. THE HUMILIATED               167
 XIII. NOTICE TO QUIT               180



  XIV. THE INITIAL DEFECT           193
   XV. THE OPPORTUNITY              200
  XVI. THE OBSTACLES                217
 XVII. THE WOMEN'S NEED             229
   XX. THE CHILDREN'S NEED          272







If one were to be very strict, I suppose it would be wrong to give the
name of "village" to the parish dealt with in these chapters, because
your true village should have a sort of corporate history of its own,
and this one can boast nothing of the kind. It clusters round no central
green; no squire ever lived in it; until some thirty years ago it was
without a resident parson; its church is not half a century old. Nor are
there here, in the shape of patriarchal fields, or shady lanes, or
venerable homesteads, any of those features that testify to the
immemorial antiquity of real villages as the homes of men; and this for
a very simple reason. In the days when real villages were growing, our
valley could not have supported a quite self-contained community: it
was, in fact, nothing but a part of the wide rolling heath-country--the
"common," or "waste," belonging to the town which lies northwards, in a
more fertile valley of its own. Here, there was no fertility. Deep down
in the hollow a stream, which runs dry every summer, had prepared a
strip of soil just worth reclaiming as coarse meadow or tillage; but the
strip was narrow--a man might throw a stone across it at some
points--and on either side the heath and gorse and fern held their own
on the dry sand. Such a place afforded no room for an English village of
the true manorial kind; and I surmise that it lay all but uninhabited
until perhaps the middle of the eighteenth century, by which time a few
"squatters" from neighbouring parishes had probably settled here, to
make what living they might beside the stream-bed. At no time,
therefore, did the people form a group of genuinely agricultural
rustics. Up to a period within living memory, they were an almost
independent folk, leading a sort of "crofter," or (as I have preferred
to call it) a "peasant" life; while to-day the majority of the men, no
longer independent, go out to work as railway navvies, builders'
labourers, drivers of vans and carts in the town; or are more casually
employed at digging gravel, or road-mending, or harvesting and
hay-making, or attending people's gardens, or laying sewers, or in fact
at any job they can find. At a low estimate nine out of every ten of
them get their living outside the parish boundaries; and this fact by
itself would rob the place of its title to be thought a village, in the
strict sense.

In appearance, too, it is abnormal. As you look down upon the valley
from its high sides, hardly anywhere are there to be seen three
cottages in a row, but all about the steep slopes the little mean
dwelling-places are scattered in disorder. So it extends east and west
for perhaps a mile and a half--a surprisingly populous hollow now,
wanting in restfulness to the eyes and much disfigured by shabby detail,
as it winds away into homelier and softer country at either end. The
high-road out of the town, stretching away for Hindhead and the South
Coast, comes slanting down athwart the valley, cutting it into "Upper"
and "Lower" halves or ends; and just in the bottom, where there is a
bridge over the stream, the appearances might deceive a stranger into
thinking that he had come to the nucleus of an old village, since a
dilapidated farmstead and a number of cottages line the sides of the
road at that point. The appearances, however, are deceptive. I doubt if
the cottages are more than a century old; and even if any of them have a
greater antiquity, still it is not as the last relics of an earlier
village that they are to be regarded. On the contrary, they indicate the
beginnings of the present village. Before them, their place was
unoccupied, and they do but commemorate the first of that series of
changes by which the valley has been turned from a desolate wrinkle in
the heaths into the anomalous suburb it has become to-day.

Of the period and manner of that first change I have already given a
hint, attributing it indefinitely to a slow immigration of squatters
somewhere in the eighteenth century. Neither the manner of it, however,
nor the period is material here. Let it suffice that, a hundred years
ago or so, the valley had become inhabited by people living in the
"peasant" way presently to be described more fully. The subject of this
book begins with the next change, which by and by overtook these same
people, and dates from the enclosure of the common, no longer ago than
1861. The enclosure was effected in the usual fashion: a few adjacent
landowners obtained the lion's share, while the cottagers came in for
small allotments. These allotments, of little use to their owners, and
in many cases soon sold for a few pounds apiece, became the sites of the
first few cottages for a newer population, who slowly drifted in and
settled down, as far as might be, to the habits and outlook of their
predecessors. This second period continued until about 1900. And now,
during the last ten years, a yet greater change has been going on. The
valley has been "discovered" as a "residential centre." A water-company
gave the signal for development. No sooner was a good water-supply
available than speculating architects and builders began to buy up
vacant plots of land, or even cottages--it mattered little which--and
what never was strictly speaking a village is at last ceasing even to
think itself one. The population of some five hundred twenty years ago
has increased to over two thousand; the final shabby patches of the old
heath are disappearing; on all hands glimpses of new building and raw
new roads defy you to persuade yourself that you are in a country place.
In fact, the place is a suburb of the town in the next valley, and the
once quiet high-road is noisy with the motor-cars of the richer
residents and all the town traffic that waits upon the less wealthy.

But although in the exactest sense the parish was never a village, its
inhabitants, as lately as twenty years ago (when I came to live here)
had after all a great many of the old English country characteristics.
Dependent on the town for their living the most of them may have been by
that time; yet they had derived their outlook and their habits from the
earlier half-squatting, half-yeoman people; so that I found myself
amongst neighbours rustic enough to justify me in speaking of them as
villagers. I have come across their like elsewhere, and I am not
deceived. They had the country touch. They were a survival of the
England that is dying out now; and I grieve that I did not realize it
sooner. As it was, some years had passed by, and the movement by which I
find myself living to-day in a "residential centre" was already faintly
stirring before I began to discern properly that the earlier
circumstances would repay closer attention.

They were not all agreeable circumstances; some of them, indeed, were so
much the reverse of agreeable that I hardly see now how I could ever
have found them even tolerable. The want of proper sanitation, for
instance; the ever-recurring scarcity of water; the plentiful signs of
squalid and disordered living--how unpleasant they all must have been!
On the other hand, some of the circumstances were so acceptable that, to
recover them, I could at times almost be willing to go back and endure
the others. It were worth something to renew the old lost sense of
quiet; worth something to be on such genial terms with one's neighbours;
worth very much to become acquainted again at first hand with the
customs and modes of thought that prevailed in those days. Here at my
door people were living, in many respects, by primitive codes which have
now all but disappeared from England, and things must have been
frequently happening such as, henceforth, will necessitate journeys into
other countries if one would see them.

I remember yet how subtly the intimations of a primitive mode of living
used to reach me before I had learnt to appreciate their meaning.
Unawares an impression of antiquity would come stealing over the senses,
on a November evening, say, when the blue wood-smoke mounted from a
cottage chimney and went drifting slowly down the valley in level
layers; or on still summer afternoons, when there came up from the
hollow the sounds of hay-making--the scythe shearing through the grass,
the clatter of the whetstone, the occasional country voices. The
dialect, and the odd ideas expressed in it, worked their elusive magic
over and over again. To hear a man commend the weather, rolling out his
"Nice moarnin'" with the fat Surrey "R," or to be wished "Good-day,
sir," in the high twanging voice of some cottage-woman or other, was to
be reminded in one's senses, without thinking about it at all, that one
was amongst people not of the town, and hardly of one's own era. The
queer things, too, which one happened to hear of, the simple ideas which
seemed so much at home in the valley, though they would have been so
much to be deprecated in the town, all contributed to produce the same
old-world impression. Where the moon's changes were discussed so
solemnly, and people numbered the "mistis in March" in expectation of
corresponding "frostis in May"; where, if a pig fell sick, public
opinion counselled killing it betimes, lest it should die and be
considered unfit for food; where the most time-honoured saying was
counted the best wit, so that you raised a friendly smile by murmuring
"Good for young ducks" when it rained; where the names of famous sorts
of potatoes--red-nosed kidneys, _magnum bonums_, and so on--were better
known than the names of politicians or of newspapers; where spades and
reap-hooks of well-proved quality were treasured as friends by their
owners and coveted by other connoisseurs--it was impossible that one
should not be frequently visited by the feeling of something very
old-fashioned in the human life surrounding one.

More pointed in their suggestion of a rustic tradition were the various
customs and pursuits proper to given seasons. The customs, it is true,
were preserved only by the children; but they had their acceptable
effect. It might have been foolish and out-of-date, yet it was
undeniably pleasant to know on May Day that the youngsters were making
holiday from school, and to have them come to the door with their
morning faces, bringing their buttercup garlands and droning out the
appropriate folk ditty. At Christmastime, too, it was pleasant when they
came singing carols after dark. This, indeed, they still do; but either
I am harder to please or the performance has actually degenerated, for I
can no longer discover in it the simple childish spirit that made it
gratifying years ago.

Meanwhile, quite apart from such celebrations, the times and seasons
observed by the people in following their work gave a flavour of folk
manners which dignified the life of the parish, by associating it with
the doings of the countryside for many generations. In August, though
one did not see, one heard about, the gangs of men trudging off at night
for the Sussex harvest. In September the days went very silently in the
valley, because the cottages were shut up and the people were all away
at the hop-picking; and then, in the gathering dusk, one heard the buzz
and rumour of manifold homecomings--tired children squalling, women
talking and perhaps scolding, as the little chattering groups came near
and passed out of earshot to their several cottages; while, down the
hollows, hovering in the crisp night air, drifted a most appetizing
smell of herrings being fried for a late meal. Earlier in the year there
was hay-making in the valley itself. All the warm night was sometimes
fragrant with the scent of the cut grass; and about this season, too,
the pungent odour of shallots lying out in the gardens to ripen off
would come in soft whiffs across the hedges. Always, at all times, the
people were glad to gossip about their gardens, bringing vividly into
one's thoughts the homely importance of the month, nay, the very week,
that was passing. Now, around Good Friday, the talk would be of
potato-planting; and again, in proper order, one heard of peas and
runner-beans, and so through the summer fruits and plants, to the
ripening of plums and apples, and the lifting of potatoes and carrots
and parsnips.

In all these ways the parish, if not a true village, seemed quite a
country place twenty years ago, and its people were country people. Yet
there was another side to the picture. The charm of it was a generalized
one--I think an impersonal one; for with the thought of individual
persons who might illustrate it there comes too often into my memory a
touch of sordidness, if not in one connection then in another; so that
I suspect myself, not for the first time, of sentimentality. Was the
social atmosphere after all anything but a creation of my own dreams?
Was the village life really idyllic?

Not for a moment can I pretend that it was. Patience and industry
dignified it; a certain rough jollity, a large amount of good temper and
natural kindness, kept it from being foul; but of the namby-pamby or
soft-headed sentiment which many writers have persuaded us to attribute
to old-English cottage life I think I have not in twenty years met with
a single trace. In fact, there are no people so likely to make ridicule
of that sort of thing as my labouring-class neighbours have always been.
They do not, like the middle classes, enjoy it. It is a commodity for
which they have no use, as may appear in the following pages.

To say this, however, is to say too little. I do not mean that the
prevailing temper in the village was sordid, bitter, cruel, like that,
say, of the Norman peasantry in De Maupassant's short stories. In by far
the greater majority the people have usually seemed to me at the worst a
little suspicious, a little callous, a little undemonstrative, and at
the best generous and happy-go-lucky to a fault. Nevertheless, tales as
repulsive as any that the French writer has told of his country-people
could have been collected here by anyone with a taste for that sort of
thing. Circumstantial narratives have reached me of savage, or, say,
brutish, doings: of sons ill-treating their mothers, and husbands their
wives of fights, and cruelties, and sometimes--not often--of infamous
vice. The likelihood of these tales, which there was no reason to doubt,
was strengthened by what I saw and heard for myself. Drunkenness
corrupted and disgraced the village life, so that good men went wrong
and their families suffered miserably. I have helped more than one
drunkard home at night, and seen a wretched woman or a frightened child
come to the door to receive him. Even in the seclusion of my own garden
I could not escape the evidences of mischief going on. For sounds echo
up and down the valley as clearly as across the water of a lake; and
sometimes a quiet evening would grow suddenly horrid with distracted
noises of family quarrel in some distant cottage, when women shrilled
and clamoured and men cursed, and all the dogs in the parish fell
a-barking furiously. Even in bed one could not be secure. Once or twice
some wild cry in the night--a woman's scream, a man's volley of
oaths--has drawn me hurrying to my window in dread that outrage was
afoot; and often the sounds of obscene singing from the road, where men
were blundering homewards late from the public-houses in the town, have
startled me out of my first sleep. Then, besides the distresses brought
upon the people by their own folly, there were others thrust upon them
by their economic condition. Of poverty, with its attendant sicknesses
and neglects, there has never been any end to the tales, while the
desolations due to accidents in the day's work, on the railway, or with
horses, or upon scaffoldings of buildings, or in collapsing
gravel-quarries, have become almost a commonplace. In short, there is no
room for sentimentality about the village life. Could its annals be
written they would make no idyll; they would be too much stained by
tragedy and vice and misery.

Yet the knowledge of all this--and it was not possible to live here long
without such knowledge--left the other impressions I have spoken of
quite unimpaired. Disorders were the exception, after all. As a general
rule the village character was genial, steadfast, self-respecting; one
could not but recognize in it a great fund of strength, a great
stability; nor could one help feeling that its main features--the
limitations and the grimness, as well as the surprising virtues--were
somehow closely related to that pleasant order of things suggested by
the hay-making sounds, by the smell of the wood-smoke, by the children's
May-day garlands. And, in fact, the relationship was essential. The
temper and manners of the older people turned out to have been actually
moulded by conditions of a true village kind, so that the same
folk-quality that sounded in the little garland song reappeared more
sternly in my neighbours' attitude towards their fate. Into this valley,
it is true, much had never come that had flourished and been forgotten
in English villages elsewhere. At no time had there been any of the
more graceful folk arts here; at no time any comely social life, such as
one reads of in Goldsmith's _Deserted Village_ or Gray's _Elegy_; but,
as I gradually learnt, the impoverished labouring people I talked to had
been, in many cases, born in the more prosperous conditions of a
self-supporting peasantry.

Bit by bit the truth come home to me, in the course of unconcerned
gossip, when my informants had no idea of the significance of those
stray scraps of information which they let fall. I was not alive to it
myself for a long time. But when I had heard of the village cows, which
used to be turned out to graze on the heaths, and had been told how
fir-timber fit for cottage roof-joists could be cut on the common, as
well as heath good enough for thatching and turf excellent for firing;
and when to this was added the talk of bread-ovens at half the old
cottages, and of little corn-crops in the gardens, and of brewing and
wine-making and bee-keeping; I understood at last that my elderly
neighbours had seen with their own eyes what I should never see--namely,
the old rustic economy of the English peasantry. In that light all sorts
of things showed a new meaning. I looked with rather changed sentiments,
for example, upon the noisome pigsties--for were they not a survival of
a venerable thrift? I viewed the old tools--hoes and spades and scythes
and fag-hooks--with quickened interest; and I speculated with more
intelligence upon those aged people of the parish whose curious habits
were described to me with so much respect. But of all the details that
now gained significance, most to be noted were the hints of the
comparative prosperity of that earlier time. For now some old woman,
half starving on her parish pay, would indicate this or that little
cottage, and remark that her grandfather had built it for her mother to
go into when she married. Or now, a decrepit man would explain that in
such and such a puzzling nook in the hillside had once stood his
father's cow-stall. Here, at the edge of the arable strip, a building
divided into two poor cottages proved to have been originally somebody's
little hop-kiln; there, on a warm slope given over to the
pleasure-garden of some "resident" like myself, a former villager used
to grow enough wheat to keep him in flour half the winter; and there
again, down a narrow by-way gone ruinous from long neglect, Master
So-and-so, whose children to-day go in fear of the workhouse, was wont
to drive his little waggon and pair of horses.

Particulars like these, pointing to a lost state of well-being,
accounted very well for the attraction which, in spite of individual
faults, I had felt towards the village folk in general. The people stood
for something more than merely themselves. In their odd ways and talk
and character I was affected, albeit unawares, by a robust tradition of
the English countryside, surviving here when the circumstances which
would have explained it had already largely disappeared. After too many
years of undiscernment that truth was apparent to me. And even so, it
was but a gradual enlightenment; even now it is unlikely that I
appreciate the facts in their deepest significance. For the "robust"
tradition, as I have just called it, was something more than simply
robust. It was older, by far, than this anomalous village. Imported into
the valley--if my surmise is correct--by squatters two centuries ago, it
was already old even then; it already had centuries of experience behind
it; and though it very likely had lost much in that removal, still it
was a genuine off-shoot of the home-made or "folk" civilization of the
South of England. No wonder that its survivals had struck me as
venerable and pleasant, when there was so much vigorous English life
behind them, derived perhaps from so many fair English counties.

The perception came to me only just in time, for to-day the
opportunities of further observation occur but rarely. The old life is
being swiftly obliterated. The valley is passing out of the hands of its
former inhabitants. They are being crowded into corners, and are
becoming as aliens in their own home; they are receding before newcomers
with new ideas, and, greatest change of all, they are yielding to the
dominion of new ideas themselves. At present, therefore, the cottagers
are a most heterogeneous population, presenting all sorts of baffling
problems to those who have to deal with them, as the schoolmaster and
the sanitary officer and others find. In no two families--hardly in two
members of the same family--do the old traditions survive in equal
degree. A lath-and-plaster partition may separate people who are half a
century asunder in civilization, and on the same bench at school may be
found side by side two children who come from homes, the one worthy of
King George III.'s time, the other not unworthy of King George V.'s. But
the changes which will remove the greatest of these discrepancies are
proceeding very fast; in another ten years' time there will be not much
left of the traditional life whose crumbling away I have been witnessing
during the twenty years that are gone.

Some grounds of hope--great hope, too--which begin at last to appear,
and are treated of in the final chapter of this book, save the tale of
Change in the Village from being quite a tragedy, yet still it is a
melancholy tale. I have dealt with it in the two sections called
respectively "The Altered Circumstances" and "The Resulting Needs." The
earlier chapters, which immediately follow this one under the heading
"The Present Time," are merely descriptive of the people and their
conditions as I know them now, and aim at nothing more than to pave the
way for a clearer understanding of the main subject.





There is a chapter in Dickens's _Hard Times_ which tells how it was
discovered that somebody had fallen down a disused mine-shaft, and how
the rescue was valiantly effected by a few men who had to be awakened
for that end from their drunken Sunday afternoon sleep. Sobered by the
dangers they foresaw, these men ran to the pit-mouth, pushed straight to
the centre of the crowd there, and fell to work quietly with their ropes
and winches. As you read, you seem to see them, spitting on their great
hands while they knot the ropes, listening attentively to the doctor as
to an equal, and speaking in undertones to one another, but regardless
of the remarks of the bystanders. The best man amongst them, says
Dickens--and you know it to be true: Dickens could have told you the
men's names and life-history had he chosen--the best man amongst them
was the greatest drunkard of the lot; and when his heroic work was done,
nobody seems to have taken any farther notice of him.

These were Northcountrymen; but there was a quality about them of which
I have often been reminded, in watching or hearing tell of the men in
this Surrey village. It is the thing that most impresses all who come
into any sympathetic contact with my neighbours their readiness to make
a start at the dangerous or disagreeable task when others would be still
talking, and their apparent expectation that they will succeed. In this
spirit they occasionally do things quite as well worthy of mention as
the incident described by Dickens. I remember looking on myself at just
such another piece of work, in the town a mile away from here, one
winter day. The sluggish "river," as we call it, which flows amongst
meadows on the south of the town, is usually fordable beside one of the
bridges, and men with horses and carts as often as not drive through the
ford, instead of going over the bridge. But on the day I am recalling
floods had so swollen the stream that a horse and cart were swept down
under the narrow bridge, and had got jammed there, the driver having
escaped over the iron railings of the bridge as the cart went under. I
don't know what became of him then--he was but a lad, I was told. When I
came on the scene, a number of people were on the bridge, while many
more were down on the river banks, whence they could see the horse and
cart under the arch. A few were bawling out unheeded advice as to what
should be done; in fact, a heated altercation had arisen between the two
loudest--a chimney-sweep and a medical man--whose theories disagreed;
but it was plain to everybody that it would be a risky thing to venture
under the bridge into that swirling stream. For ten minutes or more,
while the horse remained invisible to us on the bridge, and likely to
drown, the dispute snapped angrily from bank to bank, punctuated
occasionally by excited cries, such as "He's gettin' lower!" "He's
sinkin' down!" Then, unobserved, a bricklayer's labourer came running
with a rope, which he hurriedly made into a noose and tightened under
his armpits. None of the shouters, by the way, had suggested such a
plan. The man was helped over the railings and swiftly lowered--Heaven
knows who took a hand at that--and so he disappeared for five minutes.
Then a shout: the horse came into view, staggering downstream with
harness cut, and scrambled up into the meadow; and the man, drenched and
deadly white, and too benumbed to help himself, was hauled up on to the
bridge, and carried to the nearest inn. I never heard his name--people
of his sort, as Dickens knew, are generally anonymous--but he was one of
the labourers of the locality, and only last winter I saw him shivering
at the street corners amongst other out-o'-works.

Behaviour like this is so characteristic of labouring men that we others
expect it of them as if it were especially their duty. Again and again I
have noticed it. If a horse falls in the street, ten chances to one it
is some obscure labouring fellow who gets him up again. Whether there is
danger or no, in emergencies which demand readiness and disregard of
comfort, the common unskilled labourer is always to the fore. One summer
night I had strolled out to the top of the road here which slants down,
over-arched by tall trees, past the Vicarage. At some distance down,
where there should have been such a depth of darkness under the trees, I
was surprised to see a little core of light, where five or six people
stood around a bright lamp, which one of them was holding. The scene
looked so theatrical, glowing under the trees with the summer night all
round it, that, of course, I had to go down the hill and investigate it.
The group I joined was, it turned out, watching a bicyclist who lay
unconscious in somebody's arms, while a doctor fingered at a streaming
wound in the man's forehead, and washed it, and finally stitched it up.
The bicycle--its front wheel buckled by collision with the Vicarage
gatepost--stood against the gate, and two or three cushions lay in the
hedge; for the Vicar had come out to the man's assistance, and had sent
for the doctor, and it was the Vicar himself, old and grey, but steady,
who now held his library lamp for the doctor's use. The rest of us stood
looking on, one of us at least feeling rather sick at the sight, and all
of us as useless as the night-moths which came out from the trees and
fluttered round the lamp. At last, when all was done, and the injured
man could be moved, there rose up a hitherto unnoticed fellow who had
been supporting him, and I recognized one of our village labourers. He
looked faint, and tottered to a chair which the Vicar had ready, and
gulped at some brandy, for he, too, had been overcome by sight of the
surgery. But it was to him that the task of sitting in the dusty road
and being smeared with blood had fallen.

And this quiet acceptance of the situation, recognizing that he if
anyone must suffer, and take the hard place which soils the clothes and
shocks the feelings, gives the clue to the average labourer's temper. It
is really very curious to think of. Rarely can a labourer afford the
luxury of a "change." Wet through though his clothes may be, or
blood-stained, or smothered with mud or dust, he must wear them until he
goes to bed, and must put them on again as he finds them in the morning;
but this does not excuse him in our eyes from taking the disagreeable
place. Still less does it excuse him in his own eyes. If you offer to
help, men of this kind will probably dissuade you. "It'll make yer
clothes all dirty," they say; "you'll get in such a mess." So they
assume the burden, sometimes surly and swearing, oftener with a
good-tempered jest.

To anything with a touch of humour in it they will leap forward like
schoolboys. I am reminded of a funny incident one frosty morning, when
patches of the highway were slippery as glass. Preceding me along the
road was a horse and cart, driven by a boy who stood upright in the
cart, and seemed not to notice how the horse's hoofs were skidding; and
some distance ahead three railway navvies were approaching, just off
their night's work, and carrying their picks and shovels. I had left the
cart behind, and was near these three, when suddenly they burst into a
laugh, exclaiming to one another, "Look at that old 'oss!" I turned.
There sat the horse on his tail between the shafts, pawing with his
forefeet at the road, but unable to get a grip at its slippery surface.
It was impossible not to smile; he had such an absurd look. The navvies,
however, did more than smile. They broke into a run; they saw
immediately what to do. In thirty seconds they were shovelling earth out
from the hedgerow under the horse's feet, and in two minutes more he had
scrambled up, unhurt.

In such behaviour, I say, we have a clue to the labouring-man's temper.
The courage, the carelessness of discomfort, the swiftness to see what
should be done, and to do it, are not inspired by any tradition of
chivalry, any consciously elaborated cult. It is habitual with these men
to be ready, and those fine actions which win our admiration are but
chance disclosures in public of a self-reliance constantly practised by
the people amongst themselves--by the women quite as much as by the
men--under stress of necessity, one would say at first sight. Take
another example of the same willing efficiency applied in rather a
different way. In a cottage near to where I am writing a young labourer
died last summer--a young unmarried man, whose mother was living with
him, and had long depended on his support. Eighteen months earlier he
had been disabled for a week or two by the kick of a horse, and a
heart-disease of long standing was so aggravated by the accident that he
was never again able to do much work. There came months of unemployment,
and as a consequence he was in extreme poverty when he died. His mother
was already reduced to parish relief; it was only by the help of his two
sisters--young women out at service, who managed to pay for a coffin for
him--that a pauper's funeral was avoided. A labourer's wife, the mother
of four or five young children, took upon herself the duty of washing
and laying out the corpse, but there remained still the funeral to be
managed. An undertaker to conduct it could not be engaged; there was no
money to pay him. Then, however, neighbours took the matter up, not as
an unwonted thing, I may say--it is usual with them to help bury a
"mate"--only, as a rule, there is the undertaker too. In this case they
did without him--six poor men losing half a day's work, and giving their
services. The coffin was too big to be carried down the crooked
staircase; too big also to be got out of the bedroom window until the
window-sashes had been taken out. But these men managed it all,
borrowing tools and a couple of ladders and some ropes; and then, in the
black clothes which they keep for such occasions, they carried the
coffin to the churchyard. That same evening two of them went to work at
cleaning out a cess-pit, two others spent the evening in their gardens,
another had cows to milk, and the sixth, being out of work and restless,
had no occupation to go home to so far as I know.

Of course this, too, was a piece of voluntary service, resembling in
that respect those more striking examples of self-reliance which are
brought out by sudden emergencies. But it points, more directly than
they do, to the sphere in which that virtue is practised until it
becomes a habit. For if you follow the clue on, it leads very quickly to
the scene where self-reliance is so to speak at home, where it seems the
natural product of the people's circumstances--the scene, namely, of
their daily work. For there, not only in the employment by which the men
earn their wages, but in the household and garden work of the women as
well as the men, there is nothing to support them save their own
readiness, their own personal force.

It sounds a truism, but it is worth attention. Unlike the rest of us,
labouring people are unable to shirk any of life's discomforts by
"getting a man" or "a woman," as we say, to do the disagreeable or risky
jobs which continually need to be done. If a cottager in this village
wants his chimney swept, or his pigstye cleaned out, or his firewood
chopped, the only "man" he can get to do it for him is himself.
Similarly with his wife. She may not call in "a woman" to scrub her
floor, or to wash and mend, or to skin a rabbit for dinner, or to make
up the fire for cooking it. It is necessary for her to be ready to turn
from one task to another without squeamishness, and without pausing to
think how she shall do it. In short, she and her husband alike must
practise, in their daily doings, a sort of intrepidity which grows
customary with them; and this habit is the parent of much of that fine
conduct which they exhibit so carelessly in moments of emergency.

Until this fact is appreciated there is no such thing as understanding
the people's disposition. It is the principal gateway that lets you in
to their character. Nevertheless the subject needs no further
illustration here. Anyone personally acquainted with the villagers knows
how their life is one continuous act of unconscious self-reliance, and
those who have not seen it for themselves will surely discover plentiful
evidences of it in the following pages, if they read between the lines.

But I must digress to remark upon one aspect of the matter. In view of
the subject of this book--namely, the transition from an old social
order to present times--it should be considered whether the handiness of
the villagers is after all quite so natural a thing as is commonly
supposed. For a long time I took it for granted. The people's
accomplishments were rough, I admit, and not knowing how much "knack" or
experience was involved in the dozens of odd jobs that they did, I
assumed that they did them by the light of Nature. Yet if we reflect how
little we learn from Nature, and how helpless people grow after two or
three generations of life in slums, or in libraries and drawing-rooms,
it would seem probable that there is more than appears on the surface in
the labourer's versatility of usefulness. After all, who would know by
the light of Nature how to go about sweeping a chimney, as they used to
do it here, with rope and furzebush dragged down? or how to scour out a
watertank effectively? or where to begin upon cleaning a pigstye? Easy
though it looks, the closer you get down to this kind of work as the
cottager does it the more surprisedly do you discover that he recognizes
right and wrong methods of doing it; and my own belief is that the
necessity which compels the people to be their own servants would not
make them so adaptable as they are, were there not, at the back of them,
a time-honoured tradition teaching them how to go on.

Returning from this digression, and speaking, too, rather of a period
from ten to twenty years ago than of the present time, it would be
foolish to pretend that the people's good qualities were unattended by
defects. The men had a very rough exterior, so rough that I have known
them to inspire timidity in the respectable who met them on the road,
and especially at night, when, truth to tell, those of them who were
out were not always too sober. After you got to know them, so as to
understand the shut of their mouths and the look of their eyes--usually
very steadfast and quiet--you knew that there was rarely any harm in
them; but I admit that their aspect was unpromising enough at first
sight. A stranger might have been forgiven for thinking them coarse,
ignorant, stupid, beery, unclean. And yet there was excuse for much of
it, while much more of it was sheer ill-fortune, and needed no excuse.
Though many of the men were physically powerful, few of them could boast
of any physical comeliness. Their strength had been bought dear, at the
cost of heavy labour begun too early in life, so that before middle-age
they were bent in the back, or gone wrong at the knees, and their walk
(some of them walked miles every day to their work) was a long shambling
stride, fast enough, but badly wanting in suggestiveness of personal
pride. Seeing them casually in their heavy and uncleanly clothes, no one
would have dreamed of the great qualities in them--the kindliness and
courage and humour, the readiness to help, the self-control, the
patience. It was all there, but they took no pains to look the part;
they did not show off.

In fact, their tendency was rather in the contrary direction. They cared
too little what was thought of them to be at the pains of shocking one's
delicacy intentionally; but they were by no means displeased to be
thought "rough." It made them laugh; it was a tribute to their
stout-heartedness. Nor was there anything necessarily braggart in this
attitude of theirs. As they realized that work would not be readily
offered to a man who might quail before its unpleasantness, so it was a
matter of bread-and-cheese to them to cultivate "roughness." I need not,
indeed, be writing in the past tense here. It is still bad policy for a
workman to be nice in his feelings, and several times I have had men
excuse themselves for a weakness which they knew me to share, but which
they seemed to think needed apology when they, too, exhibited it. Only a
few weeks ago a neighbour's cat, affected with mange, was haunting my
garden, and had become a nuisance. Upon my asking the owner--a labourer
who had worked up to be something of a bricklayer--to get rid of it, he
said he would get a certain old-fashioned neighbour to kill it, and then
he plunged into sheepish explanations why he would rather not do the
deed himself. "Anybody else's cat," he urged, "he wouldn't mind so
much," but he had a touch of softness towards his own. It was plain that
in reality he was a man of tender feelings, yet it was no less plain
that he was unwilling to be thought too tender. The curious thing was
that neither of us considered for a moment the possibility of any
reluctance staying the hand of the older neighbour. Him we both knew
fairly well as a man of that earlier period with which I am concerned
just now. At that period the village in general had a lofty contempt
for the "meek-hearted" man capable of flinching. An employer might have
qualms, though the men thought no better of him for that possession, but
amongst themselves flinching was not much other than a vice. In fact,
they dared not be delicate. Hence through all their demeanour they
displayed a hardness which in some cases went far below the surface, and
approached real brutality.

Leaving out the brutality, the women were not very different from the
men. It might have been supposed that their domestic work--the cooking
and cleaning and sewing from which middle-class women seem often to
derive so comely a manner--would have done something to soften these
cottage women. But it rarely worked out so. The women shared the men's
carelessness and roughness. That tenderness which an emergency
discovered in them was hidden in everyday life under manners indicative
of an unfeigned contempt for what was gentle, what was soft.

And this, too, was reasonable. In theory, perhaps, the women should have
been refined by their housekeeping work; in practice that work
necessitated their being very tough. Cook, scullery-maid, bed-maker,
charwoman, laundress, children's nurse--it fell to every mother of a
family to play all the parts in turn every day, and if that were all,
there was opportunity enough for her to excel. But the conveniences
which make such work tolerable in other households were not to be found
in the cottage. Everything had to be done practically in one room--which
was sometimes a sleeping-room too, or say in one room and a wash-house.
The preparation and serving of meals, the airing of clothes and the
ironing of them, the washing of the children, the mending and
making--how could a woman do any of it with comfort in the cramped
apartment, into which, moreover, a tired and dirty man came home in the
evening to eat and wash and rest, or if not to rest, then to potter in
and out from garden or pig-stye, "treading in dirt" as he came? Then,
too, many cottages had not so much as a sink where work with water could
be done; many had no water save in wet weather; there was not one
cottage in which it could be drawn from a tap, but it all had to be
fetched from well or tank. And in the husband's absence at work, it was
the woman's duty--one more added to so many others--to bring water
indoors. In times of drought water had often to be carried long
distances in pails, and it may be imagined how the housework would go in
such circumstances. For my part I have never wondered at roughness or
squalor in the village since that parching summer when I learnt that in
one cottage at least the people were saving up the cooking water of one
day to be used over again on the day following. Where such things can
happen the domestic arts are simplified to nothing, and it would be
madness in women to cultivate refinement or niceness.

And my neighbours appeared not to wish to cultivate them. It may be
added that many of the women--the numbers are diminishing rapidly--were
field-workers who had never been brought up to much domesticity. Far
beyond the valley they had to go to earn money at hop-tying, haymaking,
harvesting, potato-picking, swede-trimming, and at such work they came
immediately, just as the men did, under conditions which made it a vice
to flinch. As a rule they would leave work in the afternoon in time to
get home and cook a meal in readiness for their husbands later, and at
that hour one saw them on the roads trudging along, under the burden of
coats, dinner-baskets, tools, and so on, very dishevelled--for at
field-work there is no such thing as care for the toilet--but often
chatting not unhappily.

On the roads, too, women were, and still are, frequently noticeable,
bringing home on their backs faggots of dead wood, or sacks of
fir-cones, picked up in the fir-woods a mile away or more. Prodigious
and unwieldy loads these were. I have often met women bent nearly double
under them, toiling painfully along, with hats or bonnets pushed awry
and skirts draggling. Occasionally tiny urchins, too small to be left at
home alone, would be clinging to their mothers' frocks.

In the scanty leisure that the women might enjoy--say now and then of an
afternoon--there were not many circumstances to counteract the hardness
contracted at their work. These off times were opportunities for social
intercourse between them. They did not leave home, however, and go out
"paying calls." Unless on Sunday evenings visiting one another's
cottages was not desirable. But there were other resources. I have
mentioned how sounds will travel across the valley, and I have known
women come to their cottage doors high up on this side to carry on a
shouting conversation with neighbours opposite, four hundred yards away.
You see, they were under no constraint of propriety in its accepted
forms, nor did they care greatly who heard what they had to say. I have
sometimes wished that they did care. But, of course, the more
comfortable way of intercourse was to talk across the quickset hedge
between two gardens. Sometimes one would hear--all an afternoon it
seemed--the long drone of one of these confabulations going on in
unbroken flow, with little variation of cadence, save for a moaning rise
and fall, like the wind through a keyhole. I have a suspicion that the
shortcomings of neighbours often made the staple of such conversations,
but that is only a surmise. I remember the strange conclusion of one of
them which reached my ears. For, as the women reluctantly parted, they
raised their voices, and one said piously, "Wal, they'll git paid for
't, one o' these days. Gawd A'mighty's above the Devil"; to which the
other, with loud conviction: "Yes, and always will be, thank Gawd!" This
ended the talk. But the last speaker, turning round, saw her
two-year-old daughter asprawl in the garden, and with sudden change from
satisfied drawl to shrill exasperation, "Git up out of all that muck,
you dirty little devil," she said. For she was a cleanly woman, proud of
her children, and disliking to see them untidy.



For general social intercourse the labouring people do not meet at one
another's cottages, going out by invitation, or dropping in to tea in
the casual way of friendship; they have to be content with "passing the
time of day" when they come together by chance. Thus two families may
mingle happily as they stroll homewards after the Saturday night's
shopping in the town, or on a fine Sunday evening they may make up
little parties to go and inspect one another's gardens.

Until recently--so recently that the slight change may be ignored at
least for the present--the prevailing note of this so restricted
intercourse was a sort of _bonhomie_, or good temper and good sense.
With this for a guide, the people had no need of the etiquette called
"good manners," but were at liberty to behave as they liked, and talk as
they liked, within the bounds of neighbourliness and civility. This has
always been one of the most conspicuous things about the people--this
independence of conventions. In few other grades of society could men
and women dare to be so outspoken together, so much at ease, as these
villagers still often are. Their talk grows Chaucerian at times.
Merrily, or seriously, as the case may be, subjects are spoken of which
are never alluded to between men and women who respect our ordinary

Let it be admitted--if anybody wishes to feel superior--that the women
must be wanting in "delicacy" to countenance such things. There are
other aspects of the matter which are better worth considering.
Approaching it, for instance, from an opposite point of view, one
perceives that the average country labourer can talk with less restraint
because he has really less to conceal than many men who look down upon
him. He may use coarse words, but his thoughts are wont to be cleanly,
so that there is no suspicion of foulness behind his conversation, rank
though it sound. A woman consequently may hear what he says, and not be
offended by suggestion of something left unsaid. On these terms the
jolly tale is a jolly tale, and ends at that. It does not linger to
corrupt the mind with an unsavoury after-flavour.

But more than this is indicated by the want of conventional manners in
the village. The main fact is that the two sexes, each engaged daily
upon essential duties, stand on a surprising equality the one to the
other. And where the men are so well aware of the women's experienced
outlook, and the women so well aware of the men's, the affectation of
ignorance might almost be construed as a form of immodesty, or at any
rate as an imprudence. It would, indeed, be too absurd to pretend that
these wives and mothers, who have to face every trial of life and death
for themselves, do not know the things which obviously they cannot help
knowing; too absurd to treat them as though they were all innocence, and
timidity, and daintiness. No labouring man would esteem a woman for
delicacy of that kind, and the women certainly would not like to be
esteemed for it. Hence the sexes habitually meet on almost level terms.
And the absence of convention extends to a neglect--nay, to a
dislike--of ordinary graceful courtesies between them. So far as I have
seen they observe no ceremonial. The men are considerate to spare women
the more exhausting or arduous kinds of work; but they will let a woman
open the door for herself, and will be careless when they are together
who stands or who sits, or which of them walks on the inside of the
path, or goes first into a gateway. And the women look for nothing
different. They expect to be treated as equals. If a cottage woman found
that a cottage man was raising his hat to her, she would be aflame with
indignation, and would let him know very plainly indeed that she was not
that sort of fine lady.

In general, the relations between the sexes are too matter-of-fact to
permit of any refinement of feeling about them, and it is not surprising
that illegitimacy has been very common in the village. But once a man
and a woman are married, they settle down into a sober pair of comrades,
and instead of the looseness which might be looked for there is on the
whole a remarkable fidelity between the married couples. I have no
distinct memory of having heard during twenty years of any certain case
of intrigue or conjugal misbehaviour amongst the cottage folk. The
people seem to leave that sort of thing to the employing classes. It
scandalizes them to hear of it. They despise it. Oddly enough, this may
be partly due to the want of a feminine ideal, such as is developed by
help of our middle-class arts and recognized in our conventions. True,
the business of making both ends meet provides the labourer and his wife
with enough to think about, especially when the children begin to come.
Then, too, they have no luxuries to pamper their flesh, no lazy hours in
which to grow wanton. The severity of the man's daily labour keeps him
quiet; the woman, drudge that she is, soon loses the surface charm that
would excite admirers. But when all this is said, it remains probable
that a lowliness in their ideal preserves the villagers from temptation.
They do not put woman on a pedestal to be worshipped; they are
unacquainted with the finer, more sensitive, more high-strung
possibilities of her nature. People who have been affected by long
traditions of chivalry, or by the rich influences of art, are in another
case; but here amongst the labouring folk a woman is not seen through
the medium of any cherished theories; she is merely an individual
woman, a man's comrade and helper, and the mother of his family. It is a
fine thing, though, about the unions effected on these unromantic terms,
that they usually last long, the man and wife growing more affectionate,
more tender, more trustful, as they advance in years.

Of course, the marriages are not invariably comfortable or even
tolerable. One hears sometimes of men callously disappearing--deserting
their wives for a period, and going off, as if for peace, to distant
parts wherever there is work to be picked up. One man, I remember, was
reported to have said, when he ultimately reappeared, that he had gone
away because "he thought it would do his wife good." Another, who had
openly quarrelled with his wife and departed, was discovered months
afterwards working in a Sussex harvest-field. He came back by-and-by,
and now for years the couple have been living together, not without
occasional brawls, it's true, but in the main good comrades, certainly
helpful to one another, and very fond of their two or three children. A
bad case was that of a bullying railway navvy, who, having knocked his
wife about and upset his old father, went off ostensibly to work. In
reality he made his way by train to a town some ten miles distant, and
from there, in a drunken frolic, sent a telegram home to his wife
announcing that he was dead. He had given no particulars: a long search
for him followed, and he was found some days later in a public-house of
that town vaingloriously drinking. I remember that Bettesworth, who told
me this tale, was full of indignation. "Shouldn't you think he could be
punished for that?" he asked. "There, if I had my way he should have
twelve months reg'lar _hard labour_, and see if that wouldn't dummer a
little sense into 'n." There was no suggestion, however, of "a woman in
the case," to explain this man's ill-treatment of his wife; it appears
to have been simply a piece of freakish brutality.

When disagreements occur, it is likely that the men are oftener to blame
than their wives. Too often I have seen some woman or other of the
village getting her drunken and abusive husband home, and never once
have I seen it the other way about. Nevertheless, in some luckless
households the faults are on the woman's side, and it is the man who has
the heartache. I knew one man--a most steady and industrious fellow, in
constant work which kept him from home all day--whose wife became a sort
of parasite on him in the interest of her own thriftless relatives. In
his absence her brothers and sisters were at his table eating at his
expense; food and coals bought with his earnings found their way to her
mother's cottage; in short, he had "married the family," as they say. He
knew it, too. In its trumpery way the affair was an open scandal, and
the neighbours dearly wished to see him put a stop to it. Yet, though he
would have had public opinion to support him in taking strong measures,
his own good nature deterred him from doing so. Probably, too, his own
course was the happier one. Thrive he never could, and gloomy enough and
dispirited enough he used to look at times; yet to see him with his
children on Sundays--two or three squalid, laughing urchins--was to see
a very acceptable sight.

Returning to the main point, if anyone has a taste for ugly behaviour,
and thinks nothing "real" but what is uncomfortable too, he may find
plenty of subjects for study in the married life of this parish; but he
will be ridiculously mistaken if he supposes the ugliness to be normal.
A kind of dogged comradeship--I can find no better word for it--is what
commonly unites the labouring man and his wife; they are partners and
equals running their impecunious affairs by mutual help. I was lately
able to observe a man and woman after a removal settling down into their
new quarters. It was the most ordinary, matter-of-fact affair in the
world. The man, uncouth and strong, like a big dog or an amiable big
boy, moved about willingly under his wife's direction, doing the various
jobs that required strength. One evening, in rain, his wife stood
watching while he chopped away the wet summer grass that had grown tall
under the garden hedge; then she pointed out four or five spots against
the hedge, where he proceeded to put in wooden posts. Early the next
morning there was a clothes-line between the posts, and the household
washing was hanging from it. Nothing could have been more commonplace
than the whole incident, but the commonness was the beauty of it. And it
was done somehow in a way that warmed one to a feeling of great liking
for those two people.

Very often it seems to be the woman who supplies the brains, and does
the scheming, for the partnership. When old Bettesworth was on his last
legs, as many as half a dozen different men applied to me for his job,
of whom one, I very well remember, apologized for troubling me, but said
his "missus" told him to come. Poor chap! it was his idea of courtesy to
offer an apology, and it was the Old Adam in him that laid the blame on
his wife, for really he desired very much to escape from his arduous
night-work on the railway. At the same time there is not the least doubt
that what he said was true; that he and his wife had talked the matter
over, and that, when he proved timid of interviewing me, she forced him
to come. Again, two or three winters ago, a man despairing of work in
England got in touch with some agency to assist him in emigrating to
Canada. It was his wife then who went round the parish trying to raise
the few extra pounds that he was to contribute. That was a case to fill
comfortable people with uncomfortable shame. The woman, not more than
five-and-twenty, would have been strikingly handsome if she had ever in
her life had a fair chance; but as it was she looked half-starved, and
she had a cough which made it doubtful if she would ever live to follow
her husband to Canada. Still, she was playing her part as the man's
comrade. As soon as he could save enough money he was to send for her
and her baby, she said; in the meantime she would have to earn her own
living by going out to day-work.

During the South African War there was many a woman in the village
keeping things together at home while the men were at the front. They
had to work and earn money just as they do when their men are beaten
down at home. There was one woman who received from her husband a copy
of verses composed by him and his companions during their occupation of
a block-house on the veldt. Very proud of him, she took the verses to a
printer, had them printed--just one single copy--and then had the
printed copy framed to hang on the bedroom wall in her cottage. Her
husband showed it to me there one day, mightily pleased with it and her.

Probably the people behind the counters at the provision shops in the
town could tell many interesting things about the relations between
married people of this class, for it is quite the common thing in the
villages for a man and wife to lock up their cottage on a Saturday
evening, and go off with the children to do the week's shopping
together. On a nice night the town becomes thronged with them, and so do
the shops, outside which, now and then, a passer-by may notice little
consultations going on, and husband or wife--sometimes one, sometimes
the other--handing over precious money to the other to be spent. And if
it is rather painful to see the faces grow so strained and anxious over
such trifling sums, on the other hand the signs of mutual confidence and
support are comforting. Besides, anxiety is not the commonest note. The
majority of the people make a little weekly festivity of this Saturday
night's outing; they meet their friends in the street, have a chat, wind
up with a visit to the public-house, and so homewards at any time
between seven and ten o'clock, trooping up the hill happily enough as a
rule. Now and then one comes across solitary couples making one another
miserable. Thus one night I heard a woman's voice in the dark, very
tired and faint, say, "It's a long hill!" to which the surly tones of a
man replied: "'Ten't no longer than 'twas, is it?" Brutishness like
this, however, is quite the exception.

As a sample of what is normal, take the following scraps of talk
overheard one summer night some years ago. The people were late that
night, and indeed, it was pleasant to be out. Not as yet were there any
of those street lamps along the road which now make all nights alike
dingy; but one felt as if walking into the unspoiled country. For though
it was after ten, and the sky overcast, still one could see very clearly
the glimmering road and the hedgerows in the soft midsummer twilight.
Enjoying this tranquillity, I passed by a man and woman with two
children, and heard the man say invitingly: "Shall I carry the basket?"
The wife answered: "'E en't 'eavy, Bill, thanks.... Only I got this 'ere
little Rosy to git along."

Her voice sounded gentle and cheerful, and I tried to hear more,
checking my pace. But the children were walking too slowly. I was
getting out of earshot, missing the drift of the peaceful-sounding
chatter, when presently the woman, as if turning to the other child,
said more loudly: "Come along, Sonny!" The man added: "Hullo, old man!
Come along! You'll be left behind!"

The children began prattling; their father and mother laughed; but I was
leaving them farther and farther behind. Then, however, some other
homeward-goer overtook the little family. For the talk grew suddenly
louder, the woman beginning cheerily: "Hullo, Mr. Weatherall! 'Ow's your
poor wife?... I didn't see as 'twas you, 'till this here little Rosy

What Rosy had said I failed to catch. I missed also what followed,
leading up to the woman's endearing remark: "This 'ere little Rosy,
she's a reg'lar gal for cherries!" The neighbour seemed to say
something; then the husband; then the neighbour again. And at that there
came a burst of laughter, loudest from the woman, and Mr. Weatherall
asked: "Didn't you never hear that afore?"

The woman, laughing still, was emphatic: "No; I'll take my oath as I
never knowed that."

"Well, you knows it now, don't ye?"

"I ain't sure yet. I ain't had time to consider."

After that the subject changed. I heard the woman say: "I've had six
gals an' only one boy--one out o' seven. Alice is out courtin'"; and
then they seemed to get on to the question of ways and means. The last
words that reached me were "Fivepence ... tuppence-ha'penny;" but still,
when I could no longer catch any details at all, the voices continued to
sound pleasantly good-tempered.



Besides the unrelieved hardness of daily life--the need, which never
lifts from them, of making shift and doing all things for
themselves--there has always been another influence at work upon my
neighbours, leaving its indelible mark on them. Almost from infancy
onwards, in a most personal and intimate way, they are familiar with
harrowing experiences of calamity such as people who employ them are
largely able to escape. The little children are not exempt. There being
no nursemaids to take care of the children while fathers and mothers are
busy, the tiniest are often entrusted to the perilous charge of others
not quite so tiny, and occasionally they come to grief. Then too often
the older children, who are themselves more secure for a few years, are
eyewitnesses of occurrences such as more fortunate boys and girls are
hardly allowed even to hear of. Nor is it only with the gory or horrible
disaster that the people thus become too early acquainted. The
nauseating details of sickness are better known and more openly
discussed in the cottage than in comfortable middle-class homes. For it
is all such a crowded business--that of living in these cramped
dwellings. Besides, the injured and the sick, absorbed in the interest
of their ailments, are amiably willing to give others an opportunity of
sharing it. The disorder or the disablement is thus almost a family
possession. An elderly man, who had offered to show me a terrible ulcer
on his leg, smiled at my squeamishness, as if he pitied me, when I
declined the privilege. "Why, the little un," he said, pointing to a
four-year-old girl on the floor, "the little un rolls the bandage for me
every evening, because I dresses'n here before the fire." That is the
way in the labourer's cottage. Even where privacy is attempted for the
sufferer's sake there is no refuge for the family from the evidence of
suffering. The young people in one room may hardly avoid knowing and
hearing where a man is dying, or a woman giving birth to a child, just
the other side of a latched deal door.

In this connection it should be remembered how much more than their
share of the afflictions of the community falls to the labouring people.
The men's work naturally takes them where accidents happen, where
disease is contracted. And then, from ignorance or the want of
conveniences, from the need to continue wage-earning as long as
endurance will hold out, and also from the sheer carelessness which is a
part of their necessary habit, both the men and the women not seldom
allow themselves to fall into sickness which a little self-indulgence,
if only they dared yield to it, would enable them to avoid. I should
not know how to begin counting the numbers I have personally known
enfeebled for life in this way. Things are better now than they were
twenty years ago; there are many more opportunities than there used to
be of obtaining rest or nursing, but still the evil is widespread.
Without going out of my way at all, during the last fortnight I have
heard of--have almost stumbled across--three cases of the sort. The
first was that of a woman who had been taking in washing during her
husband's long illness. Meeting the man, who was beginning to creep
about again, I happened to ask how his wife was; and he said that she
was just able to keep going, but hardly knew how to stand because of
varicose veins in both legs. The second case, too, was a woman's. She
met me on the road, and on the off chance asked if I could give her a
letter of admission to the County Hospital, and so save her the pain of
going down to the Vicarage to beg for a letter there. What was the
matter? "I give birth to twins five months ago," she said, "and since
then dropsy have set in. I gets heavier every day. The doctor wants me
to go to the hospital, and I was goin' to the Vicar to ask for a letter,
but I dreads comin' back up that hill." As it was she had already walked
half a mile. In the third case a man's indifference to his own suffering
was to blame for the plight in which he found himself. Driving a van, he
had barked his shin against the iron step on the front of the van. Just
as the skin had begun to heal over he knocked it again, severely, in
exactly the same way, and he described to me the immense size of the
aggravated wound. But, as he said, he had supposed it would get well,
and, beyond tying his leg up with a rag, he took no further trouble
about it, until it grew so bad that he was obliged to see a doctor. His
account of the interview went in this way: "'How long since you done
this?' the doctor says. 'A month,' I says. 'Then you must be a damn fool
not to 'ave come to me afore,' the doctor says." The man, indeed, looked
just as likely as not to be laid up for six months, if not permanently
crippled, as a result of his carelessness.

Yet, common as such cases are now, they were commoner when I first knew
the village--when there was no cottage hospital, no proper accommodation
at the workhouse infirmary, no parish nurse, and when the parish
contained few people of means to help those who were in distress. I
remember once looking round in that early period, and noting how there
was hardly a cottage to be seen which had not, to my own knowledge, been
recently visited by trouble of some sort or another. True, the troubles
were not all of them of a kind that could be avoided by any precaution,
for some of them arose from the death of old people. Yet in a little
cottage held on a weekly tenancy death often involves the survivors of
the family in more disturbance, more privation too, than it does
elsewhere. Putting these cases aside, however, I could still see where,
within two hundred yards of me, there had been four other deaths--one
being that of an infant, and one that of a woman in child-birth. In the
other two cases the victims were strong men--one, a railway worker, who
was killed on the line; the other a carter, who died of injuries
received in an accident with his horse. The list of lesser misfortunes
included the illness of a man who broke down while at work, with
hæmorrhage of the stomach, and the bad case of a bricklayer's labourer,
who lay for days raving from the effects of a sunstroke. In
pre-Christian times it might have been argued that the gods were
offended with the people, so thickly did disasters fall upon them, but
my neighbours seemed unaware of anything abnormal in the circumstances.
By lifelong experience they had learned to take calamity almost as a
matter of course.

For, as I said, the experience begins early. The children, the young
girls, have their share of it. During those earlier years I am
recalling, a little girl of the village, who was just beginning domestic
service in my household, was, within the space of six months, personally
concerned in two accidents to little children. She came from one of
half-a-dozen families whose cottages, for a wonder in this village,
stood in a row; and amongst scraps of her talk which were repeated to me
I heard how her little brother--only five years old, but strong at
throwing stones--threw at a girl playmate and knocked out one of her
eyes. That happened in the springtime. In the autumn of the same year a
mishap, if possible more shocking at the moment, befell another child in
that row of cottages. A man there one evening was trimming a low hedge.
His tool was a fag-hook--well sharpened, for he was one of the ablest
men in the village. And near by where he worked his children were at
play, the youngest of them being between three and four years old.

As he reached over the hedge, to chop downwards at the farther side,
this little one suddenly came running dangerously near. "Take care,
ducky!" he cried. "Don't come so close, 'r else perhaps father'll cut

He gave three more strokes, and again the child ran in. The hook fell,
right across the neck. I had these particulars from a neighbour. "If 't
had bin another half inch round, the doctor said, 'twould have bin
instant death.... The man was covered with blood, and all the ground,
too. I was at work when I heared of it, but I couldn't go on after that,
it upset me so.... And all this mornin' I can't get it out o' my mind.
There's a shiver all up that row. They be all talkin' of it. The poor
little thing en't dead this mornin', and that's all's you can say. They
bin up all night. Ne'er a one of 'em didn't go to bed."

So far the neighbour. Later the little maidservant, who had gone home
that evening, told me: "We was passin' by at the time--me and my older
sister.... She run in and wrapped a towel round its neck."

"Where, then, was the mother?"

"She was with its father. He'd fainted. So we went in. We thought p'raps
we could run for the doctor. But she went herself, jest as she was,"
carrying the child down to the town.

As for the girl's sister, who had behaved with some aplomb, "It made her
feel rather bad afterwards. She felt sick. All the floor was covered
with blood." The little maidservant had a curious look, half horror,
half importance, as she said this. She herself was not more than fifteen
at the time.

But sickness is commoner by far than accident, and owing to the
necessity the cottagers are under of doing everything for themselves
they often get into dire straits. Of some of the things that go on one
cannot hear with equanimity. The people are English; bone of our bone.
But we shut our eyes. I have heard of well-to-do folk in the parish who,
giving of their abundance to foreign missions, deny that there is
distress here at home. The most charitable explanation of that falsehood
is to suppose that across their secluded gardens and into their
luxurious rooms, or even to their back-doors, an average English
cottager is too proud to go. Yet it is hard to understand how all signs
of what is so constantly happening can be shut out. For myself, I have
never gone out of my way to look for what I see. I have never invited
confidences. The facts that come to my knowledge seem to be merely the
commonplaces of the village life. If examples of the people's troubles
were wanted, they could be provided almost endlessly, and in almost
endless diversity. But there is one feature that never varies. Year
after year it is still the same tale; all the extra toil, all the
discomfort, or horror, or difficulty, of dealing with sickness falls
immediately on the persons of the family where the sickness occurs; and
it sets its cruel mark upon them, so that the signs can be seen as one
goes about, in the faces of people one does not know. And the women
suffer most.

One winter evening a woman came to my door to see if she could borrow a
bed-rest. Her sister, she said, had been ill with pleurisy and
bronchitis for a week or more, and for the last two days had been
spitting a great deal of blood. The woman looked very poor; she might
have been judged needlessly shabby. A needle and thread would so soon
have remedied sundry defects in her jacket, which was gaping open at the
seams. But her face suggested that there were excuses for her.

I have never forgotten her face, as it showed that evening, although I
have since seen it looking happier. It was dull of colour--the face of
an overworked and over-burdened soul; and it had a sullen expression of
helplessness and resentment. The eyes were weary and pale--I fancied
that trouble had faded the colour out of them. But with all this I got
an impression of something dogged and unbeaten in the woman's temper.
She went away with the bed-rest, apologizing for coming to borrow it.
"'Tis so bad"--those were her words--"'tis so bad to see 'em layin'
there like that, sufferin' so much pain."

I had never seen her before--for it was years ago; and, knowing no
better then, I supposed her to be between forty and fifty years old. In
reality, she can hardly have been thirty. It was the stress of personal
service that had marred her so young. Did her jacket need mending? As I
have since learnt, at that period the youngest of her family was unborn,
and the oldest cannot have been more than eight or nine. Besides nursing
her sister, therefore, she had several children to wait upon, as well as
her husband--a man often ailing in health. For all I know she was even
then, as certainly she has been since, obliged to go out working for
money, so as to keep the family going; and, seeing that she was a
mother, it is probable that she herself had already known the extremity
of hardship.

Because, as scarcely needs saying, the principle of self-help is
strained to the uttermost at time of child-birth. Then, the other
members of the family have to shift for themselves as best they can,
with what little aid neighbours can find time to give; and where there
are young children in the cottage, it is much if they are sufficiently
fed and washed. But it is the situation of the mother herself that most
needs to be considered. Let me give an illustration of how she fares.

Several years ago there was a birth in a cottage very near to me. Only a
few hours before it happened the woman had walked into the town to do
her shopping for herself and carry home her purchases. As soon as the
birth was known, a younger sister, out at service, got a week's holiday,
so that she might be at hand to help, though there was no spare room in
the cottage where she could sleep. During that week, also, the parish
nurse came in daily, until more urgent cases occupied all her time.
After that the young mother was left to her own resources. According to
someone I know, who looked in from time to time, she lay in bed with her
new-born baby, utterly alone in the cottage, her husband being away at
work all day for twelve hours, while the elder children were at school.
She made no complaint, however, of being lonely; she thought the
solitude good for her. But she was worried by thinking of the fire in
the next room--the living-room, which had the only fireplace in the
house, there being none in her bedroom--lest it should set fire to the
cottage while she lay helpless. It seems that the hearth was so narrow
and the grate so high that coals were a little apt to fall out on to the
floor. Once, she said, there had almost been "a flare-up." It was when
she was still getting about, and she had gone no farther away than into
her garden to feed the fowls; but in that interval a coal fell beyond
the fender, and she, returning, found the place full of smoke and the
old hearthrug afire. The dread that this might happen again distressed
her now as she lay alone, unable to move.

I could furnish more pitiful tales than this, if need were--tales of
women in child-bed tormented with anxiety because their husbands are out
of work, and there is no money in the cottage, and no prospect of any;
or harassed by the distress of little children who miss the help which
the mother cannot give, and so on. But this case illustrates the normal
situation. Here there was no actual destitution, nor any fear of it, and
the other children were being cared for. The husband was earning a pound
a week at constant work, and the circumstances of the family were on the
whole quite prosperous. But one of the conditions of prosperity was that
the father of the family should be away all day, leaving the mother and
infant unattended.

From whatever sickness the woman suffers, there is always the same
piteous story to be told--she is destitute of help. The household drudge
herself, she has no drudges to wait upon her. The other day I was told
of a woman suffering from pleurisy. Her husband had left home at six
o'clock for his work; a neighbour-woman came in to put on a poultice and
make things comfortable; then she, too, had to go to her work. In the
afternoon a visitor, looking in by chance, found that the sick woman
had been alone for five hours; she was parched with thirst, and her
poultice had gone cold. For yet one more example. I mentioned just now a
man who was killed on the railway. His widow, quite a young woman then,
reared her three or four children, earning some eight or nine shillings
a week at charing or washing for people in the town; and still she keeps
herself, pluckily industrious. There is one son living with her--an
errand-boy--and there are two daughters both in service at a large new
house in the village. During last spring the woman had influenza, and
had to take to her bed, her girls being permitted to take turns in
coming home to care for her. Just as she, fortunately, began to recover,
this permission was withdrawn: both girls were wanted in "their place,"
because a young lady there had taken influenza. So they had to forsake
their mother. But by-and-by one of these girls took the infection. Her
"place," then, was thought to be--at home. She was sent back promptly to
her mother, and it was not long before the mother herself broke down
again, not being yet strong enough to do sick-nursing in addition to her
daily work.

It must be borne in mind that these acute and definite troubles spring
up from the surface of an ill-defined but chronic anxiety, from which
very few of the cottagers are free for any length of time. For though
there is not much extreme destitution, a large number of the villagers
live always on the brink of it; they have the fear of it always in
sight. In a later chapter I shall give some particulars as to their ways
and means; in this, I only wish it to be remembered that the question of
ways and means is a life-and-death one for the labourer and his wife,
and leaves them little peace and little hope of it. During the trade
depression which culminated in 1908-09 I was frequently made aware of
the disquiet of their minds by the scraps of talk which reached me as I
passed along the road, and were not meant for my hearing. From women who
were comparing notes with one another, this was the sort of thing one
would hear: "'En't had nothin' to do this six weeks; and don't sim no
likelihoods of it." "I s'pose we shall get through, somehow." "I'm sure
I dunno what 'tis a-comin' to." "'Tis bad 'nough now, in the summer;
what it'll be like in the winter, Gawd only knows." Again and again I
heard talk like this.

And all this was only an accentuation or a slight increase in volume of
a note of apprehension which in better times still runs less audibly as
a kind of undertone to the people's thought. I had stopped one day to
say good-morning to an old widow-woman outside her cottage. She was the
mother of that young man whose funeral was mentioned two chapters back;
but this was before his death, and while, in fact, he was still doing a
little occasional work. She spoke cheerfully, smiled even, until some
chance word of mine (I have forgotten what it was) went through the
armour of her fortitude, and she began to cry. Then she told me of the
position she was in, and the hopelessness of it, and her determination
to hold out. Some charitable lady had called upon her. "Mrs. Curtis,"
the lady had said, "if ever you are ill, I hope you'll be sure and send
to _me_." And Mrs. Curtis had replied: "Well, ma'am, if ever I sends,
you may be sure I _am_ ill." "But," she added, "they don't understand.
'Tis when you're on yer feet that help's wanted--not wait till 'tis too
late." With regard to her present circumstances--she "didn't mind saying
it to me--sometimes she didn't hardly know how they was goin' on," for
she hadn't a penny except what her son could earn. And "people seemed to
think it didn't matter for a single chap to be out o' work. They didn't
think he might have a mother to keep, or, if he was in lodgin's, he
couldn't live there for nothin'.... Sometimes we seems to be gettin' on
a little, and then you has bad luck, and there you are again where you
was before. It's like gettin' part way up a hill and fallin' down to the
bottom again, and you got it all to begin over again."

I said something--some platitude--turning to go away. Then she managed
to smile--a shining-eyed smile--saying: "Well, 'tis only for life. If
'twas for longer than that I don't know if we should hardly be able to
bear it."

This was but one old woman. Yet, if you have an ear for a folk-saying,
you will recognize one there in that "only for life" of hers. Be sure
that a by-word so compact as that was not one old woman's invention. To
acquire such brevity and smoothness, it must have been wandering about
the parish for years; and when it reached me at last it had been
polished by the despair of hundreds of other people, as a coin is
polished by passing through hundreds of hands.



It will be understood, from what was said on the subject in the first
chapter, that the village population has its rough element, and that
drunkenness, or at any rate excessive drinking, is very common. It is
true that there are very few habitual drunkards in the parish--there are
not even many men, perhaps, who frequently take too much; but, on the
other hand, the majority are beer-drinkers, and every now and then one
or another of them, normally sober, oversteps the limit. Thus, possibly
every other family has had its passing experience of what drunkenness
means in the temporary lapse of father, or son, or brother. A rainy Bank
Holiday invariably leads to much mischief in this way, and so does a
sudden coming of hot weather in the summer. The men have too much to do
to spare time for the public-house in the ordinary weekdays, but on
Saturday and Sunday nights, when the strain is relaxed, they are apt to
give way too far.

The evils of drunkenness, however, are well enough known, and I do not
propose to dwell on that side of the matter. But there is another
aspect of it which must be considered, if only because it is so
thoroughly characteristic of the old village outlook. Incidentally, this
other aspect may be worth a little attention from temperance reformers.

For the truth is that the average villager's attitude towards drink and
temperance is not that of an unrepentant or rebellious sinner; rather,
it is the attitude of a man who has sound reasons for adhering to his
own point of view. If he grows restive under the admonitions of the
pharisaical, if he meets them defiantly, or if he merely laughs, as
often as not it is because he feels that his mentors do not understand
the situation so well as he does. How should they, who see it wholly
from the outside--they who never go near the public-house; they who have
no experience either of poverty or of hard work--how should they, who
speak from prejudice, be entitled to dictate to him, who has knowledge?
He resents the interference, considers it insulting, and goes his own
way, supported by a village opinion which is entirely on his side, and
certainly has its claims to respect. It is this village opinion which I
wish to examine now.

In the eyes of the older villagers or of the more old-fashioned ones
mere occasional drunkenness is a very venial fault. The people make a
distinction between the habitual drunkard and him who occasionally
drinks too much, and they are without compassion for the former. He is a
"low blackguard"; they look reproachfully if you talk of trying to help
him by giving him a job of work, or at any rate they pity your wasted
efforts. But for the occasional defaulter they have a friendly feeling,
unless, of course, he turns savage in his cups. As long as he is
cheerful he is rather a figure of fun to them than anything, or he is an
object of wondering interest. On a certain August Bank Holiday I saw one
of our villagers staggering up the hill--a middle-aged man, far gone in
drink, so that all the road was none too wide for him. Other wayfarers
accompanied and observed him with a philosophically detached air, and
between whiles a woman grabbed at his coat between the shoulders, trying
to steady him. But by and by, lurching free, he wobbled across the road
to within an inch of a perambulator with two children which another man
was pushing. The drunken man leant over it, poised like an impending
fate, and so hung for a few seconds before he staggered away, and it
might be supposed that at least the man with the perambulator would be
indignant. But not he. He merely remarked wonderingly: "You wouldn't ha'
thought it possible he could ha' done it, would ye?" The other wayfarers
laughed lightly, amongst them a young married woman with a refined face.

While the comic side of a man in drink makes its strong appeal to the
village folk, they are ready to see excuses for him, too. Anybody, they
argue, is liable to be overtaken before he knows, and where is the great
disgrace in an accident that may befall themselves, or me, or you?
There is at least no superiority in their outlook, no pharisaism.
Listen, for proof of it, to a talk of Bettesworth's about a neighbour
who had been working with the "ballast-train" on the railway all night.
"You," he began--and this first word showed how innocent he was of shame
in his own attitude, since he supposed that I must share his
amusement--"you'd ha' laughed if you'd ha' sin Isaac yest'day. He was
got fair boozed; an' comin' up the gully, thinkin' he was goin' straight
for 'ome, he run his head right into they bushes down by ol' Dame
Smith's. Then he got up the slope about a dozen yards, an' begun to go
back'ards 'till he come to Dame Smith's wall, and that turn'd 'n, and he
begun to go back'ards again down the gully. I did laugh. He bin at work
all night on the ballast-train, an' come back reg'lar fagged out, an'
hadn't had no vittles--an' a feller _wants_ something--and then the fust
glass he has do's for 'n. He bin workin' every night for a week, an'
Sundays, too. And Alice" ("Alice" is Isaac's wife) "is away hop-tyin'
all day, so, of course, Isaac didn't care 'bout goin' 'ome to lop about
there by hisself.... I've seed a many go like that. They works all
night, an' gets reg'lar fagged out, an' then the fust drop does 'em.
When Alice come 'ome, she looked at least to find the kettle boilin'.
'Stead o' that, she couldn't git in. At least, she had to fetch the key
from where she put 'n when she went away in the mornin'. I laughed at
her when I went down 'ome. 'Where is he now?' I says. 'Ah, you may
laugh,' she says, 'but I got to rouse 'n up about ten o'clock an' git 'n
a cup o' tea. He got to be at work again at eleven.' That's how they
do's. Begins about ten or eleven o'clock, and don't leave off again
afore six or seven, or p'raps nine or ten, next mornin'. Makes days an'
quarters for three an' ninepence. I've knowed a many like that come 'ome
an' git boozed fust glass, like old Isaac. I did laugh, though, and so
did Dame Smith when she was a-tellin' of me."

Inheriting from their forefathers such an unimaginative point of view,
most of the cottage folk have been, until quite lately, far from
regarding the public-house as a public nuisance. It had a distinct value
in their scheme of living. That fact was demonstrated plainly in an
outburst of popular feeling some years ago. The licensing magistrates of
the neighbourhood had taken the extreme, and at that time unprecedented,
course of refusing to renew the licenses of several houses in the town.
But while the example they had thus set was winning them applause all up
and down England, they were the objects, in this and the adjacent
villages, of all sorts of vituperation on account of what the cottagers
considered a wanton insult to their class. It must be admitted that the
action of the justices had some appearance of being directed against
the poor. Nobody could deny, for instance, that the houses frequented by
middle-class clients, and responsible for a good deal of middle-class
drinking, were all passed over, and that those singled out for
extinction served only the humblest and least influential. My neighbours
entertained no doubts upon the matter. They were not personally
concerned--at any rate, the public-houses in this village were left open
for them to go to--but the appearance of favouritism offended them. They
were as sure as if it had been officially proclaimed that the intention
was to impose respectability upon them against their will; their
pleasures were to be curtailed to please fanatics who understood nothing
and cared less about the circumstances of cottage folk. So, during some
weeks the angry talk went round the village; it was not difficult to
know what the people were thinking. They picked to pieces the character
of the individual magistrates, planning ineffective revenge. "That old
So-and-So" (Chairman of the Urban Council)--"they'd bin to his shop all
their lives, but he'd find he'd took his last shillin' from 'em now! And
that What's-his-Name--the workin' classes had voted for 'n at last
County Council election, and this was how he served 'em! He needn't
trouble to put up again, when his turn was up!" Then they commiserated
the suffering publicans. "Look at poor old Mrs. ----, what kept the house
down Which Street--always a most well-conducted house. Nobody couldn't
find no fault with it, and 'twas her livin'! Why should she have her
livin' took away like that, poor old gal?... They sims to think nobody
en't right 'xcep' jest theirselves--as if we poor people could live an'
go on same as they do. They can 'ave their drink at 'ome, and their
music, but where be we to go to if they shuts up the 'ouses?" Such were
the remarks I heard over and over again. It seemed to the poor that
there were to be no more cakes and ale, because Malvolio was virtuous,
or because their own manners were not refined enough.

In the light of subsequent political events I am prepared to believe
that some of this popular indignation was engineered from the
public-houses. But I do not think it required much engineering. It
sounded spontaneous at the time, and considering how the villagers are
placed, their resentment was not unnatural. As I have said, the
public-house has its value in their scheme of living. They have no means
of enjoying themselves at home, no room in their cottages for
entertaining friends, and they may well ask what they are to do if the
public-houses are closed to them.

One thing, at least, is sure. If the ordinary village inn were nothing
but the foul drink-shop which its enemies allege, if all that it
provided was an irresistible temptation to depravity, the majority of
the people who resort to it now would very soon leave it alone. And the
same is true of the little lowly places in the town. In the third
chapter I mentioned how the village women, with their men-folk and
their children, too--until the recent Act of Parliament shut the
children out--would make a Saturday-night call at some public-house
before going home from the weekly shopping expedition. But these are the
reverse of bad women. They are honest and self-respecting mothers of
families; women obviously innocent of anything approaching intemperance.
I have seen them chatting outside a public-house door, and then
smilingly pushing it open and going in, as happily unconscious of evil
as if they were going to a mothers' meeting. They see no harm in it.
They are away from home, they have far to go, and they want refreshment.
But it is perfectly certain that most of them would rather drop than
enter such places--for they are not afraid of fatigue--if there were
risk of anything really wrong within. The labouring-class woman, as
already explained, takes no hurt from a frank style of talk. She is not
squeamish, but she has a very strong sense of her own honour; and if you
remember how keen is the village appetite for scandal, you will perceive
that there can be no fear of scandal attaching to her because of a visit
to a public-house, or she would not go there. It should be noted, as
evidence of a strict public opinion regulating the custom, that these
same women seldom enter the public-houses in the village, and never any
others save on this one occasion. They require the justification of
their weekly outing, when supper is delayed, and the burden of living
can be forgotten amongst friends for an hour. At other times they would
consider the indulgence disgraceful; and though they enjoy it just at
these times, I do not remember that I have ever seen one of them showing
the least sign of having carried her enjoyment too far.

The men certainly are governed by no such severe public opinion, but are
free to "get a drink" at any time without being thought the worse of by
their neighbours; yet they, too, for the most part, are of good and
sober character enough to prove that the village public-house cannot be
so utterly given up to evil as might be supposed from the horrified talk
of refined people. Not many men in this parish would tolerate a place in
which they could do nothing but get drunk. It is for something else that
they go to the Fox or the Happy Home. The drinking is but a pleasant
incident. They despise the fellow who merely goes in to have his
unsociable glass and be off again, as heartily as they dislike the
habitual soaker who brings their entertainment into disfavour; and they
themselves keep a rough sort of order--or they increase disorder in
trying to quell it--rather than that the landlord should interfere. That
loud harsh talk which one hears as one passes the public-house of an
evening is not what the hyper-sensitive suppose. It does not betoken
drunkenness so much as uncouth manners--the manners of neglected men
who spend their lives at severe physical labour, and want a little
relaxation in the evening. So far as I have seen, the usual conversation
in the taproom of a country public-house is a lazy and innocent
interchange of remarks, which wander aimlessly from one subject to
another, because nobody wants to bother his head with thinking; or else
it is a vehement discussion, in which dogmatic assertion does duty for
argument and loudness for force. In either case it rests and stimulates
the tired men, while the drink refreshes their throats, and it has no
more necessary impropriety than the drawing-room talk of the well-to-do.
In this intercourse men who do not read the papers get an inkling of the
news of the day, those who have no books come into contact with other
minds, opinions are aired, the human craving for fun gets a little
exercise; and for topics of talk, instead of those which occupy moneyed
people, who know about the theatre or the Church, or foreign travel, or
golf, or the state of the poor, or the depreciation of Consols, the
labourers have their gardens, and the harvest, and the horses they
drive. They talk about their employers, and their work, and their wages;
they dispute about county cricket or exchange notes about blight, or new
buildings, or the latest public sensation; and all this in endless
detail, endlessly interesting to them. So, utterly unaided by arts or
any contrivances for amusement, they make entertainment for themselves.
That they must make it in kindly temper, too, is obvious; for who would
take part in it to be usually annoyed? And it may well be conceived that
in an existence so empty of other pleasures, the pleasures to be derived
from company are held precious. The scheme of living would be very
desolate without that consolation, would grow very illiberal and sombre.
But the public-houses at least do something to prevent this, and in
clinging to them the villagers have clung to something which they need
and cannot get elsewhere. It is idle to pretend that the "Institute"
which was started a few years ago provides a satisfactory alternative.
Controlled by people of another class, whose "respectability" is
irksome, and open only to members and never to women, the Institute does
not lend itself to the easy intercourse which tired men enjoy at the
public-house. Its billiard-table is not for their heavy hands, used to
the pick-axe and shovel; its card games interrupt their talk; its
newspapers remind them that they cannot read very well, and suggest a
mode of life which they are unable to share.

These reasons, I believe, prevail to keep the labouring men from
patronizing the Institute more even than does its strictly teetotal
policy. Or perhaps I should say, rather, that while they dislike going
without their beer, they object more strongly still to the principle on
which it is forbidden in the Institute. For that principle is nothing
more or less than a tacit arraignment of their own point of view. It
imputes evil propensities to them; it directly challenges the truth of
an idea which not only have they never doubted, but which their own
experience seems to them to confirm. The day-labourer really knows
nothing to take the place of beer. A man who has been shovelling in a
gravel-pit, or carrying bricks up a ladder, or hoeing in the fields, or
carting coal, for ten hours in the day, and has, perhaps, walked six or
seven miles to do it, acquires a form of thirst which no other drink he
can buy will touch so coolly. Of alternatives, milk fails utterly;
"minerals" are worse than unsatisfactory; tea, to serve the purpose at
all, must be taken very hot, and then it produces uncomfortable sweat,
besides involving the expense of a fire for its preparation. There
remains cold water. But cold water in copious draughts has its
drawbacks, even if it can be obtained, and that is assuming too much. In
this parish, at any rate, good water was, until quite lately, a scarce
commodity, and nobody cared to drink the stagnant stuff out of the tanks
or water-butts which supplied most of the cottages. In short, prudence
itself has seemed to recommend beer as the one drink for tired men. In
their view it is the safest, and the most easily obtained, and, when
obtained, it affords the most refreshment. Thus much their own
experience has taught the villagers.

And they have the tradition of long generations to support them in their
taste. As far back as they can remember, the strongest and ablest men,
whose virtues they still recall and admire, renewed their strength with
beer daily. Not labourers alone, but farmers and other employers too,
whose health and prosperity were a sufficient justification of their
habits, were wont to begin their morning with a glass of beer, which
they took, not as a stimulant, but as a food; and the belief in it as a
food was so convinced that a man denied his beer by doctor's orders was
hardly to be persuaded that he was not being starved of due nourishment.
Such was the esteem in which beer was held twenty years ago, nor has the
belief been uprooted yet. Indeed, an opinion so sanctioned to a man, by
the approval of his own father and grandfather and all the worthies he
can remember, does not immediately become false to him just because it
is condemned by strangers who do not know him, and who, with all their
temperance, seem to him a delicate and feeble folk. He prefers his own
standard of good and evil, and in sitting down to his glass he has no
doubt that he is following a sensible old fashion, modestly trying to
be, not a fine gentleman, but a sturdy Englishman.

On much the same principle the public-house as a place of resort is
justified to the villager. I have already shown how it serves him for
entertainment instead of newspaper, or book, or theatre; and here,
again, he has a long-standing country tradition to support him. In spite
of reformers on the one hand, and on the other hand that tendency of
"the trade," which is spoiling the public-house as a place of
comfortable rest by frowning upon customers who stay too long and drink
too little--in spite of these discouragements, the villagers still
cannot believe that what was good enough for their fathers is not good
enough for themselves. It might not be equally good if they wished to be
"superior persons," but for the modest needs of people like themselves
they think it should serve. So they go to the public-house just as their
fathers did, content to miss the approval of the cultured, so long as
they can do as well as those worthies. Of course, if they ever analyzed
their impressions, they must often go home discerning that they had been
disappointed; that the company had been dull and the comfort small; that
they had got less conviviality than they wanted, and more of the drink
that should have been only its excuse; but as they are never
introspective, so the disappointment goes unnoticed, and leads to no



Before going farther I must try to give some account of the ways and
means of the villagers, although, obviously, in a population so
heterogeneous, nothing short of a scientific survey on the lines pursued
by Sir Charles Booth or Mr. Rowntree could be of much value in this
direction. The observations to be offered here pretend to no such
authority. They have been collected at random, and subjected to no
tests, and they refer almost exclusively to the "unskilled" labouring

During twenty years there have not been many fluctuations in the price
of a day's labour in the parish, but probably on the whole there has
been a slight increase. The increase, however, is very uncertain. While
the South African War was in progress, and afterwards when Bordon Camp
was building, eight miles away, labour did indeed seem to profit. But
then came the inevitable trade depression, work grew scarce, and by the
summer of 1909 wages had dropped to something less than they had been
before the war. I heard, for instance, of a man--one of the most capable
in the district--who was glad that summer to go haymaking at half a
crown a day. And yet two or three years earlier he had certainly been
earning from fourpence halfpenny to fivepence an hour, or, say, from
three and sixpence to four shillings for a day's work. In 1909 the
low-water mark was reached; the following spring saw a slight revival,
and at present the average may be put at three shillings. For this sum a
fairly good man can be got to do an ordinary day's work of nine hours in
the vegetable-garden or at any odd job.

The builders' labourers are rather better paid--if their employment were
not so intermittent--with an average of from fourpence halfpenny to
fivepence an hour. Carters, too, and vanmen employed by coal-merchants,
builders, and other tradesmen in the town, are comparatively well off
with constant work at eighteen or twenty shillings a week. The men in
the gravel-pits--but that industry is rapidly declining as one after
another the pits are worked out--can earn perhaps five shillings a day
if at piece-work, or about three and sixpence on ordinary terms. From
this sum a deduction must be made for tools, which the men provide and
keep in repair themselves. It is rather a heavy item. The picks
frequently need repointing, and a blacksmith can hardly do this for less
than twopence the point. The gravel-work, too, is very irregular. In
snow or heavy rain it has to stop, and in frost it is difficult. More
than once during the winter of 1908-09, it being a time of great
distress, gravel-pit workers came to me with some of those worked
flints--the big paleoliths of the river-gravel--which they had found and
saved up, but now desired to sell, in order to raise money for pointing
their pickaxes. I have wondered sometimes if the savages who shaped
those flints had ever looked out upon life so anxiously as these
neighbours of mine, whose iron tools were so strangely receiving this
prehistoric help.

At one time upwards of forty men in the parish had more or loss constant
work on one of the "ballast-trains" which the South-Western Railway kept
on the line for repairing the permanent way. The work, usually done at
night and on Sundays, brought them in from eighteen to twenty-four
shillings a week, according to the hours they made. I do not know how
many of our men are employed on the railway now, but they are certainly
fewer. Some years ago--it was when the great trade depression had
already hit the parish badly, and dozens of men were out of work
here--the railway-company suddenly stopped this train, and consternation
spread through the village at the prospect of forty more being added to
the numbers of its unemployed.

Reviewing the figures, and making allowance for short time due to bad
weather, public holidays, sickness, and so on, it may be estimated that
even when trade is good the average weekly wage earned by one of the
village men at his recognized work is something under seventeen
shillings. This, however, does not constitute quite the whole income of
the family. In most cases the man's wages are supplemented by small and
uncertain sums derived from the work of women and children, and from odd
jobs done in the evenings, and from extra earnings in particular

Field-work still employs a few women, although every year their numbers
decrease. It is miserably paid at a shilling a day, or in some cases on
piece-work terms which hardly work out at a higher figure. Piecework,
for instance, was customary in the hop-gardens (now rapidly
disappearing), where the women cut the bines and "tied" or "trained" the
hops at so much per acre, providing their own rushes for the tying. At
haymaking and at harvesting there is work for women; and again in the
hop-gardens, when the picking is over, women are useful at clearing up
the bines. They can earn money, too, at trimming swedes, picking up
newly-dug potatoes, and so on; but when all is said, there are not many
of them who can find work to do in the fields all the year round. At the
best, bad weather often interrupts them, and the stress and hardships of
the work, not to mention other drawbacks, make the small earnings from
it a doubtful blessing.

A considerable number of women formerly eked out the family income by
taking in washing for people in the town. Several properly equipped
laundries have of late years greatly reduced this employment, but it
still occupies a few. The difficulties of carrying it on are
considerable, apart from the discomforts of it in a small cottage.
Unless a woman has a donkey and cart, it is hard for her to get the
washing from her customers' homes and carry it back again. Of the amount
that can be earned at the work by a married woman, with husband and
children to do for, I have no knowledge.

Charwomen, more in demand than ever as the residential character of the
place grows more pronounced, earn latterly as much as two shillings a
day, besides at least one substantial meal. The meal is a consideration,
and obviously good for the women. In bad times, when the men and even
the children go rather hungry, it often happens that the mother of the
family is able to keep her strength up, thanks to the tolerable food she
gets three or four days a week in the houses where she goes scrubbing
and cleaning.

A few women--so few that they really need not be mentioned--earn a
little at needlework, two or three of them having a small dressmaking
connection amongst their cottage neighbours and with servant-girls. It
will be realized that the prices which such clients can afford to pay
are pitifully small.

In one or other of these ways most of the labouring class women do
something to add to the earnings of their husbands, so that in
prosperous times the family income may approach twenty-four shillings a
week. Yet the average must be below that sum. The woman's work is very
irregular, and just when her few shillings would be most
useful--namely, when she has a baby or little children to care for--of
course her employment stops. If not, it is unprofitable in the end; for,
involving as it does some neglect of the children, as well as of the
woman's own health, it leads to sickness and expenses which may
impoverish the whole family for years.

With regard to the minor sources of income, I have often wondered at the
eagerness of the average labourer to earn an odd shilling, and at the
amount of work he will do for it, after his proper day's work is over. I
know several men who frequently add two or three shillings to their
week's money in this way. To give an instance of how they go on, one
evening recently I was unexpectedly wanting to send a heavy parcel into
the town. Going out to seek somebody who would take it, I chanced upon a
man--very well known to me--who was at work just within the hedge of a
villa garden, where he was erecting on a pole a notice-board announcing
a "sale of work" shortly to be held. He had obviously nearly done, so I
proposed my errand to him. Yes; he would go as soon as he had finished
what he was doing. Then, perceiving that he looked tired, I commented on
the fact. He smiled. "I bin mowin' all day over there at ...," and he
mentioned a farm two or three miles distant. Still, he could go with my
parcel. This was at about seven o'clock in the evening, and would mean a
two-mile walk for him. The very next evening, when it was raining, I
saw him in the churchyard digging a grave. "Haven't been mowing to-day,
have you?" "Yes," he said cheerily. Mowing is, perhaps, the most
fatiguing work a man can do, but fatigue was nothing to this man where a
few shillings could be earned. His ordinary wages, I believe, are
eighteen shillings a week, but during last winter he was out of work for
six or eight weeks.

I have known this man, and others also, to make now and then quite a
little harvest, amounting to several pounds, at the unsavoury work of
cleaning out cess-pits. One man, indeed--a farm-labourer by day--had for
a time a sort of trade connection in the parish for this employment, and
would add the labour of two or three nights a week to that of his days;
but, of course, he could not keep it up for long. It is highly-paid
work, as it ought to be; but the ten shillings or so that a man may earn
at it four or five times a year come rather as a welcome windfall than
as a part of income upon which he can rely.

The seasonal employments are disappearing from the neighbourhood, as
agriculture gives place to the residential interests. Hop-picking used
to be the most notable of them, and even now, spite of the
much-diminished acreage under hops, it is found necessary at the schools
to defer the long holiday until September, because it would be
impossible to get the children to school while the hops are being
picked. For all the family goes into the gardens--all, that is to say,
who have no constant work. The season now lasts some three weeks, during
which a family may earn anything from two to four pounds. At this season
a few of the more experienced and trustworthy men--my friend who mows,
and digs graves, and runs errands is one of them--do better in the
hop-kilns at "drying" than in the gardens. Theirs is an anxious, a
responsible, and almost a sleepless duty. The pay for it, when I last
heard, was two guineas a week, and--pleasant survival from an older mode
of employment--the prudent hop-grower gives his dryers a pound at
Christmas as a sort of retaining-fee. It is to be observed that failure
of the crop is too frequent an occurrence. In years when there are no
hops, the people feel the want of their extra money all the following

Another custom, as it is all but extinct, needs only a passing mention
now. No longer do large gangs of our labourers--with some of their
womenfolk, perhaps--troop off "down into Sussex" for the August
harvesting there, and for the hoeing that follows it; and no longer is
the village enriched by the gold they used to bring back. When July is
ending, perhaps two or three men, whether enticed by some dream of old
harvesting joys in sight of the sea, or driven by want at home, may
stray off for a few weeks; but I do not hear that their adventure is
ever so prosperous nowadays as to induce others to follow suit.

Where the income of a family from the united efforts of the father and
mother is still so small, every shilling that can be added to it is
precious, and, consequently, the children have to begin earning as early
as they may. Hence there is not much lingering at school, after the
minimum age for leaving has been reached. Nay, some little boys, and
here and there a little girl, will make from a shilling to half a crown
a week at carrying out milk or newspapers before morning school begins,
so that they go to their lessons with the first freshness taken off them
by three or four miles of burdened walking. In view of the wear and tear
of shoe-leather, even those parents who countenance the practice are
doubtful of its economy. Still, a few of them encourage it; and though,
if spread out amongst the families, these pitiful little earnings could
hardly make a perceptible difference to the average income. I mention
them here in order to leave no source of income unnoticed. When
school-days are over, the family begins to benefit from the children's
work. At fourteen years old, few of the boys are put to trades, but most
of them get something to do in the town, where there is a great demand
for errand-boys. Their wages start at about four shillings a week,
increasing in a few years to as much as seven or eight. Then, at
seventeen years old or so, the untrained youths begin to compete in the
labour market with the men, taking too early, and at too small wages, to
the driving of carts or even to work in the gravel-pits. The amount of
help that these fellows then contribute towards the family expenses out
of their twelve or fourteen shillings a week depends upon the parents,
but it is something if they merely keep themselves; and I believe,
though I do not certainly know, that it is customary for them to pay a
few shillings for their lodging at least.

For girls leaving school there is no difficulty in finding, as they say,
"a little place" for a start in domestic service; for even the cheaper
villas which have sprung up around the town generally need their cheap
drudges. Hence, at an earlier age than the boys, the girls are taken off
their parents' hands and become self-supporting. True, it is long before
they can earn much more in money than suffices for their own needs in
clothes and boots--they cannot send many shillings home to their
mothers; but no doubt a family may be found here and there enriched to
the extent of a pound or two a year by the labour of the girls.

Putting the various items together, it might seem that in favourable
circumstances there would be some twenty-three or twenty-four shillings
a week for a family to live on all the year round. But it must be
remembered, first, that the circumstances seldom remain favourable for
many months together; and, second, that the greater number of families
have to do without those small supplementary sums provided by the work
of children, or by odd jobs, or by the good wages of hop-drying, and so
forth. Nor is this the only deduction to be made. As I have already
explained, in the cases where money is most needed--namely, where there
is a family of little children--the mother cannot go out to work, and
the income is reduced to the bare amount earned by the father alone. And
these cases are very plentiful, while, on the contrary, those in which
the best conditions prevail are very scarce. Taking the village all
through, and balancing bad times against good ones, I question if the
income of the labouring class families averages twenty shillings a week;
indeed, I should be greatly surprised to learn that it amounted to so
much. In very many instances eighteen shillings or even less would be
the more correct estimate.

One other item remains to be recognized, although its value is too
variable to be computed with any exactness in money and added to the sum
of an average week's income. What is the worth to a labourer of the
crops he grows in his garden? It depends, obviously, on the man's skill,
and the size of the garden, and the clemency of the seasons--matters,
all of them, in which any attempt at generalization must be received
with suspicion. All that can be said with certainty is that most of the
cottages in the valley have gardens, and that most of the cottagers are
diligent to cultivate them. But when the circumstances are considered,
it will be plain that the value of the produce must not be put very
high. The amount of ground that can be worked in the spring and summer
evenings is, after all, not much; it is but little manure that can be
bought out of a total money-income of eighteen shillings a week; and
even good seed is, for the same reason, seldom obtained. The return for
the labour expended, therefore, is seldom equal to what it should be,
and we may surmise that he is a fortunate man, or an unusually
industrious one, who can make his gardening worth more than two
shillings a week to him in food. There must be many cottages in the
valley where the yield of the garden is scarcely half that value.

To complete the picture of the people's ways and means, it ought next to
be shown how the money income is spent by an average family. To do that,
however, would be beyond my power, even if it were possible to determine
what an "average family" is. I know, of course, that rent takes from
three and sixpence a week for the poorest hovels to six shillings for
the newer tenements on the outskirts of the parish; in other words, that
from a quarter to a third of the labourer's whole income goes back
immediately into the pockets of the employing classes for shelter alone.
I know also that payments into benefit societies drain away another
eightpence to a shilling a week. I realize that very often the weekly
bread bill runs away with nearly half the money that is left, and so I
can reckon that tea and groceries, boots and clothes, firing and light,
have somehow to be obtained at a cost of no more than seven or eight
shillings weekly. But these calculations fail to satisfy me. They leave
unsolved the problem of those last seven or eight shillings, on the
expenditure of which turns the really vital question which an inquiry
like this ought to settle. How do the people make both ends meet? Are
the seven shillings as a rule enough for so many purposes? or almost,
but not quite enough? or nothing like enough? After all, I do not know.
Information breaks down just at this point where information is most to
be desired.

There is no doubt at all, however, as to the strain and stress of the
general struggle to live in the valley, the sheer wear and tear of
temper and spirits involved in the daily grappling with that problem.
Everywhere one comes across symptoms of it--partial evidences--but the
most complete exposition that I have had was given, some years ago now,
by a woman who had no intention of complaining. She came to me with a
message from a neighbour who was ill, but, in explanation of her part in
helping him, she began to speak of her own affairs. With some of these
affairs I was already acquainted. Thus I knew her to be the mother of an
exceptionally large family, so that her case could not be quite typical.
But I also knew that her husband had been in constant work for many
years, so that, in her case, there had been no period when the income
at her disposal ceased altogether, as in the case of so many other women
otherwise less handicapped than she. I was aware, too, that she herself
helped out the family earnings by taking in washing.

To these items of vague knowledge she added a few particulars. As to
income, I learnt that her husband--a labourer on a farm some three miles
away--earned fifteen shillings a week during the winter, and rather more
in the summer months, when he was allowed to do "piece-work." The
piece-work had the further advantage of permitting him to begin so early
in the day--four o'clock was his time in summer--that he usually got
home again by four in the afternoon, and was able to do better than most
men with his garden. Amongst other things, he raised flowers for sale.
He was wont to send to a well-known nursery in Norfolk for his
seeds--china-asters and stocks were his speciality--and he reared his
plants under a little glass "light" which he had made for himself out of
a few old window-sashes. His pains with these flowers were unsparing.
Neighbours laughed at him (so his wife assured me, with some pride)
because he went to the plants down on his hands and knees, smoking each
one with tobacco to clear it from green aphis. He also raised fifty or
sixty sticks of celery every year, which sold for threepence apiece.
Meanwhile he by no means neglected his main business as a
cottage-gardener--namely, the growing of food-crops for home use. By
renting for five shillings a year an extra plot of ground near his
cottage, he was able to keep his large family supplied with potatoes for
quite half the year. It was much to do. They wanted nearly a bushel of
potatoes a week, the wife said; and if that was so, the man was adding,
in the shape of potatoes at half a crown a bushel, the value of more
than three pounds a year to his income. No doubt he grew other
vegetables too--parsnips, carrots, turnips, and some green-stuff--but
these were not mentioned. A little further help was at last coming from
the family, the eldest daughter having begun to pay half the rent out of
her earnings as a servant-girl.

Help certainly must have been welcome. There were two other girls in
service, and therefore off their parents' hands; but six children--the
youngest only a few months old--were still at home, dependent on what
their father and mother could earn. Of these, the eldest was a boy near
thirteen. "I shall be glad when he's schoolin's over," the mother said;
and she had applied for a "labour certificate" which would allow him to
finish school as a "half-timer," and to go out and earn a little money.

Since their marriage, twenty-three years earlier, the couple had
occupied always the came cottage, at a rental of three shillings a week.
After the first twenty years--the property then changing owners--the
first few repairs in all that long period had been undertaken. That is
to say, the outside woodwork was painted; a promise was given to do up
the interior; the company's water was laid on; and--the rent was raised
to three-and-sixpence. The woman thought this a hardship; but she said
that her husband, looking at the bright side of things, rejoiced to
think that now the water from the old tank, hitherto so precious for
household uses, might be spared for his flowers.

After the rent was paid--with the daughter's help--there were about
fourteen shillings left. But the man was an "Oddfellow," and his
subscription was nine shillings a quarter, or eightpence halfpenny a
week. In prudence, that amount should perhaps have been put by every
week, but apparently prudence often had to give way to pressing needs.
"When the club money's due, that's when we finds it wust," the woman
remarked. "Sometimes I've said to 'n, 'I dunno how we be goin' to git
through the week.' 'Oh,' he says, 'don't you worry. We shall get to the
end of 'n somehow.'"

But she did not explain, nor is it easy to conceive, how it was done.
For observe, the weekly bushel of potatoes did not feed the family, even
for half the year. "A gallon of potatoes a day, that's what it is," she
had said; and then she had enumerated other items. "A gallon of bread a
day," was needed too, besides a gallon of flour once a week "for
puddings." In other words, bread and flour cost upwards of six shillings
weekly. Seeing that this left but eight shillings for eight people, it
is small wonder that the club-money was rarely put by, and great wonder
how the family managed at all when the club-money was wanted in a lump.
It must have been that they went short that week. For instance, they
would do without puddings, and so save on flour and firing; and the man
would forego his tobacco--he had never any time to visit the
public-house, so that there was nothing to be saved in that direction.
Yet assuming all this, and assuming that the eldest daughter advanced a
few extra shillings, still the situation remains baffling. On what could
they save, out of eight shillings? Probably one or other of the
children, or may be the mother herself, would make an old pair of boots
serve just one more week, until there was money in hand again; and that
would go far to tide the family over. Yet the next week would then have
to be a pinched one; for, said the woman, "boots is the wust of all. It
wants a new pair for one or t'other of us purty near every week."

So far this woman's testimony. It is corroborated by what other
cottagers have told me. A man said, looking fondly at his children: "I
has to buy a new pair o' shoes for one or other of us every week. Or if
I misses one week, then next week I wants two pair." Others, again, have
told of spending five to six shillings a week on bread. But of the less
essential items one never hears. Even of clothes there is rarely any
talk, and of coal not often; nor yet often of meat, or groceries. I do
not suggest that meat and groceries are foresworn, but it would appear
that they come second in the household expenses. They are luxuries, only
to be obtained if and when more necessary things have been provided.
With regard to firing--a little coal is made to go a long way in the
labourer's cottage; and with regard to clothes--it is doubtful if
anything new is bought, in many families, from year's end to year's end.
At "rummage sales," for a few pence, the women are now able to pick up
surprising bargains in cast-off garments, which they adapt as best they
can for their own or their children's wear. Economies like this,
however, still hardly suffice to explain how the scanty resources are
really spread out. Apart from a few cases of palpable destitution, it is
not obvious that any families in the village suffer actual want; and
seeing that inquiries in the school in recent winters have failed to
discover more than two or three sets of children manifestly wanting
food, one is led to conclude that acute poverty is of rare occurrence
here. On the other hand, all the calculations suggest that a majority
perhaps of the labouring folk endure a less intense but chronic poverty,
in which, at some point or other every day, the provision for bare
physical needs falls a little short.



In view of their unpromising circumstances the people as a rule are
surprisingly cheerful. It is true there are never any signs in the
valley of that almost festive temper, that glad relish of life, which,
if we may believe the poets, used to characterize the English village of
old times. Tested by that standard of happiness, it is a low-spirited,
mirthless, and all but silent population that we have here now. Of
public and exuberant enjoyment there is nothing whatever. And yet,
subdued though they may be, the cottagers usually manage to keep in
tolerable spirits. A woman made me smile the other day. I had seen her
husband a week earlier, and found him rheumatic and despondent; but when
I inquired how he did, she conceded, with a laugh: "Yes, he had a bit o'
rheumatism, but he's better now. He 'ad the 'ump then, too." I inferred
that she regarded his dejection as quite an unnecessary thing; and this
certainly is the customary attitude. The people are slow to admit that
they are unhappy. At a "Penny Readings" an entertainer caused some
displeasure by a quite innocent joke in this connection. Coming through
the village, he noticed the sign of one of the public-houses--The Happy
Home--and invented a conundrum which he put from the platform: "Why was
this a very miserable village?" But the answer, "Because it has only one
Happy Home in it," gave considerable offence. For we are not used to
these subtleties of language, and the point was missed, a good many folk
protesting that we have "a _lot_ o' happy homes" here.

That they should be so touchy about it is perhaps suggestive--pitifully
suggestive--of a suspicion in them that their happiness is open to
question. None the less, the general impression conveyed by the people's
manners is that of a quiet and rather cheery humour, far indeed from
gaiety, but farther still from wretchedness. And in matters like this
one's senses are not deceived. I know that my neighbours have abundant
excuses for being down-hearted; and, as described in an earlier chapter,
I sometimes overhear their complainings; but more often than not the
evidence of voice-tones and stray words is reassuring rather than

Notice, for instance, the women who have done their shopping in the town
early in the morning, and are coming home for a day's work. They are out
of breath, and bothered with their armfuls of purchases; but nine times
out of ten their faces look hopeful; there is no sound of grievance or
of worry in their talk; their smiling "Good-morning" to you proves
somehow that it is not a bad morning with them. One day a woman going
to the town a little late met another already returning, loaded up with
goods. "'Ullo, Mrs. Fry," she laughed, "you be 'bliged to be fust,
then?" "Yes; but I en't bought it _all_, I thought you'd be comm', so I
left some for you." "That's right of ye. En't it a _nice mornin'_?"
"Jest what we wants! My old man was up an' in he's garden...." The words
grow indistinguishable as you get farther away; you don't hear what the
"old man" was doing so early, but the country voices sound for a long
time, comfortably tuned to the pleasantness of the day.

This sort of thing is so common that I seldom notice it, unless it is
varied in some way that attracts attention. For instance, I could not
help listening to a woman who was pushing her baby in a perambulator
down the hill. The baby sat facing her, as bland as a little image of
Buddha, and as unresponsive, but she was chaffing it. "Well, you _be_ a
funny little gal, _ben't_ ye? Why, you be goin' back'ards into the town!
Whoever heared tell o' such a thing--goin' to the town _back_'ards. You
_be_ a funny little gal!" To me it was a funny little procession, with a
touch of the pathetic hidden away in it somewhere; but it bore
convincing witness to happiness in at least one home in our valley.

It is not so easy to discover, or rather to point out, the corresponding
evidence in the demeanour of the men, although when one knows them one
is aware that their attitude towards life is quite as courageous as the
women's, if not quite so playful. I confess that I rarely see them until
they have put a day's work behind them; and they may be more lightsome
when they start in the morning, at five o'clock or soon after it. Be
that as it may, in the evenings I find them taciturn, nonchalant rather
than cheerful, not much disposed to be sprightly. Long-striding and
ungainly, they walk home; between six o'clock and seven you may be sure
of seeing some of them coming up the hill from the town, alone or by
twos and threes. They speak but little; they look tired and stern; very
often there is nothing but a twinkle in their eyes to prove to you that
they are not morose. But in fact they are still taking life seriously;
their thoughts, and hopes too, are bent on the further work they mean to
do when they shall have had their tea. For the more old-fashioned men
allow themselves but little rest, and in many a cottage garden of an
evening you may see the father of the family soberly at work, and liking
it too. If his wife is able to come and look on and chatter to him, or
if he can hear her laughing with a friend in the next garden, so much
the better; but he does not stop work. Impelled, as I shall show later,
by other reasons besides those of economy, many of the men make
prodigiously long days of it, at least during the summer months. I have
known them to leave home at five or even four in the morning, walk five
or six miles, do a day's work, walk back in the evening so as to reach
home at six or seven o'clock, and then, after a meal, go on again in
their gardens until eight or nine. They seem to be under some spiritual
need to keep going; their conscience enslaves them. So they grow thin
and gaunt in body, grave and very quiet in their spirits. But sullen
they very rarely are. With rheumatism and "the 'ump" combined a man will
sometimes grow exasperated and be heard to speak irritably, but usually
it is a very amiable "Good-evening" that greets you from across the
hedge where one of these men is silently digging or hoeing.

The nature of their work, shall I say, tends to bring them to quietness
of soul? I hesitate to say it, because, though work upon the ground with
spade or hoe has such a soothing influence upon the amateur, there is a
difference between doing it for pleasure during a spare hour and doing
it as a duty after a twelve hours' day, and without any prospect of
holiday as long as one lives. Nevertheless it is plain to be seen that,
albeit their long days too often reduce them to a state of apathy, these
quiet and patient men experience no less often a compensating delight in
the friendly feeling of the tool responding to their skill, and in the
fine freshness of the soil as they work it, and in the solace, so varied
and so unfailingly fresh, of the open air. Thus much at least I have
seen in their looks, and have heard in their speech. On a certain June
evening when it had set in wet, five large-limbed men, just off their
work on the railway, came striding past me up the hill. They had sacks
over their shoulders; their clothes and boots, from working in gravel
all day, were of the same yellowish-brown colour as the sacks; they were
getting decidedly wet; but they looked enviably easy-going and
unconcerned. As they went by me one after another, one sleepy-eyed man,
comfortably smoking his pipe, vouchsafed no word or glance. But the
others, with friendly sidelong glance at me, all spoke; and their placid
voices were full of rich contentment. "Good-night"; "Nice _rain_";
"G'd-evenin'"; and, last of all, "_This_'ll make the young taters grow!"
The man who said this looked all alert, as if the blood were dancing in
him with enjoyment of the rain; his eyes were beaming with pleasure. So
the five passed up the hill homewards, to have some supper, and then,
perhaps, watch and listen to the rain on their gardens until it was time
to go to bed.

I ought to mention, though I may hardly illustrate, one faculty which is
a great support to many of the men--I mean the masculine gift of
"humour." Not playful-witted like the women, nor yet apt, like the
women, to refresh their spirits in the indulgence of sentiment and
emotion, but rather stolid and inclined to dim brooding thought, they
are able to see the laughable side of their own misadventures and
discomforts; and thanks to this they keep a sense of proportion, as
though perceiving that if their labour accomplishes its end, it does not
really matter that they get tired, or dirty, or wet through in doing
it. This is a social gift, of small avail to the men working alone in
their gardens; but it serves them well during the day's work with their
mates, or when two or three of them together tackle some job of their
own, such as cleaning out a well, or putting up a fowl-house. Then, if
somebody gets splashed, or knocks his knuckles, and softly swears, his
wrath turns to a grin as the little dry chuckle or the sly remark from
the others reminds him that his feelings are understood. It is well
worth while to be present at these times. I laugh now to think of some
of them that I have enjoyed; but I will not risk almost certain failure
in trying to describe them, for their flavour depends on minute details
into which I have no space to enter.

But whatever alleviations there may be to their troubles, the people's
geniality is still noteworthy. In circumstances that contrast so
pitifully with those of the employing classes, it would seem natural if
they were full of bitterness and envy; yet that is by no means the case.
Being born to poverty and the labouring life, they accept the position
as if it were entirely natural. Of course it has its drawbacks; but they
suppose that it takes all sorts to make a world, and since they are of
the labouring sort they must make the best of it. With this simple
philosophy they have contrived hitherto to meet their troubles calmly,
not blaming other people for them, unless in individual cases, and
hardly dreaming of translating them into social injustice. They have no
sense of oppression to poison their lives. The truth which economists
begin to recognize, that where there are wealthy and idle classes there
must as an inevitable result be classes who are impoverished and
overworked, has not found its way into the villager's head.

So, supported by an instinctive fatalism, the people have taken their
plight for granted, without harbouring resentment against the more
fortunate. It may be added that most of them are convinced believers in
those fallacies which cluster around the phrase "making work." It were
strange if they were not. The labourer lives by being employed at work;
and, knowing his employer personally--this or that farmer or tradesman
or villa-resident--he sees the work he lives by actually being "made."
Only very rarely does it occur to him that when he goes to the shop he,
too, makes work. In bad times, perhaps, he gets an inkling of it; and
then, when wages are scarce, and the public-house landlord grumbles,
old-fashioned villagers will say, "Ah, they misses the poor man, ye
see!" But the idea is too abstract to be followed to its logical
conclusion. The people do not see the multitudes at work for them in
other counties, making their boots and ready-made clothes, getting their
coal, importing their cheap provisions; but they do see, and know by
name, the well-to-do of the neighbourhood, who have new houses built and
new gardens laid out; and they naturally enough infer that labour would
perish if there were no well-to-do people to be supplied.

Against the rich man, therefore, the labourers have no sort of
animosity. If he will spend money freely, the richer he is the better.
Throughout the south of England this is the common attitude. I remember,
not long ago, on a holiday, coming to a village which looked rarely
prosperous for its county, owing, I was told, to the fact that the
county lunatic asylum near by caused money to be spent there. In the
next village, which was in a deplorable state, and had no asylum, the
people were looking enviously towards this one, and wishing that at
least their absentee landlords would come and hunt the neighbourhood,
though it appeared that one of these gentlemen was a Bishop. But the
labouring folk were not exacting as to the sort of person--lunatics,
fox-hunters, Bishops--anybody would be welcome who would spend riches in
a way to "make work." And so here. This village looks up to those who
control wealth as if they were the sources of it; and if there is a
little dislike of some of them personally, there has so far appeared but
little bitterness of feeling against them as a class.

I do not say that there has never been any grumbling. One day, years
ago, an old friend of mine broke out, in his most contemptuous manner,
"What d'ye think Master Dash Blank bin up to now?" He named the owner of
a large estate near the town. "Bin an' promised all his men a blanket
an' a quarter of a ton o' coal at Christmas. A _blanket_, and a _quarter
of a ton o' coal_! Pity as somebody hadn't shoved a brick down his
throat, when he _had_ got 'n open, so's to _keep_ 'n open!" The
sentiment sounds envious, but in fact it was scornful. It was directed,
not against the great man's riches, but against the well-known meanness
he displayed anew in his contemptible gifts.

A faint trace of traditional class animosity sounds in one or two
customary phrases of the village, for instance in the saying that there
is one law for the rich and another for the poor. Yet this has become
such a by-word as to be usually stated with a smile; for is it not an
old acquaintance amongst opinions? The older people even have a humorous
development of it. According to their improved version, there are not
two only, but three kinds of law: one kind for the rich, one for the
poor, and one "the law that nobody can't make." What is this last? Why,
the law "to make a feller pay what en't got nothink." By such witticisms
the edge of bitterness is turned; the sting is taken out of that sense
of inequality which, as the labourer probably knows, would poison his
present comfort and lead him into dangerous courses if he let it rankle.
With one exception, the angriest recognition of class differences which
I have come across amongst the villagers was when I passed two women on
their way home from the town, where, I surmised, they, or some friend of
theirs, had just been fined at the County Court or the Petty Sessions.
"Ah!" one was saying, with spiteful emphasis, "_there'll_ come a great
day for they to have _their_ Judge, same as we _poor_ people." Yet even
there, if the emotion was newly-kindled, the sentiment was too
antiquated to mean much. For it is a very ancient idea--that of getting
even with one's enemies in the next world instead of in this. So long as
the poor can console themselves by leaving it to Providence to avenge
them at the Day of Judgment, it cannot be said that there is any
virulent class-feeling amongst them. The most that you can make of it is
that they occasionally feel spiteful. It happened, in this case, to be
against rich people that those two women felt their momentary grudge;
but it was hardly felt against the rich as a class; and if the same kind
of offence had come from some neighbour, they would have said much the
same kind of thing. In the family disputes which occur now and then over
the inheritance of a few pounds' worth of property, the losers put on a
very disinterested and superior look, and say piously of the gainers:
"Ah, they'll never prosper! They _can't_ prosper!"

The exceptional case alluded to above was certainly startling. I was
talking to an old man whom I had long known: a little wrinkled old man,
deservedly esteemed for his integrity and industry, full of experience
as well as of old-world notions sometimes a little "grumpy," a little
caustic in his manner of talking, but on the whole quite kindly and
tolerant in his disposition. You could often watch in his face the
habitual practice of patience, as, with a wry smile and a contemptuous
remark, he dismissed some disagreeable topic or other from his thoughts.
He had come down in the world. His father's cottage, already mortgaged
when he inherited it, had been sold over his head after the death of the
mortgagee, so that thenceforth he was on no better footing than any
other of the labourers. Gradually, as the demand failed for his
old-fashioned forms of skill--thatching, mowing, and so on--his position
became more and more precarious; yet he remained good-tempered, in his
queer acid way, until he was past seventy years old. That evening, when
he startled me, he had been telling of his day's work as a road-mender,
and he was mightily philosophical over the prospect of having to give up
even that last form of regular employment, because of the exposure and
the miles of walking which it entailed. Nobody could have thought him a
vindictive or even a discontented man so far. By chance, however,
something was said about the uncultivated land in the neighbourhood,
covered as it is with fir-woods now; and at that he suddenly fired up.
Pointing to the woods, which could be seen beyond the valley, he said
spitefully, while his eyes blazed: "I can remember when all that was
open common, and you could go where you mind to. Now 'tis all fenced in,
and if you looks over the fence they'll lock ye up. And they en't got no
more _right_ to it, Mr. Bourne, than you and me have! I should _like_
to see they woods all go up in flames!"

That was years ago. The woods are flourishing; the old man is past doing
any mischief; but I remember his indignation. And it was the sole case I
have met with in the parish, of animosity harboured not so much against
persons as against the existing position of things. This one man was
alive to the injustice of a social arrangement; and in that respect he
differed from the rest of my neighbours, unless I am much deceived in
them. Of course there may be more of envious feeling abroad in the
village than I know about. It is the sort of thing that would keep
itself secret; and perhaps this old man's contemporaries, who shared his
recollections, silently shared his bitterness too. But if so, I do not
believe that they have passed the feeling on to their children. The
impression is strong in me that the people have never learnt to look
upon the distribution of property, which has left them so impoverished,
as anything other than an inevitable dispensation of Providence. If they
thought otherwise, at any rate if the contrary view were at all
prevalent amongst them, they must be most gifted hypocrites, to go about
with the good temper in their eyes and the cheerfulness in their voices
that I have been describing.

To what should it be attributed--this power of facing poverty with
contentment? To some extent doubtless it rests on Christian teaching,
although perhaps not much on the Christian teaching of the present day.
Present-day religion, indeed, must often seem to the cottagers a
tiresome hobby reserved to the well-to-do; but from distant generations
there seems to have come down, in many a cottage family, a rather lofty
religious sentiment which fosters honesty, patience, resignation,
courage. Much of the gravity, much of the tranquillity of soul of the
more sedate villagers must be ascribed to this traditional influence,
whose effects are attractive enough, in the character and outlook of
many an old cottage man and woman.

Yet there is much more in the village temper than can be accounted for
by this cause alone. In most of the people the cheerfulness does not
suggest pious resignation, in the hope of the next world; it looks like
a grim and lusty determination to make the best of this world. It is
contemptuous, or laughing. As I have shown, it has a tendency to be
beery. It occasionally breaks out into disorder. In fact, if the folk
were not habitually overworked they would be boisterous, jolly. Of
course it may all proceed from the strong English nature in them; and in
that case we need seek no other explanation of it. Yet if one influence,
namely, a traditional Christianity, is to be credited--as it certainly
should be--with an effect upon the village character in one direction,
then probably, behind this other effect in another direction, some other
influence is at work. And for my part I make no doubt of it. The
cheerfulness of the cottagers rests largely upon a survival of the
outlook and habits of the peasant days before the common was enclosed.
It is not a negative quality. My neighbours are not merely patient and
loftily resigned to distress; they are still groping, dimly, for an
enjoyment of life which they have not yet realized to be unattainable.
They maintain the peasant spirits. Observe, I do not suggest that they
are intentionally old-fashioned. I do not believe them to be sympathetic
at all to those self-conscious revivals of peasant arts which are now
being recommended to the poor by a certain type of philanthropists. They
make no æsthetic choice. They do not deliberate which of the ancestral
customs it would be "nice" for them to follow; but, other things being
equal, they incline to go on in the way that has been usual in their
families. It is a tendency that sways them, not a thought-out scheme of
the way to live. Now and again, perhaps, some memory may strengthen the
tendency, as they are reminded of this or that fine old personality
worthy of imitation, or as some circumstance of childhood is recalled,
which it would be pleasant to restore; but in the main the force which
bears them on is a traditional outlook, fifty times more potent than
definite but transient memories. This it is that has to be recognized in
my neighbours. Down in their valley, until the "residents" began to
flock in, the old style of thinking lingered on; in the little cottages
the people, from earliest infancy, were accustomed to hear all
things--persons and manners, houses and gardens, and the day's
work--appraised by an ancient standard of the countryside; and
consequently it happens that this evening while I am writing, out there
on the slopes of the valley the men and women, and the very children
whose voices I can just hear, are living by an outlook in which the
values are different from those of easy-going people, and in which,
especially, hardships have never been met by peevishness, but have been
beaten by good-humour.





The persistence into the twentieth century--the scarcely realized
persistence--not so much of any definite ideas, as of a general temper
more proper to the eighteenth century, accounts for all sorts of
anomalies in the village, and explains not only why other people do not
understand the position of its inhabitants to-day, but why they
themselves largely fail to understand it. They are not fully aware of
being behind the times, and probably in many respects they no longer are
so; only there is that queer mental attitude giving its bias to their
view of life. Although very feebly now, still the momentum derived from
a forgotten cult carries them on.

But, having noticed the persistence of the peasant traditions, we have
next to notice how inadequate they are to present needs. Our subject
swings round here. Inasmuch as the peasant outlook lingers on in the
valley, it explains many of those peculiarities I have described in
earlier chapters; but, inasmuch as it is a decayed and all but useless
outlook, we shall see in its decay the significance of those changes in
the village which have now to be traced out. The little that is left
from the old days has an antiquarian or a gossipy sort of interest; but
the lack of the great deal that has gone gives rise to some most serious

For, as I hinted at the outset, the "peasant" tradition in its vigour
amounted to nothing less than a form of civilization--the home-made
civilization of the rural English. To the exigent problems of life it
furnished solutions of its own--different solutions, certainly, from
those which modern civilization gives, but yet serviceable enough.
People could find in it not only a method of getting a living, but also
an encouragement and a help to live well. Besides employment there was
an intense interest for them in the country customs. There was scope for
modest ambition too. Best of all, those customs provided a rough
guidance as to conduct--an unwritten code to which, though we forget it,
England owes much. It seems singular to think of now; but the very
labourer might reasonably hope for some satisfaction in life, nor
trouble about "raising" himself into some other class, so long as he
could live on peasant lines. And it is in the virtual disappearance of
this civilization that the main change in the village consists. Other
changes are comparatively immaterial. The valley might have been invaded
by the leisured classes; its old appearance might have been altered; all
sorts of new-fangled things might have been introduced into it; and
still under the surface it would have retained the essential village
characteristics, had but the peasant tradition been preserved in its
integrity amongst the lowlier people; but with that dying, the village,
too, dies where it stands. And that is what has been happening here. A
faint influence from out of the past still has its feeble effect; but,
in this corner of England at least, what we used to think of as the
rural English are, as it were, vanishing away--vanishing as in a slow
transformation, not by death or emigration, not even by essential change
of personnel, but by becoming somehow different in their outlook and
habits. The old families continue in their old home; but they begin to
be a new people.

It was of the essence of the old system that those living under it
subsisted in the main upon what their own industry could produce out of
the soil and materials of their own countryside. A few things,
certainly, they might get from other neighbourhoods, such as iron for
making their tools, and salt for curing their bacon; and some small
interchange of commodities there was, accordingly, say between the
various districts that yielded cheese, and wool, and hops, and charcoal;
but as a general thing the parish where the peasant people lived was the
source of the materials they used, and their well-being depended on
their knowledge of its resources. Amongst themselves they would number a
few special craftsmen--a smith, a carpenter or wheelwright, a shoemaker,
a pair of sawyers, and so on; yet the trades of these specialists were
only ancillary to the general handiness of the people, who with their
own hands raised and harvested their crops, made their clothes, did much
of the building of their homes, attended to their cattle, thatched their
ricks, cut their firing, made their bread and wine or cider, pruned
their fruit-trees and vines, looked after their bees, all for
themselves. And some at least, and perhaps the most, of these economies
were open to the poorest labourer. Though he owned no land, yet as the
tenant, and probably the permanent tenant, of a cottage and garden he
had the chance to occupy himself in many a craft that tended to his own
comfort. A careful man and wife needed not to despair of becoming rich
in the possession of a cow or a pig or two, and of good clothes and
household utensils; and they might well expect to see their children
grow up strong and prosperous in the peasant way.

Thus the claim that I have made for the peasant tradition--namely, that
it permitted a man to hope for well-being without seeking to escape from
his own class into some other--is justified, partially at least. I admit
that the ambition was a modest one, but there were circumstances
attending it to make it a truly comforting one too. Look once more at
the conditions. The small owners of the parish might occupy more land
than the labourers, and have the command of horses and waggons, and
ploughs and barns, and so on; but they ate the same sort of food and
wore the same sort of clothes as the poorer folk, and they thought the
same thoughts too, and talked in the same dialect, so that the labourer
working for them was not oppressed by any sense of personal inferiority.
He might even excel in some directions, and be valued for his
excellence. Hence, if his ambition was small, the need for it was not
very great.

And then, this life of manifold industry was interesting to live. It is
impossible to doubt it. Not one of the pursuits I have mentioned failed
to make its pleasant demand on the labourer for skill and knowledge; so
that after his day's wage-earning he turned to his wine-making or the
management of his pigs with the zest that men put into their hobbies.
Amateurs the people were of their homely crafts--very clever amateurs,
too, some of them. I think it likely, also, that normally even
wage-earning labour went as it were to a peaceful tune. In the elaborate
tile-work of old cottage roofs, in the decorated ironwork of decrepit
farm-waggons, in the carefully fashioned field-gates--to name but a few
relics of the sort--many a village of Surrey and Hampshire and Sussex
has ample proofs that at least the artisans of old time went about their
work placidly, unhurriedly, taking time to make their products comely.
And probably the same peaceful conditions extended to the labouring
folk. Of course, their ploughing and harvesting have left no traces; but
there is much suggestiveness in some little things one may note, such
as the friendly behaviour of carter-men to their horses, and the
accomplished finish given to the thatch of ricks, and the endearing
names which people in out-of-the-way places still bestow upon their
cows. Quietly, but convincingly, such things tell their tale of
tranquillity, for they cannot have originated amongst a people
habitually unhappy and harassed. But whether the day's work went
comfortably or no, certainly the people's own home-work--to turn to that
again--must often have been agreeable, and sometimes delightful. The
cottage crafts were not all strictly useful; some had simple æsthetic
ends. If you doubt it, look merely at the clipped hedges of box and yew
in the older gardens; they are the result of long and loving care, but
they serve no particular end, save to please the eye. So, too, in
general, if you think that the folk of old were inappreciative of
beauty, you have but to listen to their names of flowers--sweet-william,
hearts-ease, marigold, meadow-sweet, night-shade--for proof that English
peasant-life had its graceful side.

Still, their useful work must, after all, have been the mainstay of the
villagers; and how thoroughly their spirits were immersed in it I
suppose few living people will ever be able to realize. For my part, I
dare not pretend to comprehend it; only at times I can vaguely feel what
the peasant's attitude must have been. All the things of the countryside
had an intimate bearing upon his own fate; he was not there to admire
them, but to live by them--or, say, to wrest his living from them by
familiar knowledge of their properties. From long experience--experience
older than his own, and traditional amongst his people--he knew the soil
of the fields and its variations almost foot by foot; he understood the
springs and streams; hedgerow and ditch explained themselves to him; the
coppices and woods, the water-meadows and the windy heaths, the local
chalk and clay and stone, all had a place in his regard--reminded him of
the crafts of his people, spoke to him of the economies of his own
cottage life; so that the turfs or the faggots or the timber he handled
when at home called his fancy, while he was handling them, to the
landscape they came from. Of the intimacy of this knowledge, in minute
details, it is impossible to give an idea. I am assured of its existence
because I have come across surviving examples of it, but I may not begin
to describe it. One may, however, imagine dimly what the cumulative
effect of it must have been on the peasant's outlook; how attached he
must have grown--I mean how closely linked--to his own countryside. He
did not merely "reside" in it; he was part of it, and it was part of
him. He fitted into it as one of its native denizens, like the hedgehogs
and the thrushes. All that happened to it mattered to him. He learnt to
look with reverence upon its main features, and would not willingly
interfere with their disposition. But I lose the best point in talking
of the individual peasant; these things should rather be said of the
tribe--the little group of folk--of which he was a member. As they, in
their successive generations, were the denizens of their little patch of
England--its human fauna--so it was with traditional feelings derived
from their continuance in the land that the individual peasant man or
woman looked at the fields and the woods.

Out of all these circumstances--the pride of skill in handicrafts, the
detailed understanding of the soil and its materials, the general effect
of the well-known landscape, and the faint sense of something venerable
in its associations--out of all this there proceeded an influence which
acted upon the village people as an unperceived guide to their conduct,
so that they observed the seasons proper for their varied pursuits
almost as if they were going through some ritual. Thus, for instance, in
this parish, when, on an auspicious evening of spring, a man and wife
went out far across the common to get rushes for the wife's hop-tying,
of course it was a consideration of thrift that sent them off; but an
idea of doing the right piece of country routine at the right time gave
value to the little expedition. The moment, the evening, became enriched
by suggestion of the seasons into which it fitted, and by memories of
years gone by. Similarly in managing the garden crops: to be too late,
to neglect the well-known signs which hinted at what should be done,
was more than bad economy; it was dereliction of peasant duty. And thus
the succession of recurring tasks, each one of which seemed to the
villager almost characteristic of his own people in their native home,
kept constantly alive a feeling that satisfied him and a usage that
helped him. The feeling was that he belonged to a set of people rather
apart from the rest of the world--a people necessarily different from
others in their manners, and perhaps poorer and ruder than most, but yet
fully entitled to respect and consideration. The usage was just the
whole series or body of customs to which his own people conformed; or,
more exactly, the accepted idea in the village of what ought to be done
in any contingency, and of the proper way to do it. In short, it was
that unwritten code I spoke of just now--a sort of _savoir vivre_--which
became part of the rural labourer's outlook, and instructed him through
his days and years. It was hardly reduced to thoughts in his
consciousness, but it always swayed him. And it was consistent
with--nay, it implied--many strong virtues: toughness to endure long
labour, handiness, frugality, habits of early rising. It was consistent
too--that must be admitted--with considerable hardness and "coarseness"
of feeling; a man might be avaricious, loose, dirty, quarrelsome, and
not offend much against the essential peasant code. Nor was its
influence very good upon his intellectual development, as I shall show
later on. Yet whatever its defects, it had those qualities which I have
tried to outline; and where it really flourished it ultimately led to
gracefulness of living and love of what is comely and kindly. You can
detect as much still, in the flavour of many a mellow folk-saying, not
to mention folk-song; you may divine it yet in all kinds of little
popular traits, if once you know what to look for.

In this particular valley, where the barren soil challenged the people
to a severer struggle for bare subsistence, the tradition could not put
forth its fairer, its gentler, features; nevertheless the backbone of
the village life was of the genuine peasant order. The cottagers had to
"rough it," to dispense with softness, to put up with ugliness; but by
their own skill and knowledge they forced the main part of their living
out of the soil and materials of their own neighbourhood. And in doing
this they won at least the rougher consolations which that mode of life
had to offer. Their local knowledge was intensely interesting to them;
they took pride in their skill and hardihood; they felt that they
belonged to a set of people not inferior to others, albeit perhaps
poorer and ruder; and all the customs which their situation required
them to follow sustained their belief in the ancestral notions of good
and evil. In other words, they had a civilization to support them--a
poor thing, perhaps, a poor kind of civilization, but their own, and
entirely within the reach of them all. I have no hesitation in affirming
all this; because, though I never saw the system in its completeness, I
came here soon enough to find a few old people still partially living by
it. These old people, fortunate in the possession of their own cottages
and a little land, were keepers of pigs and donkeys, and even a few
cows. They kept bees, too; they made wine; they often paid in kind for
any services that neighbours did for them; and with the food they could
grow, and the firing they could still obtain from the woods and heath,
their living was half provided for. The one of them I knew best was not
the most typical. Shrewd old man that he was, he had adapted himself so
far as suited him to a more commercial economy, and had grown suspicious
and avaricious; yet if he could have been translated suddenly back into
the eighteenth century, he would scarce have needed to change any of his
habits, or even his clothes. He wore an old-fashioned "smock frock,"
doubtless home-made; and in this he pottered about all day--pottered, at
least, in his old age, when I knew him--not very spruce as to personal
cleanliness, smelling of his cow-stall, saving money, wanting no
holiday, independent of books and newspapers, indifferent to anything
that happened farther off than the neighbouring town, liking his pipe
and glass of beer, and never knowing what it was to feel dull. I speak
of him because I knew him personally; but there were others of whom I
used to hear, though I never became acquainted with them, who seem to
have been hardly at all tainted with the commercial spirit, and were
more in the position of labourers than this man, yet lived almost
dignified lives of simple and self-supporting contentment. Of some of
them the middle-aged people of to-day still talk, not without respect.

But in writing of such folk I have most emphatically to use the past
tense; for although a sort of afterglow from the old civilization still
rests upon the village character, it is fast fading out, and it has not
much resemblance to the genuine thing of half a century ago. The direct
light has gone out of the people's life--the light, the meaning, the
guidance. They have no longer a civilization, but only some derelict
habits left from that which has gone. And it is no wonder if some of
those habits seem now stupid, ignorant, objectionable; for the fitness
has departed from them, and left them naked. They were acquired under a
different set of circumstances--a set of circumstances whose
disappearance dates from, and was caused by, the enclosure of the



One usually thinks of the enclosure of a common as a procedure which
takes effect immediately, in striking and memorable change; yet the
event in this village seems to have made no lasting impression on
people's minds. The older folk talk about things that happened "before
the common was enclosed" much as they might say "before the flood," and
occasionally they discuss the history of some allotment or other made
under the award; but one hears little from them to suggest that the
fateful ordinance seemed to them a fateful one at the time.

It may be that the stoical village temper is in part accountable for
this indifference. As the arrangement was presumably made over the heads
of the people, they doubtless took it in a fatalistic way as a thing
that could not be helped and had better be dismissed from their
thoughts. Were this all, however, I think that I should have heard more
of the matter. Had sudden distress fallen upon the valley, had families
been speedily and obviously ruined by the enclosure, some mention of the
fact would surely have reached me. But the truth appears to be that
nothing very definite or striking ensued, to be remembered. The change
was hardly understood, or, at any rate, its importance was not
appreciated, by the people concerned.

Perhaps, indeed, its calamitous nature was veiled at first behind some
small temporary advantages which sprang from it. True, I question if the
benefits experienced here were equal to those which are said to have
been realized in similar circumstances elsewhere. In other parishes,
where the farmers have been impoverished and the labourers out of work,
the latter, at the enclosure of a common, have sometimes found welcome
employment in digging out or fencing in the boundaries of the new
allotments, and in breaking up the fresh ground. So the landowners say.
But here, where there were few men wanting constant labour, the
opportunity of work to do was hardly called for, and the making of
boundaries was in many cases neglected. In that one way, therefore, not
many can have derived any profit from the enclosure. On the other hand,
an advantage was really felt, I think, in the opening that arose for
building cottages on the newly-acquired freeholds. Quite a number of
cottages seem to date from that period; and I infer that the opportunity
was seized by various men who wished to provide new house-room for
themselves, or for a married son or daughter. They could still go to
work almost on the old lines. Perhaps the recognized price--seventy
pounds, it is said to have been, for building a cottage of three
rooms--would have to be exceeded a little, when timbers for floor and
roof could no longer be had for the cutting out of fir-trees on the
common; and yet there, after all, were the trees, inexpensive to buy;
and there was the peasant tradition, still unimpaired, to encourage and
commend such enterprise.

There is really little need, however, for these explanations of the
people's unconcern at the disaster which had, in fact, befallen them.
The passing of the common seemed unimportant at the time, not so much
because a few short-lived advantages concealed its meaning as because
the real disadvantages were slow to appear. At first the enclosure was
rather a nominal event than an actual one. It had been made in theory;
in practice it was deferred. I have just said that in many cases the
boundaries were left unmarked; I may add now that to this day they have
not quite all been defined, although the few spots which remain unfenced
are not worthy of notice. They are to be found only in places where
building is impossible; elsewhere all is now closed in. For it is the
recent building boom that has at last caused the enclosure to take its
full effect. Before that began, not more than ten or twelve years ago,
there were abundant patches of heath still left open; and on many a spot
where nowadays the well-to-do have their tennis or their afternoon tea,
of old I have seen donkeys peacefully grazing. The donkeys have had to
go, their room being wanted, and not many cottagers can keep a donkey
now; but kept they were, and in considerable numbers, until these late
years, in spite of the enclosure. But if the end could be deferred so
long, one may judge how slowly the change began--slowly and
inconspicuously, so that those who saw the beginning could almost ignore
it. Even the cows--once as numerous as the donkeys--were not given up
quite immediately, though in a few years they were all gone, I am told.
But long after them, heath for thatching and firing might still be cut
in waste places; fern continued until six or seven years ago to yield
litter for pig-sties; and since these things still seemed to go on
almost as well after the enclosure as before it, how should the people
have imagined that their ancient mode of life had been cut off at the
roots, and that it had really begun to die where it stood, under their
undiscerning eyes?

Nevertheless, that was the effect. To the enclosure of the common more
than to any other cause may be traced all the changes that have
subsequently passed over the village. It was like knocking the keystone
out of an arch. The keystone is not the arch; but, once it is gone, all
sorts of forces, previously resisted, begin to operate towards ruin, and
gradually the whole structure crumbles down. This fairly illustrates
what has happened to the village, in consequence of the loss of the
common. The direct results have been perhaps the least important in
themselves; but indirectly the enclosure mattered, because it left the
people helpless against influences which have sapped away their
interests, robbed them of security and peace, rendered their knowledge
and skill of small value, and seriously affected their personal pride
and their character. Observe it well. The enclosure itself, I say, was
not actually the cause of all this; but it was the opening, so to speak,
through which all this was let in. The other causes which have been at
work could hardly have operated as they have done if the village life
had not been weakened by the changes directly due to the loss of the

They consisted--those changes--in a radical alteration of the domestic
economy of the cottagers. Not suddenly, but none the less inevitably,
the old thrift--the peasant thrift--which the people understood
thoroughly had to be abandoned in favour of a modern thrift--commercial
thrift--which they understood but vaguely. That was the essential effect
of the enclosure, the central change directly caused by it; and it
struck at the very heart of the peasant system.

For note what it involved. By the peasant system, as I have already
explained, people derived the necessaries of life from the materials and
soil of their own countryside. Now, so long as they had the common, the
inhabitants of the valley were in a large degree able to conform to this
system, the common being, as it were, a supplement to the cottage
gardens, and furnishing means of extending the scope of the little home
industries. It encouraged the poorest labourer to practise, for
instance, all those time-honoured crafts which Cobbett, in his little
book on Cottage Economy, had advocated as the one hope for labourers.
The cow-keeping, the bread-making, the fattening of pigs and curing of
bacon, were actually carried on here thirty years after Cobbett's time,
besides other things not mentioned by him, such as turf-cutting on the
heath and wheat-growing in the gardens. But it was the common that made
all this possible. It was only by the spacious "turn-out" which it
afforded that the people were enabled to keep cows and get milk and
butter; it was only with the turf-firing cut on the common that they
could smoke their bacon, hanging it in the wide chimneys over those old
open hearths where none but such fuel could be used; and, again, it was
only because they could get furze from the common to heat their bread
ovens that it was worth their while to grow a little wheat at home, and
have it ground into flour for making bread. With the common, however,
they could, and did, achieve all this. I am not dealing in supposition.
I have mentioned nothing here that I have not learnt from men who
remember the system still flourishing--men who in their boyhood took
part in it, and can tell how the turfs were harvested, and how the
pig-litter was got home and stacked in ricks; men who, if you lead them
on, will talk of the cows they themselves watched over on the
heath--two from this cottage, three from that one yonder, one more from
Master Hack's, another couple from Trusler's, until they have numbered a
score, perhaps, and have named a dozen old village names. It all
actually happened. The whole system was "in full swing" here, within
living memory. But the very heart of it was the open common.

Accordingly, when the enclosure began to be a fact, when the cottager
was left with nothing to depend upon save his garden alone, as a peasant
he was a broken man--a peasant shut out from his countryside and cut off
from his resources. True, he might still grow vegetables, and keep a pig
or two, and provide himself with pork; but there was little else that he
could do in the old way. It was out of the question to obtain most of
his supplies by his own handiwork: they had to be procured, ready-made,
from some other source. That source, I need hardly say, was a shop. So
the once self-supporting cottager turned into a spender of money at the
baker's, the coal-merchant's, the provision-dealer's; and, of course,
needing to spend money, he needed first to get it.

The change was momentous, as events have sufficiently proved. In the
matter of earning, to be sure, the difference has appeared rather in the
attitude of the people than in the actual method of going about to get
money. To a greater or less extent, most of them were already
wage-earners, though not regularly. If a few had been wont to furnish
themselves with money in true peasant fashion--that is to say, by
selling their goods, their butter, or milk, or pig-meat, instead of
their labour--still, the majority had wanted for their own use whatever
they could produce in this way, and had been obliged to sell their
labour itself, when they required money. Wage-earning, therefore, was no
new thing in the village; only, the need to earn became more insistent,
when so many more things than before had to be bought with the wages.
Consequently, it had to be approached in a more businesslike, a more
commercial, spirit. Unemployment, hitherto not much worse than a
regrettable inconvenience, became a calamity. Every hour's work acquired
a market value. The sense of taking part in time-honoured duties of the
countryside disappeared before the idea--so very important now--of
getting shillings with which to go to a shop; while even the home
industries which were still practicable began to be valued in terms of
money, so that a man was tempted to neglect his own gardening if he
could sell his labour in somebody else's garden. Thus undermined, the
peasant outlook gave way, perforce, to that of the modern labourer, and
the old attachment to the countryside was weakened. In all this change
of attitude, however, we see only one of those indirect results of the
enclosure of the common which were spoken of above. If the villagers
became more mercenary, it was not because the fencing in of the heaths
immediately caused them to become so, but because it left them helpless
to resist becoming so--left them a prey to considerations whose weight
they had previously not so much felt. After all, the new order of things
did but intensify the need of wage-earning; it made no difference in the
procedure of it.

But in regard to spending the case was otherwise. Under the old régime,
although probably a small regular expenditure of money had been usual,
yet in the main the peasant's expenditure was not regular, but
intermittent. Getting so much food and firing by his own labour, he
might go for weeks without needing more than a few shillings to make up
occasional deficiencies. His purse was subject to no such constant drain
as that for which the modern labourer has to provide. In short, the
regular expenses were small, the occasional ones not crushing. But
to-day, when the people can no longer produce for themselves, the
proportion has changed. It has swung round so completely that nearly all
the expenses have become regular, while those of the other sort have
wellnigh disappeared. Every week money has to be found, and not only, as
of old, for rent, and boots, and for some bread and flour, but also for
butter or margarine, sugar, tea, bacon or foreign meat if possible,
lard, jam, and--in the winter, at least--coal. Even water is an item of
weekly expense; for where the company's water is laid on to a cottage,
there is sixpence a week or so added to the rent. The only important
thing which is still not bought regularly is clothing. The people get
their clothes when they can, and when they positively must.

As a result, the former thrift of the village has been entirely
subverted. For earning and spending are not the whole of economy. There
is saving to be considered; and, in consequence of the turn-over of
expenses from the occasional to the regular group, the cottagers have
been obliged to resort to methods of saving specially adapted to the
changed conditions. The point is of extreme importance. Under the old
style, a man's chief savings were in the shape of commodities ready for
use, or growing into use. They were, too, a genuine capital, inasmuch as
they supported him while he replaced and increased them. The flitches of
bacon, the little stores of flour and home-made wine, the stack of
firing, the small rick of fern or grass, were his savings-bank, which,
while he drew from it daily, he replenished betimes as he planted his
garden, and brought home heath and turf from the common, and minded his
pigs and his cow, and put by odd shillings for occasional need. Notice
that putting-by of shillings. It was not the whole, it was only the
completion, of the peasant's thrift. At a pinch he could even do without
the money, paying for what he wanted with a sack of potatoes, or a day's
work with his donkey-cart; but a little money put by was a convenience.
When it was wanted, it was wanted in lump sums--ten shillings now, say,
for a little pig; and then fifteen shillings or so in six weeks' time
for mending the donkey-cart, and so on; and, thanks to the real savings
in the shape of food and firing ready for use, the shillings, however
come by, could be hoarded up.

But under the new thrift they cannot be so hoarded up; nor, fortunately,
are the little lump sums so necessary as before. The real savings now,
the real stores of useful capital, are no longer in the cottager's home.
They are in shops. What the modern labourer chiefly requires, therefore,
is not a little hoard of money lying by, but a regular supply of money,
a constant stream of it, flowing in, to enable him to go to the shops
regularly. In a word, he wants an income--a steady income of shillings.
And since his earnings are not steady--since his income may cease any
day, and continue in abeyance for weeks at a time, during which the
shops will be closed against him, his chief economy is directed upon the
object of insuring his weekly income. Most miserably for him, he has
never been able to insure it against all reverses. Against trade
depression, which throws him out of work and dries up the stream of
money that should come flowing in, he has no protection. He has none if
his employer should go bankrupt, or leave the neighbourhood, and dismiss
him; none against the competition of machinery. Still, the labourers do
as much as they can. Sickness, at least, does not find them unprepared.
To cover loss of wages during sickness, they pay into a benefit society.
The more careful, indeed, pay into two--the Oddfellows or the Foresters,
or some such society--and a local "slate-club." I have known men out of
work living on tea and bread, and not much of that, so that they may
keep up their club payments, and be sure of an income if they should
fall sick; and I have known men so circumstanced immediately feel the
advantage if sickness should actually fall upon them.

This is the new thrift, which has replaced that of the peasant. I do not
say that there is no other saving--that no little sums are hoarded up;
for, in fact, I could name one or two men who, after illness protracted
to the stage when sick-pay from the club is reduced, have still fought
off destitution with the small savings from better times. In most cases,
however, no hoarding is possible. The club takes all the spare money;
and the club alone stands between the labourer and destitution. And let
this be clearly understood. At first it looks as if the member of a club
had money invested in his society--money there, instead of perishable
goods at home. Yet, in fact, that is not the case. His payments into the
club funds are no investment. They bring him no profit; they are not a
useful capital that can be renewed with interest. At the Christmas
"share-out" he does get back a part of the twenty-six shillings
contributed to the slate-club during the year; but the two pounds a
year paid to the benefit society are his no longer; they cannot be
"realized"; they are gone beyond reclaiming. Though he be out of work
and his family starving, he cannot touch the money; to derive any
advantage from it he himself must first fall ill. That is what the
modern thrift means to the labourer. It does nothing to further--on the
contrary, it retards--his prosperity; but it helps him in a particular
kind of adversity. It drains his personal wealth away, and leaves him
destitute of his capital; it robs his wife and children of his savings;
but in return it makes him one of a brotherhood which guarantees to him
a minimum income for a short time, if he should be out of health.

An oldish man, who had been telling me one evening how they used to live
in his boyhood, looked pensively across the valley when he had done, and
so stood for a minute or two, as if trying to recover his impressions of
that lost time. At last, with appearance of an effort to speak
patiently, "Ah," he said, "they tells me times are better now, but I
can't see it;" and it was plain enough that he thought our present times
the worse. So far as this valley is concerned I incline to agree with
him, although in general it is a debatable question. On the one hand, it
may be that the things a labourer can buy at a shop for fifteen
shillings a week are more in quantity and variety, if not better in
quality, than those which his forefathers could produce by their own
industry; and to that extent the advantage is with the present times.
But, on the other hand, the fifteen shillings are not every week
forthcoming; and whereas the old-time cottager out of work could
generally find something profitable to do for himself, the modern man,
having once got his garden into order, stands unprofitably idle.

Perhaps the worst is that, owing to the lowness of their wages, the
people have never been able to give the new thrift a fair trial. After
all, they miss the lump sums laid by against need. If their earnings
would ever overtake their expenses and give a little margin, they might
do better; but buying, as they are obliged to do, from hand to mouth,
they buy at extravagant prices. Coal, for instance, which costs me about
twenty-six shillings for a ton, costs the labourer half as much again as
that, because he can only pay for a hundredweight or so at a time. So,
too, the boots he can get for four or five shillings a pair are the
dearest of all boots. They wear out in a couple of months or so, and
another pair must be bought almost before another four or five shillings
can be spared. In its smaller degree, a still more absurd difficulty
handicaps the people in dealing with their own fruit-crops. To make
raspberry or gooseberry jam should be, you would think, an economy
delightful to the cottage women, if only as a piece of old-fashioned
thrift; yet they rarely do it. If they had the necessary utensils,
still the weekly money at their disposal will not run to the purchase of
extra firing and sugar. It is all too little for everyday purposes, and
they are glad to eke it out by selling their fruit for middle-class
women to preserve, though in the end they have to buy for their own
families an inferior quality of jam at a far higher price.

Wherever you follow it up, you will find the modern thrift not quite
successful in the cottages. It is not elastic enough; or, rather, the
people's means are not elastic enough, and will not stretch to its
demands. There is well-being in it--variety of food, for instance, and
comfort of clothing--as soon as both ends can be made to meet and to lap
over a little; but it strains the small incomes continually to the
breaking-point, so that every other consideration has to give way under
it to a pitiful calculation of pence. For the sake of pence the people
who keep fowls sell the eggs, and feed their children on bread and
margarine; and, on the same principle, they do not even seek to produce
other things which are well within their power to produce, but are too
luxurious for their means. "'Twouldn't be no use for me to grow
strawberries," a man explained; "my children'd have 'em." It sounded a
strange reason, for to what better use could strawberries be put? But it
shows how tightly the people are bound down by their commercial
conditions. In order to make the Saturday's shopping easier, they must
weigh the shillings and pence value of everything they possess and
everything they attempt to do.

These considerations, however, though showing that present times are not
good, do not prove that they are worse than past times. It may be that
there was poverty in the valley before the enclosure of the common quite
as severe as there is now; and, so far as concerns mere economics, that
event did but change the mode of the struggle for existence, without
greatly affecting its intensity. People are poor in a different way now,
that is all. Hence, in its more direct results, the loss of the common
has not mattered much, and it might be forgotten if those results were
the only ones.

But they are not the only ones. The results have spread from the
economic centre outwards until the whole life of the people has been
affected, new influences coming into play which previously were but
little felt. So searching, indeed, has the change been, and so
revolutionary, that anything like a full account of it would be out of
the question. The chapters that follow, therefore, do not pretend to
deal with it at all exhaustively; at most they will but draw attention
to a few of its more striking aspects.



When the half-peasant men of the valley began to enter the labour market
as avowed wage-earners, a set of conditions confronted them which we are
apt to think of as established by a law of Nature, but which, in fact,
may be almost unknown in a peasant community. For the first time the
importance of a "demand for labour" came home to them. I do not say that
it was wholly a new thing; but to the older villagers it had not been,
as it is now to their descendants, the dominating factor in their
struggle for life. On the contrary, in proportion as their labour was
bestowed immediately on productive work for their own uses, the question
whether there was a demand for labour elsewhere did not arise. The
common was indifferent; it wanted none of them. It neither asked them to
avail themselves of its resources, nor paid them money for doing so, nor
refused employment to one because another was already engaged there. But
to-day, instead of going for a livelihood to the impartial heath, the
people must wait for others to set them to work. The demand which they
supply is their own no longer, and no longer, therefore, is their
living in their own hands. Of all the old families in the village, I
think there are only two left now who have not drifted wholly into this
dependent state; but I know numbers of labourers, often out of work,
whose grandfathers were half independent of employers.

In theory, no doubt the advantage ought to be with the present times.
Under the new system a far larger population is able to live in the
parish than could possibly have been supported here under the old; for
now, in place of the scanty products of the little valley and the
heaths, the stores of the whole world may be drawn upon by the
inhabitants in return for the wages they earn. Only there is the awkward
condition that they must earn wages. Those limitless stores cannot be
approached by the labourer until he is invited--until there is "a
demand" for his labour. Property owners, or capitalists, standing
between him and the world's capital, are able to pick and choose between
him and his neighbours as the common never did, and to decide which of
them shall work and have some of the supplies.

And as a consequence of this picking and choosing, competition amongst
the labourers seeking to be employed has become the accepted condition
of getting a living in the village, and it is to a great extent a new
condition. Previously there was little room for anything of the kind.
The old thrift lent itself to co-operation rather. I admit that I have
never heard of any system being brought into the activities of this
valley, such as I witnessed lately in another part of England, where the
small farmers, supplying an external market, and having no hired labour,
were helping one another to get their corn harvested, all being
solicitous for their neighbours' welfare, and giving, not selling, their
labour. Here the conditions hardly required such wholesale co-operation
as that; but in lesser matters both kindliness and economy would counsel
the people to be mutually helpful, and there is no reason to doubt that
the counsel was taken. Those who had donkey-carts would willingly bring
home turfs for those who had none, in return for help with their own
turf-cutting. The bread-ovens, I know, were at the disposal of others
besides the owners. At pig-killing, at thatching, at clearing out wells
(where, in fact, I have seen the thing going on), the people would put
themselves at one another's service. They still do so in cases where
there is no question of earning money for a living. And if the spirit of
friendly co-operation is alive now, when it can so rarely be put in
practice, one may readily suppose that it was fairly vigorous fifty
years ago.

But no spirit of co-operation may now prompt one wage-earner to ask, or
another to proffer, assistance in working for wages. As well might one
shopkeeper propose to wait on another's customers for him. Employers
would not have it; still less would those who are employed. A man may
be fainting at his job, but none dare help him. He would resent, he
would fear, the proposal. The job is, as it were, his property; as long
as he can stand and see he must hold it against all comers, because in
losing hold he loses his claim upon the world's supplies of the
necessaries of life.

In spite of all the latent good-will, therefore, and in spite of the
fact that the cottagers are all on the same social level, intimacies do
not thrive amongst them. If there was formerly any parochial sentiment
in the village, any sense of community of interest, it has all been
broken up by the exigencies of competitive wage-earning, and each family
stands by itself, aloof from all the others. The interests clash. Men
who might be helpful friends in other circumstances are in the position
of rival tradesmen competing for the patronage of customers. Not now may
their labour be a bond of friendship between them; it is a commodity
with a market value, to be sold in the market. Hence, just as in trade,
every man for himself is the rule with the villagers; just as in trade,
the misfortune of one is the opportunity of another. All the maxims of
competitive commerce apply fully to the vendor of his own labour. There
must be "no friendship in business"; the weakest must go to the wall.
Each man is an individualist fighting for his own hand; and to give as
little as he can for as much as he can get is good policy for him, with
precisely the same limitations as those that govern the trading of the
retail merchant, tormented with the conflicting necessities of
overcharging and underselling.

It follows that the villagers are a prey to jealousy and suspicion--not,
perhaps, when they meet at the public-house or on the road, but in the
presence of employers, when any question of employment arises. At such
times one would think that labouring men have no critics so unkindly as
their own neighbours and equals. It is true those who are in constant
work are commended; but if you ask about a man who is "on the market"
and open for any work that may be going, his rivals are unlikely to
answer generously. "So-and-So?... H'm!... He do's his best; but he don't
seem to get _through_, somehow." "Old Who-is-it? Asked _he_ to come and
help me, have ye? Well, you'll judge for yourself; but I don't hardly
fancy he'll suit." Or, again: "Well, we all knows how 'tis with
What's-his-name. I don't say but what he keeps on work right enough; but
he'll have to jump about smarter 'n what I've ever knowed 'n, if he's to
work 'long o' me." So, too often, and sometimes in crueller terms, I
have heard efficient labourers speak of their neighbours. Certainly it
is not all envy. An active man finds it penance to work with a slow one,
and worse than penance; for his own reputation may suffer, if his own
output of work should be diminished by the other's fault. That neighbour
of mine engaged at hop-drying doubtless had good grounds for
exasperation with the helper sent into the kiln, when he complained to
the master: "Call that a _man_ you sent me? If that's what you calls a
man, I'd sooner you let me send for my old woman! Blamed if she wouldn't
do better than that feller!" Detraction like this, no doubt, is often
justified; but when it becomes the rule, the only possible inference is
that an instinctive jealousy prompts men to it, in instinctive

Yet there are depths of dishonour--depths not unknown amongst
employers--into which the village labourers will rarely condescend to
plunge, acute though the temptation may be. Not once have I met with an
instance of one man deliberately scheming to get another man's job away
from him. A labourer unable to keep up with his work will do almost
anything to avoid having a helper thrust upon him--he fears the
introduction of a possible rival into his preserve. But this is not the
same thing as pushing another man out; it has no resemblance to the
behaviour of the hustling capitalist, who opens his big business with
the definite intention of capturing trade away from little businesses.
That is a course to which my impoverished neighbours will not stoop. The
nearest thing to it which I have known was the case of those men
mentioned in an earlier chapter, who applied for Bettesworth's work
during his last illness. They came, however, believing the place to be
vacant; and one and all, with a sincerity I never doubted, deprecated
the idea of desiring to take it away from him. In fact, the application
was distasteful to them. Nothing, I believe, would have prevailed upon
them to make it, short of that hunger for constant employment which many
of the men feel now, under their new competitive thrift. That they
should have been scrupulous at all was to their credit. All their
circumstances constrain the people to be selfish, secret about their
hopes, swift to be first in the field where a chance occurs. And it is
surprising how vigilant a lookout is kept, and how wide a district it
covers. By what routes the news of new employment travels I do not know,
but travel it does, fast and far. Men rise early and walk many miles to
be before others at some place where they have heard of work to be had;
and one gets the impression, sometimes, of a population silently but
keenly watching to see what opportunity of well-being may suddenly fall
to them, not in general, but individually.

Do what they will to be neighbourly, competition for the privilege of
earning wages separates them sooner or later. There were two men I knew
who maintained a sort of comradeship in work during several years, so
that one of them would not take a job unless there was room for the
other, and if either was paid off, the other left with him. They were
amongst the ablest labourers in the parish, used to working long hours
at high pressure, and indifferent to what they did, provided that the
pay was good. I heard of them from time to time--now at railway work,
now at harvesting, now helping where a bridge was being built, and so
on. It was the depression of the winter of 1908-09 that finally broke up
their comradeship. During those miserable months even these two were
unemployed, and went short of food at times; and now they are working
separately--competing one against the other, in fact.



Still more than the relations of the villagers with their own kind their
relations with other sorts of people have suffered change under the new
thrift. To just that extent to which the early inhabitants of the valley
were peasants, they formed, as it were, a separate group, careless of
the outer world and its concerns. They could afford to ignore it, and to
be ignored by it. To them, so well suited with their own outlook and
customs, it was a matter of small importance, though all England should
have other views than theirs, and other manners. And the outer world, on
its side, was equally indifferent. It left the villagers to go their own
queer way, and recognized--as it does in the case of other separate
groups of folk, such as fishermen or costermongers--that what seemed
singular in them was probably justified by the singularity of their
circumstances. Nobody supposed that they were a wrong or a regrettable
type who ought to be "done good to" or reformed. They belonged to their
own set. They were English, of course; but they were outside the
ordinary classifications of English society.

Even towards those of them who went out of the valley to earn wages
this was still the attitude. They went out as peasants, and were
esteemed because they had the ability of peasants. In much the same way
as country folk on the Continent take their country produce into town
markets the men of this valley took, into the hop-grounds and fields of
the neighbouring valley, or into its old-fashioned streets and stable
yards, their toughness, their handiness, their intimate understanding of
country crafts; and, returning home in the evening, they slipped back
again into their natural peasant state, without any feeling of
disharmony from the day's employment.

There was no reason why it should be otherwise. Although, at work, they
had come into contact with people unlike themselves in some ways, the
contrast was not of such a kind that it disheartened or seemed to
disgrace them. At the time of the enclosure of the common, a notable
development, certainly, was beginning amongst the employing classes, but
it had not then proceeded far. Of course the day of the yeoman farmer
was almost done; and with it there had disappeared some of that equality
which permitted wage-earning men to be on such easy terms with their
masters as one hears old people describe. No longer, probably, would a
farmer take a nickname from his men, or suffer them to call his
daughters familiarly by their Christian names; and no longer did master
and man live on quite the same quality of food, or dress in the same
sort of clothes. Nevertheless the distinction between employers and
employed--between the lower middle-class and the working-class--was not
nearly so marked fifty years ago as it has since become. The farmers,
for their part, were still veritable country folk, inheritors themselves
of a set of rural traditions nearly akin to those of the peasant
squatters in this valley. And even the townsmen, who were the only
others who could give employment to these villagers, were extremely
countrified in character. In their little sleepy old town--not half its
present size, and the centre then of an agricultural and especially a
hop-growing district--people were intimately interested in country
things. No matter what a man's trade or profession--linen-draper, or
saddler, or baker, or lawyer, or banker--he found it worth while to
watch the harvests, and to know a great deal about cattle and sheep, and
more than a great deal about hops. Some of the tradesmen were, in fact,
growing wealthy as hop-planters; and one and all identified themselves
with the outdoor industries of the neighbourhood. And though some grew
rich, and changed their style of living, they did not change their
mental equipment, but continued (as I myself remember) more "provincial"
than many a farmer is nowadays. All their thoughts, all their ideas,
could be quite well expressed in the West Surrey and Hampshire dialect,
which the townspeople, like the village folk, continued to speak.

Meanwhile, the work required by these employers ran, as yet, very much
on antiquated lines. Perhaps it was that the use of machinery had
received a setback, twenty years earlier, by the "Swing Riots," of which
a few memories still survive; at any rate haymaking, harvesting,
threshing--all the old tasks, indeed--were still done by hand; thatch
had not gone out of use for barns and stables; nor, for house-roofs, had
imported slates quite taken the place of locally made tiles. The truth
is, the town, in its more complex way, had not itself passed far beyond
the primitive stage of dependence on local resources and local skill. It
is really surprising how few were the materials, or even the finished
goods, imported into it at that time. Clothing stuffs and metals were
the chief of them. Of course the grocers (not "provision merchants"
then) did their small trade in sugar and coffee, and tea and spices;
there was a tinware shop, an ironmonger's, a wine-merchant's; and all
these necessarily were supplied from outside. But, on the other hand, no
foreign meat or flour, or hay or straw or timber, found their way into
the town, and comparatively few manufactured products from other parts
of England. Carpenters still used the oak and ash and elm of the
neighbourhood, sawn out for them by local sawyers: the wheelwright,
because iron was costly, mounted his cartwheels on huge axles fashioned
by himself out of the hardest beech; the smith, shoeing horses or
putting tyres on wheels, first made the necessary nails for himself,
hammering them out on his own anvil. So, too, with many other things.
Boots, brushes, earthenware, butter and lard, candles, bricks--they were
all of local make; cheese was brought back from Weyhill Fair in the
waggons which had carried down the hops; in short, to an extent hard to
realize, the town was independent of commerce as we know it now, and
looked to the farms and forests and the claypits and coppices of the
neighbourhood for its supplies. A leisurely yet steady traffic in rural
produce therefore passed along its streets, because it was the
life-centre, the heart, of its own countryside; and the village
labourer, going in and out upon his town tasks, or even working all day
in some secluded yard behind the street, still found a sort of
homeliness in the materials he handled, and was in touch with the ideas
and purposes of his employer.

Owing to these same circumstances, the wage-earners of that day enjoyed
what their descendants would consider a most blissful freedom from
anxiety. On the one side, the demand for labour was fairly steady. It
was the demand of a community not rapidly growing in numbers, nor yet
subject to crazes and sudden changes of a fashion--a community
patiently, nay, cheerfully, conservative in its ambitions, not given to
rash speculation, but contented to go plodding on in its time-honoured
and modest well-being. What the townsfolk wanted one year they wanted
the next, and so onwards with but quiet progress. And as the demand for
labour was thus steady, so on the other side was the supply of it. A
dissatisfied employer could not advertise, then, in a London daily
paper, and get scores of men applying to him for work at a day's notice;
nor, indeed, would strangers have been able to do the work in many
cases, so curiously was its character determined by local conditions.
Besides, town opinion, still prejudiced by memories of the old Poor Law,
would have viewed with extreme disfavour, had such an experiment ever
been tried, the importation of men and families whose coming must surely
result in pauperism for somebody, and in a consequent charge upon the

So, putting together the leading factors--namely, a steady demand for
countrified labour, a steady supply of it, and an employing class full
of country ideas--we get a rough idea of the conditions of wage-earning
in the neighbourhood, when the folk of this valley, fenced out from
their common, were forced to look to wage-earning as their sole means of
living. That the conditions were ideal it would be foolish to suppose;
but that, for villagers at least, they had certain advantages over
present conditions is not to be denied. Especially we may note two
unpleasing features of modern wage-earning which had not then made their

In the first place, the work itself was interesting to do, was almost
worth doing for its own sake, when it still called for much old-world
skill and knowledge, and when the praises of the master were the
praises of an expert who well knew what he was talking about. On these
terms, it was no mean pleasure that the able labouring men had in their
labour. They took a pride in it--as you may soon discern if you will
listen to the older men talking. I have heard them boast, as of a
triumph, of the fine flattering surprise of some master, when he had
come to look at their day's work, and found it more forward, or better
done, than he had dared to hope. The words he said are treasured up with
delight, and repeated with enthusiasm, after many years.

As for the other point, it has already been touched upon. Harsh the
employers might be--more callous by far, I believe, than they are now;
but in their general outlook they were not, as yet, so very far removed
from the men who worked for them. Their ideas of good and bad were such
as the peasant labourer from this valley could understand; and master
and man were not greatly out of touch in the matter of civilization. It
made a vast difference to the labourer's comfort. He might be hectored,
bullied, cheated even, but he hardly felt himself degraded too. It was
not a being out of another sphere that oppressed him; not one who
despised him, not one whose motives were strange and mysterious. The
cruellest oppression was inhuman rather than unhuman--the act, after
all, only of a more powerful, not of a more dazzling, personage--so that
it produced in him no humiliating sense of belonging to an inferior
order of creation. And, of course, oppression was exceptional. Employers
were obliged to get on comfortably with their work-people, by the
conditions governing the supply of labour. I have in my mind several
cases mentioned to me by people long ago dead, in which men for various
faults (drunkenness in one instance, theft in another) were dismissed
from their employment again and again, yet as often reinstated, because
the master found it easier to put up with their faults than to do
without their skill. It may be inferred, therefore, that ordinary men
got along fairly well with their masters in the ordinary course.

This state of things, however, has gradually passed away. As I shall
show in another chapter, the labourer may now take but little interest
and but little pride in his work; but the change in that direction is
not more pronounced than is the change in the relations between the
villagers and the employing classes. It is a cruel evil that the folk of
the valley have suffered there. No longer are they a group whose
peculiarities are respected while their qualities are esteemed. In their
intercourse with the outer world they have become, as it were, degraded,
humiliated; and when they go out of the valley to earn wages, it is to
take the position of an inferior and almost servile race. The reason is
that the employing class, as a whole, has moved on, leaving the
labourers where they were, until now a great gulf divides them. Merely
in relative wealth, if that were all, the difference has widened
enormously. Seventy or eighty years ago, I have heard say, the
shopkeeper in the town who had as much as a hundred pounds put by was
thought a rich man. There are now many artisans there whose savings
exceed that figure, while the property of the townsmen who employ labour
is, of course, valued often in thousands. The labouring people alone
remain without savings, as poor as their grandfathers when the common
was first enclosed.

But it is a question of civilization far more than of wealth that now
divides the employing classes from the employed. The former have
discarded much of their provincialism; they are astir with ambitions and
ideas at which the old town would have stood aghast. In beliefs and in
tastes they are a new people. They have new kinds of knowledge; almost
one may say that they use their brains in new ways; and the result is
that between them and the village labourer mutual understanding has
broken down. How far the separation has gone is betrayed in the fact
that the countrified speech, common to village and town fifty years ago,
has become a subject of derision to the town-people, forgetful of their
own ancestry. So, in field and street and shop, the two kinds of folk
meet face to face, not with an outlook, and hardly with a speech, which
both can appreciate, but like distinct races, the one dominant, the
other subject.

And, all but inevitably, the breach is daily widened by the conditions
on which the new civilization of the employing class is based. For, with
all its good features, it is rather a barbaric civilization, in this
sense--that it is more a matter of fineness in possessions than in
personal qualities. It cannot be maintained without a costly apparatus
of dress and furniture, and of drudges to do the dirty work; and
consequently it demands success in that competitive thrift which gives a
good money-income. Without that the employers are nowhere. They are
themselves driven very hard; they must make things pay; to secure the
means of civilization for themselves, they must get them out of the
labourer with his eighteen shillings a week. In vain, therefore, are
they persuaded by their newest ideas to see in him an Englishman as good
as themselves: they may assent to the principle, but in practice it is
as imperative as ever to make him a profitable drudge. Accordingly,
those relations of mutual approval which were not uncommon of old
between master and man cannot now be maintained. If it is impossible for
the village folk to understand the town folk, it is equally impossible
for the town folk to understand the village folk. They cannot afford to
understand. The peasant outlook is out of date--a cast-off thing; and
for cleaving to it the labourer is despised. If he could be civilized,
and yet be made to "pay," that is what would best suit the
middle-classes; and that is really the impossible object at which they
aim, when they try to "do him good." They want to make him more like
themselves, and yet keep him in his place of dependence and humiliation.

It must be said that amongst a section of the employers there is no
desire to "do good" even on these terms. While the labouring people, on
their side, betray little or no class feeling of hostility towards
employers, the converse is not true, but jealousy, suspicion, some
fear--the elements of bitter class-war, in fact--frequently mark the
attitude of middle-class people towards the labouring class. It seems to
be forgotten that the men are English. One hears them spoken of as an
alien and objectionable race, worth nothing but to be made to work. The
unemployment which began to beggar so many of my village neighbours
after the South African War was actually welcomed by numerous employers
in this district. "It will do the men good," people said to me; "it will
teach them their place. They were getting too independent." The election
of 1906, when the Conservative member for the division was unseated,
brought out a large crop of similarly malevolent expressions. "Look at
the class of people who have the vote," said a disgusted villa lady,
with her nose in the air. "Only the low, ignorant people wear those
colours," another lady assured her little boy, whose eyes preferred
"those colours" to the favours in his own buttonhole. More pointed was
the overheard remark of a well-to-do employer, irritated by the election
crowds in the town: "As my wife says, it was bad enough before. The
children of the lower classes used, as it was, to take the inside of the
pavement, and we had to walk on the kerb. But now we shall be driven out
into the road."

I would not mention these things were it not for their significance to
the village folk. By becoming wage-earners solely, the villagers have
fallen into the disfavour of an influential section of the
middle-classes, most of whom have no other desire than to keep them in a
sufficient state of servility to be useful. How else is one to interpret
that frequent middle-class outcry against education: "What are we going
to do for servants?" or how else the grudging attitude taken up towards
the few comforts that cottage people are able to enjoy? I listened
lately to two men talking of "Tariff Reform"--one of them a commercial
traveller, lofty in his patriotism. When mention was made of some old
man's tale, that in his boyhood be rarely tasted meat, "unless a sheep
died," the commercial traveller commented scornfully, "And now every
working man in the kingdom thinks he must have meat twice a day"--as
though such things ought not to be in the British Empire. The falsehood
of the remark enhanced its significance. It was the sort of thing to say
in hotel-bars, or in the offices of commerce--the sort of thing that
goes down well with employers. It indicated that the animus of which I
am speaking is almost a commonplace. In truth, I have heard it expressed
dozens of times, in dozens of ways, yet always with the same implied
suggestion, that the English labouring classes are a lower order of
beings, who must be treated accordingly.

And yet employers of this type, representing the wealth, perhaps, but by
no means the culture, of modern civilization, are, in fact, nearer to
the unlettered labourers in their outlook, and are therefore by far less
embarrassing to them, than those of another and kindlier type which
figures largely in this parish to-day. Those people for whom the
enclosure of the common, as it has turned out, made room in the
valley--I mean the well-to-do residents--employ local labour, not for
profit at all, but to minister to their own pleasure, in their gardens
and stables, and the majority of them would be genuinely glad to be
helpful to their poorer neighbours. The presence of poverty reproaches
them; their consciences are uneasy; or, better still, some kind of
regard, some kind of respect, goes out from them towards the toilsome
men and the over-burdened women whom, in fact, they have displaced. Yet
compassion is not the same thing as understanding, and the cottagers
know very well that even their best friends of this kind have neither
the knowledge nor the taste to appreciate them in their own way.
Sympathy for their troubles--yes, there is that; but sympathy with
their enjoyments hardly any property-owner dreams of cultivating; and
this is the more true the more the property-owner has been polished by
his own civilization. A lady long resident here was quite surprised to
hear from me, some months ago, that the cottagers are ardent gardeners.
"Dear me!" she said; "I had no idea of it." And yet one of the ablest
men of the parish had tended her own garden for years.

Hence it is in their intercourse with these--the well-meaning and
cultivated--that the villagers are most at a loss. In those embittered
employers who merely seek to make money out of him the labourer does at
least meet with some keen recognition of his usefulness; but with these
others he is all at sea. Non-introspective, a connoisseur of garden
crops and of pig-sties, and of saved-up seeds; cunning to understand the
"set" of spade or hoe, and the temper of scythe and fag-hook; jealous of
the encroachment of gravelled walk or evergreen hedge upon the useful
soil; an expert in digging and dunging--he is very well aware that the
praises of the villa-people employing him are ignorant praises. His best
skill is, after all, overlooked. The cunning of his craft excites in
them none of the sympathy of a fellow-expert, and is but poorly rewarded
by their undiscriminating approval. At the same time, the things which
these people require of him--the wanton things they ask him to do with
the soil, levelling it to make lawns, wasting it upon shrubberies and
drives, while they fence-in the heath patches and fence-out the
public--prove to him more fully than any language can do that they put a
different sort of value upon the countryside from its old value, and
that they care not a straw for the mode of life that was his before they
came here. All their ways are eloquent of condemnation of his tastes.
And yet again, while his old skill fails to be understood, and his old
outlook to be appreciated, he finds that the behaviour preferred in him
is oftener than not a behaviour which his forefathers would have thought
silly, to say the least--a finikin, fastidious behaviour, such as he
would scorn to practise at home. Thus in all ways the employers most
conscientiously humane are those who can least avoid, in their tastes
and their whole manner of living, snubbing him and setting him down in
an inferior place. They cannot help it, now that they have thrust
themselves upon him as neighbours. The more they interest themselves in
him, the more glaringly is the difference which separates themselves
from him brought out.

Whether, if the common had remained open, the villagers could still have
held aloof, at this time of day, from the movements of the outer world
is a question not worth discussion. The enclosure was brought to pass;
the keystone was knocked out of the arch; and here are some of the
indirect consequences. From a position in which the world's
distinctions of class and caste were hardly noticed--a position which
was, so to speak, an island of refuge, where self-respect could be
preserved in preserving the old rough peasant ways--the valley folk have
been forced into such relations with the world outside the valley as we
have seen. They are no longer a separate set, unclassified, but a grade
has been assigned to them in the classification of society at large, and
it is wellnigh the lowest grade of all, for only the pauper and criminal
classes are below them. In this sense, therefore, they are a "degraded"
people, though by no fault of their own. Amongst "the masses" is where
they are counted. Moreover, since they are now, as we have seen,
competing against one another for the right to live, none of the
concessions are made to them now that were of old made to the group of
them, but they count, and are judged, individually, amongst the millions
of the English proletariat. "Inferiority" has come into their lives; it
is expected of them to treat almost everybody else as a superior person.
But the cruellest indignity of all is that, although we regard them as
inferiors, we still look to them to admire and live up to our standards;
and they are to conform to our civilization, yet without the income it
requires or the social recognition it should secure. And if they will
not do this willingly, then shall they be coerced, or at least kept in
order, by "temperance" and other "reforming" legislation, and by the



The effects of this "inferiority" which has been thrust upon the
villagers are not exactly conspicuous in any particular direction. As it
has been shown already, the people themselves seem almost unaware of any
grievance in the matter, the change having come upon them too gradually
for it to be sharply felt. They bear no malice against their employers.
You would hardly learn, from anything that they consciously say or do,
that in becoming so humiliated they have been hurt in their feelings, or
have found it necessary to change their habits.

Indeed, the positive alteration in their manners, by which I mean the
adoption of new ways in place of old ones, has probably not amounted to
a great deal. I admit that I have no means of estimating how much it
does amount to. During fifty years, in which every cottager must now and
then have become aware of constraint put upon him or her by the superior
attitude of the employing class, it is quite possible that there have
been innumerable small concessions and adaptations of manner, and that
these have accumulated into a general change which would surprise us if
it could be measured. But I incline to think that the effects of
class-pressure have been chiefly negative; that, while employers have
been adopting new modes of life, all that has happened to the labouring
folk here in the valley is that this or that habit, found inexpedient at
last, has been quietly dropped. A sort of reserve in the village temper,
a want of gaiety, a subdued air--this, which one cannot help observing,
is probably the shadow cast upon the people from the upraised
middle-class. It looks suggestive, too. Yet, upon examining it, one
fails to find in it any definite token that would show exactly how and
where the village temper has been touched, or in what light "superior"
persons are regarded in the cottages. The people appear enigmatic. They
keep their own counsel. Whether they are bewildered or amused at the
behaviour of employers, or alarmed or embittered by it, or actually
indifferent to it, no sign escapes them when members of the employing
class are by.

In these circumstances, it is instructive to turn aside for a while from
the grown-up people of the village, and to consider their children;
because the children do not learn about the employing class by direct
intercourse, but derive from their parents such ideas as they have of
what is safe to do, and what is proper, where employing people are
concerned. As soon as this truth is realized, a curious significance
appears in some characteristic habits of the village school boys and
girls. The boys, especially, deserve remark. That they are in general
"rough," "uncivilized," I suppose might go without saying. It might also
go without saying, were it not that the comparison turns out to be
useful, that in animal spirits, physical courage, love of mischief and
noise, they are at least a match for middle-class boys who go to the
town grammar-school. I wish I could say that they have an equally good
sense of "playing the game," an equally strong _esprit de corps_, and so
on. Unfortunately, these traditions have hardly reached the village
school as yet, and perhaps will not easily make their way there, amongst
the children of parents whom the struggle for life compels to be so
suspicious and jealous. The question is, however, beside the point now.
Viewed without prejudice, the village boys must be thought quite as good
material as any other English boys; you can see that there is the making
of strong and brave men in them. With similar chances they would not be
inferior in any respect to the sons of the middle classes.

But under existing conditions the two sorts of boys develop some curious
differences of habit. Where those from middle-class homes are
self-possessed, those from the labourers' cottages are not merely shy,
not merely uncouth and lubberly; they grow furtive, suspicious, timid as
wild animals, on the watch for a chance to run. Audacious enough at
bird's-nesting, sliding, tree-climbing, fighting, and impertinent enough
towards people of their own kind, they quail before the first challenge
of "superiority." All aplomb goes from them then. It is distressing to
see how they look: with an expression of whimpering rebellion, as though
the superior person had unhuman qualities, not to be reckoned on--as
though there were danger in his presence. An incident of a few years
ago, very trumpery in itself, displayed to me in the sharpest
distinctness the contrast between the two orders of boys in this
respect. In the hedge which parts my garden from the lane there is a
nut-tree, too tempting to all boys when the nuts are ripe. At that
season one hears whispered and exclamatory confabulations going on in
the lane, and then large stones go crashing up into the tree, falling
back sometimes within the hedge, where there is a bit of grass and a
garden seat. Occasionally, playing the absurd part of irate
property-owner, I have gone to the gate near by to drive off the
offenders, but have opened it only in time to see a troop of urchins,
alarmed by the click of the gate-latch, scurrying away like rabbits
round the bend of the lane. One Sunday afternoon, however, when I looked
out after a stone had fallen nearly on my head, it was to find two boys
calmly waiting for me to approach them. Their school caps showed them to
be two boys of the grammar-school. The interview went comically. Upon
being told crossly that they were a nuisance, the boys apologized--an
act which seemed to put me in the wrong. In my annoyance at that, I
hinted ironically that, in fact, I was a benevolent person, quite
willing to admit boys inside the hedge to pick up nuts, if nuts they
really must have. Then I turned away. To my astonishment, they took me
at my word, followed me into the garden, and calmly began to pick up
nuts; while I withdrew, discomfited. I have since smiled to think of the
affair; but I recall it now with more interest, for the sake of the
contrast it affords between middle-class boys and labouring-class boys
in exactly similar circumstances. Where the former behave confidently,
because they feel safe, the latter are overtaken by panic, and run to

In this light another curious fact about the village boys gains in
significance, supposing it to be indeed a fact. From the nature of the
case, proof is not possible, but I have a strong impression that,
excepting to go to the town, the boys of the village rarely, if ever,
stray into neighbouring parishes, or more than a few hundred yards away
from their parents' homes. One exception must be noted. In the lonely
and silent fir-woods, which begin in the next valley and stretch away
over ridge and dell for some miles from south-east to south-west, one
sometimes comes upon a group of village children--little boys and girls
together--filling sacks with fir-cones, and pushing an old perambulator
to carry the load. But these are hardly voluntary expeditions; and the
boys are always very small ones, while the girls are in charge. The
bigger boys, of from ten to thirteen years old, do not go into the
woods. They play in the roads and pathways, or on the corners of unused
land, and as a rule within sight or call of home. I have never seen any
of them, as I have occasionally seen middle-class boys from the town,
rambling far afield in the outlying country, and my belief is that they
would be considerably scared to find themselves in such unfamiliar

Assuming that I am right, yet another contrast presents itself. It was
in this very neighbourhood that William Cobbett, as a little boy, played
off upon the huntsman that trick of revenge which he bragged about in
after-life. For five or six miles across country, over various streams,
through woods and heaths and ploughed upland fields, he made his way all
alone, dragging his red herring, perfectly confident in himself, never
at a loss to know where he was, but thoroughly familiar with the lie of
the land most suitable for his game. Of course, not many boys are
Cobbetts. Yet many of the village boys, even now, would be his match at
other games. For here, on the shelving sand-banks beside the stream, I
have seen them enjoying rough-and-tumble romps like those which the
little Cobbett lived to think the best part of his education; and they
do it with a recklessness which even he can scarce have surpassed. But
in getting about the country they do not so much as begin to emulate
him. Of course, it is true that now they have to spend their days in
school; true, too, that the enclosures of land throughout the
neighbourhood have made wandering less easy in our times; nevertheless,
within a few miles there are woods and heath-lands in plenty for
adventurous boys, as those of the middle-class are aware; yet those of
the village never risk the adventure. I can but infer that they are
afraid of something, and a moment's thought discloses what they fear.
Just as in meddling with my nut-tree, so everywhere they are in danger
of trouble with people of the propertied or employing kind; and behind
these people stands the policeman, and behind the policeman that dim
object of dread called "a summons." This it is that keeps the village
children within the bounds familiar to them, where they know who is who,
and what property belongs to which owner, and how far they may risk
doing mischief, and round what corners they may scamper into safety.

The caution they display is not unnecessary. Somehow, middle-class boys
do not get into trouble with the law; but it happens not infrequently
that a few little villagers are "pulled up" before a magistrate for
trivial acts of mischief, and if the worst punishment inflicted upon
them is a shilling fine and costs, which their parents pay, that is
enough to make "a summons" a very dreadful thing to a little boy. Out of
eighteen shillings a week, his father cannot afford "a shilling and
costs" for a piece of mischief, as the little boy is but too likely to
be shown.

Children's memories are short, however, and it takes more than an
occasional punishment of two or three to inspire in them all a
timorousness so instinctive in character as that of these village boys.
At the back of it there must be a more constant and pervasive influence.
And, to come to the point at last, I think that the boys are swayed,
unwittingly, by an attitude in the grown-up people with whom they
live--an attitude of habitual wariness, not to say fear, in regard to
everything connected with property and employers. This is what makes the
timidity of the village urchins interesting. We may discern in it the
expression of a feeling prevalent throughout the cottages--an unreasoned
but convinced distrust of propertied folk, and a sense of being
unprotected and helpless against their privileges and power. Here,
accordingly, is one direction in which class distinction has seriously
affected the villagers. It would be an exaggeration to say that they
feel like outlaws; but they are vaguely aware of constraint imposed upon
them by laws and prejudices which are none too friendly to people of
their kind. One divines it in their treatment of the village policeman.
There is probably no lonelier man in the parish than the constable. Of
course he meets with civility, but his company is avoided. One hears
him mentioned in those same accents of grudging caution which the
villagers use in speaking of unfriendly property-owners, as though he
belonged to that alien caste. The cottagers feel that they themselves
are the people whom he is stationed in the valley to watch.

They feel it; nor can it be denied that there is some excuse for the
feeling. It is true that they far outnumber the employers, so that,
other things being equal, from their more numerous ranks there would
naturally come a larger number of offenders against the law. But other
things are not equal. The proportion is not kept. Anyone who studies the
police-court reports in the local papers will see that, apart from cases
of technical offence, like riding a bicycle on the footpath, or keeping
a dog without a licence, practically all the proceedings are taken in
defence of the privileges and prejudices of the employing classes
against the employed classes. Clearly the village idea is not wholly
wrong. In theory, the policeman represents the general public; in
practice, he stands for middle-class decorum and the rights of property;
and what the people say is roughly true--there is one law for the rich,
and another for the poor.

But it is only roughly true, and one must get it a little more exact to
appreciate the position in which the labouring-folk stand. I am not
disposed to say anything here against the administration of the law by
the justices, when offenders are brought before them; but in the choice
or detection of offenders I must point out that a great deal of respect
of persons is shown. Remember what that old man said, who would have
liked to see the fir-woods go up in flames: "'Tis all fenced in, and now
if you looks over the fence you be locked up for it." That was an
exaggeration, of course--a sort of artistic licence, a piece of oratory;
yet for him the assertion held more than a grain of truth. The case is
that of the two sorts of boys over again. Where a middle-class man may
take his Sunday walk securely, risking nothing worse than being civilly
turned back by a game-keeper, these village men dare not go, unless they
are prepared to answer a summons for "trespassing for an unlawful
purpose," or "in search of game." Let it be admitted that the unlawful
purpose is sometimes proved; at least, the trespassers are occasionally
found to have rabbit-wires concealed about their persons. The remarkable
thing, however, is that they should have been searched in order to make
this discovery. The searching may be legal, for all that I know; yet I
do not seem to see a middle-class man--a shopkeeper from the town, or
any employer of labour--submitting to the process, as the cowed
labouring man apparently does. It will be said that the middle-class man
is in no fear of such an outrage, because he is not suspect. But that is
conceding the greater part of what I wish to demonstrate. Rightly or
wrongly, the labouring man is suspect. A distinction of caste is made
against him. The law, which pretends to impartiality, sets him in a
lower and less privileged place than his employers; and he knows it. In
alleging that he might not look over a fence without being locked up for
it my old acquaintance merely overstated a palpable truth. People of his
rank--cottage people, labouring people--do, indeed, not dare to wander
in country places anywhere off the public roads.

Much more might be said on the same lines. Whether inevitably or no, at
all events it happens that the march of respectability gives, to
regulations which may be quite proper in themselves, a very strong
appearance of being directed against the poorer working people. No doubt
it is right enough that the brawling of the "drunk and disorderly" on
the highroads should be checked; the public interest demands it; yet the
impression conveyed is that the regulations are enforced more for the
pleasure of property-owners than anybody else; that, in fact,
middle-class respectability has, so to speak, made this law especially
with a view to keeping the working classes in order. I am not urging
that in this there is any substantial grievance; the offence is rarely
committed by others than labourers, and by them too often. Yet it is
well known that, while a labourer roystering along the road is pounced
upon and locked up, an employer the worse for drink is shepherded home
from his hotel by the police, and the affair hushed up. From
circumstances like these--and they are very common--a suspicion is bred
in cottage people that they are not in good odour with the authorities.
The law rather tolerates than befriends them. They are not wanted, are
not regarded as equal fellow-citizens with the well-to-do, but are
expected to be quiet, or to keep out of sight. English people though
they are, yet, if nobody will employ them so that they can pay rent for
a cottage, they have no admitted rights in England--unless it be to go
to the workhouse or to keep moving on upon the public road. In endless
ways the sense of inequality is impressed upon them. I opened the local
paper lately, and read of four of our young labourers accused of
"card-playing." The game was "Banker," the policeman told the
magistrates--as if gentlemen were likely to know what that meant!--and
he had caught the fellows red-handed, in some as yet unfenced nook of
the heath. That was how they were in fault. They should not have been
playing where they could be seen, in the open air; they should have
taken their objectionable game out of sight, into some private house, as
the middle-classes do--and as, I suppose, the policeman himself must
have done in his time, since he knew the game. Unfortunately for the
labouring men, they have no private house available: there is no room
for a card-party in their cottages; and thus they become subject to laws
which, as they do not touch the property-owner, seem designed to catch
especially them. For another example of the same insinuation of
inequality, consider the local by-laws, which now forbid the keeping of
pigs within a considerable distance of a dwelling-house. I will not say
that the villager thinks the regulation a wrong one; at any rate he
understands that it is excused in the interests of public health. But he
also knows that it has been introduced since the arrival of middle-class
people in the parish. They came, and his pigs had to go; so that in his
eyes even the general public health looks like the health of rich
residents rather than of poor ones.

The people display little resentment; they accept their position with
equanimity. Nevertheless it drives them in upon themselves. Observing
the conditions, and yielding to them as to something inherent in the
nature of things, they strive to keep out of the way of the superior
classes. They are an aloof population, though not as their ancestors
were. They are fenced out from the country; they cannot with security go
into enclosed wood or coppice; they must keep to the public way, and
there they must behave so as not to disturb the employing classes.
Accordingly, all up and down the valley they restrict themselves more
and more soberly to their gardens and cottages, dreading few things so
much as a collision with those impersonal forces which seem always to
side with property and against people like them.



It might be thought that at least when they are at home the people would
be untroubled; yet that is not the case. Influences from the new
civilization reach them in their cottages, and the intrusion is but the
more searching for being impersonal.

It is borne in upon the senses in the shape of sights and sounds
proclaiming across the valley that the village is an altered place, that
the modern world is submerging it, that the old comfortable seclusion is
gone. Even the obscurity of winter nights does not veil that truth; for
where, but a few years ago, the quiet depths of darkness were but
emphasized by a few glimmering cottage lights, there is now a more
brilliant sparkling of lit-up villa windows, while northwards the sky
has a dull glare from new road-lamps which line the ridge on its town
side. As for the daytime, the labourer can hardly look from his door
without seeing up or down the valley some sign or other telling of the
invasion of a new people, unsympathetic to his order. He sees, and hears
too. As he sweats at his gardening, the sounds of piano-playing come to
him, or of the affected excitement of a tennis-party; or the braying of
a motor-car informs him that the rich who are his masters are on the
road. And though the man should go into his cottage and shut the door,
these things must often have for him a sinister meaning which he cannot
so easily shut out. There is a vague menace in them. They betoken to all
the labouring people that their old home is no longer quite at their own
disposal, but is at the mercy of a new class who would willingly see
their departure.

Perhaps the majority do not feel themselves personally threatened;
nevertheless, the situation is disquieting for all. Before the
property-owners came, and while still the population was homogeneous, a
sort of continuity in the life of the valley impressed itself upon one's
consciousness, giving a sense of security. Here amidst the heaths a
laborious and frugal people, wise in their own fashion, had their home
and supplied their own wants. Not one of them probably thought of the
significance of it all, or understood how the village traditions were
his inheritance; not one considered what it meant to him to belong to
the little group of folk and be independent of the whims of strangers.
Yet, for all that, there was comfort in the situation. To be so familiar
as the people were with the peculiarities of the valley, to appreciate
the usefulness of the wide heath-land, to value the weather, to
comprehend at a glance the doings of the neighbours, and to have
fellow-feeling with their motives and hopes and disappointments, was to
be at home most intimately, most safely. But all this is a thing of the
past. To-day, when the labourer looks around, much of what he sees in
the new houses, roads, fences, and so on, has, indeed, been produced by
his own handiwork, but it is a product in the enjoyment of which he has
no share. It has nothing to do with him and his people; on the contrary,
it announces the break-up of the traditional industries by which he
lived, and the disintegration of the society of which he was a member.
It follows that a certain suggestiveness which used to dignify the home
pursuits of the village is wanting to them now. Instead of being a part
of the general thrift of the valley--a not unworthy contribution to that
which, in the sum, was all important to the village life--those little
jobs which the labourer does at home, including his garden-work, have no
relation now to anything save his private necessities, because now the
dominant interests of the valley are those of a different sort of people
who care nothing for such homely things. I shall be told that, after
all, this is mere sentiment. But, then, half the comfort of life
proceeds from those large vague sentiments which lift a man's private
doings up from meanness into worthiness. No such enrichment, however--no
dim sense of sharing in a prosperous and approved existence--can reward
the labourer's industry in this place at the present time. The clever
work which, in the village of his equals, would have made him
conspicuous and respected, now stamps him as belonging to the least
important and least considered section of the population.

Still, I will waive this point. Assuming--though it is much to
assume--that the cottagers have no sentiment in the matter, there are
other circumstances in the change which cannot fail to disquiet them. I
hinted just now that the "residential" people would not grieve if the
labouring folk took their departure. Now, this is no figure of speech.
Although it is likely that not one cottager in twenty has any real cause
to fear removal, there has been enough disturbance of the old families
to prove that nobody is quite safe. Thus, about two years ago, when some
cottage property near to a new "residence" was bought up by the owner of
the residence, it was commonly said that he had bought it in order to
get rid of some of the tenants, whom he disliked for neighbours. Whether
or not that was the real reason I do not know; but certain it is that
two of the tenants were forthwith turned out--one of them after
twenty-five years of occupancy. It was not the first case of the kind in
the village, nor yet the last. At the present moment I know of three
families who are likely ere long to have to quit. They live in a block
of cottages just beyond the hedge of a substantial house--a block which,
it must be owned, is rather an eyesore from there, but which might
easily be turned into a decent villa, and is actually up for sale for
that purpose. And the dwellers in the substantial house are fervently
hoping that a buyer of the cottages will soon come forward. They have
told me so themselves. "Of course," they say, "we shall be sorry for the
poor people to be turned out, but we should like to have nicer
neighbours, of our own sort." So in their own valley these English
people are not safe from molestation. With scarce more care for them
than would be shown by a foreign invader, gentility pursues its ungentle
aims. No cottager can feel quite secure. A dim uncertainty haunts the
village, with noticeable effect upon everybody's activities. For a sort
of calculating prudence is begotten of it, which yet is not thrift. It
dissuades the people from working for a distant future. It cuts off
hope, benumbs the tastes, paralyzes the aspiration to beautify the home
which may any day have to be abandoned.

And in the long run this effect, from which all the people suffer more
or less unconsciously, is more injurious than the actual misfortune of
having to move, which, after all, falls upon the few only. Not that I
would make light of that calamity. Men under its shadow lie awake o'
nights, worrying about it. While I am writing here, in a cottage near at
hand there is a man under notice to quit, who is going through all the
pitiful experiences--wondering where in the world he shall take his wife
and children, fearing lest it should have to be into some backyard in
the town, dreading that in that case he will be too far away from his
day's work and have to give it up, and scheming to save enough, from the
cost of bread and boots, to pay for a van to move his furniture. It is
not for any fault that he is to go. And indeed he is being well treated;
for the owner, who wants to occupy the cottage himself, has waited
months because the man cannot find another place. Nevertheless he will
have to go. As a rule, a man under notice to quit is in the position of
standing by and seeing his home, and his living, and the well-being of
his family sacrificed to the whim of a superior whom he dares not
oppose; and I do not dream of arguing that that is a tolerable position
for any Englishman to be in. None the less, it is true that these acute
troubles, which fall upon a few people here and there, and presently are
left behind and forgotten, are of less serious import than the injury to
the village at large, caused by the general sense of insecurity.

The people's tastes are benumbed, I said: their aspirations to beautify
their homes are paralyzed by the want of permanence in their condition.
To make this quite plain, it would be only needful to look at the few
cottages in the valley still inhabited by their owners, and to compare
them with those let to weekly tenants. It seems to be no question of
income that makes the difference between the two. In several cottages
very well known to me, the owners are not earning more than fifteen
shillings a week--or, including the value of the cottage, twenty
shillings; yet the places, in their varied ways, all look comfortable
and comely. Fruit-trees, or grape-vines, or roses, are trained to the
walls. The boundary hedges are kept well trimmed; here and there
survives a box border--product of many years of clipping--or even a
yew-tree or two fancifully shaped out. Here and there, too, leading to
the cottage door, is carefully preserved an example of those neat
pavements of local stone once so characteristic of this countryside; and
in all these things one sees what the average cottager would do if it
were worth while--if he had the heart. Since none of these things,
however, can be had without long attention, or, at any rate, without
skill carefully bestowed in due season, you do not find such things
decorating the homes of weekly tenants. The cottages let by the week
look shabby, slovenly, dingy; the hedges of the gardens are neglected,
broken down, stopped up with anything that comes to hand. If it were not
for the fruitful and well-tended vegetable plots, one might often
suppose the tenants to be ignorant of order, degenerate, brutalized,
materialized, so sordid and ugly are their homes.

Yet it is not for want of taste that they endure these conditions.
Amidst the pitiful shabbiness which prevails may be found many little
signs that the delight in comely things would go far if it dared. There
is hardly a garden in the village, I think, which does not contain a
corner or a strip given over unthriftily, not to useful vegetables, but
to daffodils or carnations or dahlias, or to the plants of sweet scent
and pleasant names, like rosemary and lavender, and balm, and
mignonette. And not seldom a weekly tenant, desirous of beauty, goes
farther, takes his chance of losing his pains; nails up against his
doorway some makeshift structure of fir-poles to be a porch, sowing
nasturtiums or sweet-peas to cover it with their short-lived beauty; or
he marks out under his window some little trumpery border to serve
instead of a box-hedge as safeguard to his flowers. One of those
families whose removal was mentioned above--turned out in the summertime
they were, with loss of garden crops--found refuge in a hovel which
stood right against a public pathway. And, although it was an
encroachment, within a week a twelve-inch strip of the pathway was dug
up under the cottage eaves, and fenced in with a low fencing of sticks
roughly nailed together. Within this narrow space were planted
chrysanthemums rescued from the previous home; and when the fence gave
way--as it did before the chrysanthemums flowered--big stones and
brickbats were laid in its place. Considered as decoration, the result
was a failure; it was the product of an hour's work in which despair and
bitterness had all but killed the people's hope; but that it was done at
all is almost enough to prove my point. For further illustration I may
refer again to that other man mentioned above, who is now under notice
to leave his cottage. Last year he was happy in tending four or five
rose-trees which he had been allowed to bring home from the rubbish-heap
of his employer's garden. I remember that when he showed them to me,
gloating over them, he tried to excuse himself to me for neglecting his
potatoes in their favour, and I did my best to encourage him and puff
him up with pride. But it was of no use. This summer he is neglecting
his roses, and is wondering if his potatoes will be ripe enough for
digging before he is obliged to move.

With such things going on, it is not wonderful that the people live
shabbily, meanly, out at elbows. Tastes so handicapped as theirs make no
headway, and, though not dying, sink into disuse. The average cottager
learns to despise pleasantness and to concentrate upon usefulness. His
chief pride now is in his food-crops, which, if not eaten, can be turned
into money. Of course, these have their beauty--not undiscerned by the
labourer--but they are not grown for that end, and the thriftier the
man, the less time to the consideration of beauty will he give. It is,
besides, an imprudence to make a cottage look comely, now that covetous
eyes are upon the valley and the people's position there has grown

Does it seem a slight thing? Whatever the practical importance of it,
the extent of change involved in this hopeless attitude of the
villagers towards their home-places must not be under-rated; for if it
could be viewed in sharp perspective it would appear considerable
enough. Let us note the transitions. First the straying squatters
settled here, to cultivate chosen spots of the valley and reduce them to
order. They were not wedded to the place; only if it gave them a chance
of getting food and shelter were they likely to remain. Soon, however,
that first uncertainty was forgotten. Their peasant customs fitted the
environment; there was no danger of molestation; already to their
children the valley began to feel like a permanent home. As years went
on that feeling deepened, wrapped the people round in an unthought-of
security, and permitted them, here and there, to go beyond the necessary
peasant crafts and think of what was pleasant as well as necessary.
Gardens were trimmed into beauty, grape-vines were grown for the sake of
wine-making, and bees were kept for the sake of honey and mead. In the
cottages decent furniture and implements began to accumulate; the women
decorated their men's blouses with pretty smocking; the children were
taught old-fashioned lore because it was old-fashioned and their
inheritance; time-honoured customs of May-day and of Christmas were not
ignored. So during a few generations the old country thrift and its
simple civilization were kept alive, until the loss of the common made
the old thrift no longer possible and introduced the new. Lastly, and
within recent years, a new population has come, taking possession, with
a new civilization which is by no means simple; and now once more a
sense of unsettledness is upon the cottagers, although for the most part
they remain here. It is, however, an unsettledness very unlike that of
the earlier time. Instead of hope in it there is anxiety; instead of
striking deeper root in the valley, the people's hold grows shallower.
The agreeable peasant arts have faded out accordingly. The whole peasant
mode of life is all but forgotten. To-day we have here not a distinct
group of people living by customs which their singular circumstances
justify, but numerous impoverished families living provisionally from
hand to mouth, because of the possibility of further changes to be
thrust upon them. While they wait they still work, yet without
pleasantness in their lives. As their homes by neglect have grown shabby
and squalid, so their industry has become calculating and sordid. Little
remains to them now but their own good temper to keep their life from
being quite joyless.





Keeping pace with the alterations in their circumstances, a great mental
and spiritual destitution has made its appearance amongst the labouring
people. I say "has made its appearance" because it cannot be wholly
attributed to the changes we have been discussing. Those changes have
done their part, certainly. Obliterating the country crafts and cults,
breaking down the old neighbourly feelings, turning what was an
interesting economy into an anxious calculation of shillings and pence,
and reducing a whole village of people from independence to a position
bordering on servility, the introduction of a new system of thrift must
bear the greater share of the blame for the present plight of the
labourers. Nevertheless, their destitution--their mental and spiritual
destitution--has its roots deeper down, and springs from a grave defect
which was inherent in the peasant system. It is time to recognize that
fact. In many ways the folk-civilization had served the cottagers
excellently. They had grown up hardy and self-reliant under its
influence; clever with their hands, shrewd with their heads, kindly and
cheerful in their temper. But one can see now that all this had been
bought very dear. To set against the good qualities that came to light
there was a stifling of other qualities which were equally good, but had
no chance of development at all under the peasant thrift.

Especially on the side of mental activity was the people's natural power
cramped. I do not mean that they were stupid; it would be an error of
the first magnitude to suppose anything of the sort. But the
concentration of their faculties on their rural doings left them
childish and inefficient in the use of their brains for other purposes.
Mention has been made of the "fatalism" which still prevails in the
village outlook; but fatalism is too respectable a name for that mere
absence of speculative thought which was characteristic of the peasant
kind of people I have known. The interest of their daily pursuits kept
their minds busy upon matters obvious to the senses, while attention to
opinions and ideas was discouraged. For this reason the older men and
women had seldom if ever indulged in fancies or day-dreams, or troubled
about theories or first principles; and until lately I might have said
the same of the younger ones too. As for watching themselves--watching
and checking off the actions of their own intelligence--it was what they
never did. A sentiment might arise in them and mellow all their temper,
and they would not notice it. The inner meaning of things concerned them
very little. Their conception of cause and effect, or of the constancy
of nature, was rudimentary. "Ninety-nine times out of a hundred," said
an old bricklayer of the village, baffled by some error in his
work--"ninety-nine times out of a hundred it'll come right same as you
sets it out, but not always." Puzzles were allowed to be puzzling, and
left so; or the first explanation was accepted as final. The "mistis in
March" sufficiently accounted for the "frostis in May." Mushrooms would
only grow when the moon was "growing." Even with regard to personal
troubles the people were still as unspeculative as ever. Were they poor,
or ill? It merely happened so, and that settled it. Or were they in
cheerful spirits? Why, so they were; and what more could be said?

It was largely this simplicity of their mental processes that made the
older people so companionable. They were unaccustomed to using certain
powers of the brain which modern people use; nay, they were so unaware
of that use as to be utterly unsuspicious of such a thing. To be as
little psychological as possible, we may say that a modern man's thought
goes on habitually at two main levels. On the surface are the subjects
of the moment--that endless procession of things seen or heard or spoken
of which make up the outer world; and here is where intercourse with the
old type of villager was easy and agreeable. But below that surface the
modern mind has a habit of interpreting these phenomena by general
ideas or abstract principles, or referring them to imaginations all out
of sight and unmentioned; and into this region of thought the peasant's
attention hardly penetrated at all. Given a knowledge of the
neighbourhood, therefore, it was easy to keep conversation going with a
man of this kind. If you could find out the set of superficial or
practical subjects in which he was interested, and chatter solely on
that plane, all went well. But if you dipped underneath it amongst
fancies or generalizations, difficulties arose. The old people had no
experience there, and were out of their depth in a moment. And yet--I
must repeat it--we should be entirely wrong to infer that they were
naturally stupid, unless a man is to be called stupid because he does
not cultivate every one of his inborn faculties. In that sense we all
have our portion in stupidity, and the peasant was no worse than the
rest of us. His particular deficiency was as I have described it, and
may be fully explained by his mode of life. For in cow-stall or garden
or cottage, or in the fields or on the heaths, the claim of the moment
was all-absorbing; and as he hurried to thatch his rick before the rain
came, or to get his turfs home by nightfall, the ideas which thronged
about his doings crowded out ideas of any other sort. Or if, not
hurrying, his mind went dreamy, it was still of peasant things that he
dreamed. Of what he had been told when he was a child, or what he had
seen for himself in after-life, his memory was full; and every stroke
of reap-hook or thrust of spade had power to entice his intellect along
the familiar grooves of thought--grooves which lie on the surface and
are unconnected with any systematized channels of idea-work underneath.

So the strong country life tyrannized over country brains, and, apart
from the ideas suggested by that life, the peasant folk had few ideas.
Their minds lacked freedom; there was no escape from the actual
environment into a world either of imagination or of more scientific
understanding. Nor did this matter a great deal, so long as the
environment remained intact. In the absence of what we call
"views"--those generalizations about destiny or goodness, or pleasure,
or what not, by which we others grope our way through life--the steady
peasant environment, so well known and containing so few surprises, was
itself helpful, precisely because it was so well known. If a man would
but give shrewd attention to his practical affairs, it was enough; a
substitute for philosophy was already made for him, to save him the
trouble of thinking things out for himself. His whole mental activity
proceeded, unawares, upon a substratum of customary understanding, which
belonged to the village in general, and did not require to be
formulated, but was accepted as axiomatic by all. "Understanding" is the
best word I can find for it. It differed from a philosophy or a belief,
because it contained no abstract ideas; thinking or theorizing had no
part in it; it was a sheer perception and recognition of the
circumstances as they were. The people might dispute about details; but
the general object to be striven for in life admitted of no
disagreement. Without giving it a thought, they knew it. There lay the
valley before them, with their little homesteads, their cattle, their
gardens, the common; and connected with all these things a certain
old-established series of industries was recognized, leading up to a
well-known prosperity. That perception was their philosophy. The
environment was understood through and through. And this common
knowledge, existing apart from any individual in particular, served
every individual instead of a set of private opinions of his own. To get
away from it was impossible, for it was real knowledge; a man's
practical thoughts had to harmonize with it; supported by it, he was
saved the trouble of thinking things out in "systems"; and in fact it
was a better guide to him than thought-out systems could have been,
because generations of experience had fitted it so perfectly to the
narrow environment of the valley. So long, therefore, as the environment
remained unaltered, the truth that the people's minds held few ideas
upon other subjects, and had developed no method of systematic thinking,
was veiled.

But it has become plain enough now that the old environment is gone. The
new thrift has laid bare the nakedness of the land. It has found the
villagers unequipped with any efficient mental habits appropriate to
the altered conditions, and shown them to be at a loss for interesting
ideas in other directions. They cannot see their way any longer. They
have no aims; at any rate, no man is sure what his own aims ought to be,
or has any confidence that his neighbours could enlighten him. Life has
grown meaningless, stupid; an apathy reigns in the village--a dull
waiting, with nothing in particular for which to wait.



Amongst so many drawbacks to the new thrift, one good thing that it has
brought to the villagers, in the shape of a little leisure, gives us the
means of seeing in more detail how destitute of interests their life has
become. It must be owned that the leisure is very scanty. It is so
obscured, too, by the people's habit of putting themselves to productive
work in it that I have sometimes doubted if any benefit of the kind
actually filtered down into their overburdened lives. Others, however,
with a more business-like interest in the matter than mine, have
recognized that a new thing has come into the country labourer's life,
although they do not speak of it as "leisure." Mere wasted time is what
it looks like to them. Thus, not long ago, an acquaintance who by no
means shares my views of these matters was deploring to me the
degenerate state, as he conceived it, of the labourers on certain farms
in which he is interested, a few miles away from this valley. The men,
he said, holding their cottages as one of the conditions of employment
on the farms, had grown idle, and were neglecting the cottage
gardens--were neglecting them so seriously that, in the interests of
the estate, he had been obliged to complain to the farmers. Upon my
asking for explanations of a disposition so unlike that of the labourers
in this parish, many of whom are not content with their cottage gardens,
but take more ground when they can get it, my friend said deliberately:
"I think food is too cheap. With their fifteen shillings a week the men
can buy all they want without working for it; and the result is that
they waste their evenings and the gardens go to ruin."

With this remarkable explanation I am glad to think that I have nothing
to do here. The point is that, according to a business man with lifelong
experience in rural matters, country labourers now have time at their
disposal. Without further question we may accept it as true; the
cheapening of produce has made it just possible for labouring men to
live without occupying every available hour in productive work, and in
this one respect they do profit a little by those innovations--the use
of machinery, the division of labour, and the free importation of
foreign goods--which have replaced the antiquated peasant economy. It is
not necessary nowadays--not absolutely necessary--for the labourer, when
his day's wage-earning is done, to fall to work again in the evening in
order to produce commodities for his own use. Doubtless if he does so he
is the better off; but if he fails to do so he may still live. While he
has been earning money away from home during the day, other men he has
never met, in countries he has never seen, have been providing for him
the things that he will want at home in the evening; and if these things
have not been actually brought to his door, they are waiting for him in
shops, whence he may get them in exchange for the money he has earned.
Some of them, too, are of a quality such as, with the utmost skill and
industry, he never could have produced for himself. Modern artificial
light provides an example. Those home-made rushlights eulogized by
Gilbert White and by Cobbett may have been well enough in their way, but
cheap lamps and cheap paraffin have given the villagers their winter
evenings. At a cost of a few halfpence earned in the course of the day's
work a cottage family may prolong their winter day as far into the night
as they please; and that, without feeling that they are wasting their
store of light, and without being under necessity of spending the
rescued hours at any of those thrifty tasks which alone would have
justified peasant folk in sitting up late. They have the evening to use
at their pleasure.

If it is said, as my friend interested in land seemed to suggest, that
they do not know how to use it, I am not concerned to disagree. In fact,
that is my own text. On an evening last winter, having occasion to ask a
neighbour to do me a service, I knocked at his cottage door, and was
invited in. The unshaded lamp on the table cast a hard, strong light on
the appointments of the room, and in its glare the family--namely, the
man, with his wife, his mother, and his sister--were sitting round the
fire. On the table, which had no cloth, the remains of his hot
tea-supper were not cleared away--the crust of a loaf, a piece of
bacon-rind on a plate, and a teacup showed what it had been. But now he
had finished, and was resting in his shirt-sleeves, nursing his baby. In
fact, the evening's occupation had begun. The family, that is to say,
had two or three hours to spend--for it was but little past seven
o'clock--and nothing to do but to sit there and gossip. An innocent
pastime that; I have no fault to find with it, excepting that it had the
appearance of being very dull. The people looked comfortable, but there
was no liveliness in them. No trace of vivacity in their faces gave the
smallest reason to suppose that my coming had interrupted any enjoyment
of the evening. A listless contentment in being at home together, with
the day's work done and a fire to sit by, was what was suggested by the
whole bearing of the family. Their leisure was of no use to them for
recreation--for "making themselves anew," that is--or for giving play to
faculties which had lain quiet during the day's work. At the time,
however, I saw nothing significant in all this. It was just what other
cottage interiors had revealed to me on other winter evenings. The
surprising, the unexpected thing would have been to find the little
spell of leisure being joyfully used.

Shall we leave the matter there then? If we do, we shall overlook the
one feature in the situation that most particularly deserves attention.
For suppose that the cottagers in general do not know what to do with
their leisure, yet we must not argue that therefore they do not prize
it. Dull though they may seem in it, tedious though I believe they often
find it, nevertheless there proceeds from it a subtle satisfaction, as
at something gained, in the liberty to behave as they like, in the vague
sense that for an hour or two no further effort is demanded of them.
Yawning for bed, half sick of the evening, somewhere in the back of
their consciousness they feel that this respite from labour, which they
have won by the day's work, is a privilege not to be thrown away. It is
more to them than a mere cessation from toil, a mere interval between
more important hours; it is itself the most important part of the
day--the part to which all the rest has led up.

Nothing of the sort, I believe, was experienced in the village in
earlier times. Leisure, and the problem of using it, are new things
there. I do not mean that the older inhabitants of the valley never had
any spare time. There were, doubtless, many hours when they "eased off,"
to smoke their pipes and drink their beer and be jolly; only, such hours
were, so to speak, a by-product of living, not the usual and expected
consummation of every day. Accepting them by no means unwillingly when
they occurred, the folk still were wont normally to reduce them to a
minimum, or at least to see that they did not occur too often; as if
spare time, after all, was only a time of waiting until work could be
conveniently resumed. So lightly was it valued that most villagers cut
it short by the simple expedient of going to bed at six or seven
o'clock. But then, in their peasant way, they enjoyed interesting days.
The work they did, although it left their reasoning and imaginative
powers undeveloped, called into play enough subtle knowledge and skill
to make their whole day's industry gratifying. What should they want of
leisure? They wanted rest, in which to recover strength for taking up
again the interesting business of living; but they approached their
daily life--their pig-keeping and bread-making, their mowing and
thatching and turf-cutting and gardening, and the whole round of country
tasks--almost in a welcoming spirit, matching themselves against its
demands and proving their manhood by their success. But the modern
labourer's employment, reduced as it is to so much greater monotony, and
carried on for a master instead of for the man himself, is seldom to be
approached in that spirit. The money-valuation of it is the prime
consideration; it is a commercial affair; a clerk going to his office
has as much reason as the labourer to welcome the morning's call to
work. As in the clerk's case, so in the labourer's: the act or fruition
of living is postponed during the hours in which the living is being
earned; between the two processes a sharp line of division is drawn;
and it is not until the clock strikes, and the leisure begins, that a
man may remember that he is a man, and try to make a success of living.
Hence the truth of what I say: the problem of using leisure is a new one
in the village. Deprived, by the economic changes which have gone over
them, of any keen enjoyment of life while at work, the labourers must
make up for the deprivation when work is over, or not at all. Naturally
enough, in the absence of any traditions to guide them, they fail. But
self-respect forbids the old solution. To feed and go to bed would be to
shirk the problem, not to solve it.

So much turns upon a proper appreciation of these truths that it will be
well to illustrate them from real life, contrasting the old against the
new. Fortunately the means are available. Modernized people acquainted
with leisure are in every cottage, while as for the others, the valley
still contains a few elderly men whose lives are reminiscent of the
earlier day. Accordingly I shall finish this chapter by giving an
account of one of these latter, so that in the next chapter the
different position of the present-day labourers may be more exactly

The man I have in mind--I will rename him Turner--belongs to one of the
old families of the village, and inherited from his father a cottage and
an acre or so of ground--probably mortgaged--together with a horse and
cart, a donkey, a cow or two, a few pigs, and a fair stock of the usual
rustic tools and implements. Unluckily for him, he inherited no
traditions--there were none in his family--to teach him how to use these
possessions for making a money profit; so that, trying to go on in the
old way, as if the world were not changing all round him, he muddled
away his chances, and by the time that he was fifty had no property left
that was worth any creditor's notice. The loss, however, came too late
to have much effect on his habits. And now that he is but the weekly
tenant of a tiny cottage, and owns no more than a donkey and cart and a
few rabbits and fowls, he is just the same sort of man that he used to
be in prosperity--thriftless from our point of view, but from the
peasant point of view thrifty enough, good-tempered too, generous to a
fault, indifferent to discomforts, as a rule very hard-working, yet
apparently quite unacquainted with fatigue.

He gets his living now as a labourer; but, unlike his neighbours, he
seems by no means careful to secure constant employment. The regularity
of it would hardly suit his temper; he is too keenly desirous of being
his own master. And his own master he manages to be, in a certain
degree. From those who employ him he obtains some latitude of choice,
not alone as to the hours of the day when he shall serve them, but even
as to the days of the week. I have heard him protest: "Monday you says
for me to come. Well, I dunno about _Monday_--if Tuesday'd suit ye as
well? I wants to do so-and-so o' Monday, if 'tis fine. You see, there's
Mr. S---- I bin so busy I en't bin anear him this week for fear _he_
should want me up _there_. I _knows_ his grass wants cuttin'. But I
'xpects I shall ha' to satisfy 'n Monday, or else p'raps he won't like
it." Sometimes he takes a day for his own affairs, carting home hop-bine
in his donkey-cart, or getting heath for some thatching job that has
been offered to him. On these terms, while he finds plenty to do in
working intermittently for four or five people in the parish, he
preserves a freedom of action which probably no other labourer in the
village enjoys. Few others could command it. But Turner's manner is so
ingratiating that people have a personal liking for him, and it is
certain that his strength and all-round handiness make of him an
extremely useful man. Especially does his versatility commend him.
Others in the village are as strong as he and as active and willing, but
there are not now many others who can do such a number of different
kinds of work as he can, with so much experienced readiness.

Among his clients (for that is a more fitting word for them than
"employers") there are two or three residents with villa gardens, and
also two of those "small-holders" who, more fortunate than himself
(though not more happy, I fancy), have managed to cling to the little
properties which their fathers owned. Turner, therefore, comes in for a
number of jobs extraordinarily diverse. Thus, during last summer I knew
him to be tending two gardens, where his work ranged from lawn-cutting
(sometimes with a scythe) to sowing seeds, taking care of the vegetable
crops, and trimming hedges. But this occupied him only from seven in the
morning until five in the afternoon. In the margin outside these
hours--starting at five or earlier and keeping on until dark--he was
helping the two small-holders, one after the other, to make their hay
and get the ricks built. Then the ricks required thatching, and Turner
thatched them. In the meantime he was getting together a little rick of
his own for his donkey's use, carrying home in bags the longer grass
which he had mowed in the rough places of people's gardens or had
chopped off in hedgerows near his home. A month later he was harvesting
for the small-holders, and again there was rick-thatching for him to do.
"That's seven I've done," he remarked to me, on the day when he finished
the last one. "But didn't the rain stop you this morning?" I asked, for
rain had begun heavily about nine o'clock. He laughed. "No.... We got'n
covered in somehow. Had to sramble about, but he was thatched afore the
rain come."

Later still he was threshing some of this corn with a flail. I heard of
it with astonishment. "A flail?" "Yes," he said; "my old dad put me to
it when I was seventeen, so I _had_ to learn." He seemed to think little
of it. But to me threshing by hand was so obsolete and antiquated a
thing as to be a novelty; nor yet to me only, for a friend to whom I
mentioned the matter laughed, and asked if I had come across any knights
in armour lately.

One autumn, when he was doing some work for myself, he begged for a day
or two away in order to take a job at turf-cutting. When he returned on
the third or fourth day, he said: "Me and my nipper" (a lad of about
sixteen years old) "cut sixteen hundred this time." Now, lawn-turfs are
cut to a standard size, three feet by one, wherefore I remarked: "Why,
that's nearly a mile you have cut." "Oh, is it?" he said. "But it didn't
take long. Ye see, I had the nipper to go along with the edgin' tool in
front of me, and 'twan't much trouble to get 'em up."

He could not keep on for me regularly. The thought of Mr. S----'s work
waiting to be done fidgeted him. "When I was up there last he was
talkin' about fresh gravellin' all his paths. I said to'n, 'If I was you
I should wait anyhow till the leaves is down--they'll make the new
gravel so ontidy else.' So they would, sure. I keeps puttin' it off. But
I shall ha' to go. I sold'n a little donkey in the summer, and he's
hoofs'll want parin' again. I done 'em not so long ago...."

So his work varies, week after week. From one job to another up and down
the valley he goes, not listlessly and fatigued, but taking a sober
interest in all he does. You can see in him very well how his
forefathers went about their affairs, for he is plainly a man after
their pattern. His day's work is his day's pleasure. It is changeful
enough, and calls for skill enough, to make it enjoyable to him.
Furthermore, things on either side of it--things he learnt to understand
long ago--make their old appeal to his senses as he goes about, although
his actual work is not concerned with them. In the early summer--he had
come to mow a little grass plot for me--I found him full of a boyish
delight in birds and birds'-nests. A pair of interesting birds had
arrived; at any time in the day they could be seen swooping down from
the branch of a certain apple-tree and back again to their
starting-place without having touched the ground. "Flycatchers!" said
Turner exultantly. "I shall ha' to look about. They got their nest
somewhere near, you may be sure o' that! A little wisp o' grass
somewhere in the clunch (fork) of a tree ..." (his glance wandered
speculatively round in search of a likely place) "that's where they
builds. Ah! look now! There he goes again! Right in the clunch you'll
find their nest, and as many as ten young 'uns in'n.... Yes, I shall be
bound to find where he is afore I done with it."

The next day, hard by where he was at work, an exclamation of mine drew
him to look at a half-fledged bird, still alive, lying at the foot of a
nut-tree. "H'm: so 'tis. A young blackbird," he said pitifully. The next
moment he had the bird in his hand. "Where can the nest be, then? Up in
that nut? Well, to be sure! Wonders I hadn't seen that afore now. That's
it though, 'pend upon it; right up in the clunch o' that bough." Before
I could say a word he was half-way up amongst the branches, long-legged
and struggling, to put the bird back into its nest.

As he has always lived in the valley, he is full of memories of it, and
especially early memories; recalling the comparative scantiness of its
population when he was a boy, and the great extent of the common; and
the warm banks where hedgehogs abounded--hedgehogs which his father used
to kill and cook; and the wells of good water, so few and precious that
each had its local name. For instance, "Butcher's Well" (so-called to
this day, he says) "was where Jack Butcher used to live, what was
shepherd for Mr. Warner up there at Manley Bridge." At eight years old
he was sent out on to the common to mind cows; at ten he was thought big
enough to be helpful to his father, at piece-work in the hop-grounds;
and in due time he began to go "down into Sussex" with his father and
others for the harvesting. His very first experience there was of a wet
August, when the men could earn no money and were reduced to living on
bread and apples; but other years have left him with happier memories of
that annual outing. "Old Sussex!" he laughed once in appreciative
reminiscence--"Old Sussex! Them old hills! I did use to have a appetite
there! I could eat anything.... You could go to the top of a hill and
look down one way and p'raps not see more'n four or five places (houses
or farmsteads), and look t'other way and mebbe not be able to see e'er a
one at all. Oh, a reg'lar wild, out-o'-th'-way place 'twas." On this
farm, to which his gang went year after year, the farmer "didn't _pay_
very high--you couldn't expect'n to. But he used to treat us very well.
Send out great puddin's for us two or three times a week, and cider, and
bread-an'-cheese.... Nine rabbits old Fisher the roadman out here says
'twas, but I dunno 'bout that, but I _knows_ 'twas as many as seven, the
farmer put into one puddin' for us. There was a rabbit for each man, be
how 'twill. In a great yaller basin...." Turner held out his arms to
illustrate a large circumference.

In the time of his prosperity the main of his work was with his own
horse and cart, so that I know him to have had considerable experience
in that way; and I recollect, too, his being at plough in one of the
slanting gardens of this valley, not with his horse--the ground was too
steep for that--but with two donkeys harnessed to a small plough which
he kept especially for such work. Truly it would be hard to "put him
out," hard to find him at a loss, in anything connected with country
industry. He spoilt some sea-kale for me once, admitting, however,
before he began that he was not very familiar with its management; but
that is the only matter of its kind in which I have proved him
inefficient. To see him putting young cabbage-plants in rows is to
realize what a fine thing it is to know the best way of going to work,
even at such a simple-seeming task as that; and I would not undertake to
count in how many such things he is proficient.

One day he was telling me an anecdote of his taking honey from an
old-fashioned straw beehive; another day the talk was of pruning
fruit-trees. I had shown him an apple--the first one to be picked from a
young tree--and he at once named it correctly as a "Blenheim Orange,"
recognizing it by its "eye," whereupon I asked a question or two, and,
finally, if he understood pruning. There came his customary laugh, while
his eyes twinkled, as if the question amused him, as if I might have
known that he understood pruning. "Yes, I've done it many's a time.
Grape vines, too." Who taught him? "Oh, 'twas my old uncle made me do
that. He was laid up one time--'twas when I was eighteen year old--and
he says to me: 'You'll ha' to do it. Now's your time to learn....' Of
course he showed me _how_. So 'twas he as showed me how to thatch.... My
father never knowed how to do thatchin', nor anythink else much. He was
mostly hop-ground. He done a little mowin', of course." Equally of
course, the father had reaped and harvested, and kept pigs and cows, and
a few odd things besides; nevertheless, being chiefly a wage-earner, "he
never knowed much," and it was to the uncle that the lad owed his best

From talk of the uncle, and of the uncle's cows, of which he had charge
for a time, he drifted off to mention a curious piece of old thrift
connected with the common, and practised apparently for some time after
the enclosure. There was a man he knew in those now remote days who fed
his cows for a part of the year on furze, or "fuzz," as we call it here.
Two acres of furze he had, which he cut close in alternate years, the
second year's growth making a fine juicy fodder when chopped small into
a sort of chaff. An old hand-apparatus for that purpose--a kind of
chaff-cutting box--was described to me. The same man had a horse, which
also did well on furze diet mixed with a little malt from the man's own

To the lore derived from his uncle and others, Turner has added much by
his own observation--not, of course, intentional observation
scientifically verified, but that shrewd and practical folk-observation,
if I may so call it, by which in the course of generations the rural
English had already garnered such a store of mingled knowledge and
error. So he knows, or thinks he knows, why certain late-bearing
apple-trees have fruit only every other year, and what effect on the
potato crop is caused by dressing our sandy soil with chalk or lime; so
he watches the new mole-runs, or puzzles to make out what birds they can
be that peck the ripening peas out of the pods, or estimates the yield
of oats to the acre by counting the sheaves that he stacks, or examines
the lawn to see what kinds of grass are thriving. About all such matters
his talk is the talk of an experienced man habitually interested in his
subject, and yet it is never obtrusive. The remarks fall from him
casually; you feel, too, that while he is telling you something that he
noticed yesterday or years ago his eyes are alert to seize any new
detail that may seem worthy of attention. Details are always really his
subject, for the generalizations he sometimes offers are built on the
flimsiest foundation of but one or two observed facts. But I am not now
concerned with the value of his observations for themselves; the point
is that to him they are so interesting. He is a man who seems to enjoy
his life with an undiminished zest from morning to night. It is doubtful
if the working hours afford, to nine out of ten modern and even
"educated" men, such a constant refreshment of acceptable incidents as
Turner's hours bring to him.

He is perhaps the best specimen of the old stock now left in the valley;
but it must not be thought that he is singular. Others there are not
very unlike him; and all that one hears of them goes to prove that the
old cottage thrift, whatever its limitations may have been, did at least
make the day's work interesting enough to a man, without his needing to
care about leisure evenings. Turner, for his part, does not value them
at all. In the winter he is often in bed before seven o'clock.



Keeping this old-fashioned kind of life in mind as we turn again to the
modern labourer's existence, we see at once where the change has come
in, and why leisure, from being of small account, has become of so great
importance. It is the amends due for a deprivation that has been
suffered. Unlike the industry of a peasantry, commercial wage-earning
cannot satisfy the cravings of a man's soul at the same time that it
occupies his body, cannot exercise many of his faculties or appeal to
many of his tastes; and therefore, if he would have any profit, any
enjoyment, of his own human nature, he must contrive to get it in his
leisure time.

In illustration of this position, I will take the case--it is fairly
typical--of the coal-carter mentioned in the last chapter. He is about
twenty-five years old now; and his career so far, from the time when he
left school, may be soon outlined. It is true, I cannot say what his
first employment was; but it can be guessed; for there is no doubt that
he began as an errand-boy, and that presently, growing bigger, he took a
turn at driving a gravel-cart to and fro between the gravel-pits and
the railway. Assuming this, I can go on to speak from my own knowledge.
His growth and strength came early; I remember noticing him first as a
powerful fellow, not more than seventeen or eighteen years old, but
already doing a man's work as a gravel-digger. When that work slackened
after two or three years, he got employment--not willingly, but because
times were bad--at night-work with the "ballast-train" on the railway.
Exhausting if not brutalizing labour, that is. At ten or eleven at night
the gangs of men start off, travelling in open trucks to the part of the
line they are to repair, and there they work throughout the night, on
wind-swept embankment or in draughty cutting, taking all the weather
that the nights bring up. This man endured it for some twelve months,
until a neglected chill turned to bronchitis and pleurisy, and nearly
ended his life. After that he had a long spell of unemployment, and was
on the point of going back to the ballast-train as a last resource when,
by good fortune, he got his present job. He has been a coal-carter for
three or four years--a fact which testifies to his efficiency. By
half-past six o'clock in the morning he has to be in the stables; then
comes the day on the road, during which he will lift on his back, into
the van and out of it, and perhaps will carry for long distances, nine
or ten tons of coal--say, twenty hundredweight bags every hour; by
half-past five or six in the evening he has put up his horse for the
night; and so his day's work is over, excepting that he has about a mile
to walk home.

Of this employment, which, if the man is lucky, will continue until he
is old and worn-out, we may admit that it is more useful by far--to the
community--than the old village industries were wont to be. Concentrated
upon one kind of effort, it perhaps doubles the productivity of a day's
work. But just because it is so concentrated it cannot yield to the man
himself any variety of delights such as men occupied in the old way were
wont to enjoy. It demands from him but little skill; it neither requires
him to possess a great fund of local information and useful lore, nor
yet takes him where he could gather such a store for his own pleasure.
The zest and fascination of living, with the senses alert, the tastes
awake, and manifold sights and sounds appealing to his happy
recognition--all these have to be forgotten until he gets home and is
free for a little while. Then he may seek them if he can, using art or
pastimes--what we call "civilization"--for that end. The two hours or so
of leisure are his opportunity.

But after a day like the coal-carter's, where is the man that could even
begin to refresh himself with the arts, or even the games, of
civilization? For all the active use he can make of them those spare
hours of his do not deserve to be called leisure; they are the fagged
end of the day. Slouching home to them, as it were from under ten tons
of coal, he has no energy left for further effort. The community has
had all his energy, all his power to enjoy civilization; and has paid
him three shillings and sixpence for it. It is small wonder that he
seems not to avail himself of the opportunity, prize it though he may.

Yet there is still a possibility to be considered. Albeit any active use
of leisure is out of the question, is he therefore debarred from a more
tranquil enjoyment? He sits gossiping with his family, but why should
the gossip be listless and yawning? Why should not he, to say nothing of
his relations, enjoy the refreshment of talk enlivened by the play of
pleasant and varied thoughts? As everyone knows, the actual topic of
conversation is not what makes the charm; be what it may, it will still
be agreeable, provided that it goes to an accompaniment of ideas too
plentiful and swift to be expressed. Every allusion then extends the
interest of it; reawakened memories add to its pleasure; if the minds
engaged are fairly well furnished with ideas, either by experience or by
education, the intercourse between them goes on in a sort of luminous
medium which fills the whole being with contentment. Supposing, then,
that by education, or previous experience, the coal-carter's mind has
been thus well furnished, his scanty leisure may still compensate him
for the long dull hours of his wage-earning, and the new thrift will
after all have made amends for the deprivation of the old peasant

But to suppose this is to suppose a most unlikely thing. Previous
experience, at any rate, has done little for the man. The peasants
themselves were better off. Compare his chances, once more, with those
of a man like Turner. From earliest childhood, Turner's days and nights
have been bountiful to him in many-coloured impressions. At the outset
he saw and had part in those rural activities, changeful, accomplished,
carried on by many forms of skill and directed by a vast amount of
traditional wisdom, whereby the country people of England had for ages
supported themselves in their quiet valleys. His brain still teems with
recollections of all this industry. And then to those recollections must
be added memories of the scenes in which the industry went on--the wide
landscapes, the glowing cornfields, the meadows, woods, heaths; and
likewise the details of barn and rick-yard, and stable and cow-stall,
and numberless other corners into which his work has taken him. To
anyone who understands them, those details are themselves like an
interesting book, full of "idea" legible everywhere in the shapes which
country craftsmanship gave to them; and Turner understands them through
and through. Nor is this all. If not actual adventure and romance, still
many of the factors of adventure and romance have accompanied him
through his life; so that it is good even to think of all that he has
seen. He has had experience (travelling down to Sussex) of the dead
silence of country roads at midnight under the stars; has known the
August sunrise, and the afternoon heat, and the chilly moonlight, high
up on the South Downs; and the glint of the sunshine in apple-orchards
at cider-making time; and the grey coming of the rain that urges a man
to hurry with his thatching; and the thickening of the white winter fog
across the heaths towards night-fall, when wayfarers might miss the
track and wander all night unless they knew well what they were about.
Of such stuff as this for the brain-life to feed upon there has been
great abundance in Turner's career, but of such stuff what memories can
the coal-carter have?

Already in his earliest childhood the principal chances were gone. The
common had been enclosed; no little boys were sent out to mind cows
there all day, and incidentally to look for birds'-nests and acquaint
themselves with the ways of the rabbits and hedgehogs and butterflies
and birds of the heath. Fenced-in property, guarded by the Policeman and
the Law, restricted the boy's games to the shabby waste-places of the
valley, and to the footpaths and roads, where there was not much for a
child to do or to see. At home, and in the homes of his companions, the
new thrift was in vogue; he might not watch the homely cottage doings,
and listen to traditional talk about them, and look up admiringly at
able men and women engaged upon them, for the very good reason that no
such things went on. Men slaving at their gardens he might see, and
women weary at their washing and mending, amid scenes of little dignity
and much poverty and makeshift untidiness; but that was all. The
coherent and self-explanatory village life had given place to a half
blind struggle of individuals against circumstances and economic
processes which no child could possibly understand; and it was with the
pitiful stock of ideas to be derived from these conditions that the
coal-carter passed out of childhood, to enter upon the wage-earning
career which I have already outlined.

I need not spend much time in discussing that career as a source of
ideas. From first to last, and with the coal-carting period thrown in,
monotony rather than variety has been the characteristic of it. I do not
say that it has been quite fruitless. There are impressions to be
derived, and intense ones probably, from working all day against the
"face" of a gravel-pit, with the broken edge of the field up above one's
head for horizon; and from the skilled use of pick and shovel; and from
the weight of the wheelbarrow full of gravel as one wheels it along a
sagging plank. That is something to have experienced; as it is to have
sweated at night in a railway-cutting along with other men under the eye
of a ganger, and to have known starlight, or rain, or frost, or fog, or
tempest meanwhile. It is something, even, to see the life of the roads
year after year from the footboard of a coal-van, and to be in charge
of a horse hour after hour; but I am talking now of ideas which might
give buoyancy and zest to the gossip beside a man's fireside in the
evening when he is tired; and I think it unnecessary to argue that, in
regard to providing this kind of mental furniture, the coal-carter's
experience of life cannot have done great things for him. It has been
poverty-stricken just where the peasant life was so rich; it has left a
great deficiency, which could only have been made good by an education
intentionally given for that end.

But it goes almost without saying that the man's "education" did very
little to enrich his mind. The ideas and accomplishments he picked up at
the elementary school between his fourth and fourteenth years were of
course in themselves insufficient for the needs of a grown man, and it
would be unfair to criticize his schooling from that standpoint. Its
defect was that it failed to initiate him into the inner significance of
information in general, and failed wholly to start him on the path of
learning. It was sterile of results. It opened to him no view, no vista;
set up in his brain no stir of activity such as could continue after he
had left school; and this for the reason that those simple items of
knowledge which it conveyed to him were too scrappy and too few to begin
running together into any understanding of the larger aspects of life. A
few rules of arithmetic, a little of the geography of the British
Islands, a selection of anecdotes from the annals of the ancient Jews;
no English history, no fairy-tales or romance, no inkling of the
infinities of time and space, or of the riches of human thought; but
merely a few "pieces" of poetry, and a few haphazard and detached
observations (called "Nature Study" nowadays) about familiar
things--"the cat," "the cow," "the parsnip," "the rainbow," and so
forth--this was the jumble of stuff offered to the child's mind--a
jumble to which it would puzzle a philosopher to give coherence. And
what could a child get from it to kindle his enthusiasm for that
civilized learning in which, none the less, it all may have its place?
When the boy left school his "education" had but barely begun.

And hardly anything has happened since then to carry it farther,
although once there seemed just a chance of something better. During two
successive winters the lad, being then from sixteen to seventeen years
old, went to a night-school, which was opened for twenty-six weeks in
each "session," and for four hours in each week. But the hope proved
fallacious. In those hundred and four hours a year--hours which came
after a tiring day's work--his brain was fed upon "mensuration" and "the
science of horticulture," the former on the chance that some day he
might want to measure a wall for paper-hanging or do some other job of
the sort, and the latter in case fate should have marked him out for a
nursery-gardener, when it would be handy to know that germinating seeds
begin by pushing down a root and pushing up a leaf or two. This gives a
notion of the sort of idea the luckless fellow derived from the
night-school. I do not think that the joinery-classes at present being
held in the night-school had begun in his time; but supposing that he
also learnt joinery, he might, now that he is a man, add thoughts of
mortices and tenons and mitre-joints to his other thoughts about wall
areas and germinating seeds. Of course, all these things--like Jewish
history or English geography--are worth knowing; but again it is true,
of these things no less than of the childish learning acquired at the
day-school, that whatever their worth may be to the people concerned to
know them, they were very unlikely to set up in this young man's brain
any constructive idea-activity, any refreshing form of thought that
would enrich his leisure now, or give zest to his conversation. They
were odds and ends of knowledge; more comparable to the numberless odds
and ends in which peasants were so rich than to the flowing and luminous
idea-life of modern civilization.

Adequate help having thus failed to reach the man from any source at any
time of his life, it cannot be surprising if now the evening's
opportunity finds him unprepared. He is between two civilizations, one
of which has lapsed, while the other has not yet come his way. And what
is true of him is true of the younger labouring men in general. In
bread-and-cheese matters they are perhaps as well off as their
forefathers in the village, but they are at a disadvantage in the matter
of varied and successful vitality. The wage-earning thrift which has
increased their usefulness as drudges has diminished their effectiveness
as human beings; for it has failed to introduce into their homes those
enlivening, those spirit-stirring influences which it denies to them
when they are away from home doing their work. Hence a strange thing.
The unemployed hours of the evening, which should be such a boon, are a
time of blank and disconsolate tediousness, and when the longer days of
the year come round many a man in the valley who ought to be glad of his
spare time dodges the wearisome problem of what to do with it by putting
himself to further work, until he can go to bed without feeling that he
has been wasting his life. Yet that is really no solution of the
problem. It means that the men are trying to be peasants again, because
they can discover no art of living, no civilization, compatible with the
new thrift.

Of course it is true that they are handicapped by the lowness of the
wages they receive. However much time one may have, it would be all but
impossible to follow up modern civilization without any of its
apparatus, in the shape of books and musical instruments, and the
comfort of seclusion in a spare room; and none of these advantages can
be bought out of an income of eighteen shillings a week. That is plainly
the central difficulty--a difficulty which, unless it can be put right,
condemns our commercial economy as wholly inadequate to the needs of
labouring people. Supposing, however, that this defect could be suddenly
remedied; supposing, that is, that by some miracle wages could be so
adjusted as to put the labourer in command of the apparatus of
civilization; still, he could not use the apparatus without a personal
adjustment. He is impoverished, not in money only, but also in
development of his natural faculties, since the old village civilization
has ceased to help him.



If, while the common was still open, very few even of the men of the
village troubled about regular employment, we may well believe that
there were still fewer regular wage-earners amongst the women. I do not
mean that wage-earning was a thing they never did. There was not a woman
in the valley, perhaps, but had experience of it at hay-making and
harvesting, while all would have been disappointed to miss the
hop-picking. But these occasional employments had more resemblance to
holidays and outings than they had to constant work for a living.

As the new thrift gradually established itself, the younger women at
least had to alter their ways. For observe what had happened. A number
of men, once half-independent, but now wanting work constantly, had been
forced into a market where extra labour was hardly required; and it
needs no argument to prove that, under such conditions, they were not
only unable to command high wages, but were often unemployed. Of
necessity, therefore, the women were obliged to make up the week's
income by their own earnings. The situation, in fact, was similar to
that which had been produced in earlier times and in other parishes by
the old Poor Law, when parish pay enabled men to work for less than a
living wage; only now the deficiency was made up, not at the expense of
employers and ratepayers, but at the expense of women and girls.

But, though becoming wage-earners, the women missed the first advantage
that wage-earners should enjoy--namely, leisure time. After all, the new
thrift had but partially freed them from their old occupations. They
might buy at a shop many things which their mothers had had to make; but
there was no going to a shop to get the washing and scrubbing done, the
beds made, the food cooked, the clothes mended. All this remained to the
women as before. When they came home from the fields--at first it was
principally by field-work that they earned wages--it was not to be at
leisure, but to fall-to again on these domestic doings, just as if there
had been no change, just as if they were peasant women still.

And yet, though this work had not changed, there was henceforth a vast
difference in its meaning to the women. To approach it in the true
peasant or cottage woman's temper was impossible; nor in doing it might
the labourer's wife enjoy half the satisfaction that had rewarded the
fatigue of her mother and grandmother. Something dropped away from it
that could not be replaced when the old conditions died out.

To discover what the "something" was, one need not idealize those old
conditions. It would be a mistake to suppose that the peasant economy,
as practised in this valley, was nearly so good a thing for women as it
was for the other sex; a mistake to think that their life was all honey,
all simple sweetness and light, all an idyll of samplers and geraniums
in cottage windows. On the contrary, I believe that very often it grew
intensely ugly, and was as narrowing as it was ugly. The women saw
nothing, and learnt nothing, of the outer world; and, in their own
world, they saw and learnt much that was ill. All the brutalities
connected with getting a living on peasant terms tended to coarsen
them--the cruelties of men to one another, the horrors that had to be
inflicted on animals, the miseries of disease suffered by ignorant human
beings. Their perpetual attention to material cares tended to make them
materialized and sordid; they grew callous; there was no room to
cultivate delicacy of imagination. All this you must admit into the
picture of the peasant woman's life, if you would try to see it fairly
on the bad side as well as on the good side. Still, a good side there
was, and that it was far oftener in evidence than the other I am well
persuaded, when I remember the older village women who are dead now.
They, so masculine in their outlook, yet so true-hearted and, now and
then, so full of womanly tenderness and high feeling, could not have
been the product of conditions that were often evil. And one merit in
particular must be conceded to the old style of life. Say that the
women's work was too incessant, and that some of it was distinctly ill
to do; yet, taken as a whole, it was not uninteresting, and it was just
that wholeness of it that made all the difference. The most tiresome
duties--those domestic cares which were destined to become so irksome to
women of a later day--were less tiresome because they were parts of a
whole. Through them all shone the promise of happier hours to be won by
their performance.

For although in this rough valley women might not achieve the finer
successes of cottage folk-life, where it led up into gracefulness and
serenity, in a coarser fashion the essential spirit of pride in capable
doing was certainly theirs. They could, and did, enjoy the satisfaction
of proficiency, and win respect for it from their neighbours. If they
were not neat, they were very handy; if there was no superlative finish
about their work, there was soundness of quality, which they knew would
be recognized as so much to their credit. Old gossip bears me out.
Conceive the nimble and self-confident temper of those two cottage
women--not in this village, I admit, but in the next one to it, and the
thing was quite possible here--who always planned to do their washing on
the same day, for the pleasure of seeing who had the most "pieces," and
the best, to hang out on the clothes-lines. The story must be seventy
years old, and I don't know who told it me; but it has always seemed to
me very characteristic of the good side of cottage life, whether one
thinks of the eager rivalry itself in the gardens, where the white
clothes flapped, or of the long record implied in it of careful
housewifery and quiet needlework. This spirit of joy in proficiency must
have sweetened many of the cottage duties, and may well have run through
them all. When a woman treated her friends to home-made wine at
Christmas, she was exhibiting to them her own skill; when she cut up the
loaf she had baked, or fried the bacon she had helped to cure, the good
result was personal to herself; the very turf she piled on the fire had
a homely satisfaction for her, because, cut as it was by her husband's
own tools, and smelling of the neighbouring heath as it burnt, it was
suggestive of the time-honoured economies of all the valley. In this way
another comfort was added to that of her own more personal pleasure. For
there was hardly a duty that the old-time village woman did, but was
related closely to what the men were doing out of doors, and harmonized
with the general industry of her people. She may be figured, almost, as
the member of a tribe whose doings explained all her own doings, and to
whose immemorial customs her scrubbing and washing belonged, not
unworthily. Her conscience was in the work. From one thing to another
she went, now busily at a pleasant task, now doggedly at a wearisome
one, and she knew no leisure; but at every point she was supported by
what we may call the traditional feeling of the valley--nay, of the
whole countryside--commending her perhaps; at any rate, fully
understanding her position. To be like her mother and her grandmother;
to practise the time-honoured habits, and to practise them efficiently,
was a sort of religious cult with her, in the same way as it is nowadays
with women of a certain position not to be dowdy. The peasant-cottager's
wife could never think of herself as a mere charwoman or washerwoman;
she had no such ignoble career. She was Mrs. This, or Dame That, with a
recognized place in the village; and all the village traditions were her
possession. The arts of her people--the flower-gardening, the songs and
old sayings and superstitions, the customs of Harvest-time and
Christmas--were hers as much as anybody's; if the stress of work kept
her from partaking in them, still she was not shut out from them by
reason of any social inferiority. And so we come back to the point at
issue. House-drudgery might fill the peasant woman's days and years, and
yet there was more belonging to it. It was the core of a fruit: the
skeleton of something that was full of warm life. A larger existence
wrapped it in, and on the whole a kindlier one.

In view of all this it is easy to see why the house-duties can no
longer be approached in the old temper, or yield their former
satisfaction while they are being done. The larger existence has been
stripped away from them. They do not lead up to happier, more
interesting, duties; they are not preparatory to pleasantness. The
washing and scrubbing, the very cooking and needlework, are but so much
trouble awaiting a woman when she gets up in the morning and when she
comes home tired at night; they spoil the leisure that wage-earning
should win, and they are undertaken, not with the idea of getting on to
something productive, something that would make the cottage a more
prosperous home, but solely to keep it from degenerating into an
entirely offensive one. There is no hope surrounding these doings.

Nor do they fail only because they have become dissociated from
pleasanter work. Even the best of them are actually less interesting in
themselves. Look, for instance, at cooking. That cheap and coarse food
which women now buy because its coarseness makes it cheap is of a
quality to discourage any cook; it is common to the village--the rough
rations of the poor; and the trumpery crocks and tins, the bad coal, and
worse fireplaces, do nothing to make the preparation of it more
agreeable. With needlework it is the same story: commercial thrift has
degraded that craft. She must be an enthusiast indeed who would expend
any art of the needle upon the shabby second-hand garments, or the
shoddy new ones, which have to content the labourer's wife. And if the
family clothes are not good to make or to mend, neither are they good to
wash, or worth displaying on the clothes-lines in the hope of exciting
envy in neighbours.

Not at first, but in due time, inefficiency was added to the other
causes which tended to make housework unpalatable to the women, and of
no use to them as an uplifting experience. The inefficiency could hardly
be avoided. The mothers, employed in the fields, had but little chance
of teaching their daughters; and these daughters, growing up, to marry
and to follow field-work themselves, kept their cottages as best they
could, by the light of nature. In not a few cases all sense of an art of
well-doing in such matters was lost, and the home became a place to
sleep in, to feed in; not a place in which to try to live well. Perhaps
the lowest ebb was reached some fifteen or twenty years ago. By then
that feeling of belonging intimately to the countryside and sharing its
traditions had died out, and nothing had come to replace it. For all
practical purposes there were no traditions, nor were there any true
country-folk living a peculiar and satisfying life of their own. The
women had become merely the "hands" or employées of farmers, struggling
to make up money enough every week for a wretched shopping. With
health, a joking humour, and the inevitable habit of self-reliance, they
preserved a careless good-temper, and they had not much time to realize
their own plight; but it was, for all that, a squalid life that many of
them led, a neglected life. Only in a very few cottages did there linger
any serviceable memory of better things.

Of late years some recovery is discernible. Field-work, which fostered a
blowsy carelessness, has declined, and at the same time the arrival of
"residents" has greatly increased the demand for charwomen and
washerwomen. The women, therefore, find it worth while to cultivate a
certain tidiness in their persons, which extends to their homes. It is
true I am told that their ideas of good housework are often rudimentary
in the extreme; that the charwoman does not know when to change her
scrubbing water; that the washerwoman is easily satisfied with quite
dubious results; and I can well believe it. The state of the cottages is
betrayed naïvely by the young girls who go from them into domestic
service. "You don't seem to like things sticky," one of these girls
observed to a mistress distressed by sticky door-handles one day and
sticky table-knives the next day. That remark which Richard Jefferies
heard a mother address to her daughter, "Gawd help the poor missus as
gets hold o' _you_!" might very well be applied to many and many a
child of fourteen in this valley, going out, all untrained, to her first
"place"; but these things, indicating what has been and is, do not
affect the truth that a slight recovery has occurred. It is an open
question how much of the recovery is a revival of old ideas, called into
play again by new forms of employment. Perhaps more of it is due to
experience which the younger women now bring into the valley when they
marry, after being in comfortable domestic service outside the valley.
In other words, perhaps middle-class ideas of decent house-work are at
last coming in, to fill the place left empty by the obsolete peasant

May we, then, conclude that the women are now in a fair way to do well;
that nothing has been lost which those middle-class ideas cannot make
good? In my view the circumstances warrant no such conclusion. Consider
what it is that has to be made good. It is something in the nature of a
civilization. It is the larger existence which enwrapped the peasant
woman's house-drudgery and made it worth while. A good domestic method
is all very well, and the middle-class method is probably better than
the old method; but alike in the peasant cottages, and now in
middle-class homes, we may see in domestic work a nucleus only--the core
of a fruit, the necessary framework of a more acceptable life. With the
cottage women in the old days that work favoured such developments of
ability and of character as permitted the women to look with
complacency upon women bred in other ways. They experienced no
humiliating contrasts. Their household drudgery put within their reach
the full civilization of which it was an organic part. But who can
affirm as much of their household drudgery to-day? Who can pretend that
the best accomplishment of it on middle-class lines admits the cottage
woman into the full advantages of middle-class civilization, and enables
her to look without humiliation upon the accomplishments of well-to-do
women? I know that villa ladies and district visitors cling to some such
belief, but the notion is false, and may be dismissed without argument,
until the ladies can show that they owe all their own refinement to the
inspiring influences of the washing-tub, and the scrubbing-pail, and the
kitchen-range. The truth is that middle-class domesticity, instead of
setting cottage women on the road to middle-class culture of mind and
body, has side-tracked them--has made of them charwomen and laundresses,
so that other women may shirk these duties and be "cultured."

Of course, their wage-earning and their home-work are not the only
sources from which ideas that would explain and beautify life might be
obtained by them. The other sources, however, are of no great value. At
school, where (as we have seen) the boys get little enough general
information, the girls have hitherto got less, instruction in needlework
and cookery being given to them in preference to certain more bookish
lessons that the boys get. They leave school, therefore, intellectually
most ignorant. Then, in domestic service, again it is in cookery and
that sort of thing that they are practised; there may be culture of
thought and taste going on elsewhere in the house, but they are not
admitted to it. Afterwards, marrying, and confronted with the problem of
making both ends meet on eighteen shillings a week, they get experience
indeed of many things, and, becoming mothers, they learn invaluable
lessons; yet still the _savoir vivre_ that should make up for the old
peasant cult, the happy outlook, the inspiring point of view, is not
attained. Their best chance is in the ideas and knowledge they may pick
up from their husbands, and if from them they do not learn anything of
the best that has been thought and said in the world, they do not learn
it. Of their husbands, in this connection, there will be something
further to be said presently; in the meantime I may leave it to the
reader to judge whether the cottage woman's needs, since the peasant
system broke down, are being well met.

But I must not leave it to be inferred that the women, thus stranded
between two civilizations, are therefore degraded or brutalized. From
repeated experience one knows that their sense of courtesy--of good
manners as distinct from merely fashionable or cultured manners--is very
keen: in kindness and good-will they have nothing to learn from
anybody, and most of their "superiors" and would-be teachers might learn
from them. Nor would I disparage their improved housekeeping, as though
it had no significance. It may open no doorway for them into
middle-class civilization, but I think it puts their spirits, as it
were, on the watch for opportunities of personal development. I judge by
their looks. An expression, not too often seen elsewhere, rests in the
eyes of most of the cottage women--an expression neither self-complacent
nor depressed, nor yet exactly docile, though it is near to that. The
interpretation one would put upon it depends on the phrases one is wont
to use. Thus some would say that the women appear to be reaching out
towards "respectability" instead of the blowsy good-temper bred of
field-work; others, more simply, but perhaps more truly, that they are
desirous of being "good." But whatever epithet one gives it, there is
the fine look: a look hardly of expectancy--it is not alert enough for
that--but rather of patient quietness and self-possession, the innermost
spirit being held instinctively unsullied, in that receptive state in
which a religion, a brave ethic, would flourish if the seeds of such a
thing could be sown there. A hopeful, a generous and stimulating
outlook--that is what must be regained before the loss of the peasant
outlook can be made good to them. They are in want of a view of life
that would reinstate them in their own--yes, and in other
people's--estimation; a view of social well-being, not of the village
only, but of all England now, in which they can hold the position proper
to women who are wives and mothers.

And this, vague though it is, shows up some of the more pressing needs
of the moment. Above all things the economic state of the cottage-women
requires improvement. There must be some definite leisure for them, and
they must be freed from the miserable struggle with imminent
destitution, if they are to find the time and the mental tranquillity
for viewing life largely. But leisure is not all. They need, further, an
education to enable them to form an outlook fit for themselves; for
nobody else can provide them with such an outlook. The middle-classes
certainly are not qualified to be their teachers. It may be said at once
that the attempts of working-women here and there to emulate women of
the idle classes are of no use to themselves and reflect small credit on
those they imitate. In this connection some very curious things--the
product of leisure and no outlook--are to be seen in the village. That
objectionable yet funny cult of "superiority," upon which the "resident"
ladies of the valley spend so much emotion, if not much thought, has its
disciples in the cottages; and now and then the prosperous wife or
daughter of some artisan or other gives herself airs, and does not
"know," or will not "mix with," the wives and daughters of mere
labourers in the neighbouring cottages. Whether women of this aspiring
type find their reward, or mere bitterness, in the patronage of still
higher women who are intimate with the clergy is more than I can say.
The aspiration has nothing to do with that "religion," that new ethic,
which I have just claimed to be the thing ultimately needed, before the
loss of the peasant system can be made up to the women.



Some light was thrown on the more specific needs of the village by an
experiment in which I had a share from ten to thirteen years ago. The
absence of any reasonable pastime for the younger people suggested it.
At night one saw boys and young men loafing and shivering under the lamp
outside the public-house doors, or in the glimmer that shone across the
road from the windows of the one or two village shops. They had nothing
to do there but to stand where they could just see one another and try
to be witty at one another's expense, or at the expense of any
passers-by--especially of women--who might be considered safe game: that
was their only way of spending the evenings and at the same time
enjoying a little human companionship. True, the County Council had
lately instituted evening classes for "technical education" in the
elementary schools; but these classes were of no very attractive nature,
and at best they occupied only two evenings a week. As many as twenty or
five-and-twenty youths, however, attended them, glad of the warmth and
light, though bored by the instruction. They were mischievous and
inattentive; they kept close watch on the clock, and as soon as
half-past nine came they were up and off helter-skelter, as if the
gloomy precincts of the shop or the public-house were, after all, less
irksome than the night-school.

There was no recreation whatever for the growing girls, none for the
grown-up women; nothing but the public-house for the men, unless one
excepts the two or three occasions during the winter when the more
well-to-do residents chose to give an entertainment in the schoolroom,
and admitted the poor into the cheaper seats. Everybody knows the nature
of these functions. There were readings and recitations; young ladies
sang drawing-room songs or played the violin; tableaux were displayed or
a polite farce was performed; a complimentary speech wound up the
entertainment; and then the performers withdrew again for several months
into the aloofness of their residences, while the poor got through their
winter evenings as best they could, in their mean cottages or under the
lamp outside the public-house.

It was in full view of these circumstances that an "Entertainment Club"
was started, with the idea of inducing the cottage people to help
themselves in the matter of recreation instead of waiting until it
should please others to come and amuse them. I am astonished now to
think how democratic the club contrived to be. In the fortnightly
programmes which were arranged the performers were almost exclusively
of the wage-earning sort, and offers of help from "superior people" were
firmly declined. And for at least one, and, I think, two winters, the
experiment was wildly successful--so successful that, to the best of my
recollection, the "gentry" were crowded out, and gave no entertainments
at all. But the enthusiasm could not last. During the third winter decay
set in, and early in the fourth the club, although with funds in hand,
ceased its activities, leaving the field open, as it has since remained,
to the recognized exponents of leisured culture.

The fact is, it died of their culture, or of a reflection of it. At the
first nobody had cared a straw about artistic excellence. The homely or
grotesque accomplishments of the village found their way surprisingly on
to a public platform, and were not laughed to scorn; anyone who could
sing a song or play a musical instrument--it mattered not what--was
welcomed and applauded. But how could it go on? The people able to do
anything at all were not many, and when their repertory of songs learnt
by ear was exhausted, there was nothing new forthcoming. Gradually,
therefore, the club began to depend on the few members with a smattering
of middle-class attainments; and they, imitating the rich--asking for
piano accompaniments to their singing, and so on--at the same time gave
themselves airs of superiority to the crowd. And that was fatal. The
less cultivated behaved in the manner usual to them where there is any
unwarrantable condescension going--that is to say, they kept out of the
way of it, until, finally, the performers and organizers had the club
almost to themselves. From the outset the strong labouring men had
contemptuously refused to have anything to do with what was often, I
admit, a foolish and "gassy" affair; but their wives and sons and
daughters had been very well pleased, until the taint of superiority
drove them away. The club died when its democratic character was lost.

Yet, though I was glad to have done with it, I have never regretted the
experience. It is easy now to see the absurdity of my idea, but at that
time I knew less than I do now of the labouring people's condition, and
in furthering the movement I entertained a shadowy hope of finding
amongst the illiterate villagers some fragment or other of primitive
art. It is almost superfluous to say that nothing of the sort was found.
My neighbours had no arts of their own. For any refreshment of that kind
they were dependent on the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table,
or on such cheap refuse as had come into the village from London
music-halls or from the canteens at Aldershot. Street pianos in the
neighbouring town supplied them with popular airs, which they
reproduced--it may be judged with what amazing effect--on flute or
accordion; but the repertory of songs was filled chiefly from the
sources just mentioned. The young men--the shyest creatures in the
country, and the most sensitive to ridicule--found safety in comic songs
which, if produced badly, raised but the greater laugh. Only once or
twice were these songs imprudently chosen; as a rule, they dealt with
somebody's misfortunes or discomforts, in a humorous, practical-joking
spirit, and so came nearer, probably, to the expression of a genuine
village sentiment than anything else that was done. But for all that
they were an imported product. Instead of an indigenous folk-art, with
its roots in the traditional village life, I found nothing but worthless
forms of modern art which left the people's taste quite unfed. Once, it
is true, a hint came that, democratic though the club might be, it was
possibly not democratic enough. A youth mentioned that at home one
evening he and his family had sat round the table singing songs, out of
song-books, I think. It suggested that there might still lurk in the
neglected cottages a form of artistic enjoyment more crude than anything
that had come to light, and perhaps more native to the village. But I
have no belief that it was so. Before I could inquire further, this boy
dropped out of the movement. When asked why he had not come to one
entertainment, he said that he had been sent off late in the afternoon
to take two horses miles away down the country--I forget where--and had
been on the road most of the night. A few weeks afterwards, turning
eighteen, he went to Aldershot and enlisted. So far as I remember, he
was the only boy of the true labouring class who ever took any active
part in the proceedings--he performed once in a farce. The other lads,
although some were sons of labourers and grandsons of peasants, were of
those who had been apprenticed to trades, and therefore knew a little
more than mere labourers, though I do not say that they were more
intelligent by nature.

If, however, they were the pick of the village youth, the fact only
makes the more impressive certain truths which forced themselves upon my
notice at that time with regard to the needs of the village since the
old peasant habits had vanished. There was no mistaking it: intercourse
with these young men showed only too plainly how slow modern
civilization had been to follow modern methods of industry and thrift.
Understand, they were well-intentioned and enterprising fellows. They
had begun to look beyond the bounds of this parish, and to seek for
adaptations to the larger world. Moreover, they were learning
trades--those very trades which have since been introduced into our
elementary schools as a means of quickening the children's intellectual
powers. But these youths somehow had not drawn enlightenment from their
trades, being, in fact, handicapped all the time by the want of quite a
different education. To put it rather brutally, they did not understand
their own language--the standard English language in which modern
thinking has to go on in this country.

For several of the entertainments they came forward to perform farces.
After the first diffidence had worn off, they took a keen delight in the
preparations, working hard and cordially; they were singularly ready to
be shown what to do, and to be criticized. "Knock-about" farce--the
counterpart in drama of their comic songs--pleased them best, and they
did well in it. But "Box and Cox" was almost beyond them, because they
missed the meanings of the rather stilted dialogue. In helping to coach
them in their parts I had the best of opportunities to know this. They
produced a resemblance to the sound of the sentences, and were
satisfied, though they missed the sense. Instead of saying that he
"divested" himself of his clothing, Mr. Box--or was it Cox?--said that
he "invested" himself, and no correction could cure him of saying that.
When one of them came to describing the lady's desperate wooing of him,
"to escape her importunities" is what he should have said; but what he
did say was "to escape our opportunities"--an error which the audience,
fortunately, failed to notice, for it slipped out again at the time of
performance, after having been repeatedly put right at rehearsal. And
this sort of thing happened all through the piece. Almost invariably the
points which depended on a turn of phrase were lost. "I at once give you
warning that I give you warning at once" became, "I at once give you
warning. That is, I give you warning at once." Cox (or Box) reading the
lawyer's letter, never made out the following passage: "I soon
discovered her will, the following extract from which will, I am sure,
give you satisfaction." It was plain that he thought the second word
"will" meant the same as the first.

As evidence of a lack of "book-learning" in the village, this might have
been insufficient, had it stood alone. But it did not. The misbehaviour
of the boys at the night-school has been mentioned. Being a member of
the school managing committee, I went in to the school occasionally, and
what I saw left me satisfied that a large part of the master's
difficulty arose from the unfamiliarity of the scholars with their own
language. That initial ignorance blocked the road to science even more
completely than, in the Entertainment Club, it did to art. "The Science
of Horticulture" was the subject of the lesson on one dismal evening,
this being the likeliest of some half-dozen "practical sciences"
prescribed for village choice by the educational authority at Whitehall.
About twenty "students," ranging from sixteen to nineteen years old,
were--no, not puzzling over it: they were "putting in time" as
perfunctorily as they dared, making the lesson an excuse for being
present together in a warmed and lighted room. When I went in it was
near the close of the evening; new matter was being entered upon,
apparently as an introduction to the next week's lesson. I stood and
watched. The master called upon first one, then another, to read aloud a
sentence or two out of the textbook with which each was provided; and
one after another the boys stood up, shamefaced or dogged, to stumble
through sentences which seemed to convey absolutely no meaning to them.
If it had been only the hard words that floored them--such as
"cotyledon" and "dicotyledon"--I should not have been surprised; but
they blundered over the ordinary English, and had next to no sense of
the meaning of punctuation. I admit that probably they were not trying
to do their best; that they might have put on a little intentional
clumsiness, in the instinctive hope of escaping derision by being
thought waggish. But the pity of it was that they should need to protect
themselves so. They had not the rudimentary accomplishment: that was the
plain truth. They could not understand ordinary printed English.

Of science, of course, they were learning nothing. They may have taken
away from those lessons a few elementary scientific terms, and possibly
they got hold of the idea of the existence of some mysterious knowledge
that was not known in the village; but the advantage ended there. I
doubt if a single member of the class had begun to use his brain in a
scientific way, reasoning from cause to effect; I doubt if it dawned
upon one of them that there was such an unheard-of accomplishment to be
acquired. They were trying--if they were trying anything at all--to pick
up modern science in the folk manner, by rote, as though it were a thing
to be handed down by tradition. So at least I infer, not only from
watching this particular class then and on other occasions, but also
from the following circumstance.

At Christmastime in one of these winters a few of the boys of the
night-school went round the village, mumming. They performed the same
old piece that Mr. Hardy has described in "The Return of the
Native"--the same old piece that, as a little child, I witnessed years
ago in a real village; but it had degenerated lamentably. The boys said
that they had learnt it from an elder brother of one of them, and had
practised it in a shed; and at my request the leader consented to write
out the piece, and in due time he brought me his copy. I have mislaid
the thing, and write from memory; but I recall enough of it to affirm
that he had never understood, or even cared to fix a meaning to, the
words--or sounds, rather--which he and his companions had gabbled
through as they prowled around the kitchen clashing their wooden swords.
That St. George had become King William was natural enough; but what is
to be said of changing the Turkish Knight into the Turkey Snipe? That
was one of the "howlers" this youth perpetrated, amongst many others
less striking, perhaps, but not less instructive. The whole thing
showed plainly where the difficulty lay at the night-school. The
breaking up of the traditional life of the village had failed to supply
the boys either with the language or with the mental habits necessary
for living successfully under the new conditions. Some of these boys
were probably the sons of parents unable to read and write; none of them
came from families where those accomplishments were habitually practised
or much esteemed.

The argument, thus illustrated by the state of the boys, extends in its
application to practically the whole of the village. "Book-learning" had
been very unimportant to the peasant with his traditional lore, but it
would be hard to exaggerate the handicap against which the modern
labourer strives, for want of it. Look once more at his position. In the
new circumstance the man lives in an environment never dreamt of by the
peasant. Economic influences affecting him most closely come, as it
were, vibrating upon him from across the sea. Vast commercial and social
movements, unfelt in the valley under the old system, are altering all
its character; instead of being one of a group of villagers tolerably
independent of the rest of the world, he is entangled in a network of
economic forces as wide as the nation; and yet, to hold his own in this
new environment, he has no new guidance. Parochial customs and the
traditions of the village make up the chief part of his equipment.

But for national intercourse parochial customs and traditions are
almost worse than none at all--like a Babel of Tongues. National
standards have to be set up. We cannot, for instance, deal in Winchester
quarts and Cheshire acres, in long hundreds and baker's dozens; we have
no use for weights and measures that vary from county to county, or for
a token coinage that is only valid in one town or in one trade. But most
of all, for making our modern arrangements a standard English language
is so necessary that those who are unfamiliar with it can neither manage
their own affairs efficiently nor take their proper share in the
national life.

And this is the situation of the labourer to-day. The weakness of it,
moreover, is in almost daily evidence. One would have thought that at
least in a man's own parish and his own private concerns illiteracy
would be no disadvantage; yet, in fact, it hampers him on every side.
Whether he would join a benefit society, or obtain poor-law relief, or
insure the lives of his children, or bury his dead, or take up a small
holding, he finds that he must follow a nationalized or standardized
procedure, set forth in language which his forefathers never heard
spoken and never learned to read. Even in the things that are really of
the village the same conditions prevail. The slate-club is managed upon
lines as businesslike as those of the national benefit society. The
"Institute" has its secretary, and treasurer, and balance-sheet, and
printed rules; the very cricket club is controlled by resolutions
proposed and seconded at formal committee meetings, and duly entered in
minute-books. But all this is a new thing in the village, and no
guidance for it is to be found in the lingering peasant traditions.

To this day, therefore, the majority of my neighbours, whose ability for
the work they have been prepared to do proves them to be no fools, are,
nevertheless, pitiably helpless in the management of their own affairs.
Most disheartening it is, too, for those whose help they seek, to work
with them. In the cricket-club committee, on which I served for a year
or two, it was noticeable that the members, eager for proper
arrangements to be made, often sat tongue-tied and glum, incapable of
urging their views, so that only after the meeting had broken up and
they had begun talking with one another did one learn that the
resolutions which had been passed were not to their mind. Formalities
puzzled them--seemed to strike them as futilities. And so in other
matters besides cricket. A local builder--a man of blameless
integrity--had a curious experience. Somewhat against his wishes, he was
appointed treasurer of the village Lodge of Oddfellows; but when,
inheriting a considerable sum of money, he began to buy land and build
houses, nothing would persuade the illiterate members of the society
that he was not speculating with their funds. Audited accounts had no
meaning for them; possibly the fact that he was doing a service for no
pay struck them as suspicious; at any rate they murmured so openly that
he threw up his office. Whom they have got in his place, and whether
they are suspicious of him too, I do not know. My point is that, while
modern thrift obliges them to enter into these fellowships, they remain,
for mere want of book-learning, unable to help themselves, and dependent
on the aid of friends from the middle or employing classes. In other
words, the greater number of the Englishmen in the village have to stand
aside and see their own affairs controlled for them by outsiders.

This is so wholly the case in some matters that nobody ever dreams of
consulting the people who are chiefly concerned in them. In the
education of their children, for one thing, they have no voice at all.
It is administered in a standardized form by a committee of middle-class
people appointed in the neighbouring town, who carry out provisions
which originate from unapproachable permanent officials at Whitehall.
The County Council may modify the programme a little; His Majesty's
inspectors--strangers to the people, and ignorant of their needs--issue
fiats in the form of advice to the school teachers; and meanwhile the
parents of the children acquiesce, not always approving what is done,
but accepting it as if it were a law of fate that all such things must
be arranged over their heads by the classes who have book-learning.

And this customary attitude of waiting for what the "educated" may do
for them renders them apathetic where they might be, and where it is
highly important that they should be, reliant upon their own
initiative--I mean, in political action. The majority of the labourers
in the village have extremely crude ideas of representative government.
A candidate for Parliament is not, in their eyes, a servant whom they
may appoint to give voice to their own wishes; he is a "gentleman" who,
probably from motives of self-interest, comes to them as a sort of quack
doctor, with occult remedies, which they may have if they will vote for
him, and which might possibly do them good. Hence they hardly look upon
the Government as an instrument at all under the control of people like
themselves; they view it, rather, as a sort of benevolent tyranny, whose
constitution is no concern of theirs. Commons or Lords, Liberals or
Tories--what does it matter to the labourer which of them has the power,
so long as one or other will cast an occasional look in his direction,
and try to do something or other to help him? What they should do rests
with the politicians: it is their part to suggest, the labourer's to

Such are some of the more obvious disabilities from which the cottage
people suffer, largely for want of book-learning. I think, however, that
they are beginning to be aware of the disadvantage, for, though they say
little about it, I have heard of several men getting their children to
teach them, in the evening, the lessons learnt at school during the day.
Certainly the old contempt for "book-learning" is dying out. And now and
then one hears the most ingenuous confessions of incompetence to
understand matters of admitted interest. An old woman, discussing
"Tariff Reform," said: "We sort o' people can't understand it for
ourselves. What we wants is for somebody to come and explain it to us.
And then," she added, "we dunno whether we dares believe what they
says." If you could hear one even of the better-taught labourers trying
to read out something from a newspaper, you would appreciate his
difficulties. He goes too slowly to get the sense; the end of a
paragraph is too far off from the beginning of it; the thread of the
argument is lost sight of. An allusion, a metaphor, a parenthesis, may
easily make nonsense of the whole thing to a reader who has never heard
of the subject alluded to, or of the images called up by the metaphor,
and whose mind is unaccustomed to those actions of pausing
circumspection which a parenthesis demands.



Remembering the tales which get into the papers now and then of riot
amongst the "high-spirited young gentlemen" at the Universities, I am a
little unwilling to say more about the unruliness of our village youths,
as though it were something peculiar to their rank of life. Yet it must
not be quite passed over. To be sure, not all the village lads, any more
than all undergraduates, are turbulent and mischievous; yet here, as at
Oxford, there is a minority who apparently think it manly to be
insubordinate and to give trouble, while here, just as there, the better
sense of the majority is too feeble to make up a public opinion which
the offenders would be afraid to defy. The disorder of the village lads
was noticeable long ago at the night-school; for example, on an evening
shortly after the "Khaki" election, when Mr. Brodrick (now Lord
Midleton) had been re-elected for this division. On that evening a
lecture on Norway, illustrated by lantern slides, could hardly be got
through owing to the liveliness of a few lads, who amused all their
comrades by letting off volleys of electioneering cries. I have
forgotten who the lecturer was, but I remember well how the shouts of
"Good old Brodrick!" often prevailed, so that one could not hear the
man's voice. Since then there have been more striking examples of the
same sort of vivacity. Not two winters ago the weekly meetings of a
"boys' club," which aimed only to help the village lads pass an evening
sensibly, had to be abandoned, owing to the impossible behaviour of the
members. One week I heard that they had run amok amongst the furniture
of the schoolroom where the meetings were held; on the next, they blew
out the lamps, and locked one of the organizers into the room for an
hour; and a week or two afterwards they piled window-curtains and
door-mats on to the fire, and nearly got the building ablaze. In short,
to judge from what was told me, there seems to have been little to
distinguish them from frolicsome undergraduates, save their
poverty-stricken clothes and their unaspirated speech. It is true they
kept their excesses within doors, but then, they had no influential
relatives to take their part against an interfering police force; and
moreover, most of them came to the meetings a little subdued by ten
hours or so of work at wage-earning. Still, their "high spirits" were in
evidence, uncontrolled--just as elsewhere--by any high sentiment. The
sense of personal responsibility for their actions, the power to
understand that there is such a thing as "playing the game" even towards
people in authority or towards the general public, seemed to be as
foreign to them as if they had never had to soil their hands with hard

Whatever may be the case with others, in the village lads a merely
intellectual unpreparedness is doubtless partly accountable for this
behaviour. The villagers having had no previous experience of action in
groups, unless under compulsion like that of the railway-ganger or of
the schoolmaster with his cane, it is strange now to the boys to find
themselves at a school where there is no compulsion, but all is left to
their voluntary effort. And stranger still is the club. A formal
society, dependent wholly on the loyal co-operation of its members and
yet enforcing no obvious discipline upon them, is a novelty in village
life. The idea of it is an abstraction, and because the old-fashioned
half-peasant people fifty years ago never needed to think about
abstractions at all, it turns out now that no family habit of mind for
grasping such ideas has come down from them to their grandsons.

This mental inefficiency, however, is only a form--a definite form for
once--of a more vague but more prevalent backwardness. The fact is that
the old ideas of conduct in general are altogether too restricted for
the new requirements, so that the village life suffers throughout from a
sort of ethical starvation. I gladly admit that, for the day's work and
its hardships, the surviving sentiments in favour of industry, patience,
good-humour, and so on, still are strong; and I do not forget the
admirable spirit of the cottage women in particular; yet it is true that
for the wider experiences of modern life other sentiments or ideals, in
addition to those of the peasants, need development, and that progress
in them is behindhand in the village. What the misbehaviour of the
village boys illustrates in one direction may be seen in other
directions amongst the men and women and children.

Like other people, the cottagers have their emotional susceptibilities,
which, however, are either more robust than other people's or else more
sluggish. At any rate it takes more than a little to disturb them.
During last winter I heard of a man--certainly he was one of the older
sort, good at many an obsolete rural craft--who had had chilblains burst
on his fingers, and had sewn up the wounds himself with needle and
cotton. There is no suspicion of inhumanity against him, yet it seemed
to me that in fiercer times he would have made a willing torturer; and
other little incidents--all of them recent ones too--came back to my
mind when I heard of him. In one of these a servant-girl from the
village was concerned--a quiet and timid girl she was said to be; yet,
on her own initiative, and without consulting her mistress, she drowned
a stray cat which was trying to get a footing in the household. Again, I
myself heard and wondered at the happy prattle of two little girls--the
children, they, of a most conscientious man and woman--as they told of
the fun they had enjoyed, along with their father and mother, in
watching a dog worry a hedgehog. And yet it is plain enough that the
faculty for compassion and kindness is inborn in the villagers, so that
their susceptibilities might just as well be keen as blunt. In their
behaviour to their pets the gentle hands and the caressing voices
betoken a great natural aptitude for tenderness. And not to their pets
only. All one afternoon I heard, proceeding from a pig-stye, the voice
of an elderly man who was watching an ailing sow there. "_Come_ on, ol'
gal ... _come_ on, ol' gal," he said, over and over again in tireless
repetition, as sympathetically as if he were talking to a child. Where
the people fail in sensitiveness is from a want of imagination, as we
say, though we should say, rather, a want of suppleness in their ideas.
They can sympathize when their own dog or cat is suffering, because use
has wakened up their powers in that direction; but they do not abstract
the idea of suffering life and apply it to the tormented hedgehog,
because their ideas have not been practised upon imagined or
non-existent things in such a way as to become, as it were, a detached
power of understanding, generally applicable.

But is it to be wondered at if some unlovely features appear in the
village character? Or is it not rather a circumstance to give one
pause, that these commercially unsuccessful and socially neglected
people, whose large families the self-satisfied eugenist views with such
solemn misgivings, should be in the main so kindly, so generous, and
sometimes so lofty in their sentiments as in fact they are? With like
disadvantages, where are there any other people in the country who would
do so bravely? If it is clear that they miss a rich development of their
susceptibilities, a reason why is no less clear. I have just hinted at
it. The ample explanation is in the fact that they have hardly any
imaginary or non-existent subjects upon which to exercise emotional
sensibility for its own sake, so that it may grow strong and fine by
frequent practice; but they have to wait for some real thing to move
them--some distressful occurrence in the valley itself, like that
mentioned earlier in this book, when a man trimming a hedge all but
killed his own child, and a thrill of horror shuddered through the
cottages. Of matters like this the people talk with an excited
fascination, there being so little else to stir them. Instead of the
moving accident by flood or field, they have the squalid or merely
agonizing accident. Sickness amongst friends or neighbours affords
another topic upon which their emotion seeks exercise: they linger over
the discussion of it, talking in moaning tones instinctively intended to
stimulate feeling. Then there are police-court cases. Some man gets
drunk, and is fined; or cannot pay his rent, and is turned out of his
cottage; or misbehaves in such a way that he is sent to gaol. The talk
of it threads its swift way about the village--goes into intimate
details, too, relating how the culprit's wife "took on" when her man was
sentenced; or how his children suffer; or perhaps how the magistrates
bullied him, or how he insulted the prosecuting lawyer.

It is natural that the people should be greedy readers (when they can
read at all) of the sensational matter supplied by newspapers.
Earthquakes, railway disasters, floods, hurricanes, excite them not
really disagreeably. So, too, does it animate them to hear of prodigies
and freaks of Nature, as when, a little while ago, the papers told of a
man whose flesh turned "like marble," so that he could not bend his
limbs for fear lest they should snap. Anything to wonder at will serve;
anything about which they can exclaim. That feeling of the crowd when
fireworks call forth the fervent "_O-oh!_" of admiration, is the village
feeling which delights in portents of whatever kind. But nothing else is
quite so effectual to that end as are crimes of violence, and especially
murder. For, after all, it is the human element that counts; and these
descendants of peasants, having no fictitious means of acquainting
themselves with human passion and sentiment, such as novels and dramas
supply in such abundance to other people, turn with all the more
avidity to the unchosen and unprepared food furnished to their starving
faculties by contemporary crime.

There is, indeed, another side to their sensationalism which should be
noticed. I was a little startled some years ago by a scrap of
conversation between two women. The papers at that time were full of a
murder which had been committed in a village neighbouring this, the
young man accused of it being even then on his trial. It was in the
evidence that he had visited his home quite an hour after the time when
the deed must have been done, and these women were discussing that
point, one of them saying: "I don't believe _my_ boy would ha' come 'ome
that Sunday night if _he'd_ ha' done it." It was surprising to me to
hear a respectable mother speculate as to how her own son would behave
in such a case, or contemplate even the possibility of his being guilty
of murder; and I thought it all too practical a way of considering the
subject. But it revealed how appallingly real such things may be to
people who, as I tried to show farther back, have reason to feel a
little like an alien race under our middle-class law. Very often one may
discern this personal or practical point of view in their
sensationalism: they indulge it chiefly for the sake of excitement, but
with a side glance at the bearing which the issue may have upon their
own affairs. In a foul case which was dealt with under the Criminal Law
Amendment Act, large numbers of our cottage women flocked to the town
to hear the trial, attracted partly by the hope of sensation, of course,
but also very largely actuated by a sentiment of revenge against the
offender; for here the safety of their own young daughters was involved.

Be this as it may, still it is true that the two sources I have
mentioned--namely, the sensational news in the papers and the distresses
and misdemeanours in the village itself--supply practically all that the
average cottager gets to touch his sentiments and emotions into life;
and it is plain enough that from neither of these sources, even when
supplemented by a fine traditional family life, can a very desirable
spiritual nourishment be obtained. "Real" enough the fare is, in all
conscience; but, as usual with realities of that sort, it wants
choiceness. It provides plenty of objects for compassion, for anxiety,
for contempt, for ridicule even, but very little for emulation, for
reverence. The sentiments of admiration and chivalry, the enthusiastic
emotions, are hardly ever aroused in man or woman, boy or girl, in the
village. Nothing occurs in the natural course to bring what is called
"good form" into notice and make it attractive, and at the same time the
means of bringing this about by art demand more money, more leisure and
seclusion, more book-learning too, than the average labourer can obtain.
In the middle-classes this is not the case. It is true that the
middle-classes have little to boast of in this respect, but generous
ideas of modesty and reverence, and of "playing the game," and of public
duty, and of respect for womanhood, have at least a chance of spreading
amongst boys and girls, in households where art and books are valued,
and where other things are talked of than the sordid scandals of the
valley and of the police-courts. The difference that the want of this
help may make was brought forcibly home to me one day. I came upon a
group of village boys at play in the road, just as one of them--a fellow
about thirteen years old--conceived a bright idea for a new game. "Now
I'll be a murderer!" he cried, waving his arms ferociously.

There are other circumstances that tend to keep the standard of
sentiment low. As the boys begin to work for money at so early an age,
the money-value of conduct impresses itself strongly upon them, and they
soon learn to think more of what they can get than of what they can do
or are worth. And while they have lost all the steadying influence that
used to flow from the old peasant crafts, they get none of the
steadiness which would come from continuity of employment. The work they
do as errand-boys calls neither for skill in which they might take pride
nor for constancy to any one master; but it encourages them to be
mannish and "knowing" long before their time. Of course the more
generous sentiments are at a discount under such conditions.

Then, too, there can be little doubt that the "superior" attitude of
the employing classes has its injurious effect upon the village
character. The youth who sees his father and mother and sisters treated
as inferiors, and finds that he is treated so too, is led unconsciously
to take a low view of what is due either to himself or to his friends.
The sort of view he takes may be seen in his behaviour. The gangs of
boys who troop and lounge about the roads on Sundays are generally being
merely silly in the endeavour to be witty. They laugh loudly, yet not
humorously and kindly (one very rarely hears really jolly laughter in
the village), but in derision of one another or of the wayfarers--girls
by preference. So far as one can overhear it, their fun is always of
that contumacious character, and it must be deadly to any sentiment of
modesty, or honour, or reverence.

It requires but little penetration to see how these circumstances react
upon the village girls. The frolicsome and giddy appear to enjoy
themselves much as the boys do, but the position must be cruel to those
of a serious tendency. To be treated with disrespect and be made the
subjects of rough wit as they go about is only the more acute part of
their difficulty. One may suppose that at home they find little
appreciation of any high sentiments, but are driven, in self-defence, to
be rather flippant, rather "worldly." The greater number of house
mistresses, meanwhile, if one may judge from their own complacent
conversation, behave in a way most unlikely to contribute to their
servants' self-respect. It is hard to believe that any really high
sentiment is to be learnt from women who, for all the world as if they
were village louts, make light of a girl's feelings, and regard her
love-affairs especially as a proper subject for ridicule or for



As one of the managing committee of the village schools for a good many
years, I have had considerable opportunity of watching the children
collectively. The circumstances, perhaps, are not altogether favourable
to the formation of trustworthy opinions. Seen in large numbers, and
under discipline too, the children look too much alike; one misses the
infinite variety of their personalities such as would appear in them at
home. On the other hand, characteristics common to them all, which might
pass unnoticed in individuals, become obvious enough when there are many
children together.

In the main the "stock" has always seemed to me good, and to some extent
my impression is supported by the results of the medical inspection now
undertaken at the schools by the County Council. Such defects as the
doctor finds are generally of no deep-seated kind: bad teeth, faulty
vision (often due, probably, to improper use of the eyes in school),
scalp troubles, running ears, adenoids, and so on, are the commonest.
Insufficient nutrition is occasionally reported. In fact the medical
evidence tells, in a varied form, much the same tale that school
managers have been able to read for themselves in the children's
dilapidated boots and clothes, and their grimy hands and uncared-for
hair, for it all indicates poverty at home, want of convenience for
decent living, and ignorance as well as carelessness in the parents. All
this we have known, but now we learn from the doctor that the evil
effects of these causes do not stop at the clothes and skin, but go a
little deeper. Yet probably they have not hurt the essential nature of
the children. Congenital defects are rare; the doctor discovers even a
high average of constitutional fitness, due, it may be, to severe
"natural" selection weeding out the more delicate. It is certain that
the village produces quite a fair proportion of really handsome
children, besides those of several of the old families, who are wont to
be of exceptional beauty. Unhappily, before the school-years are over,
the fineness usually begins to disappear, being spoilt, I suspect,
partly by the privations of the home-life and partly by another cause,
of which I will speak by-and-by.

I think, further--but it is only a vague impression, not worth much
attention--that as regards physique the girls are as a rule more
thriving and comely than the boys. The latter appear very apt to become
knottled and hard, and there is a want of generosity in their growth, as
though they received less care than the girls, and were more used to
going hungry, and being cold and wet. But if my impression is right,
there are two points to be noticed in further explanation of it. The
first point relates to the early age at which the boys begin to be
useful at work. It has been already told how soon they are set to earn a
little money out of school-hours; but even before that stage is reached
the little boys have to make themselves handy. On the Saturday holiday
it is no uncommon thing to see a boy of eight or nine pushing up the
hill a little truck loaded with coal or coke, which he has been sent to
buy at the railway yard. Smaller ones still are sent to the shops, and
not seldom they are really overloaded. Thus at an age when boys in
better circumstances are hardly allowed out alone, these village
children practise perforce a considerable self-reliance, and become
acquainted with the fatigue of labour. Some little chaps, as they go
about their duties--leading lesser brothers by the hand perhaps, or
perhaps dealing very sternly with them, and making them "keep up"
without help--have unawares the manner of responsible men.

That is one point which may help to account for the apparent physical
disparity between the boys and girls of the village. The other is a
subject of remark amongst all who know the school-children. There is no
doubt about it; whether the girls are comelier of growth than the boys
or not, they are in behaviour so much more civilized that one might
almost suppose them to come from different homes. To my mind this might
be sufficiently explained by the fact that they are usually spared those
burdensome errands and responsibilities which are thrust so soon upon
their brothers; but the schoolmaster has another explanation, which
probably contains some truth. His view is that at home the girls come
chiefly under the influence of their mothers, whose experience of
domestic service gives them an idea of manners, while the boys take
pattern from their fathers, whose work encourages roughness. Whatever
the cause, the fact remains: the boys may be physically as sound as the
girls, but they certainly have less charm. It is not often delightful to
see them. They do not stand up well; they walk in a slouching and
narrow-chested way; and, though they are mischievous enough, there is
strangely wanting in them an air of alertness, of vivacity, of delight
in life. There is no doubt that their heavily-ironed and ill-fitting
boots cause them to walk badly; yet it is only reasonable to suppose
that this is but one amongst many difficulties, and that, in general,
the conditions in which the boys live are unfavourable to a good
physical growth.

As regards intellectual power, in boys and girls too, the evidence--to
be quite frank--does not bear out all that I wish to believe; for, in
spite of appearances, I am not yet persuaded that these cottage children
are by birth more dull of wit than town-bred children and those in
better circumstances. It must be remembered that in this village, so
near as it is to a town, there has been little of that migration to
towns which is said to have depleted other villages of their cleverer
people. A few lads go to sea, more than a few into the army; some of the
girls marry outside, and are lost to the parish. But it would be easy to
go through the valley and find, in cottage after cottage, the numerous
descendants of old families that flourished here, and were certainly not
deficient in natural brain-power, two generations ago, although it was
not developed in them on modern lines. Nor need one go back two
generations. To be acquainted with the fathers and mothers of the
school-children is to know people whose minds are good enough by nature,
and are only wanting in acquired power; and when, aware of this, one
goes into the school and sees the children of these parents, some of
them very graceful, with well-shaped heads and eyes that can sparkle and
lips that can break into handsome, laughing curves, it is very hard to
believe that the breed is dull. The stupidity is more likely due merely
to imperfect nurture; at any rate, one should not accept an explanation
of it that disparages the village capacity for intelligence until it is
made clear that the state of the children cannot be explained in any
other way.

Leaving explanations aside, however, there is the fact, not to be
gainsaid, that the children in general are slow of wit. One notes it in
the infant school first, and especially in the very youngest classes.
There, newly come from their mother's care, the small boys and girls
from five to six years old have often a wonderfully vacant expression.
There is little of that speculative dancing of the eyes, that evident
appetite for perceptions and ideas, which you will find in well-to-do
nurseries and playrooms. And whereas in the latter circumstances
children will take up pencil or paintbrush confidently, as if born to
master those tools, the village infant is hesitating, clumsy, feeble.
Upon the removal of a child to the upper or "mixed" school, a certain
increase of intelligence often seems to come at a bound. The
circumstance is highly suggestive. The "infant" of seven is suddenly
brought into contact with older scholars already familiarized with
particular groups of ideas, and those ideas are speedily absorbed by the
little ones, while the swifter methods of teaching also have their
quickening effect, for a time. But after this jump has been made and
lost sight of--that is to say amongst the older scholars, who do not
again meet with such a marked change of environment--one is again aware
of considerable mental density throughout the school. The children
resemble their parents. They are quick enough to observe details, though
not always the details with which the teacher is concerned, but they
have very little power of dealing with the simplest abstractions. They
are clumsy in putting two thoughts together for comparison; clumsy in
following reasons, or in discussing underlying principles. In short,
"thinking" is an art they hardly begin to practise. They can learn and
apply a "rule of thumb," a folk-rule, so to speak--but there is no flow,
nor anything truly consecutive, in the movement of their ideas.
Elsewhere one may hear children of six or seven--little well-cared-for
people--keep up a continual stream of intelligent and happy talk with
their parents or nursemaids; but to the best of my belief this does not
happen amongst the village children, at any age.

Observations of them at play, in the cottage gardens or on the road,
throw some light on their condition. It would appear that they are
extremely ill-supplied with subjects to think about. In the exercise of
imagination, other children fall naturally into habits of consecutive
thought, or at any rate of consecutive fancy; but these of the labouring
class have hardly any ideas which their young brains could play with,
other than those derived from their own experience of real life in the
valley, or those which they hear spoken of at home. Hence in their
histrionic games of "pretending" it is but a very limited repertory of
parts that they can take. Two or three times I have come upon a little
group of them under a hedgerow or sun-warmed bank, playing at school;
the teacher being delightfully severe, and the scholars delightfully
naughty. And now and again there is a feeble attempt at playing
soldiers. Very often, too, one may see boys, in string harness, happy in
being very mettlesome horses. In one case a subtle variant of this game
inspired two small urchins to what was, perhaps, as good an imaginative
effort as I have met with in the village. The horse, instead of being
frisky, was being slow, so that the driver had to swear at him. And most
vindictive and raucous was the infant voice that I heard saying, "Git
up, you blasted lazy cart-'orse!" Other animals are sometimes
represented. With a realistic grunt, a little boy, beaming all over his
face, said to his companion, "Now I'll be your pig." Another day it
puzzled me to guess what a youngster was doing, as he capered furiously
about the road, wearing his cap pushed back and two short sticks
protruding from beneath it over his forehead; but presently I perceived
that he was a "bullick" being driven to market. Excepting the case
already mentioned, of the boy who proposed to "be a murderer," I do not
recall witnessing any other forms of the game of "pretending" amongst
the village children, unless in the play of little girls with their
dolls. There was one very pretty child who used to prattle to me
sometimes about her "baby," and how it had been "bad," that is to say,
naughty, and put to bed; or had not had its breakfast. This little girl
was an orphan who lived with her grandfather and a middle-aged aunt, and
was much petted by them. She was almost alone too, amongst the village
children of that period, in being the possessor of a doll, for no more
than five or six years ago one rarely saw such a thing in the village.
Christmas-trees have since done something to make up the deficiency. A
month or two ago I saw a four-year-old girl--a friend of mine from a
neighbour's cottage--solemnly walking down a by-lane alone, carrying a
rag-doll half as big as herself. I stopped, and admired; but, in spite
of her pride, she took a very matter-of-fact view of her toy. "It's head
keeps comin' off," was all that she could be persuaded to say.

"Matter-of-fact" is what the children are, for the most part. One autumn
evening, after dark, titterings and little squeals of excitement sounded
from a neighbour's garden, where a man, going to draw water from his
well, and carrying a lantern, was accompanied by four or five children.
In the security of his presence they were pretending to be afraid of
"bogies." "If a bogie was to come," I heard, "I should get up that
apple-tree, and then if he come up after me I should get down t'other
side." An excited laugh was followed by the man's contemptuous
remonstrance, "_Shut_ up!" which produced silence for a minute or two,
until the party were returning to the cottage; when a very endearing
voice called softly, "Bo-gie! Bo-gie! Come, bogie!" This instance of
fancy in a cottage child stands, however, alone in my experience. I have
never heard anything else like it in the village. The children romp and
squabble and make much noise; they play, though rarely, at
hide-and-seek; or else they gambol about aimlessly, or try to sing
together, or troop off to look at the fowls or the rabbits. The bigger
children are as a rule extremely kind to the lesser ones. A family of
small brothers and sisters who lived near me some time ago were most
pleasant to listen to for this reason. The smallest of them, a
three-year-old boy commonly called "'Arry," was their pet. "Look, 'Arry;
here's a _dear_ little flow-wer! A little 'arts-ease--look, 'Arry!"
"'Ere, 'Arry, have a bite o' this nice apple!" They were certainly
attractive children, though formidably grubby as to their faces. I heard
them with their father, admiring a litter of young rabbits in the hutch.
"O-oh, en't that a _dear_ little thing!" they exclaimed, again and
again. Sunday was especially delightful to them because their father was
at home then; and I liked to hear him playing with them. One
particularly happy hour they had, in which he feigned to be angry and
they to be defiant. They jumped about just out of his reach, jeering at
him. "Old Father Smither!" they cried, as often as their peals of
laughter would let them cry anything at all. But it struck me as very
strange that their sing-song derision was not going to the right tune
and rhythm; for there is a genuine folk-tune which I thought
indissolubly wedded to this derisive formula. Beginning in a long drawl,
it throws all the weight on the first and fourth syllables: "_Old_
Father _Smith_-er." But these children, apparently ignorant of it, had
invented a rhythm of their own, in which the first syllable, "Old," was
almost elided, and the weight was thrown on the next. I could not help
wondering at the breach which this indicated with the ancient folk

If it were necessary, plentiful other evidence could be produced of the
children's great need for more subjects upon which to exercise their
thoughts and fancies. For one example: some years ago a little
maidservant from this village was found, when she went to her first
"place" in the town, never to have seen a lamb, or a pond of water. This
was an extreme case, perhaps; but it suggests how badly the children are
handicapped. As recently as last year, when a circus was visiting the
town, I asked two village boys on the road if they had seen the
procession. They had not; nor had they ever in their lives seen a camel
or an elephant; but one of them "thought he should know an elephant, by
his trunk." He was probably eight years old; and it is worth noting that
he must have owed his enlightenment to books or pictures seen at school;
indeed, there is nothing of the sort to be learnt at home, where there
are no books, and where the parents, themselves limited to so narrow a
range of experience and therefore of ideas, are not apt to encourage
inquisitiveness in their children. A man who lived near me a few years
ago could often be heard, on Sundays and on summer evenings, chiding
his little son for that fault. "Don't you keep on astin' so many
questions," was his formula, which I must have heard dozens of times.
One can sympathize: it would be so much easier to give the child a bun,
or the cottage equivalent, and order him to eat it; but that does not
satisfy the child's appetite for information. Probably the great
difficulty is that the children's questions can hardly any longer turn
upon those old-fashioned subjects which the parents understand, but upon
new-fangled things. And, apart from all this, I suspect that in most of
the cottages the old notion prevails that children should be kept in
their place, and not encouraged to bother grown-up people with their
trumpery affairs.

From the contrast between the talk of the village youngsters and that of
children who are better cared for, I inferred just now a want of "flow"
in the thoughts of the former, as though the little scrappy ideas
existed in their brains without much relationship to one another. Of
course it is possible that the brain activity is far greater than one
would surmise, and that it only seems sluggish because of the
insufficiency of our village speech as a means of expression, for
certainly the people's vocabulary is extremely limited, while they have
no habit of talking in sentences of any complexity. Yet where a language
has neither abundant names for ideas, nor flexible forms of
construction to exhibit variations of thought, it is hard to believe
that the brain-life itself is anything but cramped and stiff.

And if the crude phrasing indicates poverty in the more definite kinds
of ideas, I cannot help thinking that another feature of the children's
talk betrays no less a poverty, in respect to those more vague ideas
which relate to behaviour and to perception of other people's position
and feelings. It was since beginning this chapter that I happened to be
walking for some distance in front of four children--three girls and a
boy--from a comfortable middle-class home. It was a Sunday morning, and
they were chatting very quietly, so that their words did not reach me;
but I found it very agreeable to hear the variety of cadence in their
voices, with occasionally pauses, and then a resumption of easy talk, as
if they had got a subject to consider in serious lights, and recognized
each other's right to be heard and understood. Indeed, it bordered on
priggishness, and perhaps over-stepped the border; but nevertheless it
made me feel jealous for our village children, for in the conversation
of village children one never hears that suggestion of a considerate
mental attitude towards one another. The speech is without flexibility
or modulation of tone; harsh, exclamatory, and screaming, or guttural
and drawling. Rarely, if ever, does one derive from it an impression
that the children are growing to regard one another's feelings, or one
another's thoughts. A further point must be mentioned. I hinted that
there might be an additional cause, besides physical privations, for the
loss of the children's attractiveness in many cases even before they
leave school. My belief is that, as they approach the age when ideas of
a sensitive attitude towards life should begin to sway them,
unconsciously moulding the still growing features into fineness, those
ideas do not come their way. The boys of eight begin to look, at times,
like little men; and the girls of eleven and upwards begin to show signs
of acquaintance with struggling domestic economies; but neither boys nor
girls discover, in the world into which they are growing up, any truly
helpful ideas of what it is comely to be and to think. Lingering peasant
notions of personal fitness and of integrity keep them from going
viciously wrong, so that when they come to puberty their perplexed
spirits are not quite without guidance; yet, after all, the peasant
conditions are gone, and seeing that the new wage-earning conditions do
not, of themselves, suggest worthy ideas of personal bearing, the
children's faculties for that sort of thing soon cease to unfold, and
with a gradual slackening of development the attractiveness disappears.
The want is the more to be regretted in that, at a later time of life,
when the women have been moulded by motherhood and the men by all the
stress and responsibility of their position, such composure and strength
often appear in them as to justify a suspicion that these uncared-for
people are by nature amongst the very best of the English.





The last twenty years having witnessed so much change in the village, it
is interesting to speculate as to the farther changes that may be looked
for in the years to come; indeed, it is more than merely interesting.
Educational enthusiasts are busy; legislators have their eye on
villages; throughout the leisured classes it is habitual to look upon
"the poor" as a sort of raw material, to be remodelled according to
leisured ideas of what is virtuous, or refined, or useful, or nice; and
nobody seems to reflect that the poor may be steadily, albeit
unconsciously, moving along a course of their own, in which they might
be helped a little, or hindered a little, by outsiders, but from which
they will not in the long run be turned aside. Yet such a movement, if
it is really proceeding, will obviously stultify the most
well-intentioned schemes that are not in accordance with it.

And, if I am not greatly mistaken, it is under way. That seems to me an
ill-grounded complacency which permits easy-going people to say lightly,
"Of course we want a few reforms," as if, once those reforms were
brought to pass, the labouring population would thereafter settle down
and change no more. In one respect, no doubt, there is little more to be
looked for. The changes so far observed have been thrust upon the people
from outside--changes in their material or social environment, followed
by mere negations on their part, in the abandonment of traditional
outlooks and ambitions; and of course in that negative direction the
movement must come to an end at last. But when there are no more old
habits to be given up, there is still plenty of scope for acquiring new
ones, and this is the possibility that has to be considered. What if,
quietly and out of sight--so quietly and inconspicuously as to be
unnoticed even by the people themselves--their English nature,
dissatisfied with negations, should have instinctively set to work in a
positive direction to discover a new outlook and new ambitions? What if
the merely mechanical change should have become transmuted into a vital
growth in the people's spirit--a growth which, having life in it, must
needs go on spontaneously by a process of self-unfolding? If that should
be the case, as I am persuaded that it is, then the era of change in the
village is by no means over; on the contrary, it is more likely that the
greatest changes are yet to come.

As the signs which should herald their approach will be those of
recovery from the mental and spiritual stagnation into which the village
has been plunged, and as we may regard that stagnation as the
starting-point from which any further advance will proceed, it is worth
while to fix it in our minds by a similitude. What has most obviously
happened to the village population resembles an eviction, when the
inmates of a cottage have been turned out upon the road-side with their
goods and chattels, and there they sit, watching the dismantling of
their home, and aware only of being moved against their will. It is a
genuine movement of them; yet it does not originate with them; and the
first effect of it upon them is stagnation. Unable to go on in their old
way, yet knowing no other way in which to go on, they merely wait

The similitude really fits the case very well, in this village at least,
and probably in many others. Of the means whereby the people have been
thrust out from the peasant traditions in which they were at home I have
discussed only the chief one--namely, the enclosure of the common. That
was the cause which irresistibly compelled the villagers to quit their
old life; but of course there were other causes, less conspicuous here
than they have been elsewhere, yet operative here too. Free Trade,
whilst it made the new thrift possible, at the same time effectually
undermined many of the old modes of earning a living; and more
destructive still has been the gradual adoption of machinery for rural
work. We are shocked to think of the unenlightened peasants who broke
up machines in the riots of the eighteen-twenties, but we are only now
beginning to see fully what cruel havoc the victorious machines played
with the defeated peasants. Living men were "scrapped"; and not only
living men. What was really demolished in that struggle was the country
skill, the country lore, the country outlook; so that now, though we
have no smashed machinery, we have a people in whom the pride of life is
broken down: a shattered section of the community; a living engine whose
fly-wheel of tradition is in fragments, and will not revolve again. Let
us mark the finality of that destruction before going further. Whatever
prosperity may return to our country places, it will not be on the old
terms. The "few reforms," whether in the direction of import duties, or
small holdings, or "technical education" in ploughing or fruit-pruning
or forestry or sheep-shearing, can never in themselves be a substitute
for the lost peasant traditions, because they are not the same kind of
thing. For those traditions were no institutions set up and cherished by
outside authority. Associated though they were with industrial and
material well-being, they meant much more than that to country folk;
they lived in the popular tastes and habits, and they passed on
spontaneously from generation to generation, as a sort of rural
civilization. And you cannot create that sort of thing by Act of
Parliament, or by juggling with tariffs, or by school lessons. An
imitation of the shell of it might be set up; but the life of it is
gone, not to be restored. That is the truth of the matter. The old rural
outlook of England is dead; and the rural English, waiting for something
to take its place, for some new tradition to grow up amongst them, are
in a state of stagnation.

In looking for signs of new growth, it must be observed that not all
steps in the transition are equally significant. Amongst the
modifications of habit slowly proceeding in the village to-day, there
are some which should be regarded rather as a final relinquishment of
old ways than as a spontaneous forward movement into new ones. Thus,
although the people comply more and more willingly with the by-laws of
the sanitary authority, I could not say with conviction that this is
anything more than a compliance. As they grow less used to squalor, no
doubt they cannot bear its offensiveness so well as of old; but we may
not infer from this fact that any new and positive aspirations towards a
comelier home-life have been born in them. The improvement is only one
of those negative changes that have been thrust upon them from the

Nor can anything better be said of their increasing conformity to the
requirements of the new thrift. I think it true that the wages are spent
more prudently than of old. The sight of a drunken man begins to be
unusual; he who does not belong to a "club" is looked upon as an
improvident fool; but to imagine the people thus parsimonious for the
pleasure of it is to imagine a vain thing. Their occasional outbursts of
extravagance and generosity go to show that their innermost taste has
not found a suitable outlet in wage-earning economy. That miserly
"thrift" which is preached to them as the whole duty of "the Poor"--what
attractions can it have for their human nature? If men practise it, they
do so under the compulsion of anxiety, of fear. Their acquiescence may
seem like a change; yet as it springs from no germinating tastes or
desires or inner initiative, so it acquires no true momentum. Not in
that, nor in any other submissive adaptation to the needs of the passing
moment, shall we see where the villagers are really rousing out of
stagnation into a new mode of life.

On the other hand, where their vitality goes out, under no necessity,
but of its own accord, to do something new just for the sake of doing
it, there a true growth is proceeding; and there are signs that this is
happening. Especially one notes three main directions in which, as I
think, the village is astir--three directions, coinciding with three
kinds of opportunity. The opportunities are those afforded, first by the
Church and other agencies of a missionary kind; second, by newspapers;
and third, by political agitation. In each of these directions the
village instincts appear to be finding something that they want, and to
be moving towards it spontaneously--for they are under no compulsion to
move. The invitations from the Church, it is true, never cease; but no
villager is obliged to accept them against his will, any more than a
horse need drink water put before him.

1. In estimating the influence of the Church (Dissent has but a small
following here) it should be remembered that until some time after the
enclosure of the common the village held no place of worship of any
denomination. Moreover, the comparatively few inhabitants of that time
were free from interference by rich people or by resident employers.
They had the valley to themselves; they had always lived as they liked,
and been as rough as they liked; and there must have been memories
amongst them--quite recent memories then--of the lawless life of other
heath-dwellers, their near neighbours, in the wide waste hollows of
Hindhead. We may therefore surmise that when the church was built a
sprinkling at least of the villagers were none too well pleased. This
may partly explain the sullen hostility of which the clergy are still
the objects in certain quarters of the village, and which the Pharisaism
of some of their friends does much to keep alive. The same causes may
have something to do with the fact that the majority of the labouring
men appear to take no interest at all in religion.

Still, there are more than a few young men, and of the old village stock
too, who yield very readily to the influences of the Church. A family
tradition no doubt predisposes them to do so; for, be it said, not all
of the old villagers were irreligious. Echoes of a rustic Christianity,
gentle and resigned as that which the Vicar of Wakefield taught to his
flock, may be heard to-day in the talk of aged men and women here and
there; and though that piety has gone rather out of fashion, the taste
for something like it survives in these young men. The Church attracts
them; they approve its ideas of decorous life; it is a school of good
manners to them, if not of high thinking, with the result that they
begin to be quite a different sort of people from their fathers and
grandfathers. A pleasant suavity and gentleness marks their behaviour.
They are greatly self-respecting. Their tendency is to adopt and live up
to the middle-class code of respectability.

Neither by temperament nor by outlook are they equipped for the hardship
of real labouring life. These are the men, rather, who get the lighter
work required by the residential people in the villa gardens; or they
fill odd places in the town, where character is wanted more than
strength or skill. They fill them well, too, in very trustworthy and
industrious fashion. A few of them have learnt trades, and are saving
money, as bricklayers, carpenters, clerks even. It was from the ranks of
this group that a young man emerged, some years ago, as a speculating
builder. He put up three or four cottages, and then came to grief; but I
never heard that anybody but himself suffered loss by the collapse of
his venture. He has left the neighbourhood, and I mention him now only
to exhibit the middle-class tendencies of his kind. You will not find
any of these men going to a public-house. The "Institute" caters for
them, with its decorous amusements--billiards, dominoes, cribbage; but
they do not much affect the Institute Reading Room; indeed, I believe
them to be intellectually very docile to authority. Opinions they have,
on questions of the day, but not opinions formed by much effort of their
own. The need of the village, as they have felt it, is less for mental
than for ethical help. They desire something to guide their conduct and
their pastimes, and this leads them to respond to the invitation of the
Church and its allied influences.

I have an impression, too, that indirectly, through their example,
others are affected by those influences who do not so consciously yield
to them; at any rate a softening of manners seems to be in progress in
the village. It is not much, perhaps; it is certainly very indefinite,
and no doubt there are other causes helping to further it; but, such as
it is, the chief credit for it is due to the lead given by the Church.
Indeed, no other agency has done anything at all in the way of proposing
to the people an art of living, a civilization, to replace that of the
old rustic days.

2. With few exceptions the newspapers--chiefly weeklies, but here and
there a daily--which come into the villagers' hands are of the "yellow
press" kind; but for once a good effect may be attributed to them. It
resembles that which, in a smaller way, springs from the opportunities
of travelling afforded by railways. Just as few of our people now are
wholly restricted in their ideas of the world to this valley and the
horizons visible from its sides, but the most of them, in excursion
holidays at least, have seen a little of the extent and variety of
England, so, thanks to the cheap press, ideas and information about the
whole world are finding their way into the cottages of the valley; and
at the present stage it is not greatly important that the information is
less trustworthy than it might be. The main thing is that the village
mind should stretch itself, and look beyond the village; and this is
certainly happening. The mere material of thought, the quantity of
subjects in which curiosity may take an interest, is immeasurably
greater than it was even twenty years ago; and, if but sleepily as yet,
still the curiosity of the villagers begins to wake up. However superior
you may think yourself, you must not now approach any of the younger
labouring men in the assumption that they have not heard of the subject
you speak of. The coal-heaver, whose poverty of ideas I described
farther back, was talking to me (after that chapter was written) about
the life of coal-miners. He told of the poor wages they get for their
dangerous work; he discoursed of mining royalties, and explained some
points as to freightage and railway charges; and he was drifting towards
the subject of Trades Unions when our short walk home together came to
an end. Of course in this case the man's calling had given a direction
to his curiosity; but there are many subjects upon which the whole
village may be supposed to be getting ideas. Shackleton and the South
Pole are probably household words in most of the cottages; it may be
taken for granted that the wonders of flying machines are being eagerly
watched; it must not be taken for granted at all that the villagers are
ignorant about disease germs, and the causes of consumption, and the
spreading of plague by rats. Long after the King's visit to India, ideas
of Indian scenes will linger in the valley; and presently, when the
Panama Canal nears completion, and pictures of it begin to be given in
the papers, there will hardly be a labourer but is more or less familiar
with the main features of the work, and is more or less aware of its
immense political and commercial importance.

Thus the field of vision opens out vastly, ideas coming into it in
enough variety and abundance to begin throwing side-lights upon one
another and to illumine the whole village outlook upon life. And while
the field widens, the people are winning their way to a greater power of
surveying it intelligently; for one must notice how the newspapers,
besides giving information, encourage an acceptance of non-parochial
views. The reader of them is taken into the public confidence. Instead
of a narrow village tradition, national opinions are at his disposal,
and he is helped to see, as it were from the outside, the general aspect
of questions which, but for the papers, he would only know by his
individual experience from the inside. To give one illustration: the
labourer out of work understands now more than his own particular
misfortunes from that cause. He is discovering that unemployment is a
world-wide evil, which spreads like an infectious disease, and may be
treated accordingly. It is no small change to note, for in such ways,
all unawares, the people fall into the momentous habit of thinking about
abstract ideas which would have been beyond the range of their
forefathers' intellectual power; and with the ideas, their sentiments
gain in dignity, because the newspapers, with whatever ulterior purpose,
still make their appeal to high motives of justice, or public spirit, or
public duty. Fed on this fare, a national or standardized sentiment is
growing amongst the villagers, in place of the local prejudices which,
in earlier times, varied from valley to valley and allowed the people of
one village occasionally to look upon those in the next as their natural

3. Once or twice before I have mentioned, as characteristic of the
peasant outlook, the fatalism which allowed the poor to accept their
position as part of the unalterable scheme of the universe, and I
associated the attitude with their general failure to think in terms of
cause and effect. It would seem that this settled state of mind is
slowly giving way under the political excitement of the last ten years.
I cannot say, as yet, that anything worthy to be called hope has dawned
upon the cottagers; but an inclination to look into things for
themselves is discernible.

The change, such as it is, was begun--or, let us say, the ground was
prepared for its beginning--by the distress of unemployment which
followed the South African War; for then was bred that great discontent
which came to the surface at last in the General Election of 1906. I
well remember how, on the day when the Liberal victory in this division
was made known, the labouring men, standing about with nothing to do,
gladdened at the prospects of the relief which they supposed must at
once follow, and how their hungry eyes sparkled with excitement. "Time
there _was_ a change," one of them said to me, "with so many o' we poor
chaps out o' work." Then, as the months went by, and things worsened
rather than bettered, reaction set in. "'Twas bad enough under the
Conservatives, but 'tis ten times worse under the Liberals." That was
the opinion I heard expressed, often enough to suggest that it was
passing into a by-word. So, to all appearance, the old apathy was
falling upon the people, as no doubt it had often done before after a
momentary gleam of hope, confirming them in the belief that, whatever
happened, it would not, as they said, "make much odds to the likes o'

This time, however, a new factor in the situation had been introduced,
which tended to keep alive in village minds the possibility that
Poverty, instead of being the act of God, was an effect of causes which
might be removed. The gospel of "Tariff Reform" promised so much as to
make it worth the people's while to pay a little attention to politics.
Men who had never before in their lives tried to follow a logical
argument began at last to store up in their memory reasons and figures
in support of the fascinating doctrine, and if they were puzzle-headed
over it, they were not more so than their leaders. Besides, in their
case merely to have begun is much. Look at the situation. During six or
seven years, there has been before the village a vision of better times
to be realized by political action, and by support of a programme or a
policy, and the interest which the people have taken in it marks a
definite step forwards from the lethargy of stagnation in which they had
previously been sunk. True, this particular vision seems fading now.
Just when it ought to have been growing clearer and nearer, if it was to
justify itself, it becomes dim and remote, and my neighbours, I fancy,
are reverting to their customary attitude of aloofness from party
politics; but I should be much surprised to find that it is quite in
the old spirit. For the old spirit was one of indifference; it rested in
the persuasion that politicians of either side were only seeking their
own ends, and that the game was a rich man's game, in which the poor
were not meant to share. That, however, is hardly the persuasion now. If
the labourers hold aloof, keeping their own counsel, it is no longer as
outsiders, but as interested watchers, ready to take part strongly
whenever a programme shall be put before them that deserves their help.

I have suggested that the tendency of those who are influenced by the
Church is towards a middle-class outlook, and that their interest
centres in developments of taste and conduct rather than of intellect
and opinion. Nothing so definite can be said as to the effects of
newspaper reading and political excitement; nevertheless, I am conscious
of effects everywhere present. The labourers whose interests turn in
this direction seem to be treading in the footsteps of the skilled
artisans in the town, towards ambitions not in all respects identical
with those of the middle-classes. Of course the unskilled labourer
earning eighteen shillings a week has not equal opportunities with the
man who earns thirty-six; he cannot buy the newspapers and occasional
books to which the other treats himself and his children, and in general
he is less well informed. But the same grave and circumspect talk goes
down with the one as with the other; to both the same topics are

And for me the probability of a development for our village labourers
similar to that of the town artisans is heightened, by recollection of
what artisans themselves were like, say a quarter of a century ago. I
knew a few of these very well. As craftsmen they were as able as those
of to-day; but their crafts had not taught them to think. While they
worked by rule of thumb, outside their work they were as full of
prejudices, and as unable to grasp reasons, as any of my village
neighbours. The most of them, in fact, had been born in villages near
the town, and retained a good deal of the rural outlook. Their gardens,
and the harvest--yes, and odd scraps of very ancient folk-lore which
they still believed--occupied an important place in their attention.
They had quite the old attitude towards their employers; quite the old
stubborn distrust of innovations in their work. When, however, you turn
to their successors, you find a difference. I will not say that they are
less able than their predecessors, or less trustworthy; but they have
broken away from all that old simplicity of mind; they are thinking for
themselves, and informing themselves, with an unresting and unhasting
interest, about what the rest of the world knows. It fills me with
shame, when I consider my own so much better opportunities, to find how
much these hard-working men have learnt, and with what cool tenacity
they think. Where they are most wanting is in enthusiasm and the hopes
that breed it; or say, in belief that the world may yet change for the
better--though here, too, political excitement is doing its fateful
work. I find them very jealous for their children to do well: free
education has not sapped their sense of parental responsibility, but has
inspired them with ambitions, though not for themselves. For themselves
they are conscious of a want of that book-learned culture which the
practice of their skilled crafts cannot bestow, and this makes them
suspicious of those who have it and diffident in conversation with them.
But underneath this reticence and willingness to hear dwells a quiet
scepticism which has no docility in it, and is not to be persuaded out
of its way by any eloquence or any emotion. Missionary influences, like
those of church and chapel, make but little impression on these
quiet-eyed men. The tendency is towards a scientific rather than an
æsthetic outlook.

And just as, amongst the skilled craftsmen, there are individuals
representing every stage of the advance from five-and-twenty years ago
until now, so the earlier stages at least of the same advance are
represented, one beyond another, by labouring men in this village. I
could not find any labourers who are so far forward as the forwardest
artisans; but I could find some who have travelled, say, half the way,
and many who have reached different points between that and the
stagnation which was the starting-point for all. Hence I cannot doubt
that the villagers in general are moving on the route along which the
town artisans have passed a generation ahead of them. They are hindered
by great poverty; hampered by the excessive fatigues of their daily
work; entrammelled by remnants of the peasant traditions which still
cling about them; but the movement has begun. The first stupefying
effect of their eviction from the peasant life is passing away, and they
are setting their faces towards the future, to find a new way of life.

It may be urged that, along with the Church, the newspaper and politics,
education should have been named, as a fourth power affecting the
village destinies. A moment's consideration, however, will discover that
it does not come into the same category with those three influences, if
only for this reason, that it is forced upon the village children from
outside, while the older people have no chance to interest themselves in
it as they have in the Church teachings or in the daily paper. No
spontaneous movement, therefore, such as I have outlined in the other
cases, can be traced in regard to education; but I had a stronger reason
than that for omitting mention of it. To be quite plain, I do not think
it is making anything like so much impression on the village life as it
ought to make, and as it is commonly supposed to be making. It is not
quite a failure; but it is by no means a great success. In so far as it
has enabled the people to read their papers (and it has not done that
very well) it has been serviceable; but neither as a cause of change nor
as a guide into happier ways of life has it any claim to especial
mention in these chapters. I am not saying that it is unworthy of
attention: on the contrary, there is no subject relating to the village
that demands so much. If, as I believe, it is one, and the foremost, of
those activities which are largely abortive because they have not got
into touch with the spontaneous movement of the village life, the matter
is of the utmost seriousness. But this is not the place for entering
into it; for I have not set out to criticize the varied experiments in
reform which are being tried upon the labouring people. My book is
finished, now that I have pointed to the inner changes going on in the
village itself.

As to the future of those changes, I will not add to what I have already
said, but there is evidently much room for speculation; and those who
best know the villagers--their brave patience, their sincerity, the
excellent groundwork of their nature--and those who see how full of
promise are the children, generation after generation, until hardship
and neglect spoil them, will be slow to believe what leisured folk are
so fond of saying--namely, that these lowly people owe their lowliness
to defects in their inborn character. It is too unlikely. The race
which, years ago, in sequestered villages, unaided by the outer world
at all, and solely by force of its own accumulated traditions, could
build up that sturdy peasant civilization which has now gone--that race,
I say, is not a race naturally deficient. There is no saying what its
offspring may not achieve, once they get their powers of intellect awake
on modern lines and can draw freely upon the great world for ideas.

At any rate, the hope is great enough to forbid the indulgence of any
deep regret for what has gone by. The old system had gone on long
enough. For generations the villagers had grown up and lived and died
with large tracts of their English vitality neglected, unexplored; and I
do not think the end of that wasteful system can be lamented by anyone
who believes in the English. Rather it should reconcile us to the
disillusionments of this present time of transition. They are
devastating, I admit; for me, they have spoilt a great deal of that
pleasure which the English country used to give me, when I still fancied
it to be the scene of a joyful and comely art of living. I know now that
the landscape is not peopled by a comfortable folk, whose dear and
intimate love of it gave a human interest to every feature of its
beauty; I know that those who live there have in fact lost touch with
its venerable meanings, while all their existence has turned sordid and
anxious and worried; and knowing this, I feel a forlornness in country
places, as if all their best significance were gone. But,
notwithstanding this, I would not go back. I would not lift a finger,
or say a word, to restore the past time, for fear lest in doing so I
might be retarding a movement which, when I can put these sentiments
aside, looks like the prelude to a renaissance of the English

     Note.--In the preceding chapters no reference is made either to the
     new Insurance Act or to recent labour unrest. The book was, in
     fact, already in the publishers' hands when those matters began to
     excite general attention; and it hardly seems necessary now, merely
     for the sake of being momentarily up to date, to begin introducing
     allusions which after all would leave the main argument unchanged.

     _December_, 1911.



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