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HOUSES versus HOVELS.
“For us the streets, broad built and populous,
For them unhealthy corners, garrets dim,
And cellars where the water-rat may swim !
Child of the Islands.
The problem of houses for the working classes is at once the simplest and the most difficult of social questions. To demonstrate that there ought to be better houses for them, is the easiest of all processes ; to show in what manner they are to be provided in sufficient number, in sufficient size, and at practicable rents, is the most difficult. After considerable experience, we are much inclined to set down this last as an insoluble problem. If there is to be any paying of rent in the matter, we do not see a possibility of providing houses numerous enough and large enough for the whole workmen of the country. To make the problem soluble, the element of rent must be eliminated entirely. Term-day must cease to have any terrors for the working man. The dreaded visit of the landlord demanding his money
must become a thing of the past. The old Hebrew Arcadia must be brought back, when every man sat under his vine and under his fig-tree, none making him afraid
Probably some will think that this mode of solving the problem resembles the old recipe for catching a bird by putting salt upon its tail. How are we to get houses for which no rent shall be paid? Do we propose a general seizure of house property, or a general massacre of house-agents? Or do we recommend to working men a moonlight flitting at every term, and leaving the landlord in the lurch? Our recommendation lies in a very different direction. The working man must get quit of the landlord by becoming the landlord himself. He must do, all over the country, what has been done so well at Birmingham and other places, invest his own savings in his own house. Let him do this, either with money accumulated in his earlier years, according to the plan which we have been urging so strongly, or by means of the assistance which investment societies are willing to give him. In the latter case, a few years will elapse before he can sit rent-free. But when he does enjoy the property clear, he will find it a very great advantage. The interest which he would have received for the purchase-money had it been otherwise invested, would have amounted to
much less than the rent which he would have paid had his house belonged to another. And besides, had he not had the inducement to save money, arising from the hope of becoming proprietor of his dwelling, it is more than likely that neither capital nor interest would have existed at all.
When public attention began to be directed, some fifteen or twenty years ago, to the miserable condition of the dwellings of the people, the first and most natural impression was, that the upper classes being possessed of ample capital, should, partly as a matter of charity, and partly as a matter of business, provide the necessary dwelling-houses for the working classes. Several schemes have been started on this footing, which have proved successful enough in one way, but unsuccessful in another. They have shown what sort of erections houses for the working classes ought to be, and they have given to the working classes themselves a sample of the higher comfort which such houses afford; but they have been unsuccessful in overtaking in full the existing destitution, and unsuccessful also in inducing other capitalists to provide, at practicable rents, houses adapted to the class in view. Of late years, accordingly, it has been deeply impressed on the friends of this movement, that if ever it is to be carried to a successful conclusion, the working classes must embark in it themselves. It is to them we now turn, and to their efforts we now trust, for remedying this great social defect. But in turning to them, it is not with the feeling with which one turns to a forlorn hope. On the contrary, it is with the strong conviction that if they will but throw their energies into this cause, and gird themselves for its accomplishment under wise and persevering leaders, success, with God's help, will be sure to crown their efforts.
In treating of this subject, let us, in the first place, state some facts · regarding the influence of the ordinary kind of dwellings on the welfare of the working classes ; and thereafter notice the leading efforts that have been made to improve them, especially those which have been made by workmen themselves.
As to the influence of dwellings on the welfare of their inhabitants, the subject may be viewed in four aspects. We may consider their influence, 1st, on health ; 2d, on morality; 3d, on social feelings and habits; and, 4th, on their religious welfare. The facts we may bring forward are certainly not new; but it is most desirable to lose no opportunity of giving them the widest possible circulation. It is most desirable to enlist the working classes in a sort of crusade on this subject, in order that not a
handful of officers merely, but whole regiments of rank and file may be mustered to give battle to the enemy, and bring to a triumphant issue that cause whose object is to provide not hovels but houses for the habitations of our people. We have always felt a peculiar interest in this subject, because it is here that the lot of the poor man is most painfully contrasted with that of the rich. It has been well said, that the man who dines for sixpence, and clothes himself during the year for £5, is probably as healthily fed, and as healthily clad, as if his dinner cost two guineas a day, and his dress £200 a year. But this is not the case with respect to habitation. Every increase of accommodation, from the corner of a cellar to a mansion, renders the dwelling more healthy; and to a certain extent, the size and goodness of the dwelling tend to render it more civilized. We are aware that some have exaggerated the importance of improved dwellings, fancying that nothing else was needed to regenerate the worst classes of society. We have no fancy for such an extreme. The true light in which to view the matter is this — that while the people live in filthy, ill-ventilated, crowded dwellings, huddled together like pigs, neither the efforts of the physician, nor of the magistrate, nor of the city-missionary, nor of the minister, nor of the schoolmaster, nor of the tem