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Title: A Letter on the late Post Office Agitation
Author: Vaughan, Charles John
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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Transcribed from the 1849 John Murray edition by David Price, email

                               ON THE LATE
                          POST OFFICE AGITATION.

                                * * * * *


                        CHARLES JOHN VAUGHAN, D.D.

                       TRINITY COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE.

                                * * * * *

                      JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET:
                            CROSSLEY, HARROW.


                                * * * * *


                                * * * * *



We have been lately invited to sign a parochial remonstrance against some
projected changes in the business of the London Post Office.  I, for one,
declined the invitation.  I never thought of obtruding upon others my
_reasons_ for this refusal.  I am not the Minister of the Parish; nor
have my opinions, therefore, on such a subject, any particular claim on
the attention of my neighbours.

You know the circumstance which now compels me to explain myself.  I
regret the necessity.  But neither I, nor those who have agreed with me
on this occasion, can listen in silence to the imputation of being
indifferent to the national observance of the Sunday.  If I can show you
that we are not justly liable to this suspicion, it is well worth while
to do so.  If I fail to convince you, I shall at least have entered a
serious protest, for myself and them, against such an imputation.

I have thoroughly examined the original minute (submitted by Mr. Rowland
Hill to the Post Master General in February last) which formed the basis
of the late alteration in the Sunday duties of the Post Office.  I could
wish that that minute had been more generally studied by those who have
pronounced a judgment upon the question.  It is open to your inspection:
you may form, therefore, your own opinion upon the justice of the
following observations.

The measure now impugned (the transmission, namely, of certain provincial
and foreign letters through London on the Sunday) is not an isolated one.
It is but one part of a more general scheme.  And what is the object of
that scheme, as described in the minute referred to? {5}  _The reduction
of the Sunday duties of the Post Office_.  _The securing of the utmost
possible amount of Sunday rest to all connected with the Post Office_.
What, again, was the first part of the same measure?  What was that
earlier step, taken by the same persons in the same direction, of which
the present change is a consequence?  _The total suspension of all
money-order business on Sunday throughout England and Wales_.  And what
are some of those ulterior measures, to which the attention of the
originators of this is next to be directed?  _The deferring of work now
done on the Sunday till after midnight_. {6a}  _The reduction of Sunday
work_, _even at the chief Office_, _considerably below its present
amount_. {6b}  _Important measures of relief to the rural messengers and
rural receivers on the Sunday_. {6c}  What, finally, is the declared
object of the _present_ alteration?  _Further relief from Sunday labour
in the provincial Post Offices_; _and thus_, _the diminution of Sunday
work in the department as a whole_.  So far from its being correct to
state this as a merely accidental result of the measure, it is its very
object and purpose, to which all else is subordinate and subsidiary.

Ought not these considerations to preclude at least a precipitate
sentence of condemnation?  May we not be permitted to learn the object of
a measure from its author?  Are we justified in imputing to any man, I do
not say, motives which he disavows, but motives of which he professes the
very opposite, and against which his own previous and subsequent acts
obviously militate?

But the change, however well meant, may be practically injurious.  It may
cause more harm than it obviates.  It may introduce more Sunday labour
than it supersedes.  This is, of course, conceivable.  It is just
possible, doubtless, that an able and experienced officer of this
department of the Government may be found, on this one occasion, so
unskilful or so short-sighted, as to have effected, not _less_ than he
proposed, but the very _opposite_ of that which he designed.  But is it

It is admitted that, at first sight, the alteration in question may seem
to _increase_ the Sunday duties of the Post Office.  In London, to a
certain extent, it does.  It will require, at the outset, the additional
attendance of twenty-five persons (hereafter, possibly, of a somewhat
larger number) on Sunday in the London Post Office. {7}  That attendance,
you will observe is _voluntary_.  Nor is it allowed, in any case, to
infringe upon the hours of divine service.  It is proposed that the whole
interval from ten in the morning till five in the afternoon be left
perfectly free. {8a}  Nor yet would it be correct to represent the
alteration as involving any change of _principle_.  The attendance and
employment of _certain_ persons, the reception and assortment of
_certain_ letters, on the Sunday, even in the London Post Office, is no
new thing. {8b}  The conscience of the Christian community has left
_these_ practices unchallenged and unnoticed until now.  Such
considerations ought to have some weight in our estimate of the present
innovation.  Still, so far as it goes, and taken alone, the augmentation
of the Sunday force in the London Post Office is admitted to be an evil.
Is it counterbalanced by any greater good?

It is necessary to take a _national_ view of such a question.  The Post
Office system throughout England is one, not many.  The London Office,
and the provincial Offices, are but several parts of one connected whole.
The question, therefore, is, not whether this Office, or that Office,
separately regarded, will be a gainer or a loser by the change; but
whether, on the whole, the _aggregate_ of gain or of loss will
preponderate; whether, so to say, the Post Office of _England_, as
distinguished from that of London separately, or that of York or of
Manchester separately, will thus be relieved on the Sunday, or burdened.
If twenty-five _additional_ servants are required in the _London_ Office
on the Sunday, and _twice_ twenty-five can be _relieved_ on that day in
the _provincial_ Offices; the change, so far as it extends, is salutary.
Now, if this obvious principle be granted, the question is decided at
once.  Beyond all contradiction, the present measure is one of relief
from Sunday labour to the department _as a whole_.  But the opponents of
the measure argue thus: Taking the London Office by itself, an _addition_
is proposed to the labours of the Sunday: this is a sinful project: and
if it be urged, on the other side, that a tenfold _relief_ will thus be
afforded to the _provincial_ Offices, they answer, that this is but
_doing evil that good may come_.  Yet is not this argument capable of an
easy inversion?  Are you not, in _resisting_ the proposed relief of the
country Offices, on the plea of regard for that of London, doing, in
fact, a great evil—not that a small good may come, but that a small evil
may not come?

What, then, are some of the advantages (speaking merely with reference to
the observance of the Sunday) by which this admitted evil is
counterbalanced?  I will enumerate three only.

1.  The cessation of several Sunday cross-posts, by which the detention
of letters in London throughout that day has been hitherto evaded or
obviated: {10} and this, without any addition to the existing number of
mail-trains, or other means of transmission, to or from London, on the
Sunday. {11a}

2.  A great diminution of the former amount of letters written and read
in the country on that day. {11b}

3.  The entire discontinuance of a second delivery of letters on Sunday
throughout England and Wales: {12} a measure affecting considerably more
than two hundred Towns, and affording direct and immediate relief to a
very far larger number of persons.

Nor is it, perhaps, altogether presumptuous to express a hope that the
unrestricted _transmission_ of letters on the Sunday may eventually be
followed by an equally general _suspension_ of their _delivery_; by which
London and the country would be placed, in this respect, on a footing of
perfect equality; the due observance of the Sunday being alike in both
secured, with no injurious consequences, in either, to the business of
the following day.

Meanwhile, it is ascertained that, by the alterations already effected, a
very large body (amounting to some hundreds at least) of persons now
occupied on the Sunday in the provincial Offices, even during the hours
of public worship, will be enabled to obtain rest on that day, and to
enjoy without interruption the benefit of its religious services. {13}
The number of principal Post Offices thus benefited, in a greater or less
degree,—some to the extent of _seven hours_ of additional suspension of
business on every Sunday,—amounts very nearly to _five hundred_.  A very
far larger number, at present imperfectly ascertained, of Sub-offices
throughout the country, will partake of the same advantage.  The total
number of _persons_ thus relieved will obviously far exceed that of the
aggregate of _Offices_.  And who will say that these great benefits, _the
direct and principal __object_ (be it remembered) _of the whole measure_,
are utterly vitiated by their unavoidable accompaniment—the employment,
namely, of a small _additional_ force in _one_, the Metropolitan Office,
on the same day?

What, then, remains, to justify the agitation occasioned by this measure,
but a vague and indefinite suspicion that a change in one direction may
lead to a change in the other? that a measure which proposes neither to
bring in nor take out a single London letter on the Sunday, {14} may
eventually cause, in London itself, both a Sunday collection and a Sunday
delivery? that he who now seeks to lighten Sunday labour, to diminish
Sunday deliveries, Sunday letter-writing and letter-reading, may
hereafter lend his aid to their augmentation and diffusion?  Let these
evils be met, on their proper ground, and at the proper time.  Let the
good sense and the religious feeling of the country be appealed to when
the danger really threatens.  At present, it is as remote as ever.  It
will not be brought one step nearer by _this_ measure.  But it _may_ be
increased by a premature and unreasonable outcry, to be succeeded, as
usual, by a very natural recoil.

                          I remain, my dear Sir,

                                                         Yours very truly,

                                                            C. J. VAUGHAN.

         _November_ 16, 1849

_By the Same Author_.

SERMONS, chiefly Parochial.  8vo. 1845.

SERMONS, preached in the Chapel of Harrow School.  8vo.  1847.

NINE SERMONS, preached for the most part in the Chapel of Harrow School.
12mo.  1849.

                                * * * * *

AN EARNEST APPEAL to the Master and Seniors of Trinity College,
Cambridge, on the Revision of the Statutes.  By TWO OF THE FELLOWS, 8vo.


{5}  See Minute, 1, 2, 3.  “I beg to submit my views as to further
measures for reducing the Sunday duties of the Post Office.  The
importance of affording to all connected with the Post Office the utmost
amount of rest on the Sunday that is consistent with a due regard to
public convenience, having led to measures for the suspension of
money-order business on that day throughout England and Wales, it is very
satisfactory to remark, &c. &c.  And I confidently anticipate like
satisfactory results, should the Treasury concur in your Lordship’s
recent recommendation of a similar measure in Ireland and Scotland . . .
In considering the above improvement, the importance of similar relief as
respects other duties was kept in mind; and, from the investigations
which have been made, there can be no doubt that a further very important
relief as relates to Sunday work may be effected in all the provincial

{6a}  Minute, 25.

{6b}  Minute, 26.

{6c}  Minute, 39.

{7}  Minute, 18, 19.

{8a}  Minute, 17.

{8b}  Minute, 12, 13.  “Even to London [under the old system] nearly all
letters from Ireland, Scotland, and the out-ports, as also all foreign
and colonial letters whatever, are brought, as on other days; the same
being partly assorted at the chief office on the Sunday, for delivery or
for forwarding, as the case may be, the next morning.  For the
performance of these duties, and for the selection and delivery of the
‘States’ (letters addressed chiefly to the higher offices of Government),
twenty-six persons are ordinarily employed at the chief office on the
Sunday, their time of occupation being, on the average, six hours.  The
arrival of a heavy mail from abroad requires a greater force.”

{10}  Minute, 11.  “The evil of detention has been found so serious, that
in several cases the rule has been evaded, either by making use of other
existing channels for the conveyance of the mails sent on ordinary days
through London, or by the actual establishment of Sunday cross-posts;
either of which arrangements obviously involves increased expence,
trouble, liability to error, perplexity to the public, _and additional
Sunday work_.”

{11a}  Minute, 14, 33.

{11b}  Minute, 21, 22, 23.  “It is notorious that a blank post is
everywhere preceded and followed by a greater amount of correspondence
than usual.  Thus, in London, the average number of letters is greater on
Saturday by 6 per cent., and on Monday by 25 per cent., than on other
days.  But, as respects the correspondence sent through London, Saturday
evening is at present in most towns a blank post time.  It therefore
follows that such correspondence is despatched from the provinces in
unusual amount on Saturday morning, and on Sunday morning or evening,
according as there may or may not be a Sunday day mail.  Now each of
these augmentations tends to produce additional Sunday work, both to the
department and to the public.  For the letters in the first category are
for the most part distributed by the Post Office and read by the public
on the Sunday, and those in the second are for the most part written by
the public and despatched by the office on Sunday.  It is obvious
therefore that, as far as relates to the letters in question, the
proposed change would entirely get rid of Sunday work, as respects the
public; while, as respects the department, it would exchange work now
dispersed through nearly a thousand offices for concentrated employment
in one; the latter requiring a less proportionate force, and falling on
such time as to be dealt with without infringement on the hours of divine

{12}  Minute, 27, 28; where the _connection_ of this measure with that
now under consideration is more fully illustrated.

{13}  Minute, 37.

{14}  Minute, 34.

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