The Increase of Human Life: Part Iii

Labor less severe than formerly.

LABOR is less severe than formerly. The introduction of machinery has relieved workmen of the necessity of making the most violent exertions. The hardest and heaviest blows are struck by the unfeeling arms of the mill, the machine, the engine. More than this : the hours of labor are diminished. People have shorter days of toil, and longer nights of rest. And fewer are broken down by excess of exhaustive and violent exertion, by protracted toils, and privation of sleep.

Labor Wages.

Labor is better rewarded now than in former years. Not only are larger wages paid in money, but the money received procures for the worker better means of sustenance, better protection of clothing and shelter, and more of the comforts of life. In England, in the last of the sixteenth century, a good mechanic, carpenter, mason, painter, wheelwright, earned a bushel of wheat by working nine days and one eighth. In the period from 1600 to 1625, he earned a bushel in five days and one third, and from 1815 to 1821, in one day and an eighth1 And now, with the present prices of labor and grain, the same classes of mechanics in the United States earn a bushel of wheat in half a day. 2

Two hundred years ago, weavers, cloth-dressers, and dyers earned each seventeen cents a day, and paid sixtytwo cents for the meanest shirt. 3

In the first period the mechanic earned three quarts and a half of wheat, and in the last period sixtyfour quarts, with one day’s labor.

Two hundred and fifty years ago, a good mechanic could obtain with the wages of one day’s labor two pounds and a half of beef or mutton, or two dozen eggs. He could earn a hen in one day and a third, a turkey in three or four days, a cauliflower in two days, a pound of potatoes in three days,4 and coarse linen cloth enough for a shirt in six days and a half.5 A farmlaborer earned fourteen cents a day from April to October, and twelve cents a day from October to April, always boarding himself. 6

In the early ages the government frequently fixed the price of labor, and sometimes of grain and other articles. Sometimes this was done by parliament, sometimes by the town council, sometimes by the courts. In 1317, when wheat was ten pence a bushel, the harrower of the ground, the weeder, and the haymaker were ordered to have one penny and a half, about three cents, a day; and master carpenters, masons, tylers, three pence, or six cents, a day. In 1360, the master hind, carter, shepherd, and swineherd were to have ten shillings (two dollars and fifty cents) a year; and a woman laborer or dairy-woman, six shillings (one dollar and fifty cents) a year. In 1446, the wages of a master or head farmer were twenty-three shillings and four pence, about five dollars and eighty-three cents, a year ; of a chief carter or shepherd, twenty shillings. (five dollars); of a woman servant, ten shillings (two dollars and fifty cents) per year. All these had their food from the employer. The wages of mechanics had not risen in those eighty-six years ; they still had their three pence a day and their board. 7

In 1610 the justices of Rutlandshire revised the scale of wages, and ordered that the employers should pay to the bailiff of husbandry, head man on the farm, fifty-two shillings (thirteen dollars) a year with board ; to the chief woman servant, being a good cook, a fraction less than thirteen cents a week, and board. A mower was to have ten cents, a man haymaker or reaper eight cents, a woman reaper six cents, a woman haymaker four cents a day ; all with board.

It was further ordered that all of these should receive double wages if they boarded themselves, except the female haymaker, who should have ten cents.8

The wages of mechanics were fixed by the same ordinance. Carpenters, in summer, had sixteen cents a day with board, and twenty-six cents without it; tailors, eight cents with board, and sixteen cents without it. The general idea of the courts was, to allow one half of the earnings for board ; the rest was clear wages, to be used, according to the will of the workman, for other personal and family expenses. 9 Thus the carpenter, tailor, and laborer, who severally had sixteen, eight, and four cents surplus daily wages after paying the employer for their board, had so much left to pay for their clothing, to lay by for their support in sickness and old age, and for the support of their families if they had any. 10

In the days of Queen Elizabeth,— “the good old times of Queen Bess,” the pride of English history, when national prosperity and personal comfort were supposed to have attained their highest point, — the average wages of good mechanics were five shillings, about one dollar and twenty-five cents, a week. Wheat was then —1565 to 1599—five shillings and ten pence per bushel; the mechanic could then earn a bushel of wheat in seven days, a coarse linen (dowlas) shirt in five days and a half, a common waistcoat in seven days and four fifths, a pair of strong shoes in eight days and four tenths, a stuff gown for his wife in seven days and four fifths, a linsey-woolsey petticoat in five days and two fifths, a check apron in two days and a half, a pair of shoes in four days and a half, and a pair of stockings in one clay and four fifths.11

Comparing these wages of the workman with the cost of clothing and other obtainable necessaries of life, it is easy to see how small an amount of the comforts they could obtain, how meagre must have been the sustenance of their families, and how slight an opportunity they enjoyed, of developing a sound constitution, and of sustaining themselves against the causes of disease.

At the present time, a good mechanic earns three or four times the cost of his board, and has three or four times as large a proportionate surplus for the support of his family, or for investment for future use; and labor, in all its varied forms, receives a much larger reward in sustenance, in comfort, in means of health and vigor, at the present, than was paid in any of the formerages of the world.

A natural consequence of this better relation of labor to wages is, that there is a much larger proportion of the people who have a surplus to save, and many more that provide in their vigorous days for times of weakness and sickness, and who suffer less when their power of labor and production is temporarily suspended or permanently exhausted.

Increase of the Means of Life.

While then the proportion of people who have some property, or some fixed and reliable plan of life, some sure and continuous income and means of support, has increased with the progress of civilization, the proportion of those who are living from hand to mouth, who awake in the morning without knowing how the bread of the day is to be obtained, or even whether it will come in any way to them, has diminished. There are less of those who are the prey of accidents, carelessness, and fortune,− now full and now empty, at one time revelling in thoughtless improvidence with their present means, and at another suffering from want, − and who, with their varied and uncertain sustenance, have a lower constitution, and are more subject to disease and more liable to death.

There is now less destitution than in former ages. There is a smaller proportion of the poor and dependent who are not at all times able to procure their subsistence by their own exertions. There is a diminished and diminishing proportion of those who suffer any privation of the comforts and needful elements of life in their days of sickness or when their opportunity of earning is taken away.

So the life of the civilized world is better sustained. The human constitution is better developed and prepared to bear the burdens that are laid upon it, and more able to resist the causes and to sustain the attacks of disease.

Increase of Kindness and Mutual Help.

There is another and important element of civilization, that has no small influence on health and on the continuance of life, − in the growth of charity and mutual love and respect. In early times, and among barbaric people in all ages, brute force reigned paramount, and selfishness was an active principle among all classes. The strong ruled over the weak and ruthlessly grasped at the property and the privileges of the world ; and the weak, by fair means or by cunning and stealth, got what they could from both superiors and equals.

The upper classes seemed to suppose the lower made for their benefit, and the intelligent to consider the ignorant appointed to serve them. There was not only an indifference to human and animal suffering, but even sometimes a pleasure in beholding it. The savage tortured his victims ; the old Romans went in crowds to see the gladiatorial exhibitions, where men fought and wounded and slew each other. The Spaniards still throng the theatres of the bull-fights; and people in past ages found amusement in the prizefights of men, dogs, and fowls, which now afford pleasure only to the rudest and lowest; and when, in olden time, the law condemned convicted criminals to be tied to the cart’s tail and whipped through the streets, crowds followed, and urged the executioner to be diligent in his work, and complained if he faltered, or showed any signs of compassion.

Colgan, in his “ Lives of the Saints,” says that, “in the year 664, there was at that time a great famine in the land ; so great was the population, that the soil was not sufficient for it for agricultural purposes.” “Wherefore the chiefs of the land planned that the people should assemble in one place, and all the laity and clergy should fast, and pray to God to remove that burdensome number of the ‘ inferior multitude ’ by means of some pestilence, that by this measure the rest might live more comfortably. An angel said : ‘ But because, in opposition to the will of God, you have prayed for the death of the lower classes, by God’s just judgment the higher ranks shall die,’ which also came to pass.” 12

Their domestic management was not more loving and gentle three hundred years ago. Markham, in his " Instructions to a Good Housewife,” among other recommendations for her proper dealing with the female servants, advises the mistress “not to scold the girls, but to thrash them heartily, when they are refractory.”13

With increased culture and refinement, with the growth of wealth and the better establishment of social order, there has been an increase of charity, of generous regard for man, more willingness among men to bear and lighten each other’s burdens. Hence in cultivated society there has sprung up among those who are endowed with gifts and powers, whether of body, mind, or estate, a feeling of responsibility for their use and a desire to lend them in aid of those who are in need, more than in the days of the past. The world grows more generous, more sympathetic, and the weak in every element enjoy more and more of the blessings of the strong. They suffer less from want and privation ; they receive more aid in the doubtful and dangerous paths of life ; their burden is lightened ; their strength is better sustained ; their ailments are fewer and less destructive.


In the world’s earlier periods, which, sometimes with pleasant fancy and sometimes with sorrowful yearning for their return, we call the ages of purity and simplicity, − in the days of Israel of old and of Greece and Rome, in the Middle Ages, in the times of Ben Jonson, of Shakespeare, in the last century, − in all, from the first downward, there was more sensual indulgence, more intemperance, more low and exhausting dissipation than now. The Hebrew prophets, in their bitter denunciations of the sins of the people ; the poets; the play-writers ; the historians of all those times,−who intend to depict society and manners in their true colors, by their descriptions of scenes and customs, their language, and their allusions to matters evidently familiar, − all reveal a wide prevalence of destructive sensuality, which was necessarily followed by exhausted constitutions, lessened vitality, and earlier death.

Diminished Early Mortality.

The weak, − those who have low vitality, having in themselves little power, − stand most in need of external aids for the support of life ; they want appropriate food, plenty of warmth, good clothing and shelter, and an unfailing supply of fresh air. Their systems are the most keenly sensitive to the causes of disturbance, and they suffer most readily under loss of comforts, and sink most rapidly when deprived of the necessary means of living. Hence infants are more subject to fatal attacks of disease in rude ages, and among the ignorant and the poor, the selfish and the indiscreet, in any age of the world. In the proportion that society emerges from barbarism and families become intelligent and the means of living are generally diffused, childhood is more healthy and vigorous and less subject to disease and death, and thus the diminished infant mortality is one of the strong and pleasant marks of the progress of civilization.

In Geneva, of all the deaths, forty-four per cent in the sixteenth century, and twenty-five per cent in the nineteenth century, were of children under five years.14

Of all the deaths in London, those of infants under one year were, from 1730 to 1749, 74.5 per cent of the total mortality ; from 1790 to 1809, 41.3 per cent; and from 1850 to 1860, 29.58 per cent.15 In France, the deaths of infants under one year were, from 1800 to 1815, 22.48 per cent ; from 1830 to 1840, 20.58 per cent, and from 1850 to 1860, 18.92 per cent of the mortality at all ages.16

In Massachusetts, Vermont, and Connecticut, property is more equally distributed, and there is a larger proportion of the inhabitants who have a competence, who have a plenty of suitable food at all times for themselves and for their children, who have comfortable dwellings, and whose families never suffer from want of nutriment or warmth, than in any other state or nation. This enables them to nourish and protect their children, and gives them better means and opportunities to carry them through the perils of infancy and childhood.

The effect of these favorable circumstances is seen in the bills of mortality, which show that of those who are born in these States a smaller proportion perish in the forming-period and a larger proportion reach the fulness of maturity, at twenty, and are launched on the sea of active and self-sustaining life, than in any other district of country, except one.17

The same good effect of prosperity on health in these States is shown at the other extreme of life. They have a larger proportion of persons who out of their earnings in their years of strength save enough to support them in health and comfort in their declining years. So we find that, of those who survive their period of labor to sixty, a larger proportion here live on to a good old age at eighty, than anywhere else in the world.

The statement regarding the safety of children in Massachusetts should be qualified in respect to the experience here since 1851, for the introduction of a large number of foreigners, with their great addition of perishable children, has increased the proportions of total infant mortality in this State. Yet, if the foreign element could be separated in this calculation, it would be shown that children of Anglo-Saxon origin born in these States have a better chance of life than children of other countries.

Infant Mortality among the Poor.

The difference between the vitality of infants of families in different circumstances is shown by comparing the ages of the persons buried in the large Catholic cemeteries in the vicinity of Boston with those of the persons buried at Mount Auburn. The records of nineteen thousand seven hundred burials in the foreign grounds, and of twelve thousand seven hundred and six in the resting-place of the natives, were examined for this purpose. Of those who were placed in the cemetery for the poor, twenty-nine per cent were infants of less than a year, and fiftyeight per cent had not passed their fifth year; while at Mount Auburn only twelve per cent were infants under one year, and twenty-eight per cent less than five years old.

One half of those buried in the cemeteries of the strangers were less than thirty-three months old. One half of those in the other ground had passed their thirty-third year.

In this comparison, great allowance must be made for the different composition oi the families of these two classes of people. The foreigners are nearly all young, few beyond the middle and productive period of life, and their children are numerous. The natives are of all ages, with the average proportion of the aged, and only the average proportion of children.

Yet, making whatever deduction may be proper for this difference, here is a very great excess of infant mortality among the poor over that in the more prosperous classes, which can be explained only by the difference in their domestic condition.


Education and intelligence, the most important elements of civilization, are also among the most effective aids in sustaining human life.

This is seen in the records of vitality and mortality of England and Wales through seventeen years. In six counties, sixty-three per cent of the women when they were married were unable to write their names in the register, and signed with their marks. There were seven hundred and forty-nine thousand nine hundred and twentyseven marriages in these counties, and two million eight hundred and fiftythree thousand seven hundred and seventy-four children were born. 18.98 per cent of these children died in their first year.

In fifteen other counties, with a more favored and intelligent population, only thirty per cent − less than one third −of the marrying women were unable to write their names in the register.

In these counties, there were four hundred and fifty-three thousand and thirty-four marriages, and one million eight hundred and thirty-three thousand seven hundred and ninety-nine children were born. Only 14.09 per cent of these infants died before they reached the end of their first year.

Comparing the infant mortality of these two classes of counties, it is found that as often as one hundred die in those of which the people are more intelligent, one hundred and thirty-four die in those where the inhabitants are more ignorant.18

The period of observation was the same in both these districts, − from 1838 to 1854 inclusive. The districts were both wide ; both included cities and country, sea-coast and inland, manufacturing, agricultural, commercial, and mining people, with no other appreciable difference than that the proportion of ignorance, as indicated by the inability of marrying women to write, was twice as great in the one as it was in the other.

It is not to be supposed that the simple fact of a mother’s inability to write her name is the direct cause of the death of her infant children. But this is a representative fact. It indicates ignorance beyond that of chirography, − a general want of culture and of knowledge of business and affairs, a lack of discipline of self and of family. It represents poverty, a smaller and more uncertain supply of the means of living, − of food, clothing, fuel, shelter, − and in all the management of family and children a more frequent failure to meet the necessities of infant life.

Effect of Education in Ireland.

The same difference in infant mortality in connection with the various degrees of ignorance is found among the people of Ireland; their bills of mortality for ten years − from 1841 to 1851 −show that the ratio of deaths of infants under one year of age was thirty per cent greater in those counties where two thirds of the females could neither read nor write than it was in other counties, where two thirds of the females could do both.

Unequal Movements of Civilization.

The spread of civilization is wide, and its progress is irresistible ; but it does not embrace all the nations of the earth ; nor does it carry onward and upward with equal steps all that are within its area. It moves with different rapidity among different people, and in the different classes of the same people. It exerts its influence with varying power and effect, and distributes its blessings with varying liberality. Upon some these are poured with lavish generosity, and to others they are doled out with the most niggardly parsimony, and thus it has been through all the ages of the world.

In every civilized country, however generally cultivated, there are those who live in filthy and smoky and dark cabins, on swampy ground, amidst noisome effluvia ; and those who live in narrow, crowded rooms on undrained and unwashed streets, with pestilential exhalations without and steneby air within; whose clothing and food resemble as nearly as may be the raiment and nutriment of the Middle Ages : these suffer, as did their ancestors long since, from the consequences of the neglect of sanitary laws ; − they have more frequently consumption, dysentery, and fever, and drag out attenuated lives to early graves.

Drawbacks of Civilization.

Although pure and unadulterated civilization is in itself unmixed good, and brings only health and life, yet it is sometimes accompanied with evil. Progress too often brings its drawbacks with it. Luxury, self-indulgence, sensuality, and effeminacy too often attach themselves to it. Intemperance, the use of alcohol, tobacco, opium, and other destructives ; late hours, spent in vulgar or graceful dissipation, − all of these, each in its own way, and in its own degree, small or large, − waste life’s force and hasten its end; but they are no part of civilization.


Although men and women toil less severely and protractedly with their bodies, and exhaust themselves less through their muscles, now than in former generations, yet they work more with their brains. They do more mental labor, and expend more vital force in that way. There is a higher and more extended scholarship, and many more that seek it with absorbing devotion. Business, finance, public interests, ambition, generous and comprehensive charities, the pursuit of knowledge, science, literature, − these and other matters of care and anxiety more frequently now than in former ages lay burdens on the brain heavier than can be safely borne. All the fields of mental labor and avenues to distinction become more and more open as civilization advances ; the incitements to enter them are greater and more promising ; the prizes are richer and more attractive and apparently more readily attainable.

The proportion of people who are drawn from the monotony of manual labor, to join the livelier race in the pursuit of knowledge, ambition, or riches, is greater and greater through successive generations. But this high mental culture, which is in itself a rich blessing, brings it with many dangers to health and life. Of the great multitude who thus find their bread and their happiness in brain-work, there are not a few who pursue their phantoms of complete knowledge or success, with all their mind and might, until their physical forces are wasted and an early death ends their enfeebled lives.


Although the fabrics of wool, cotton, silk, and linen have multiplied, and cloths of every sort are made, soft, warm, suitable for every season, and so cheap that every one, however poor, is or can be better and more healthfully clothed than his ancestor ; and though our tailors are more skilful in their adaptations, and our costumes fit our frames better, and our garments protect us more, while they interfere with our movements less, than those of former times, −yet we have still to contend with the errors of fashion, which does not recognize the sanitary code as its supreme law, but dresses men, women, and children according to its capricious taste, and at times exposes them to suffering and to disease.

Thus we see that civilization has been various in its operations with different peoples and persons. It has varied in its powers and its progress, and in its good and evil results. But whenever and wherever the world has been cultivated, elevated, and improved, then and there civilization has increased men’s, women’s, and children’s vitality, and has lessened the amount and the destructiveness of disease. It has not only increased the number of the days of life on earth, but it has made those days more strong and effective.

Civilization has yet more to do.

Although civilization has done so much for human life, it has not yet wrought its perfect work. Life is yet to be enlarged, strengthened, and protracted.

The average longevity of those who died, within the latest recorded years, was, in Massachusetts, 28 years and 3 2/3 months ; Vermont, 36 years and 5 months ; Sweden, 29 years and 2 months ; England, 29 years and 2½ months; France, 35 years and 11 months ; Spain, 24 years and 4 months ; Norway, 36 years and 6½ months : 19 instead of 70 or 80 years, as it should be, and as it may be, and as it is with the most favored classes.

The expectation of life at birth, or the average longevity that is and will be enjoyed by all the children born, is, in England, 40 years and 10½ months; in France, 36 years and 1 month; in Sweden, 43 years and 5 months ; and, by males, in the United States, 41 years ; 20 instead of 80 years.

The full-grown men, completely developed and ready for work at twenty, in this country, at the present period, will have an opportunity of doing each before death only 37½, years’ work on an average, instead of doing 50 years’ work, − as they should, − with the best constitutions and in the most favorable conditions, before reaching the allotted threescore and ten. That is, a thousand persons now just entering the field of self-sustaining life will live and labor thirty-seven thousand five hundred years, in their days of vigor and selfsustaining power, before they shall die or pass into old age. This is only three fourths of the allotted fifty workingyears which are enjoyed by the most favored. The loss is great, but it is much less than it was in former generations.

The field of vitality is yet only partly cultivated. There is much to be secured, and very much to be gained. The parts yet untouched or only slightly improved are as susceptible of culture as those already cultivated. There are yet the ignorant, the poor, and the overworked ; there are yet the badly fed, unsuitably clothed, and imperfectly housed ; there are those who dwell in the wet and marshy districts of the country and breathe the pestilential miasmas exhaled around them, and those who live in the crowded and noisome streets and dens of the city. There are the uninstructed in the law of life, − a mighty host ; and the careless of its requirements, a still greater multitude. There are the sensualists, the self-indulgent, and the dissipated ; all these, here and everywhere, are yet to be reached by the elevating power of civilization and blessed by its influences.

Those whose years are weakened and whose lives are shortened are no more fixed by any law of nature in their present low vital condition than were their fathers, ages ago. There is nothing more in their personal organization or social relation, to prevent their improvement, than there was with people similarly circumstanced in times past. These have the same power as their fathers, and more opportunity, to amend their condition and their habits, to increase their strength and diminish their ailments, and prolong their days on earth. And they will do so ; the present and the coming generations will go on in this good way ; each will make some progress, and to each successively will be given a larger, richer, and longer life.

How long it will take to complete this work of human development and longevity,− how many generations must pass before threescore and ten years, instead of being the maximum as the psalmist thought, and the lot of only the favored and the few as now, will be the minimum, the assured lot of all the children of men, − we cannot tell, nor is it needful for us now to know. Sufficient for us is it to know that, by carefulness and culture, life has increased, and to feel assured that by the same means it may be still further increased ; and as we received a richer legacy of life from our fathers than they received front theirs, so it 1s our duty and our privilege to improve this heritage, to add our part to its worth and its power, and leave it to our children more effective and enduring than we found it.

  1. Playfair’s History of Prices of Grain, Bread, and Labor.
  2. Calculated from prices current in summer, 1868.
  3. Goodman, Social History of Great Britain, I. 16.
  4. Social History of Great Britain, I. 16.
  5. Sir Fred. M. Eden, History of Laboring Classes, I. 556.
  6. Social History of Great Britain, I. 17.
  7. Fleetwood’s Chronicon Preciosum, pp. 129 - 131.
  8. Social History of Great Britain, I. 16, 17.
  9. Ibid., p. 16.
  10. “ Some of the laws of those early ages fixed the prices of labor and articles of merchandise, and prohibited not only the laborer and the seller from asking more, but the employer and the buyer from giving more, under severe penalties.
  11. “ In 1350 the council of London ordered the prices of labor : — Summer. Winter.
  12. Masons, plasterers, and carpenters, per day, without victuals and drink 6d. 5d.
  13. Tilers. 5½d. 4½d.
  14. Master daubers (builders of cabins of clay and straw). 5d. 4d.
  15. Their laborers. 3½d. 3d.
  16. Tailors making gowns garnished with say (serge) and sandals. 18d.
  17. Horse-shoeing, six nails. 1½d
  18. “ eight nails. 2d.
  19. Taking off horse-shoe. ½d.
  20. “ If any one will not work for these wages, he must be imprisoned, until he find good surety. If he go out of the city because he will not work thus, and he be found there afterward, let him have imprisonment for half a year, and forfeit the chattels he has in the city
  21. “ Servants in the houses of good folks shall not take more than they were wont to take before the pestilence, on pain of imprisonment and heavy ransom, and of paying to the city double that which they have taken in excess ; and he who shall pay more than he did before the pestilence shall pay to the city treble what he shall have so paid in excess.” — London, and London Life, p. 253.
  22. “1363. William Coppe was punished in the pillory for enhancing the price of wheat.”— Ibid., p. 313.
  23. “ 1364. A man was punished in the pillory for giving 15½ pence a bushel, which is 2½ pence more than the law allowed.” — Ibid., p. 317.
  24. “ 1382 (5 Richard III.). An ostler was punished for selling oats for 5½ pence, which by law were to be sold for 5 pence a bushel.”—Ibid., p. 460.
  25. Social History of Great Britain, pp. 12, 18.
  26. Quoted in Census of Ireland. I. 51.
  27. Quoted in Social History of Great Britain, I. 105.
  28. Mallet, in Anuales d’Hygiène, XVII.
  29. Dr. Farr, in McCulloch’s Stat. Acct. Brit. Empire, II. 543.
  30. Statistique de la France, 1860. Mouvement de la Population. App. p. 12.
  31. Calculated from annual reports of mortality.
  32. Calculated from the Registrar-General’s Reports, 1838-1854.
  33. Calculated from recent mortality-reports.
  34. Life-tables of these countries.