+ ~ -
Article icon.

To Working Men

Read me now! Export to PDF, including full article record, author information, and annotation.
Author Charles Dickens
Genres Prose: Editorial i
Prose: Leading Article i
Subjects Architecture; Building; Housing; Property; Landlord and Tenant;
Family Life; Families; Domestic Relations; Sibling Relations; Kinship; Home;
Gender Identity; Women; Men; Femininity; Masculinity
Great Britain—Politics and Government
Great Britain—Social Conditions—Nineteenth Century
Public Health; Sanitation; Water
Social classes; Class distinctions; Aristocracy (Social Class); Aristocracy (Social Class)—Fiction; Middle Class; Working Class; Servants;
Urbanization; Urban Life and Landscapes
Other Details
Printed : 7/10/1854
Journal : Household Words
Volume : Volume X
Magazine : No. 237
Office Book Notes
Views : 861

On 25 September Dickens wrote to Wills that he was 'quite shocked and ashamed' to see that there was nothing in the issue of HW about to go to press relating to the terrible outbreak of Asiatic cholera in London during the previous two months.

After a five-year gap, the disease had reappeared with such virulence that over 10, 000 people were killed by it and some poorer areas south of the river had to be cordoned off. Sending Wills this short article, which he hoped might 'do some good', Dickens instructed him to unmake the issue and put it first in the number (Pilgrim, VII, p. 421). The Times article to which he refers appeared on 18 September 1854 (p. 6, col. b). It reminded the paper's readers of their duty towards their 'poorer countrymen' and exhorted:

Let not the general or parochial rate which may be levied for the promotion of public health be evaded, or grudgingly paid. Let us all put our shoulders to the wheel cheerfully and heartily and endeavour as best we may to carry out those improvements...

Dickens once more attacks Lord Seymour (see notes to 'It Is Not Generally Known' in Vol. 3 of the Dent edition of Dickens's Journalism, p. 211) and governmental incompetence and indifference. He found it necessary to explain the article to Miss Burdett Coutts on 26 October (it no doubt seemed to her to border on the revolutionary, and he hastens to convince her that he is desperately concerned to avert social catastrophe):

Its meaning is, that they [working men] never will save their children from the dreadful and unnatural mortality now prevalent among them (almost too murderous to be thought of), or save themselves from untimely sickness and death, until they have cheap pure water in unlimited quantity, wholesome air, constraint upon little landlords ... to keep their property decent under the heaviest penalties, efficient drainage [etc.] [Pilgrim, Vol. VII, p. 443].

The people must be strongly urged to put pressure on politicians now to bring about these sanitary reforms, or, says Dickens, the 'worthless Government' will do nothing, using the Crimean War as an excuse for its inaction; and when the disease returns again, the masses, having meanwhile come fully to understand that it could have been prevented, may well react with violence (he invokes the biblical image of Samson pulling the Temple down upon his head).

The 'broken creature' referred to in paragraph 2 is Feargus O'Connor, an Irish MP and the flamboyant leader of the 'Physical Force' Chartists. He suffered a mental collapse in 1852 and on 8 June was committed to the custody of the Sergeant at Arms after assaults on fellow MPs; he was subsequently moved to a lunatic asylum in Chiswick, where he died in 1855.

Author: Michael Slater; © J. M. Dent/Orion Publishing Group, Dickens' Journalism Volume III: 'Gone Astray' and Other Papers from Household Words, 1851-1859, 1998.

DJO gratefully acknowledges permission to reproduce this material.

Click here for further information about texts cited.

Attachments (0)

Who's Online

We have 30 guests, 4 members and 4 robots online.