« 前へ次へ »
of better times, and from not knowing what else to turn himself to. That this is the actual state of a very large proportion of the shopkeepers of Great Britain and Ireland, at this moment, we do verily be. lieve. No shop-keeper whose capital and credit are not above suspicion, will admit this melancholy picture to represent his own case; but we appeal to all shop-keepers, whether they do not believe, from all that they have been able to observe of the state of trade in general, and of the concerns of individual traders, whether the picture be not too accurate a representation of the state of a large proportion of the individuals engaged in any business with which they happen to be acquainted.
In every kind of trade which is not exposed to a monopoly, from its requiring uncommon skill, hereditary reputation, or a very large capital, but is open to a great many individuals, there are always, in ordinary times, a few making rich ; the far greater number merely keeping their position, making a moderate income, and spending it; and a number, not an inconsiderable proportion of the whole, slowly or rapidly, as the case may be, going on the sure road to poverty and ruin. When evil times come, when business is diminished in amount, profits diminished in rate, stock depreciated in value, and bad debts are increased ; the consequences to the individuals in each of these three situations in trade, are obvious. Those who were making rich, find it difficult to make a livelihood : those who were merely maintaining themselves, even although they generally, after a certain length of experience of the calamity of the times, contract their expenditure, carry on their business at a steady loss : the progress of the previously losing class towards bankruptcy is increased in celerity. If the approach of bad times has been rapid ; if there has been a com. mercial crisis ; there will, in addition to the operation of the times on the three classes we have described, be an instantaneous sweeping away of numbers of the third and second, and even of a few of the first or gaining class. But if the approach of the commercial depression has been slow ; and more especially, if, not long before, there happened a commercial crisis which overthrew every tottering or unsubstantial trader, the destructive operation of bad times will be of the gradual kind we have described. Such is the operation of the distress of the country at this moment.
If the pecuniary sufferings of the middle classes far exceed those of the upper ranks, the mental sufferings of the former exceed any feeling of the calamity of the times by the latter, in a still greater proportion. The aristocratic classes are brought up from their infancy amidst a care. lessness of money, and a contempt for the vulgar notions of economy and pecuniary independence, that have no place among the middle class. The rich man often does not know the extent of his income, except from report ; draws upon his agent or steward, until admonished that he is anticipating too much of his future rents, orders his steward to raise money in any way he can; and when at last his debts press upon him with accumulated force, the family estate is put out to nurse, as the phrase is ; and the owner retires to some snug quarter, where he escapes his former expensive associates, and can, as he thinks, combine gaiety with economy; or takes his family to the Continent, where his liberal allowance from his creditors will maintain them in as many luxuries as his whole rents could do here. This is the worst that can happen to an impoverished Aristocrat; and it happens so often, that the disgrace is the part of the occurrence that is least felt. Sir John This, Lord T'other, the great Mr. B. of B. Hall, and many other neighbours, are in the saine
predicament, and talk and write jocularly about it. Very differently does the poor shop-keeper or tradesmen feel, when compelled by diminu. tion of business, reduced rates of profits, and increased losses, to trench upon his limited capital for subsistence for a succession of years, with no prospect of better fortunes, and the certainty that, without a speedy revival of trade, his ruin must ensue. Very differently from the lofty ones does he feel when, at last, stern ruin approaches; when he becomes afraid to see the door of his shop opened, or startles at the sound of his house-bell, lest the visitor be a tax-gatherer, a creditor whom he cannot pay, or a bailiff, instead of a customer or employer. He has been accustomed, from his youth, to regard prosperity in his occupation as the grand aim of his life; punctuality in the payment of his debts as the point of honour; and bankruptcy as the depth of disgrace. When reduced by the pressure of bad times to the state in which we have given it as our belief, a large proportion of the shop-keepers of this country are at this moment, he cannot contract his expenditure to two-thirds of what it was, avoid the incurring of debts, and still live comfortably, although abridged of a few accustomed luxuries. Reduce his expenditure to some extent he may; but, in the case we have supposed, his whole income is gone, his capital diminished, and still constantly encroached upon by his necessary maintenance. As his capital becomes more and more diminished, he feels as if the principle of vitality in him were lessened, as if what he is in the course of losing were part of him. self, as if that capital, which is making to itself wings and flying away, were, indeed, what the word would seem to signify, part of his substance. Full of evil as the present day is, the future is, in prospect, yet more gloomy. Every newspaper he takes up suggests, if his eye catch the list of sequestrations, the dreadful thought, that on some not distant day, his name may be written there. The horrors of his situation are such, that when ruin comes at last, it positively brings relief. The struggles of the poor wretch with the hideous fiend which has haunted him are over, and his head sinks at night on his pillow, with a composure which he has not known for many a day.
“ But,” says one, “ all this is very impressive, as it is meant to be; but how do you make out that the condition of the middle ranks is deteriorating ? Where is the evidence of it? Dont we see the silk mer. cer, the grocer, the tailor, and all other classes of the middle ranks eat as well, drink as well, and dress as well, as usual? Are not the excise duties, the sure test of the consumption of the middle classes, as productive as before, or nearly so ? and does not the gazette show only about its accustomed number of bankruptcies ?” All this is true, or not wide of the truth. The middle classes have not yet greatly diminished their expenses ; the excise duties, although deficient, are not greatly below their usual amount; the customs have even increased; the gazette shews only its usual list of bankruptcies ; and the middle classes look almost as brisk as ever. Nevertheless, do we maintain that the ca. pital of the middle classes has decreased, and that a large proportion of them have been drawing their whole present subsistence out of that still decreasing capital. Already, we have shewn the cause of this distressed state of the middle classes, viz., the greatly diminished sum which the upper classes, the working classes, and consequently the middle classes themselves have to expend on shop-keepers and tradesmen. That rents of both lands and houses, interest of money, and wages of labour, are reduced, no man will deny ; that those reductions must cause a
diminution of both the amount of business, and the rate of profit of the middle classes, appears equally undeniable ; that these deductions greatly diminish the amount of business which the middle classes themselves (who never think of barter when money is scarce) do with each other, we think not less certain ; and that the effect of all these causes, for above two years, upon the middle classes, must be such as we have de. clared it our conviction to be, we fear is a too necessary conclusion.
How, then, are we to account for the small overt acts of that poverty, which, although he often comes as an armed man, we have represented as in these times coming on the Middle Classes as a thief in the night? Nothing more easy. The terrible commercial storm of 1825-6, swept off, in its fell career, every commercial establishment not based upon actual capital ; and, at the same time, caused a horror of speculation that has since, in the main, had the most salutary effects. Few traders have been venturing much beyond their means; and hazardous speculations have been wisely avoided. The catastrophe of 1826, has since been, and is yet too fresh in the recollection of all, to permit sane men incurring the danger of another such convulsion. What has, since that memorable lesson, been the evil to be dreaded, resembles consumption rather than apoplexy ; a gradual wasting away of a man's “substance," and not its sudden destruction. Hence the steady decrease of capital, for at least a few years back, unaccompanied with any remarkable increase of the bankrupt list. Then, as to the undiminished appearances of prosperity among the middle classes, so far as consumption of excised commodities goes, we account for them, by remarking, that the Customs and Excise duties fall principally upon those articles universally consumed, and which may be regarded as, in the ideas of the people of this country, the necessaries of life; viz., butter, coffee, corn, currants, hemp, molasses, pepper, raisins, seeds, silk, rum, brandy, sugar, tallow, timber, tobacco, wines, wool, coals, carried coastwise,) auctions, bricks and tiles, candles, (only lately repealed) glass, hops, licences, malt, paper, soap, whisky and other home-made spirits, starch, tea, &c., &c. It is evident, that while people maintain anything like their accustomed way of life, the duties on these articles, the most productive of the Excise and Customs, cannot be very materially diminished. It must be considered, too, that the diminution of the capital which we allege is going on, we do not with confidence date farther back than a few years ; ascribing its chief prevalence and greatest extent to the last two or three years, although there is reason to believe that the commencement of a diminution of capital may be traced up to Peel's Bill, if not up to the peace of 1815. Now, when evil times come, a man does not at once alter his rate of living very materially; and least of all, that part of his expenditure which consists of his ordinary food and clothing, and the articles which we have enumer. ated as contributing mainly to the Customs and Excise. He flatters himself that the bad state of trade is only temporary ; “things cannot be always in this way,” is his constant remark; and he goes on maintain. ing the same business establishment and household expenditure on necessaries as before. To retrench, is often a difficult task; always one reluctantly undertaken; and seldom commenced in earnest, until a considerable time after the diminution of income. Wives and daughters are gerally strongly opposed to retrenchment, even when distinctly informed of its necessity; and it as often happens that the state of affairs is concealed from them. The incomes of most mercantile people are not easily ascertained, nor are the shop-keepers, &c. always willing to enter upon an investigation from which they apprehend no very pleasing result. There is nothing, we apprehend, very improbable in the conjecture, that the diminution of capital which we have supposed to be going on among the middle classes has been in operation for two or three years, without having yet had time to produce much effect in diminishing the excised commodities consumed by these classes, or in increasing the number of tradesmen's names in the Gazette. The bulk of the Excise duties, it must be recollected, fall on the working classes, with whom retrenchment has for some years been scarcely practicable. They must consume excised commodities to the same extent as before, or renounce every comfort.
Yet the reduction of expenditure among the middle classes, there is reason to believe, has already begun. It may naturally be expected to commence, not with the supposed necessaries of life, on which the Excise and Customhouse officers lay their odious hands, but in the number of entertainments given, Concerts attended, Theatres, Exhibitions, &c., &c.; in the number of law-suits; in the number of fancy articles purchased ; in books, and music ; in pleasure excursions ; summer residences; and many other things that will occur to any person as articles of expenditure not involving the necessaries of life, and the absence of which would not give the appearance of sinking in the world. And has not a reduction of expenditure such as the above actually commenced ? Are the same number of entertainments given, as were usual in prosperous times? Ask the confectioners, fruiterers, and grocers of Edinburgh. The capital of Scotland may surely be taken as no unfavourable criterion of other places. Are the concerts attended as usual ? Ask the Professional Society of Edinburgh, who have discontinued their concerts because they cannot realize the necessary expenses. Is the theatre attended as was its wont ? Ask Mr. Murray; or read the Parliamentary evidence on the causes of the decay of the drama, and the numerous speculations on the same subject in the newspapers and periodicals. Are the exhibitions attended ? Ask those who have attempted exhibitions of any kind. Are law-suits, those ebullitions of the haughty spirit of prosperity, as much indulged in as heretofore ? Our lawyers are notoriously starving for want of their accustomed employment. Poor fellows! you may see them walking the boards of the Parliament House at Edinburgh, their naturally lively and independent spirit quite broken; not daring to say a word against the powers that be, who have sheriffships, &c., to dispose of occasionally. Are books in the usual demand? Ask Mr. Murray, or Mr. Colburn, of London; or any bookseller in the kingdom. Are summer excursions, and summer residences, as much in fashion as before? Ask the poor Highland inn-keepers, or the shop-keepers at the watering places. In the answer to some of these questions, the cholera will be assigned as one reason for the undeniable and grievous diminution of accustomed dealings and gains. But we are convinced that the influence of cholera, short-lived at any rate, has been greatly over-estimated ; and are inclined to attribute even much of its ravages to the effects of that poverty, which has overspread the land.
The diminution of capital, and the prevailing distress among one im.. portant class of the middle ranks, is well known. We allude to the far
But as we, eleven months ago, devoted a paper to their share of the National poverty, it is unnecessary to do more in this place than to request our readers to refer to our second number, where they will find, in the paper entitled “ Present State of Scottish Lairds and their Ten. ants," a melancholy picture, the fidelity of which has been confessed by the classes it represents.
It may not be amiss, before concluding our list of presumptions against the present prosperity of the middle classes, to mention, that the last revenue accounts, besides a deficiency in the Excise duties, exhibited also a falling off, in the Post Office, in the receipt Stamps, and in various other items intimately connected with the extent of trade, and of con. sumption.
There is yet another presumption in favour of the truth of our opinion, worth mentioning. To maintain the middle and other ranks of society in the style to which they have been accustomed, and enable them to bear the fearful load of taxation wrung from them in the most wasteful manner, with the many evils which monopolies and restrictions on trade occasion, it may readily be supposed that the full labour of all the industrious classes is required. Have they been all fully occupied for some years? Is it not the notorious fact, that since the Wellington administration was driven from office, the attention of all ranks has been turned to politics ; that commercial confidence has been weakened, and an unwillingness to part with money created? Can all this be, without proving in the highest degree injurious to trade ? Impossible.
At the risk of being very tedious, we have gone into the state of the middle classes at such length, because a knowledge of their condition is very difficult to be obtained ; much more so than that of the highest and lowest ranks; and because we mean, in the sequel, to found a conclusion of no ordinary importance upon that condition of the middle classes which we have supposed.
We have now to advert to the state of the Working Classes. If we dwell a comparatively short time on their condition, it is not because we take little interest in their wealor woe. Far from such indifference is our feeling. The evils which fall upon the wealthy classes, we regard as nothing, com pared with those which aggravate the poor man's lot. The bulk of a nation will always be poor. The poor, in fact,-meaning those who live by continual bodily toil, are the nation; the other classes being only the exceptions to the ordinary lot of humanity—that, by the sweat of his brow, man shall earn his food. Every legislative act should be considered, by the truly patriotic and humane, chiefly in relation to its operation on the poor. “Will it add to, or detract from their happiness?” should be the invariable question, which every legislator should ask himself, in the second place; the first question being, “Is the proposed act just or unjust ?” The effect of a measure upon the condition of the rich is of comparatively trifling consequence. There are hundreds of poor men for one rich man; and let it never be forgotten that the poor are men, and the rich no more. In this country, by the operation of foolish and wicked laws, wealth has been accumulated in large masses, while the poor have been ground to the dust. One of the evils of such a state of things, is its tendency to produce an aristocratic feeling, which descends almost to the bottom of the social scale. We are all apt to be more or less aristocratical on the one hand, and the slaves of aristocracy on the other. The happiness of a Lord, or a private gentleman, or even of a shopkeeper, tradesman, or farmer, is of far greater consequence in the eyes of most people, than the happiness of a poor artisan. It is not so in the eye of God. To Him who made man, all men are alike. We are even told, in the sacred book, that God is the Friend of the poor, and the avenger of their wrongs. We are told, that he heareth their cry, but