Page:Poverty, its effects on the political condition of the people.djvu/4

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rapacious, pampered, licentious, spendthrift monarchy. This culminated in the refusal of the labourers to cultivate the fertile soil because the tax-gatherer's rapacity left an insufficient remnant to provide the cultivator with the merest necessaries of life. Then followed "uncultivated fields, unpeopled villages, and houses dropping to decay;" the great cities—as Paris, Lyons, and Bordeaux—crowded with begging skeletons, frightful in their squalid disease and loathsome aspect. Even after the National Assembly had passed some measures of temporary alleviation, the distress in Paris itself was so great that at the gratuitous distributions of bread "old people have been seen to expire with their hands stretched out to receive the loaf, and women waiting their turn in front of the baker's shop were prematurely delivered of dead children in the open street." The great mass of the people were as ignorant as they were poor; were ignorant indeed because they were poor. Ignorance is the pauper's inalienable heritage. When the struggle is for the means of subsistence, and these are only partially obtained, there is little hope for the luxury of a leisure hour in which other emotions can be cultivated than those of the mere desires for food and rest—sole results of the labourious monotonousness of machine work; a round of toil and sleep closing in death—the only certain refuge for the worn-out labourer. Without the opportunity afforded by the possession of more than will satisfy the immediate wants, there can be little or no culture of the mental faculties. The toiler, badly paid and ill-fed, is separated from the thinker. Nobly-gifted, highly-cultured though the poet may be, his poesy has no charms for the father to whom one hour's leisure means short food for his hungry children clamouring for bread. The picture gallery, replete with the finest works of our greatest masters, is forbidden ground to the pitman, the ploughman, the poor pariahs to whom the conceptions of the highest art-treasures are impossible. The beauties of nature are almost equally inaccessible to the dwellers in the narrow lanes of great cities. Out of your narrow wynds in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and on to the moor and mountain-side, ye poor, and breathe the pure life-renewing breezes. Not so; the moors are for the sportsmen and peers, not peasants; and a Scotch Duke—emblem of the worst vices of a corrupt and selfish, but fast-decaying House of Lords—closes miles of heather against the pedestrian's