Dismal England: By the author of “Merrie England” [review by John Le Gay Brereton, 18 September 1899]

[Editor: This review (written by John Le Gay Brereton), of Dismal England, was published in The Australian Magazine (Sydney, NSW), 18 September 1899.]

Dismal England: By the author of “Merrie England.”

Walter Scott. Cloth, 2s. 6d.

Robert Blatchford, the well-known Socialist editor of the Clarion, has reprinted a number of articles dealing with the life of the poorer classes in England and Ireland. He does not put forward any arguments in favour of Socialism, but merely describes some of the conditions which make the present system of competition unbearable. He says that he has stated the truth “moderately and with care;” and, in spite of the fact that some of his figures are not to be defended from a charge of inaccuracy, there is good reason to believe him.

The book is not a work of supreme literary merit: it is mere journalism. Its value is this, that it is an intelligent, humane statement of sundry facts, which it is well all English people should know and be ashamed of — which we in Australia may look upon as a dreadful warning.

Read the article called “In the Strand,” and remember that any well-dressed man who loiters for a moment in certain frequented parts of this city is likely to be accosted by just such women as Alice or Marian. Remind yourself that the lives of some of our influential public men afford edifying spectacles of prosperous vice. And we need not go to London to find “the warrens of the poor.” There are parts of Sydney where persons of all ages and both sexes pig together within four walls. Woolloomooloo contains quite sufficient dirt, and crime, and poverty and despair to raise haggard spectres of a terrible future. Here, as in the old country, investigation will make you “think bitter things of the virtuous and cultured people who live on the rents” of shameful slums.

“Linen and Lives” is a prose sequel to Hood’s “Song of the Shirt.” Possibly women are not paid only sevenpence a dozen for making “gentlemen’s shirts” here; but even by the Beautiful Harbour every now and then a door is forcibly or accidentally set ajar and we get a whiff from the dens of sweaters. We use chains and chemicals; Mr. Blatchford has something to tell us of the people who make them. There are some brighter pictures, but, significantly enough, the brightness is that of individual sympathy. One article is frankly and joyfully libellous, but we are told that it was printed in the Clarion and “There was no libel action, and nothing happened.”

My copy of this little book is one of the worst bound volumes I have ever handled. I wish it contained an essay on the work and wages of stitchers, cutters, case-makers and other grist of the competitive book-binding mill.

J. le G. B.

The Australian Magazine (Sydney, NSW), 18 September 1899, pp. 455-456

Editor’s notes:
Beautiful Harbour = (in the context of Sydney, or New South Wales) Sydney Harbour

pig = to live like a pig; to live in dirty or filthy conditions; to live in slum-like housing, or in squalor

spectre = ghost, phantom; disembodied spirit; the possibility or likelihood of something unpleasant or dangerous that is expected, predicted, or feared to occur in the future (e.g. the spectre of war) (also spelt: specter)

sundry = various things or people (the phrase “all and sundry” refers to everyone in a particular group or situation); several things of different types, especially items which of such little significance that it is not worth mentioning them separately; miscellaneous items

[Editor: The original text has been separated into paragraphs.]

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