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Overcrowding in Towns and Villages (S364b: 1883)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor printed on page two of the Pall Mall Gazette issue of 3 September 1883. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S364B.htm

To the Editor of the Pall Mall Gazette.

    Sir,--The terrible crime recently committed at Croydon, and Dr. Alfred Carpenter's remarks upon it and upon the way in which the poor are housed in that town, have called attention to facts which, as you truly remark, are not peculiar to Croydon, but which, more or less, prevail in every town and village in the kingdom. Moreover, these facts are by no means new, but have existed and have been exclaimed against longer than any of us can remember; the only change that has taken place being that notwithstanding all the efforts of legislation and philanthropy, they have been year by year becoming wider in extent and more terrible in their baneful results. Is it not time, I would seriously ask, to give up the hopeless attempt to remedy this wide-spread and ever-increasing evil by local remedies applied to individual cases, while leaving untouched the essential causes which continually reproduce the disease faster than we can cure it? These causes are not unknown, and they have been again and again dwelt upon by the press and by political writers of eminence, but hitherto, unfortunately, with no other result than vain regrets and altogether inadequate suggestions. They are--the steady depopulation of the rural districts and the congestion of population in the towns; the consequent impossibility for this overcrowded mass of labourers to obtain permanent or remunerative employment; and the constant rise of rents with worse and worse house-accommodation for the poor. And these three immediate causes are themselves due to one fundamental cause--land monopoly. The rural landlord, to secure his rents punctually and with the least trouble, consolidates farms and pulls down labourers' cottages; while the more people are forced to live in towns instead of being scattered over the country, the more certainly rents tend to rise, and the more quickly can land and house speculators make fortunes. While a class is thus allowed to have a monopoly of the soil—the first necessity of all existence--and while the rest of the population can only live where these monopolists think it their interest that they should be allowed to live, how can overcrowding ever cease? How vain to talk of municipalities or boards of health checking the evil when land and houses are everywhere at such competition prices that the poor, with no resource but daily wages and no possibility of securing constant work, are forced to crowd three families into dwellings not decently or healthily sufficient for one?

    If our public writers and legislators continue to shut their eyes to these glaring facts, and propose no adequate remedies for the terrible evils they admit and deplore, while, as if in mockery, ever boasting of the constant increase of our commerce and our wealth, they will assuredly lose all hold over the people, who, thanks to Mr. George's works and those of kindred thinkers, are at length becoming fully aware of the true causes of the social pestilence which devastates our native land.--I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

Alfred R. Wallace.
September 1.

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