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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 30

Meditation. No. 1

Meditation. No. 1.

Home! Home! foul! foul! Home;

I cannot get away from the filth of my home!

So at last magazine opinion has awakened public opinion to the fearful state of the dwellings in which the poor must live. It is something to be awakened to a fact, but it is a very different thing from remedying the evil. Mr. Chamberlain, in the December Fortnightly, showed the wise plan (which I did not know the law permitted) as that of the Corporation retaining the purchased property in their possession, and so securing the increment (the increasing value) to the town. But all these philanthropic efforts are but the making of the powder to put into the flea's mouth, in its laughing through your playful irritation of the interstiation under its fifth rib. Mr. Chamberlain lays down some palliative rules, but he confesses his falling short at the extra page 32 rating that the town must consequently endure through the experiment, and so the little—is done, exposes the glaring—is to be done. But suppose London or Birmingham a model city. "Where the bee sucks there suck I," is the wish of every one who can tramp or buy a third-class ticket to got there, and the consequence would be that the same complaint would exist, for London would then contain 7 millions instead of 4, but exclude immigration, and with these healthy dwellings, the 50 per cent, of children now dying would be reduced to say 10 per cent., so the "increase and multiply" will soon replenish the earth, or, at all events, London, in occupying houses faster than they could be built for them, and it would again come to the chalking the floors into 6ft. by 3 for the nightly lay down. Is it not monstrous that the City authorities and the Board of Works should emulate Colney Hatch in making a bargain for the ratepayers to insure a loss of a million and a half on a building transaction? For the moment, I wish myself a Figi Islander, that I might laugh at the fact—for so it is. But let them do their assumed best, they must lose say a million, as Mr. Chamberlain ably shows in his measurement of value; you cannot go on rating. The fact is the Government should be well rated for its disgraceful indifference to the welfare of the people.

Come now and see, as squalor leads the way,

Where squalor's sceptre has unquestioned sway;

Where man through animal becomes a ghoul,

And crawls in fear and hate through vapours foul.

Hear children screaming as their mother falls

By father's fist, who on his Maker calls,

As, standing o'er his wife in tottering force,

He bellows curses till his throat is hoarse.

Yes! come where filth and misery must dwell,

And from necessity endure the smell,

Dreading the contrast cleanliness would wake

To bestial vice, resignedly partake;

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Thus shunning social notice in bereavement,

Will cheat the conscience to impel achievement,

Until the nauseate fumes have choked ability,

And sooth'd their souls to stolid imbecility.

Is such a state of things foredoomed to last?

Yes, hope of modest cleanliness is past;

How can the poor be otherwise than bad,

With not a decent lodging to be had,

Except at prices that they cannot pay

And leave enough to keep the wolf away.

Why not? Because the town is owned by One,

And he takes care that nothing shall be done.

O Parliament! we ask you to attend

To this, and be at last the poor man's friend;

Pull down these nests of fever-breeding dirt,

"Pull up" this owner who is so inert

As to allow his property to stand

For nursing filth and curses in the land;

With Scripture to this napkin hider say,

"You worse than hide—we take your land away."

This is what we must do; take the landed property, all of it, out of the freeholders' hands, and place it in city or town management. "What," says Lord Salisbury, "do you mean to confiscate our streets?" No, though there is no distinction between owning land and owning slaves; if slavery is wrong, personal ground rent claims are wrong, for the slave and the house, or land tenant, both live by permission of the owner. Very well, we take the ground rents and pay the deprived a fair sum down, or for a reasonable period. So much for ground rent claimants. Now that we have got the freehold of the town, the next step is to issue paper notes that shall represent the value of the new houses; these notes will circulate as money, without interest, and the money paid for rental will gradually re-purchase them to liquidation, and so in a few years the town would own a large extent of house pro- page 34 perty, for which houses it had not paid a penny. The next step will be to say, people shall not come where there is no room for them. I do not let any one into my house unless I please. So the Corporation should say, "We will not let any one into our town unless we please." How prevent it? Simply by fining those who took in an over-estimate of lodgers, and sending the homeless about their business elsewhere. You may call this protection, but some day soon we shall find free-trade in manufactured articles, is the blessing to those who have money, and the curse to those who have none.

I attended Mr. Henry George's reception at St. James's Hall, on the 9th of last month. He proposes, as I understand him, to take the land and house property without compensation, and instanced our payment to the West Indian slave-owners as a demoralising transaction. It appears to me his plan is a dissolution, which is the reverse of an evolution. St. George of Old England slew the Dragon of Wantley; if the St. George of New England purposes to slay the Dragon of Want, he must do it by evolution, as recognising the strata of public opinion, from which the success is to be won; but the damage he did to his cause was the explained distribution of the surplus that would immediately accrue, as of a hundred a year to widows and a dowry to brides. The idea is a tantalizing hope for the multitude, but the multitude must be Comprehensionists, and know the discipline of observance and obedience to the Law of Right, before the programme of absolute happiness can be even whispered to a nation.

Mr. George's speech reminds me of a story of a tenant who on being refused a new sot of farm buildings, applied for a stable, or a cart-shed, or a pig-sty, or a gate. Says the Landlord, "You can have a gate." "Thank you, Sir," replied the tenant, "it was all I wanted, and more than I expected." So in refusing Mr. George, the country may concede the justice that is asked for by Comprehensionism.

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But how our Statesmen talk. Last month, Mr. Gladstone recommended Fruit Farming. Fruit means trees. Mr. Gladstone ought to know that five-sixths of the tenants are tenants at will, which implies six months' notice to quit, and if they planted trees, who would pick the fruit? Make them life-leaseholders to the district, and you change our agricultural fog for sunshine; for all tenancy to a private individual (even to Mr. Gladstone) is socially, morally, and politically wrong, and should be legally impossible.