It is said that, when railways were first opened in Spain, peasants standing on the tracks were not unfrequently run over, and that the blame fell on the engine-drivers for not stopping, rural experiences having yielded no conception of the momentum of a large mass moving at a high velocity.
The incident is recalled to me on contemplating the ideas of the so-called "practical" politician, into whose mind there enters no thought of such a thing as political momentum, still less of a political momentum which, instead of diminishing or remaining constant, increases. The theory on which he daily proceeds is that the change caused by his measure will stop where he intends it to stop. He contemplates intently the things his act will achieve, but thinks little of the remoter issues of the movement his act sets up, and still less its collateral issues. When, in war-time, "food for powder" was to be provided by encouraging population—when Mr. Pitt said, "Let us make relief in cases where there are a number of children a matter of right and honor, instead of a ground for opprobrium and contempt"—it was not expected that the poor-rates would be quadrupled in fifty years, that women with many bastards would be preferred as wives to modest women because of their incomes from the parish, and that hosts of rate-payers would be pulled down into the ranks of pauperism. Legislators who in 1833 voted £20,000 a year to aid in building school-houses never supposed that the step they then took would lead to forced contributions, local and general, now amounting to £6,000,000; they did not intend to establish the principle that A should be made responsible for educating B's offspring; they did not dream of a compulsion which should deprive poor widows of the help of their elder children; and still less did they dream that their successors, by requiring impoverished parents to apply to boards of guardians to pay the fees which school-boards would not remit, would initiate a habit of applying to boards of guardians and so cause pauperization. Neither did those who in 1834 passed an act regulating the labor of women and children in certain factories imagine that the system they were beginning would end in the restriction and inspection of labor in all kinds of producing establishments where more than fifty people are employed; nor did they conceive that the inspection provided would grow to the extent of requiring that, before a "young person" is employed in a factory, authority must be given by a certifying surgeon, who, by personal examination (to which no limit is placed), has satisfied himself that there is no incapacitating disease or bodily infirmity, his verdict determining whether the "young person" shall earn wages or not. Even less, as I say, does the politician who plumes himself on the practicalness of his aims conceive the indirect results that will
- Hansard's "Parliamentary History," xxxii, p. 710.
- "Fortnightly Review," January, 1884, p. 17.
- "Factories and Workshops Act," 41 and 42 Victoria, cap. 16.