CHAPTER VIII. OUR COLONIES.
Against this we have to set the facts that the terrible malady of insanity is distinctly on the increase - whether due to mere physical causes, to the high pressure at which modern society lives, or to the prevalent scepticisms which leave many wretched men so little tranquillising hope or faith, who shall say? - that all trades and professions are more or less overcrowded; and that there is a terrible amount, not of pauperism, but of hard-struggling poverty, massed up in the crowded, wretched, but high-priced tenements of great towns, and maintaining a forlorn life by such incessant, cruel labour as is not exacted from convicted criminals in any English prison. London, where this kind of misery is inevitably at its height, receives every week an accession of a thousand persons, who doubtless, in a great majority of cases, simply help to glut the already crowded labour market and still further lower the wages of the workers; and the other great towns in like manner grow, while the rural population remains stagnant or lessens. Agricultural distress, which helps to keep the tide of emigration high, also accounts in part for this singular, undesirable displacement of population; while recent testimony points to the fact that the terribly unsanitary and inefficient housing of the rural poor does much to drive the best and most laborious members of that class away from the villages and fields which might otherwise be the homes of happy and peaceful industry. For this form of evil, in town and country, private greed - frequently shown by small proprietors, who have never learnt that property has duties as well as rights - is very largely responsible; for how many other of the evils we have to deplore is not the greed of gain responsible?
The sins of the age are still much the same sins that the Laureate roughly arraigned when the Crimean war broke our long peace; denouncing the race for riches which turned men into "pickpockets, each hand lusting for all that is not its own;" denouncing the cruel selfishness of rich and poor as the vilest kind of civil war, being "underhand, not openly bearing the sword." We had made the blessings of peace a curse, he told us, in those days, "when only the ledger lived, and when only not all men lied; when the poor were hovelled and hustled together, each sex, like swine; when chalk and alum and plaster were sold to the poor for bread, and the spirit of murder worked in the very means of life." Yet those very days saw the uprising of a whole generation of noble servants of humanity, resolute to tight and overcome the rampant evils that surrounded them. And though we would avoid the error of praising our own epoch as though it alone were humane, as though we only, "the latest seed of Time, have loved the people well," and shown our love by deeds; though we would not deny that to-day has its crying abuses as well as yesterday; yet it is hardly possible to survey the broad course of our history during the past sixty years, and not to perceive, amid all the cross-currents - false ambitions, false pretences, mammon-worship, pitiless selfishness, sins of individuals, sins of society, sins of the nation - an ever-widening and mastering stream of beneficent energy, which has already wonderfully changed for the better many of the conditions of existence, and which, since its flow shows no signs of abating, we may hope to see spreading more widely, and bearing down in its great flood the wrecks of many another oppression and iniquity.