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October 20, 2005
Our Mutual Friend
He was brought up in the--' with a shiver of repugnance, '--the House.'

'The Poor-house?' said the Secretary.

Mrs Higden set that resolute old face of hers, and darkly nodded yes.

'You dislike the mention of it.'

'Dislike the mention of it?' answered the old woman. 'Kill me sooner than take me there. Throw this pretty child under cart- horses feet and a loaded waggon, sooner than take him there. Come to us and find us all a-dying, and set a light to us all where we lie and let us all blaze away with the house into a heap of cinders sooner than move a corpse of us there!'

A surprising spirit in this lonely woman after so many years of hard working, and hard living, my Lords and Gentlemen and Honourable Boards! What is it that we call it in our grandiose speeches? British independence, rather perverted? Is that, or something like it, the ring of the cant?

'Do I never read in the newspapers,' said the dame, fondling the child--'God help me and the like of me!--how the worn-out people that do come down to that, get driven from post to pillar and pillar to post, a-purpose to tire them out! Do I never read how they are put off, put off, put off--how they are grudged, grudged, grudged, the shelter, or the doctor, or the drop of physic, or the bit of bread? Do I never read how they grow heartsick of it and give it up, after having let themsleves drop so low, and how they after all die out for want of help? Then I say, I hope I can die as well as another, and I'll die without that disgrace.'

Absolutely impossible my Lords and Gentlemen and Honourable Boards, by any stretch of legislative wisdom to set these perverse people right in their logic?

'Johnny, my pretty,' continued old Betty, caressing the child, and rather mourning over it than speaking to it, 'your old Granny Betty is nigher fourscore year than threescore and ten. She never begged nor had a penny of the Union money in all her life. She paid scot and she paid lot when she had money to pay; she worked when she could, and she starved when she must. You pray that your Granny may have strength enough left her at the last (she's strong for an old one, Johnny), to get up from her bed and run and hide herself and swown to death in a hole, sooner than fall into the hands of those Cruel Jacks we read of that dodge and drive, and worry and weary, and scorn and shame, the decent poor.'

A brilliant success, my Lords and Gentlemen and Honourable Boards to have brought it to this in the minds of the best of the poor! Under submission, might it be worth thinking of at any odd time?

As I read about budget and tax hopes and plans of the Republicans in Congress, my mind keeps turning to Dickens.

_____________________

(Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens,)

Posted by AnneZook at 02:55 PM


Comments

The Poor-Houses were the brainchild of the great Utilitarian Jeremy Bentham (also author of the Corn Laws). Curiously, and much to his dismay, his protege John Mill's son, J.S. Mill, was one of the first prominent and effective male feminists, civil libertarians and anti-utilitarian.....

Posted by: Jonathan Dresner at October 21, 2005 04:07 AM

Jeremy Bentham is fascinating to read...as far as theory goes, but the implementation of his ideas produced some truly ghastly results.

Posted by: Anne at October 21, 2005 11:37 AM