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Penny Wise and Pound Foolish.
BY JOHN HOLLINGSHEAD.
BUSINESS, whatever dreamy enthusiasts may say to the contrary, can never be honestly conducted on sentimental principles. The laws that govern it can no more be violated with any permanent benefit to the community, than the movements of the planets could be improved by man if that restless tinker had the power to reach them. What is given to one is always taken from some one else; and false humanity to a particular class can hardly be gratified without inhumanity to another. The designs of the outlaw often peep through the costume of the philanthropist. Certain romantic brigands proposed to give to the poor what they took from the rich: how many amiable smatterers in "Social Science" propose to do anything a whit more honest? The evils produced by blind sentiment are even greater than those which can be traced to uninquiring ridicule. The breach-already too wide-between employers and employed, has been widened by the reckless labours of injudicious sentimentalists. The capitalists are abused for buying in the cheapest market-for sailing with a stream which they have no power to stem; the workmen are praised for making themselves as plentiful as blackberries, and yet demanding to be measured as strawberries. No one has ever gauged the mischief done by such poems as the "Song of the Shirt." The poet may have fattened upon them, but what about the object of his compassion?
poor sempstress, after sitting as a model to her artist in picturesque rags, is not even paid for her services in helping to compose the picture. Her other, and more conscientious employer, is not softened by the one-sided caricature of his motives and conduct, and it may be that he closes his shop, and sends his servant to the workhouse.
When charitable sentimentalists start trading societies, and test their theories by practice, they soon find that they cannot be more "liberal" than their neighbours. If they give fancy wages, and, by any benevolent combination, are able to obtain fancy prices, the delusion about a trading millennium may be fed for a time. As long as donations pour in on one side, and no dividend is demanded, and as long as well-wishers and supporters remain constant on the other, the little model organization may lead a pleasant existence, although the
masters may be benefactors and the workpeople dependents. No blunt, outspeaking voice is there heard to tell the first how they are demoralizing the second, or to tell the second how they are receiving charity from the first. When, however, the philanthropic patrons die out, or become sick of the stationary character of their enterprise, the little socialistic community begins to wither, and while the masters hop joyfully to some other charitable hobby, the work people are thrown upon a pushing unfeeling world. The training they have received in such an artificial atmosphere has not braced them up for the real, exciting struggle of life, and they often sink helplessly by the wayside expecting every passer-by to help them.
Some sentimentalists, however, do not always break up their establishments in such admired disorder, for the reason that they may have been more fortunate in their plan and material. By the happy selection of a trading idea, and the instruments with which to carry it out, they may succeed in planting one self-supporting association in a desert of failures. When they meet with a success of this kind, it is instructive to watch the course of their trading. Those who have been ready to give soon show themselves quite as ready to take, and yet to claim credit for the purest philanthropy. With the first gleam of sunshine their protective spirit grows apace, and they call out loudly for something like a secured monopoly. They ask for special clauses to be smuggled into Acts of Parliament, and they are never afraid of having too much Government inspection. Like all monopolists at heart, their boasted charity, and even their truthfulness, leaves them when they speak of their opponents, and they profess to ask for no privilege except in the interest of the public.
This picture may include the general features of the sentimental trading class, and may put them in their most unfavourable light, but to show that I am not without warrant for my sketch, let me take one of the most prominent so-called benevolent societies-the Central Ragged School Shoeblack Society.
This association started in business on the 31st of March, 1851, and its progress has been steady, if not extraordinary. During a period of sixteen years, according to the committee's way of putting the case, it has been the means of providing employment for nearly eighteen hundred boys from the Ragged Schools of London, who have collectively earned more than £25,000. All these boys-so says the report issued from the central office-have received temporary benefit from the occupation thus offered them, and a large number have been
enabled permanently to improve their condition by obtaining respectable situations after leaving the Society. This number does not include those boys who have been employed by the other Shoeblack Societies which have come into existence since 1851, in other districts of London. These are, for the most part, managed in the same manner as the Central Ragged School Shoeblack Society, and receive boys from schools in connection with the Ragged School Union.
The plan of working seems to be substantially as follows:-The boxes and uniform are deposited at the Society's office, where the boys assemble in the morning at seven o'clock. After prayers, they repair to their stations for the day, where they remain till the hour of return in the evening. This hour varies from four o'clock to six, according to the season of the year. The stations are arranged in four classes, two of which are within and two without the boundaries of the City; and the boys are placed in corresponding divisions, each boy occupying the stations in his own division in regular succession.
The charge for boot-cleaning is fixed at one penny. Each boy is required to deliver up the whole amount earned during the day, which is then applied in the following manner :-A little less than one half is paid to the boys in the shape of wages, and the other and greater half is divided into two nearly equal portions-one of which is paid into a bank to the credit of the boys, and is drawn upon to purchase them clothes and other necessaries, and the other portion is retained by the Society for the payment of office and expenses of management. The boys appear to earn individually about thirty pounds a year, and it therefore follows that they are deprived of the control of seven pounds and ten shillings a year, and have to pay another seven pounds and ten shillings a year as the cost of being regulated.
On the 31st of March, 1866, sixty-eight boys were in the Society, and since that time 130 have been admitted. Of these 198 boys, thirty-five have obtained situations, two have gone to sea, three have left from serious illness, eighty-seven have been discharged, or withdrawn, or have left of their own accord, and seventy-one remain at work in the Society.
The earnings of the boys in each year, and the shares paid to the boys and to the Society, are shown in the following table (in which shillings and pence are omitted):
* Six societies, 258 boys; earnings, 1866-67, £5434.
1852 1853 1851 1855 1856 1857 1858 1859 1860 1861 1862 1863 1861 1865 1866 1867
£ £ £ £ £ £ £ £ £ £ £ £ | £ £ £
656 760 899 1193 1432 1735 1785 1746 1744 1630 1824 2017 1870 1911 1895 2067
Boys' Wages...... 372 450 491 614 724 857 887 893 872 833 921 994 945 954 936 1013
141 161 203 298 352 431 443 421 435 400 450 511 462 493 479 521
These facts and figures, looked upon with no unfriendly eye, are far from satisfactory. They show that much work has been donesome part of it well, a great part of it ill-and that a great deal more has been checked or neglected. The blacking and polishing in the last year of more than a million pairs of boots is not a hundredth part of the work which is within the grasp of the shoeblacks. Even counting the "opposition boys," as they are called-the despised, abused, and hunted free-traders, who are now more numerous than the Society's boys-it is doubtful if one fiftieth part of the demand for London strect shoe-blacks is properly supplied. This deficiency must be largely caused by the penny-wise and pound-foolish policy of the shoe-black committee.
Whatever may be the charitable intentions of this governing body-whatever design they may originally have had to help the Ragged Schools and their pupils, they have not made the most of their opportunity. Like all sentimental traders, they start with a fallacy. They speak of themselves as "the means of providing employment" for the boys, forgetting that the public are the real providers of work, and that the committee only act as very costly middle-men. By their own financial statement, they show that they impose an income-tax upon the working-boy of about five-and-twenty per cent., and deprive him of all control in the expenditure of an equal proportion of his earnings. Many of us grumble loudly enough about an income-tax imposed by Government of two and a half or three and three quarters per cent. ; but what should we say if we had to pay five shillings in the pound? During the sixteen years set forth in the last table, the Society have taken out of the boys' earnings about six thousand, one hundred and ninety-four pounds, and have given the boys nothing
in return but superintendence and a little schooling. With the hundreds of free day, night, and Sunday-schools, all inviting the attendance of such scholars, the boys could have obtained the education for nothing; and we may therefore reckon that the five-and-twenty per cent. income-tax is exhausted in the expenses of superintendence. Many people who cast a passing glance at these liveried shoe-blacks in the streets, and who are too idle to inquire into the system on which they work, are under the impression that charity half-feeds them, halfclothes them; teaches them to read, write, and cast accounts; and provides them with decent lodgings. This is so far from being the case, that the balance-sheet of the Central Society shows how the boys pay superintendents' salaries, rent, rates, and taxes (the rates and taxes are deserving of special notice): and settle their own bills for coals, gas, furniture, printing, stationery, school-books, prizes, uniforms, boxes, brushes, mats, blacking, and the inevitable "sundries." A small sum-less than one per cent. upon the whole amount--is imported into the accounts in the shape of charity for an "annual treat;" but this could at any time be paid back out of the standing balanse, and the boys would then be able to hold up their heads like free, solvent men. Why the sum was ever collected it is not very easy to sce. The boys are worked by the committee in a sentimental, benevolent way, on much the same plan which the Saffron Hill capitalists adopt with the Italian organ-grinders and image-sellers. The difference between the two managers lies in this: the Italian boy goes out with his master's capital, and is only regarded as a talking, walking machine; the shoeblack pays his superintendent (who is not his master, although he calls himself such), works with his own capital, and is educated out of his compulsory savings.
The Shoeblack Society can hardly hope to make any great progress as a trading association, while it is conducted on its present plan. The boys, groping about amongst figures in a half-blind way, and putting down this and that with a piece of chalk, in rude signs, on the pavement, soon convince themselves that something is wrong. That they act upon such conviction is shown by the fact, before stated, that nearly half the boys were discharged or withdrew from the Society in the course of last year. They threw their livery off, and joined the ranks of the "opposition boys," who, after a long struggle, have succeeded in obtaining the fitful tolerance of the police. Nothing has been more tyrannical than the treatment of these ragged competitors by the police authorities for several years past, and nothing has been