The Collected Letters, Volume 27


TC TO THE SECRETARY OF THE POOR LAW ASSOCIATION, MANCHESTER ; 5 February 1852; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18520205-TC-SPLAM-01; CL 27: 29-30


Chelsea, Feb. 5, 1852.—Sir,—It gives me great pleasure to understand that the Poor Law Association has actually got in motion, and determines to proceed strenuously towards the grand object of having all the paupers of Great Britain set to employment.1 I inclose you my subscription, and, along with it, my heartiest wishes for your success. According to all the notions I can form of our strange time, with its manifold perplexities, its vague, high-flying hopes, and fearful, steadily-advancing perils, this that you have in view is precisely the thing needfullest to be done, the first of all real steps towards safety and improvement for English society, as matters now stand. Till some veritably wise and human mode of dealing with that frightful, ever-increasing class called paupers is attained, or, at least, is zealously endeavoured after by the government and the community, I can only consider English society as in a state of slow continual smoke, every day bringing it nearer the state of flame and utter conflagration, into which we have seen all other European societies already go, in a very tragic manner! This is, and has long been, my fixed opinion2—grounded on innumerable considerations, deeper and less deep, on which volumes might be written, and which are of far too extensive compass to be entered upon here. One thing may be asserted without risk, and has the closest reference to this matter. If free bargain in the market, and fair up-and-down wrestle and battle between employers and employed be the rule of labour (which I am far from believing it capable of being, except for a very limited time, and in very peculiar circumstances); still more, if new and infinitely mere human arrangements between employers and employed are—as all men begin to surmise, and as many men have long foreseen—an indispensable necessity for labour, in England as elsewhere, then, clearly, I say, in either case, the first condition of fair play is, that all paupers be quite eliminated from the controversy, and carried clear away from it, out of the labour market, and its wrestles and its struggles. This, one would think, needs little demonstration. Alas! if the pauper were always supported by the rich, especially by the idle rich, I could esteem it for the moment a small matter. But he is supported by the poor, by those who are not yet quite paupers—whom, with fatal invincibility (and not by his “rates” alone, but by his bad conduct, by his bad example, by the thousand-fold infection of him every day and hour), he is dragging down into that sad category. It is miserable to consider. The course of every idle, foolish man, left loose to become a pauper—continually deranging every honest workman's bargain, then taking shelter in the poor-house at the honest workman's expense, then, again, bursting out to produce new derangement and confusion—is like the course of an incendiary torch among the peaceable possessions of mankind; it is mad as would be the course of a fever patient left to run stumbling about the streets in these times of ours. I do not mean to say that the subject has no difficulties; nay, that it is not like to be, in practice, beset with difficulties, and to lead us, in its ulterior developments, into innovations we are little prepared for at present. I perceive well there is immense work a-head of us in that direction; and I think withal it is high time we were beginning it. As for you, who stand yet in the first stage of the affair, I conceive your ground to be already very clear, and that by temperate and diligent exposition of your aims, you will certainly gain the public support, and probably before long. To an impartial stranger landing among us, as if from another planet, it would seem very strange that there could be a doubt about what you propose! He would find doubts enough, however, and denials enough, and a great quantity of cobwebs to be removed, before he could get this axiom admitted. For indeed, the theories men form about this world, and their political philosophies, and sciences, and dismal sciences, make strange work with them; and truly, ‘to a man doubled down, and looking backwards through his knees,’ says the proverb, ‘all things are inverted, and stand upon their heads!’ I again wish you every success, and bid you use every exertion; and am, sir, yours sincerely. T. CARLYLE.