From Fraser's Magazine, No. CCCXXXVII. 1858.
The cholera, as was to be expected, has reappeared in England again; and England, as was to be expected, has taken no sufficient steps towards meeting it; so that if, as seems but too probable, the plague should spread next summer, we may count with tolerable certainty upon a loss of some ten thousand lives.
That ten thousand, or one thousand, innocent people should die, of whom most, if not all, might be saved alive, would seem at first sight a matter serious enough for the attention of "philanthropists." Those who abhor the practice of hanging one man would, one fancies, abhor equally that of poisoning many; and would protest as earnestly against the painful capital punishment of diarrhoea as against the painless one of hempen rope. Those who demand mercy for the Sepoy, and immunity for the Coolie women of Delhi, unsexed by their own brutal and shameless cruelty, would, one fancies, demand mercy also for the British workman, and immunity for his wife and family. One is therefore somewhat startled at finding that the British nation reserves to itself, though it forbids to its armies, the right of putting to death unarmed and unoffending men, women, and children.
After further consideration, however, one finds that there are, as usual, two sides to the question. One is bound, indeed, to believe, even before proof, that there are two sides. It cannot be without good and sufficient reason that the British public remains all but indifferent to sanitary reform; that though the science of epidemics, as a science, has been before the world for more than twenty years, nobody believes in it enough to act upon it, save some few dozen of fanatics, some of whom have (it cannot be denied) a direct pecuniary interest in disturbing what they choose to term the poison-manufactories of free and independent Britons.
Yes; we should surely respect the expressed will and conviction of the most practical of nations, arrived at after the experience of three choleras, stretching over a whole generation. Public opinion has declared against the necessity of sanitary reform: and is not public opinion known to be, in these last days, the Ithuriel's spear which is to unmask and destroy all the follies, superstitions, and cruelties of the universe? The immense majority of the British nation will neither cleanse themselves nor let others cleanse them: and are we not governed by majorities? Are not majorities, confessedly, always in the right, even when smallest, and a show of hands a surer test of truth than any amount of wisdom, learning, or virtue? How much more, then, when a whole free people is arrayed, in the calm magnificence of self- confident conservatism, against a few innovating and perhaps sceptical philosophasters? Then surely, if ever, vox populi is vox coeli.
And, in fact, when we come to examine the first and commonest objection against sanitary reformers, we find it perfectly correct. They are said to be theorists, dreamers of the study, who are ignorant of human nature; and who in their materialist optimism, have forgotten the existence of moral evil till they almost fancy at times that they can set the world right simply by righting its lowest material arrangements. The complaint is perfectly true. They have been ignorant of human nature; they have forgotten the existence of moral evil; and if any religious periodical should complain of their denying original sin, they can only answer that they did in past years fall into that folly, but that subsequent experience has utterly convinced them of the truth of the doctrine.
For, misled by this ignorance of human nature, they expected help, from time to time, from various classes of the community, from whom no help (as they ought to have known at first) is to be gotten. Some, as a fact, expected the assistance of the clergy, and especially of the preachers of those denominations who believe that every human being, by the mere fact of his birth into this world, is destined to endless torture after death, unless the preacher can find an opportunity to deliver him therefrom before he dies. They supposed that to such preachers the mortal lives of men would be inexpressibly precious; that any science which held out a prospect of retarding death in the case of "lost millions" would be hailed as a heavenly boon, and would be carried out with the fervour of men who felt that for the soul's sake no exertion was too great in behalf of the body.
A little more reflection would have quashed their vain hope. They would have recollected that each of these preachers was already connected with a congregation; that he had already a hold on them, and they on him; that he was bound to provide for their spiritual wants before going forth to seek for fresh objects of his ministry. They would have recollected that on the old principle (and a very sound one) of a bird in the hand being worth two in the bush, the minister of a congregation would feel it his duty, as well as his interest, not to defraud his flock of his labours by spending valuable time on a secular subject like sanitary reform, in the hope of possibly preserving a few human beings, whose souls he might hereafter (and that again would be merely a possibility) benefit.
They would have recollected, again, that these congregations are almost exclusively composed of those classes who have little or nothing to fear from epidemics, and (what is even more important) who would have to bear the expenses of sanitary improvements. But so sanguine, so reckless of human conditions had their theories made them, that they actually expected that parish rectors, already burdened with over-work and vestry quarrels--nay, even that preachers who got their bread by pew-rents, and whose life- long struggle was, therefore, to keep those pews filled, and those renters in good humour--should astound the respectable house- owners and ratepayers who sat beneath them by the appalling words: "You, and not the 'Visitation of God,' are the cause of epidemics; and of you, now that you are once fairly warned of your responsibility, will your brothers' blood be required." Conceive Sanitary Reformers expecting this of "ministers," let their denomination be what it might--many of the poor men, too, with a wife and seven children! Truly has it been said, that nothing is so cruel as the unreasonableness of a fanatic.
They forgot, too, that sanitary science, like geology, must be at first sight "suspect" in the eyes of the priests of all denominations, at least till they shall have arrived at a much higher degree of culture than they now possess.
Like geology, it interferes with that Deus e machina theory of human affairs which has been in all ages the stronghold of priestcraft. That the Deity is normally absent, and not present; that he works on the world by interference, and not by continuous laws; that it is the privilege of the priesthood to assign causes for these "judgments" and "visitations" of the Almighty, and to tell mankind why He is angry with them, and has broken the laws of nature to punish them--this, in every age, has seemed to the majority of priests a doctrine to be defended at all hazards; for without it, so they hold, their occupation were gone at once. [We find a most honourable exception to this rule in a sermon by the Rev. C. Richson, of Manchester, on the Sanitary Laws of the Old Testament, with notes by Dr. Sutherland.] No wonder, then, if they view with jealousy a set of laymen attributing these "judgments" to purely chemical laws, and to misdoings and ignorance which have as yet no place in the ecclesiastical catalogue of sins. True, it may be that the Sanitary Reformers are right; but they had rather not think so. And it is very easy not to think so. They only have to ignore, to avoid examining, the facts. Their canon of utility is a peculiar one; and with facts which do not come under that canon they have no concern. It may be true, for instance, that the eighteenth century, which to the clergy is a period of scepticism, darkness, and spiritual death, is the very century which saw more done for science, for civilisation, for agriculture, for manufacture, for the prolongation and support of human life than any preceding one for a thousand years and more. What matter? That is a "secular" question, of which they need know nothing. And sanitary reform (if true) is just such another; a matter (as slavery has been seen to be by the preachers of the United States) for the legislator, and not for those whose kingdom is "not of this world."
Others again expected, with equal wisdom, the assistance of the political economist. The fact is undeniable, but at the same time inexplicable. What they could have found in the doctrines of most modern political economists which should lead them to suppose that human life would be precious in their eyes, is unknown to the writer of these pages. Those whose bugbear has been over- population, whose motto has been an euphuistic version of
The more the merrier; but the fewer the better fare -
cannot be expected to lend their aid in increasing the population by saving the lives of two-thirds of the children who now die prematurely in our great cities; and so still further overcrowding this unhappy land with those helpless and expensive sources of national poverty--rational human beings, in strength and health.
Moreover--and this point is worthy of serious attention--that school of political economy, which has now reached its full development, has taken all along a view of man's relation to Nature diametrically opposite to that taken by the Sanitary Reformer, or indeed by any other men of science. The Sanitary Reformer holds, in common with the chemist or the engineer, that Nature is to be obeyed only in order to conquer her; that man is to discover the laws of her existing phenomena, in order that he may employ them to create new phenomena himself; to turn the laws which he discovers to his own use; if need be, to counteract one by another. In this power, it has seemed to them, lay his dignity as a rational being. It was this, the power of invention, which made him a progressive animal, not bound as the bird and the bee are, to build exactly as his forefathers built five thousand years ago.
By political economy alone has this faculty been denied to man. In it alone he is not to conquer nature, but simply to obey her. Let her starve him, make him a slave, a bankrupt, or what not, he must submit, as the savage does to the hail and the lightning. "Laissez-faire," says the "Science du neant," the "Science de la misere," as it has truly and bitterly been called; "Laissez- faire." Analyse economic questions if you will: but beyond analysis you shall not step. Any attempt to raise political economy to its synthetic stage is to break the laws of nature, to fight against facts--as if facts were not made to be fought against and conquered, and put out of the way, whensoever they interfere in the least with the welfare of any human being. The drowning man is not to strike out for his life lest by keeping his head above water he interfere with the laws of gravitation. Not that the political economist, or any man, can be true to his own fallacy. He must needs try his hand at the synthetic method though he forbids it to the rest of the world: but the only deductive hint which he has as yet given to mankind is, quaintly enough, the most unnatural "eidolon specus" which ever entered the head of a dehumanised pedant--namely, that once famous "Preventive Check," which, if a nation did ever apply it--as it never will-- could issue, as every doctor knows, in nothing less than the questionable habits of abortion, child-murder, and unnatural crime.
The only explanation of such conduct (though one which the men themselves will hardly accept) is this--that they secretly share somewhat in the doubt which many educated men have of the correctness of their inductions; that these same laws of political economy (where they leave the plain and safe subject-matter of trade) have been arrived at somewhat too hastily; that they are, in plain English, not quite sound enough yet to build upon; and that we must wait for a few more facts before we begin any theories. Be it so. At least, these men, in their present temper of mind, are not likely to be very useful to the Sanitary Reformer.
Would that these men, or the clergy, had been the only bruised reed in which the Sanitary Reformers put their trust. They found another reed, however, and that was Public Opinion; but they forgot that (whatever the stump-orators may say about this being the age of electric thought, when truth flashes triumphant from pole to pole, etc.) we have no proof whatsoever that the proportion of fools is less in this generation than in those before it, or that truth, when unpalatable (as it almost always is), travels any faster than it did five hundred years ago. They forgot that every social improvement, and most mechanical ones, have had to make their way against laziness, ignorance, envy, vested wrongs, vested superstitions, and the whole vis inertiae of the world, the flesh, and the devil. They were guilty indeed, in this case, not merely of ignorance of human nature, but of forgetfulness of fact. Did they not know that the excellent New Poor-law was greeted with the curses of those very farmers and squires who now not only carry it out lovingly and willingly to the very letter, but are often too ready to resist any improvement or relaxation in it which may be proposed by that very Poor-law Board from which it emanated? Did they not know that Agricultural Science, though of sixty years' steady growth, has not yet penetrated into a third of the farms of England; and that hundreds of farmers still dawdle on after the fashion of their forefathers, when by looking over the next hedge into their neighbour's field they might double their produce and their profits? Did they not know that the adaptation of steam to machinery would have progressed just as slowly, had it not been a fact patent to babies that an engine is stronger than a horse; and that if cotton, like wheat and beef, had taken twelve months to manufacture, instead of five minutes, Manchester foresight would probably have been as short and as purblind as that of the British farmer? What right had they to expect a better reception for the facts of Sanitary Science?--facts which ought to, and ultimately will, disturb the vested interests of thousands, will put them to inconvenience, possibly at first to great expense; and yet facts which you can neither see nor handle, but must accept and pay hundreds of thousands of pounds for, on the mere word of a doctor or inspector who gets his living thereby. Poor John Bull! To expect that you would accept such a gospel cheerfully was indeed to expect too much!
But yet, though the public opinion of the mass could not be depended on, there was a body left, distinct from the mass, and priding itself so much on that distinctness that it was ready to say at times--of course in more courteous--at least in what it considered more Scriptural language: "This people which knoweth not the law is accursed." To it therefore--to the religious world--some over-sanguine Sanitary Reformers turned their eyes. They saw in it ready organised (so it professed) for all good works, a body such as the world had never seen before. Where the religions public of Byzantium, Alexandria, or Rome numbered hundreds, that of England numbered its thousands. It was divided, indeed, on minor points, but it was surely united by the one aim of saving every man his own soul, and of professing the deepest reverence for that Divine Book which tells men that the way to attain that aim is, to be good and to do good; and which contains among other commandments this one--"Thou shaft not kill." Its wealth was enormous. It possessed so much political power, that it would have been able to command elections, to compel ministers, to encourage the weak hearts of willing but fearful clergymen by fair hopes of deaneries and bishoprics. Its members were no clique of unpractical fanatics--no men less. Though it might number among them a few martinet ex-post-captains, and noblemen of questionable sanity, capable of no more practical study than that of unfulfilled prophecy, the vast majority of them were landowners, merchants, bankers, commercial men of all ranks, full of worldly experience, and of the science of organisation, skilled all their lives in finding and in employing men and money. What might not be hoped from such a body, to whom that commercial imperium in imperio of the French Protestants which the edict of Nantes destroyed was poor and weak? Add to this that these men's charities were boundless; that they were spending yearly, and on the whole spending wisely and well, ten times as much as ever was spent before in the world, on educational schemes, missionary schemes, church building, reformatories, ragged schools, needlewomen's charities--what not? No object of distress, it seemed, could be discovered, no fresh means of doing good devised, but these men's money poured bountifully and at once into that fresh channel, and an organisation sprang up for the employment of that money, as thrifty and as handy as was to be expected from the money-holding classes of this great commercial nation.
What could not these men do? What were they not bound by their own principles to do? No wonder that some weak men's hearts beat high at the thought. What if the religious world should take up the cause of Sanitary Reform? What if they should hail with joy a cause in which all, whatever their theological differences, might join in one sacred crusade against dirt, degradation, disease, and death? What if they should rise at the hustings to inquire of every candidate: "Will you or will you not, pledge yourself to carry out Sanitary Reform in the place for which you are elected, and let the health and the lives of the local poor be that 'local interest' which you are bound by your election to defend? Do you confess your ignorance of the subject? Then know, sir, that you are unfit, at this point of the nineteenth century, to be a member of the British Senate. You go thither to make laws 'for the preservation of life and property.' You confess yourself ignorant of those physical laws, stronger and wider than any which you can make, upon which all human life depends, by infringing which the whole property of a district is depreciated." Again, what might not the "religious world," and the public opinion of "professing Christians," have done in the last twenty--ay, in the last three years?
What it has done, is too patent to need comment here.
The reasons of so strange an anomaly are to be approached with caution. It is a serious thing to impute motives to a vast body of men, of whom the majority are really respectable, kind-hearted, and useful; and if in giving one's deliberate opinion one seems to blame them, let it be recollected that the blame lies not so much on them as on their teachers: on those who, for some reasons best known to themselves, have truckled to, and even justified, the self-satisfied ignorance of a comfortable moneyed class.
But let it be said, and said boldly, that these men's conduct in the matter of Sanitary Reform seems at least to show that they value virtue, not for itself, but for its future rewards. To the great majority of these men (with some heroic exceptions, whose names may be written in no subscription list, but are surely written in the book of life) the great truth has never been revealed, that good is the one thing to be done, at all risks, for its own sake; that good is absolutely and infinitely better than evil, whether it pay or not to all eternity. Ask one of them: "Is it better to do right and go to hell, or do wrong and go to heaven?"--they will look at you puzzled, half angry, suspecting you of some secret blasphemy, and, if hard pressed, put off the new and startling question by saying, that it is absurd to talk of an impossible hypothesis. The human portion of their virtue is not mercenary, for they are mostly worthy men; the religious part thereof, that which they keep for Sundays and for charitable institutions, is too often mercenary, though they know it not. Their religion is too often one of "Loss and Gain," as much as Father Newman's own; and their actions, whether they shall call them "good works" or "fruits of faith," are so much spiritual capital, to be repaid with interest at the last day.
Therefore, like all religionists, they are most anxious for those schemes of good which seem most profitable to themselves and to the denomination to which they belong; and the best of all such works is, of course, as with all religionists, the making of proselytes. They really care for the bodies, but still they care more for the souls, of those whom they assist--and not wrongly either, were it not that to care for a man's soul usually means, in the religious world, to make him think with you; at least to lay him under such obligations as to give you spiritual power over him. Therefore it is that all religious charities in England are more and more conducted, just as much as those of Jesuits and Oratorians, with an ulterior view of proselytism; therefore it is that the religious world, though it has invented, perhaps, no new method of doing good; though it has been indebted for educational movements, prison visitations, infant schools, ragged schools, and so forth, to Quakers, cobblers, even in some cases to men whom they call infidels, have gladly adopted each and every one of them, as fresh means of enlarging the influence or the numbers of their own denominations, and of baiting for the body in order to catch the soul. A fair sample of too much of their labour may be seen anywhere, in those tracts in which the prettiest stories, with the prettiest binding and pictures, on the most secular-- even, sometimes, scientific--of subjects, end by a few words of pious exhortation, inserted by a different hand from that which indites the "carnal" mass of the book. They did not invent the science, or the art of story-telling, or the woodcutting, or the plan of getting books up prettily--or, indeed, the notion of instructing the masses at all; but finding these things in the hands of "the world," they have "spoiled the Egyptians," and fancy themselves beating Satan with his own weapons.
If, indeed, these men claimed boldly all printing, all woodcutting, all story-telling, all human arts and sciences, as gifts from God Himself; and said, as the book which they quote so often says: "The Spirit of God gives man understanding, these, too, are His gifts, sacred, miraculous, to be accounted for to Him," then they would be consistent; and then, too, they would have learnt, perhaps, to claim Sanitary Science for a gift divine as any other: but nothing, alas! is as yet further from their creed. And therefore it is that Sanitary Reform finds so little favour in their eyes. You have so little in it to show for your work. You may think you have saved the lives of hundreds; but you cannot put your finger on one of them: and they know you not; know not even their own danger, much less your beneficence. Therefore, you have no lien on them, not even that of gratitude; you cannot say to a man: "I have prevented you having typhus, therefore you must attend my chapel." No! Sanitary Reform makes no proselytes. It cannot be used as a religious engine. It is too simply human, too little a respecter of persons, too like to the works of Him who causes His sun to shine on the evil and the good, and His rain to fall on the just and on the unjust, and is good to the unthankful and to the evil, to find much favour in the eyes of a generation which will compass sea and land to make one proselyte.
Yes. Too like the works of our Father in heaven, as indeed all truly natural and human science needs must be. True, to those who believe that there is a Father in heaven, this would, one supposes, be the highest recommendation. But how many of this generation believe that? Is not their doctrine, the doctrine to testify for which the religious world exists, the doctrine which if you deny, you are met with one universal frown and snarl--that man has no Father in heaven: but that if he becomes a member of the religious world, by processes varying with each denomination, he may--strange paradox--create a Father for himself?
But so it is. The religious world has lost the belief which even the elder Greeks and Romans had, of a "Zeus, Father of gods and men." Even that it has lost. Therefore have man and the simple human needs of man, no sacredness in their eyes; therefore is Nature to them no longer "the will of God exprest in facts," and to break a law of nature no longer to sin against Him who "looked on all that He had made, and behold, it was very good." And yet they read their Bibles, and believe that they believe in Him who stood by the lake-side in Galilee, and told men that not a sparrow fell to the ground without their Father's knowledge--and that they were of more value than many sparrows. Do those words now seem to some so self-evident as to be needless? They will never seem so to the Sanitary Reformer, who has called on the "British Public" to exert themselves in saving the lives of thousands yearly; and has received practical answers which will furnish many a bitter jest for the Voltaire of the next so-called "age of unbelief," or fill a sad, but an instructive chapter in some future enlarged edition of Adelung's "History of Human Folly."
All but despairing, Sanitary Reformers have turned again and again to her Majesty's Government. Alas for them! The Government was ready and willing enough to help. The wicked world said: "Of course. It will create a new department. It will give them more places to bestow." But the real reason of the willingness of Government seems to be that those who compose it are thoroughly awake to the importance of the subject.
But what can a poor Government do, whose strength consists (as that of all English Governments must) in not seeming too strong; which is allowed to do anything, only on condition of doing the minimum? Of course, a Government is morally bound to keep itself in existence; for is it not bound to believe that it can govern the country better than any other knot of men? But its only chance of self-preservation is to know, with Hesiod's wise man, "how much better the half is than the whole," and to throw over many a measure which it would like to carry, for the sake of saving the few which it can carry.
An English Government, nowadays, is simply at the mercy of the forty or fifty members of the House of Commons who are crotchety enough or dishonest enough to put it unexpectedly in a minority; and they, with the vast majority of the House, are becoming more and more the delegates of that very class which is most opposed to Sanitary Reform. The honourable member goes to Parliament not to express his opinions, (for he has stated most distinctly at the last election that he has no opinions whatsoever), but to protect the local interests of his constituents. And the great majority of those constituents are small houseowners--the poorer portion of the middle class. Were he to support Government in anything like a sweeping measure of Sanitary Reform, woe to his seat at the next election; and he knows it; and therefore, even if he allow the Government to have its Central Board of Health, he will take good care, for his own sake, that the said Board shall not do too much, and that it shall not compel his constituents to do anything at all.
No wonder, that while the attitude of the House of Commons is such toward a matter which involves the lives of thousands yearly, some educated men should be crying that Representative institutions are on their trial, and should sigh for a strong despotism.
There is an answer, nevertheless, to such sentimentalists, and one hopes that people will see the answer for themselves, and that the infection of Imperialism, which seems spreading somewhat rapidly, will be stopped by common sense and honest observation of facts.
A despotism doubtless could carry out Sanitary Reform: but doubtless, also, it would not.
A despot in the nineteenth century knows well how insecure his tenure is. His motto must be, "Let us eat and drink, for to- morrow we die;" and, therefore, the first objects of his rule will be, private luxury and a standing army; while if he engage in public works, for the sake of keeping the populace quiet, they will be certain not to be such as will embroil him with the middle classes, while they will win him no additional favour with the masses, utterly unaware of their necessity. Would the masses of Paris have thanked Louis Napoleon the more if, instead of completing the Tuileries, he had sewered the St. Antoine? All arguments to the contrary are utterly fallacious, which are drawn from ancient despotisms, Roman, Eastern, Peruvian, or other; and for this simple reason, that they had no middle class. If they did work well (which is a question) it was just because they had no middle class--that class, which in a free State is the very life of a nation, and yet which, in a despotism, is sure to be the root of its rottenness. For a despot who finds, as Louis Napoleon has done, a strong middle class already existing, must treat it as he does; he must truckle to it, pander to its basest propensities, seem to make himself its tool, in order that he may make it his. For the sake of his own life, he must do it; and were a despot to govern England tomorrow, we should see that the man who was shrewd enough to have climbed to that bad eminence, would be shrewd enough to know that he could scarcely commit a more suicidal act than, by some despotic measure of Sanitary Reform, to excite the ill-will of all the most covetous, the most stupid, and the most stubborn men in every town of England.
There is another answer, too, to "Imperialists" who talk of Representative institutions being on their trial, and let it be made boldly just now.
It will be time to talk of Representative institutions being good or bad, when the people of England are properly represented.
In the first place, it does seem only fair that the class who suffer most from epidemics should have some little share in the appointment of the men on whose votes extermination of epidemics now mainly depends. But that is too large a question to argue here. Let the Government see to it in the coming session.
Yet how much soever, or how little soever, the suffrage be extended in the direction of the working man, let it be extended, at least in some equal degree, in the direction of the educated man. Few bodies in England now express the opinions of educated men less than does the present House of Commons. It is not chosen by educated men, any more than it is by proletaires. It is not, on an average, composed of educated men; and the many educated men who are in it have, for the most part, to keep their knowledge very much to themselves, for fear of hurting the feelings of "ten- pound Jack," or of the local attorney who looks after Jack's vote. And therefore the House of Commons does not represent public opinion.
For, to enounce with fitting clearness a great but much-forgotten truth, To have an opinion, you must have an opinion.
Strange: but true, and pregnant too. For, from it may be deduced this corollary, that nine-tenths of what is called Public Opinion is no opinion at all; for, on the matters which come under the cognizance of the House of Commons (save where superstition, as in the case of the Sabbath, or the Jew Bill, sets folks thinking-- generally on the wrong side), nine people out of ten have no opinion at all; know nothing about the matter, and care less; wherefore, having no opinions to be represented, it is not important whether that nothing be represented or not.
The true public opinion of England is composed of the opinions of the shrewd, honest, practical men in her, whether educated or not; and of such, thank God, there are millions: but it consists also of the opinions of the educated men in her; men who have had leisure and opportunity for study; who have some chance of knowing the future, because they have examined the past; who can compare England with other nations; English creeds, laws, customs, with those of the rest of mankind; who know somewhat of humanity, human progress, human existence; who have been practised in the processes of thought; and who, from study, have formed definite opinions, differing doubtless in infinite variety, but still all founded upon facts, by something like fair and scientific induction.
Till we have this class of men fairly represented in the House of Commons, there is little hope for Sanitary Reform: when it is so represented, we shall have no reason to talk of Representative institutions being on their trial.
And it is one of the few hopeful features of the present time, that an attempt is at last being made to secure for educated men of all professions a fair territorial representation. A memorial to the Government has been presented, appended to which, in very great numbers, are the names of men of note, of all ranks, all shades in politics and religion, all professions--legal, clerical, military, medical, and literary. A list of names representing so much intellect, so much learning, so much acknowledged moderation, so much good work already done and acknowledged by the country, has never, perhaps, been collected for any political purpose; and if their scheme (the details of which are not yet made public) should in anywise succeed, it will do more for the prospects of Sanitary Reform than any forward movement of the quarter of a century.
For if Sanitary Reform, or perhaps any really progressive measure, is to be carried out henceforth, we must go back to something like the old principle of the English constitution, by which intellect, as such, had its proper share in the public councils. During those middle ages when all the intellect and learning was practically possessed by the clergy, they constituted a separate estate of the realm. This was the old plan--the best which could be then devised. After learning became common to the laity, the educated classes were represented more and more only by such clever young men as could be thrust into Parliament by the private patronage of the aristocracy. Since the last Reform Bill, even that supply of talent has been cut off; and the consequence has been, the steady deterioration of our House of Commons toward such a level of mediocrity as shall satisfy the ignorance of the practically electing majority, namely, the tail of the middle class; men who are apt to possess all the failings with few of the virtues of those above them and below them; who have no more intellectual training than the simple working man, and far less than the average shopman, and who yet lose, under the influence of a small competence, that practical training which gives to the working man, made strong by wholesome necessity, chivalry, endurance, courage, and self-restraint; whose business morality is made up of the lowest and narrowest maxims of the commercial world, unbalanced by that public spirit, that political knowledge, that practical energy, that respect for the good opinion of his fellows, which elevate the large employer. On the hustings, of course, this description of the average free and independent elector would be called a calumny; and yet, where is the member of Parliament who will not, in his study, assent to its truth, and confess, that of all men whom he meets, those who least command his respect are those among his constituents to secure whom he takes most trouble; unless, indeed, it be the pettifoggers who manage his election for him?
Whether this is the class to whose public opinion the health and lives of the masses are to be entrusted, is a question which should be settled as soon as possible.
Meanwhile let every man who would awake to the importance of Sanitary questions, do his best to teach and preach, in season and out of season, and to instruct, as far as he can, that public opinion which is as yet but public ignorance. Let him throw, for instance, what weight he has into the "National Association for the Advancement of Social Science." In it he will learn, as well as teach, not only on Sanitary Reforms, but upon those cognate questions which must be considered with it, if it is ever to be carried out.
Indeed, this new "National Association" seems the most hopeful and practical move yet made by the sanitarists. It may be laughed at somewhat at first, as the British Association was; but the world will find after a while that, like the British Association, it can do great things towards moulding public opinion, and compel men to consider certain subjects, simply by accustoming people to hear them mentioned. The Association will not have existed in vain, if it only removes that dull fear and suspicion with which Englishmen are apt to regard a new subject, simply because it is new. But the Association will do far more than that. It has wisely not confined itself to any one branch of Social Science, but taken the subject in all its complexity. To do otherwise would have been to cripple itself. It would have shut out many subjects--Law Reform, for instance--which are necessary adjuncts to any Sanitary scheme; while it would have shut out that very large class of benevolent people who have as yet been devoting their energies to prisons, workhouses, and schools. Such will now have an opportunity of learning that they have been treating the symptoms of social disease rather than the disease itself. They will see that vice is rather the effect than the cause of physical misery, and that the surest mode of attacking it is to improve the physical conditions of the lower classes; to abolish foul air, fouled water, foul lodging, and overcrowded dwellings, in which morality is difficult, and common decency impossible. They will not give up--Heaven forbid that they should give up!--their special good works; but they will surely throw the weight of their names, their talents, their earnestness, into the great central object of preserving human life, as soon as they shall have recognised that prevention is better than cure; and that the simple and one method of prevention is, to give the working man his rights. Water, air, light. A right to these three at least he has. In demanding them, he demands no more than God gives freely to the wild beast of the forest. Till society has given him them, it does him an injustice in demanding of him that he should be a useful member of society. If he is expected to be a man, let him at least be put on a level with the brutes. When the benevolent of the land (and they may be numbered by tens of thousands) shall once have learnt this plain and yet awful truth, a vast upward step will have been gained. Because this new Association will teach it them, during the next ten or twenty years, may God's blessing be on it, and, on the noble old man who presides over it. Often already has he deserved well of his country; but never better than now, when he has lent his great name and great genius to the object of preserving human life from wholesale destruction by unnecessary poison.
And meanwhile let the Sanitary Reformer work and wait. "Go not after the world," said a wise man, "for if thou stand still long enough the world will come round to thee." And to Sanitary Reform the world will come round at last. Grumbling, scoffing, cursing its benefactors; boasting at last, as usual, that it discovered for itself the very truths which it tried to silence, it will come; and will be glad at last to accept the one sibylline leaf, at the same price at which it might have had the whole. The Sanitary Reformer must make up his mind to see no fruit of his labours, much less thanks or reward. He must die in faith, as St. Paul says all true men die, "not having received the promises;" worn out, perhaps, by ill-paid and unappreciated labour, as that truest-hearted and most unselfish of men, Charles Robert Walsh, died but two years ago. But his works will follow him--not, as the preachers tell us, to heaven--for of what use would they be there, to him or to mankind?--but here, on earth, where he set them, that they might go on in his path, after his example, and prosper and triumph long years after he is dead, when his memory shall be blessed by generations not merely "yet unborn," but who never would have been born at all, had he not inculcated into their unwilling fathers the simplest laws of physical health, decency, life--laws which the wild cat of the wood, burying its own excrement apart from its lair, has learnt by the light of nature; but which neither nature nor God Himself can as yet teach to a selfish, perverse, and hypocritical generation.
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