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Marshall Hotel, Guernsey, Tuesday, May 18, 1869
The difference between poverty and pauperism is brought home to me very strongly by what I see here. In England, we have people faring sumptuously while they are getting good wages, and coming on the parish as paupers the moment those wages are suspended. Here, people are never dependent on any support but their own ; but they live, of their own free will, in a style of frugality which a landlord would be booted at for suggesting to his cottagers. We pity Hodge reduced to bacon and greens and to meat only once a week. The principal meal of a Guernsey farmer consists of "soupe a la graisse", which is, being interpreted, cabbage and peas stewed with a little dripping. This is the daily dinner of men who own perhaps three or four cows, a pig or two, and poultry.. But the produce and the flesh of these creatures they sell in the market, investing their gains in extension of land, or stock, or in " quarters " (that is, rent-charges on land, certificates of which are readily bought and sold in the market, affording to the borrower an easy means of raising money, and to the owner of savings a safe and ready investment).
Meat they seldom taste, except a bit of pork—salt junk—added on great occasions to the cabbage. Fish —generally conger eels—forms a less rare addition to their diet. There is no doubt, however, that the excessive desire of gain has led these islanders to reduce their diet to the very lowest point consistent with health. Indeed, I find some writers attribute to habitual semi-starvation the low physical type which they think this people exhibit. But this, if a fact, may be owing to excessive-breeding in and in, which is recognised as a cause of the small size of cattle, and may have had similar effects among their masters.
Wednesday, May 19, 1869. .
At, one I went with Mr. Talbot to call on Victor Hugo at Hauteville House. He talked freely on his political notions for about half an hour, in the course of which he said quite enough to show me what an
impracticable Jacobin lie was, and how utterly impossible it must be for men of his school in any country to be really useful as practical politicians. He declared himself opposed to all taxation; then he admitted that wherever -taxation was a payment for service performed it was legitimate; so that it just comes to this, that he disapproves of some of the purposes to which Governments at present devote part of the proceeds of taxation. He wants the State to take possession of all waste lands, and cultivate them pro bono publico: item, to take and use all the town sewage. In short, the State— i.e. the Government for the time being—is to pay the expenses of administration out. of profits made by itself in the capacity of a large wholesale trader and manufacturer. He shares the usual Continental mistake of thinking our English Established Church was paid out of taxation ; and when I said it was maintained by its own property he replied, then it ought to be confiscated.
Then he was frantic in favour of female suffrage ; it was the right of every woman, because it was the
right of every human being. When I asked whether —granting the existence of the right—we might not safely leave the women to assert it at their pleasure, he went off into the analogy of children's rights, for the assertion of which by themselves the State does not wait. I objected that the more he insisted on this analogy, the less be could make of female equality with men. Then he admitted the case of children was quite exceptional and went off on a rigmarole about the adult, ending by a declaration that the beggar " mendicant" had a better right to the suffrage than he or I had; all this with the most rigid maintenance of the rights of capital, on which his views seem to diverge widely from those of Louis Blanc, of whom in other respects he seems an ally.
The general impression I have got from my conversation with Victor Hugo is anything but flattering to his political sagacity or reasoning powers. His house is curiously fitted up; the walls and balusters of the stairs covered with carpet and tapestry, broken by mirrors. The dining-room is entirely walled with Dutch tiles, with very .pretty designs in pale brownish pink, on a white ground. The general effect is very good.
The room in which he received us was a very ordinary one, except that it contained three enormous velvet fauteuils, in-one of which he seated, himself, while Mr. Talbot and I occupied the other two, his sister-in-law subsiding on to a cane-bottomed affair in the window, and taking no part in the conversation, except to object to female suffrage. Victor Hugo is, as to physique, a typical Frenchman, short, stout, rather paunchy, with a well-set-on head, of good shape, covered with short white hair. His forehead, though high, is not remarkably so, and, though it does not recede at all, is not prominent. His nose is straight, but thick and coarse; the eyes—I forget their colour—are small, with an expression of great irritability; the mouth and chin are concealed by thick moustache and short beard.
The Guernsey folk say he is very rich, hut he lives quite apart, and does not mix in the island society.
letter -re M—R Jersey, May 23,1860.
...He must be quite young, about my own age, I should think. In England one would describe him as a shopkeeper. He is a shopkeeper; that is to say, he keeps a shop in the town, where lie is at work all day. But what's in a name? He hears as much resemblance to a London shopkeeper as Cosmo.de Medici does to Moses & Son. What. is to be said of a shopkeeper with a pedigree of five centuries, who can talk well of painting, of architecture, of law, of government; who has the history of the Middle Ages at his fingers' ends; who is conversant with the laws and customs of Normandy and of England, and who quotes Wordsworth and Maine's Ancient Law ? Clearly such a being is not what an Englishman means to designate when he speaks of a shopkeeper. I delight in these refutations of modern- convention, in breach of the paltry hedges which a sordid plutocracy has devised in England to fence about the usurpations of brutal ignorant wealth. M—— R—shares Lempriere's dislike of the subdivision of property, and lamented the absence of the spirit of enterprise engendered among the younger sons by the custom of primogeniture, and of the high standard of cultivation and refinement maintained by a class of large proprietors. He was obliged to admit, however, the existence of a far more diffused well-being here than in England, and acknowledged that the agglomeration of land in England went far beyond. what was required in order to obtain the national advantages he attributed to the existence of large proprietors. He acknowledged, too, that he knew of cases in which the possession of large property by owners habitually resident in another country was an unmixed evil. But, on the other hand, the system of minute subdivision of property which obtains in the island engenders a stolid, obstinate contentment with a low general standard of material welfare, and it absolutely kills all upward tendency to refinement and mental culture. It seems also---at all events the law compelling the division, of personalty does—to discourage the accumulation, and unreasonably to —dissipate when accumulated, of those large masses of capital which are really essential to the successful prosecution of undertakings, and highly conducive to the advance in civilisation of the whole human race. . . . People make believe and acknowledge that property has its duties as well as its rights; but do they include in this precious discovery a recognition of personal superintendence, personal presence, personal care and influence, as being among those duties ?
Jersey, May 24, 1869.
As to my speech, I am sensible that it appeared to great disadvantage in a debate which embraced, one way and another, the whole subject of Poor Law, because it was limited to the consideration of one of the smallest branches of Poor Law administration.
I could not have stated my views on the principles of the matter, and the very comprehensive remedies required, without raising such a storm of abuse as I did not. care to excite by a maiden speech. As to the treatment of vagrancy, my propositions are perfectly simple, easy of execution, proved by experience to be efficient, recommended by no end of Parliamentary Committees, Poor Law Inspectors, Poor Law Board minutes, &c„ and all still a dead letter. The scheme is simply this: Provide everywhere, and take pains to prove to the public that you really do everywhere provide, food and lodging- for the destitute stranger; and that it is such as the unfortunate, if honest and decent, may fairly be expected to accept. Then carry out the Vagrant Act to the letter; arrest every beggar, and put them to hard labour in House of Correction. Of course this involves some management on the part of the magistrates who convict, and some expense on the country, not more of either than in my humble opinion it is quite reasonable to demand for the public good. . . .
Four pages of prose, and no room for poetry about the Norman Isles. Well - but I am delighted with them, and must sing a little song of sixpence in their praise. I landed at. Guernsey without any introductions of any sort, but a zealous admiration for a pamphlet on land tenure by an anonymous author and published at Guernsey.
So I went straight to the publisher, and told him what I came about—that I wanted to grub among their island laws and customs. He took me and introduced me to the author of my pamphlet, who turned out to be quite the king of the place, an old member .of the Supreme Court, one of the riches men in the island, and most active in all public matters. He received me most kindly, and in ten minutes we were as thick as if we had been old friends. I went to lunch with him, and afterwards he drove me about the island. This process was repeated three times, and what with conversation an reading I picked up a good deal of information.
My friendly publisher presented me to Victor Hugo, who ranted to me for half an hour, and convinced me that with all his sublimity of imagination he is a bad politician and a worse reasoner : he really talked great nonsense. I came here Saturday, and have got introduced to some capital fellows. But think of my delight at finding myself in the midst of the old feudal system actually. Seigneurs holding by homage and knight service, bound to ride into the sea when the king visits the island, with droit de columbier, and droit de mouilin and even (in theory) the haute justice and droit de gibet! A place which is still, in fact, governed by the Curia Regis, on the roll of which the crier of the Court still annually summons such names as the Abbots of .Blanchelande and St. Michel, the Lords of Anneville, St. Ouen, and Dielament; of St. Jean de la Hougue Boete, of Fieu Luce de Carteret, of Franc Fief en St. Brelade, and La Dame des Arbres! A place where no will of realty can be made, and where a conveyance takes place by personal appearance of the parties before the Court, where, after the lapse of a thousand years, the subject of an illegal trespass still appeals to the justice of his country by the Clameur de Haro—"Ha
Rou, Ha Rou, Ha Rou; a l'aide, mon Prince, on me fait tort !" In Guernsey this appeal is preceded by the solemn recital of the Lord's Prayer in presence of two witnesses. In both islands the procedure is frequently used, and all I have spoken to value it highly. But I must leave off; only I am more than ever sensible of the stupid injustice which is done to feudalism when it is saddled with all the abuses which a corrupt plutocracy have invented to fence about their filthy usurpations.