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Thursday, September 17, 2015

'Temperate Temperance' (for the Poor)

This is via Tim Taylor (who posted it as part of a longer discussion on new poverty statistics):

...here's a short essay from Charles Dickens. It was published in a magazine called All the Year Round that Dickens edited during the 1860s. This particular essay, "Temperate Temperance," appeared in the issue of March 18, 1863. The articles in the magazine did not name its authors , but a group of Australian researchers attributed it to Dickens by using "computational stylistics"--which is basically using a computer analysis of the style of the writing and comparing it to manuscripts whose authorship is known to determine the author. ... And here's the full 1863 essay.

TEMPERATE TEMPERANCE
WE want to know, and we always have wanted to know, why the English workman is to be patronised? Why are his dwelling-place, his house-keeping arrangements, the organisation of his cellar, and his larder — nay, the occupation of his leisure hours even — why are all these things regarded as the business of everybody except himself? Why is his beer to be a question agitating the minds of society, more than our sherry? Why is his visit to the gallery of the theatre, a more suspicious proceeding than our visit to the stalls? Why is his perusal of his penny newspaper so aggravating to the philanthropical world, that it longs to snatch it out of his hand and substitute a number of the Band of Hope Review?
It is not the endeavour really and honestly to improve the condition of the lower classes which we would discourage, but the way in which that endeavour is made. Heaven knows, the working classes, and especially the lowest working classes, want a helping hand sorely enough. No one who is at all familiar with a poor neighbourhood can doubt that. But you must help them judiciously. You must look at things with their eyes, a little; you must not always expect them to see with your eyes. The weak point in almost every attempt which has been made to deal with the lower classes is invariably the same — too much is expected of them. You ask them to do, simply the most difficult thing in the world — you ask them to change their habits. Your standard is too high. The transition from the Whitechapel cellar to the comfortable rooms in the model-house, is too violent; the habits which the cellar involved would have to be abandoned; a great effort would have to be made; and to abandon habits and make great efforts is hard work even for clever, good, and educated people.
The position of the lowest poor in London and elsewhere, is so terrible, they are so unmanageable, so deprived of energy through vice and low living and bad lodging, and so little ready to second any efforts that are made for their benefit, that those who have dealings with them are continually tempted to abandon their philanthropic endeavours as desperate, and to turn their attention towards another class: those, namely, who are one degree higher in the social scale, and one degree less hopeless.
It is proposed just now, as everybody knows, to establish, in different poor neighbourhoods, certain great dining-halls and kitchens for the use of poor people, on the plan of those establishments which have been highly successful in Glasgow and Manchester. The plan is a good one, and we wish it every success — on certain conditions. The poor man who attends one of these eating-houses must be treated as the rich man is treated who goes to a tavern. The thing must not be made a favour of. The custom of the diner-out is to be solicited as a thing on which the prosperity of the establishment depends. The officials, cooks, and all persons who are paid to be the servants of the man who dines, are to behave respectfully to him, as hired servants should; he is not to be patronised, or ordered about, or read to, or made speeches at, or in any respect used less respectfully than he would be in a beef and pudding shop, or other house of entertainment. Above all, he is to be jolly, he is to enjoy himself, he is to have his beer to drink; while, if he show any sign of being drunk or disorderly, he is to be turned out, just as I should be ejected from a club, or turned out of the Wellington or the Albion Tavern this very day, if I got drunk there.
There must be none of that Sunday-school mawkishness, which too much pervades our dealings with the lower classes; and we must get it into our heads — which seems harder to do than many people would imagine — that the working man is neither a felon, nor necessarily a drunkard, nor a very little child. Our wholesome plan is to get him to co-operate with us. Encourage him to take an interest in the success of the undertaking, and, above all things, be very sure that it pays, and pays well, so that the scheme is worth going into without any philanthropic flourishes at all. He is already flourished to death, and he hates to be flourished to, or flourished about. 
There is a tendency in the officials who are engaged in institutions organised for the benefit of the poor, to fall into one of two errors; to be rough and brutal, which is the Poor-law Board style; or cheerfully condescending, which is the Charitable Committee style. Both these tones are offensive to the poor, and well they may be. The proper tone is that of the tradesman at whose shop the workman deals, who is glad to serve him, and who makes a profit out of his custom. Who has not been outraged by observing that cheerfully patronising mode of dealing with poor people which is in vogue at our soup-kitchens and other depôts of alms? There is a particular manner of looking at the soup through a gold double eye-glass, or of tasting it, and saying, " Monstrous good — monstrous good indeed; why, I should like to dine off it myself!" which is more than flesh and blood can bear.
We must get rid of all idea of enforcing what is miscalled temperance — which is in itself anything but a temperate idea. A man must be allowed to have his beer with his dinner, though he must not be allowed to make a beast of himself. Some account was given not long since, in these pages, of a certain soldiers' institute at Chatham; it was then urged that by all means the soldiers ought to be supplied with beer on the premises, in order that the institution might compete on fair terms with the public-house. It was decided, however, by those in authority, or by some of them, that this beer was not to be. The consequence is, as was predicted, that the undertaking, which had every other element of success, is very far from being in a flourishing condition. And similarly, this excellent idea of dining-rooms for the working classes will also be in danger of failing, if that important ingredient in a poor man's dinner — a mug of beer — is not to be a part of it.
The cause of temperance is not promoted by any intemperate measures. It is intemperate conduct to assert that fermented liquors ought not to be drunk at all, because, when taken in excess, they do harm. Wine, and beer, and spirits, have their place in the world. We should try to convince the working man that he is acting foolishly if he give more importance to drink than it ought to have. But we have no right to inveigh against drink, though we have a distinct right to inveigh against drunkenness. There is no intrinsic harm in beer; far from it; and so, by raving against it, we take up a line of argument from which we may be beaten quite easily by any person who has the simplest power of reasoning. The real temperance cause is injured by intemperate advocacy; and an
argument which we cannot honestly sustain is injurious to the cause it is enlisted to support. Suppose you forbid the introduction of beer into one of these institutions, and you are asked your reason for doing so, what is your answer? That you are afraid of drunkenness. There is some danger in the introduction of gas into a building. You don't exclude it; but you place it under certain restrictions, and use certain precautions to prevent explosions. Why don't you do so with beer?

He (Tim Taylor) adds:

For those with a taste for this subject, last year when the Census Bureau released its poverty line statistics I discussed a passage from George Orwell's 1937 book, The Road to Wigan Pier, which details the lives of the poor and working poor in northern industrial areas of Britain like Lancashire and Yorkshire during the Depression. Orwell is writing from a leftist and socialist perspective, with deep sympathy for the poor. But Orwell is also painfully honest: for example, he laments that the poor make such rotten choices about food--but then he also points out how unsatisfactory it feels to patronizingly tell those with low incomes how to spend what little they have. Indeed, as I pointed out last year, there's some evidence in the behavioral economics literature that poverty can encourage some of the behaviors, like a short-run mentality, which can then tend to perpetuate poverty.

    Posted by on Thursday, September 17, 2015 at 10:07 AM Permalink  Comments (2)


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