The Collected Letters, Volume 12


TC TO THOMAS BALLANTYNE ; 24 January 1840; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18400124-TC-TB-01; CL 12: 22-25


Chelsea, 24th Jany., 1840.

My dear Sir— Yesterday your little Book on the Statistics of the Corn-Laws came to hand.1 I have read it with great approval; it contains much truth in small space; the more that will familiarize themselves with these facts, the better surely for themselves and for all of us. I have not often seen a greater quantity of knowledge presented in as compressed a shape, or tending so conclusively towards its aim. Statistics of this kind are not “baskets of gravel.”2 The difference between a heap of old buttons tumbled into a lumber-box and a row of the same articles sewed on one's coat at the right places, is very great!

The “Chapter” you find wanting in Chartism was left out with forethought; not because I reckoned it unimportant, but for a great many other reasons.3 For these two, if there were no more: first, that the abrogation of the Corn-Laws seems to be the cause of the Middle Classes and manufacturing Capitalists still more than it is that of the Lower Classes,—whose wretched social situation, however it might be alleviated for a few years, could in no wise, as I think, be cured thereby, nor even, without other provisoes, be put more decisively on the way towards cure; and secondly, because this cause, whatever its worth be, has found a voice, and talks very loud without help of mine, while the great cause I was speaking for, the soul of all justifiable Radicalism as I think, and of which this other is but an outpost and preliminary, continues dumb, able to express itself only in groans and convulsions, and does need a spokesman. I must add too that the present Radical Members and Agitators, by their profound insensibility to the condition of the poor, and indeed to the condition of anything but their own interests and self-conceit, have filled me with a deep conviction that in them is no hope; that, for the cause of the Poor, one must leave them and their battles out of view, and address rather the great solid heart of England, the rational and just man of England, and avoiding all outposts and their inconclusive tumult, go right to the heart of the matter. Abolition of the Corn-Law is as sure to my mind, as six o'clock is when five has struck out of all the clocks and steeples. Abolition of the Corn-Law will very probably, as I compute, enlarge to a great extent the field of manufacturing industry for England; create, we shall hope, an additional demand for labour; raise the economic condition of the labourer,—for a certain number of years. That surely, even for the labourer's sake, is most important; during that number of years, how much, by a Government, an Aristocracy, aware of its task, might be done for the labourer! But by a Government not aware of its task nothing will be done;—and in that case, I really know not that the final outlook is not even worse than we now have it. For, after the given number of years, new labourers, fresh floods of Irishmen, were there no other, [will] have flowed in on us, precisely to the present excess, and then we have no Corn-Law Abrogation to fall back upon.

For the rest, you do me nothing but justice in your notion of my opinion about the Corn-Law itself. I reckon it the most brazenfaced injustice and also the blindest fatuity we have to look at and suffer under in these days. It is almost ten years now since I have ceased to talk of it; more than ten years since I have heard any reason given in favour of it that was not a thrice-refuted delusion,—which, to keep my temper unruffled, I have found it good rather to step out of the way of altogether. Unjust I call it, and delirious;—alas, did the Aristocracy read their horoscope as I do, they would find some fitter work than wrangling for a Corn Bill! Unhappy mortals; doing no work, leaving the imperatively necessary work without so much as a thought that they are to do it; pocketing at the same time huge wages (all the land of England) for the work as if it were done, and clamouring withal for an overplus produced by obstruction, confusion, sin, suffering and starvation! They see not that before many years go, the question will be, not “Shall we pay such no-workers and overplus produced by starvation?” but, “Shall we pay them anything at all; shall we not rather fling them into outer Darkness, Chaos and Nonentity, the native parish of such?”— I tremble to look at these results; and find that on the whole there are more important questions than the Corn-Law, important as that it [sic].— I may be said to hold my peace about it not so much from having nothing to speak, as from having things to speak which there are no convenient words for at present.

These are some of my notions; which of course I need not tell you are intended, in that shape, for yourself only.— The Pamphlet Chartism finds loud but by no means melodious greeting from the public press. I see few of the “articles”; but most of them seem to accuse me of a leaning to “Conservatism.” It must be so, Plato, thou reason'st well!4 The Bookseller tells me it circulates rather extensively;— if among the Conservatives, so much the better; your hidebound Benthamee Radical can get no good of it, except his temper disturbed, and gall-secretion put out of its way.5 Of him I had long lost hope; as at bottom the whole world seems now to have done, or to be doing.

I enclose you a leaf of the new edition of the Miscellanies they are printing. There are to be five volumes this time. What is becoming of the “Life”6 you were to write? Do not quit that.— With constant goodwishes—

Yours always truly /