✍ The Unknown Mayhew. Selections from the ‘Morning Chronicle’, 1849-1850 [1971]

por Teoría de la historia

91a6dERHEJLSomething which can only we called a Mayhew revival is evident in Victorian studies these days. Until about six years ago, Henry Mayhew’s volumes on London labor and the Victorian poor, although well-known, had not received much scholarly attention. The resulting ignorance about the publishing history of his work led to errors in judgment not only about his intentions but also about the period he was concerned to describe. (All the material was collected and most of it published in parts five to twelve years before the four volumes of London Labour and the London Poor appeared in 1861-1862. This work dates from all three periods of Mayhew’s investigations: 1849-1850, last half of volume Ill; 1851-1852, volumes I and II and part of IV; 1856, first half of volume III). In 1965, however, John L. Bradley published his selections from London Labour with a long biographical introduction; in 1967-1968 the four volumes were reprinted in two separate editions, and a number of articles in both the popular press and the scholarly journals followed. With Gertrude Himmelfarb’s essay in the March 1971 VS ( “Mayhew’s Poor: A Problem of Identity”), the counter-reaction has even set in, and we are told that Mayhew’s editors and critics have claimed more for him than he deserves. The present volume is a representative selection from those articles appearing in the Morning Chronicle in 1849-1850 which were not reprinted in London Labour, plus parts of Law Wages, Mayhew’s apparently abortive attempt in 1851 to codify his economic theories. It covers most of his large categories, although one entire section on “Seamen Ashore” has been left out. With these selections from his reports on Spitalfields weavers, tailors aud seamstresses, boot and shoe makers, toy makers, merchant marines, and workers in wood available generally, the scope of Mayhew’s investigations can be more fully appreciated than heretofore. In addition, the introductions by the editors give considerable information about Mayhew and his work. Professor E. P. Thompson fits the Chronicle series into its contemporary context and adds depth to Bradley’ s earlier biographical essay by citing other works by Mayhew and his contemporaries. (One error: the novel The Image of His Father by the Brothers Mayhew was published in 1848, not in 1851.) Thompson also recounts the various responses to Mayhew’s articles and details the several feuds and disagreements which developed along the way. Mrs. Eileen Yeo rescues Mayhew’s economic and social theories from the obscurity of the column “Answers to Correspondents” on the 1851-1852 London Labour covers and puts them into a broad nineteenth-century perspective. Her discussion of Mayhew’s sense of the connection between economic conditions and cultural values is particularly interesting, as is her comparison of Mayhew’s work with that of Charles Booth and Seebohm Rowntree. Despite the abundant information in these studies, Thompson comes to the conclusion that Mayhew himself “remains a puzzling character and some final clue seems to be missing” (p. 19). Here lies the rub. As long as Mayhew remains a puzzle, London Labour and his other surveys will be something of a mystery as well: any complete explanation of his work is ultimately bound up with our understanding of the man. Yeo does implicitly recognize the connection; although at one point apologetic for his lack of system, she shows subtler insight when she says the Chronicle articles “provide a unique and fascinating record of a mind in action” ( p. 70). This record exists not only in this volume but continues throughout the whole of the sprawling, repetitious, sometimes incoherent, sometimes tedious, always incomplete work made up by the Chronicle articles, London Labour, “Answers to Correspondents”, The Criminal Prisons of London, and some of the minor works. Our gradual sense of this “mind in action” plays a large role in our confidence in Mayhew as a social investigator and admiration for his surveys as literature. The reader who gives credence to Mayhew probably does so not because he is always accurate (he is not ), but because, seen through the very lack of system which we excuse, the nature of his struggle with his self-appointed task induces respect. If Mayhew’s survey is not, as Eliot said of In Memoriam, a diary of which we must read every word, we must at least read beyond “gems” from London513pr2FMtFL Labour to understand the achievement. In the first place, the sheer quantity of the evidence about working conditions in certain trades helps establish the validity of the overall picture which emerges, while a random dipping and picking in his volumes emphasizes only the quaint or the extreme. Secondly, although Mayhew tried to efface himself in his reports, we do gradually perceive behind the mask of disinterestedness a man obsessed by the problems of seeing clearly and writing objectively. The experimental nature of his work and its changing shape bring into focus his attempts to define his subject, his search for a proper form, his selfeducation about the lower classes, the lack of condescension in his curiosity, and his desire for a “scientific” method of social investigation. Such knowledge of the man and his project grows slowly, and depends on the whole of what he wrote. For example, when one considers all of Maybew’s work, he appears much more ambivalent about prevailIng middle-class attitudes than Thompson seems to suggest. As a result Himmelfarb can claim that in Landon Labour Mayhew did “reflect, perpetuate, and reinforce an image [of the poor] that was fairly common at the time” (p. 318), and Thompson can insist that Mayhew was completely free from any “middle-class moral halitosis” in his Chronicle articles. The nature of Mayhew’ s work on the poor, however, is best explained by some combination of those two observations. It is the tension between Mayhew’s acceptance and rejection of the attitudes of his contemporaries which helps to explain the unique mixture of candor and objectivity in his interviews and the balanced point of view which does emerge from his work as a whole. The more of Mayhew generally available, thus, the better will be the understanding of the individual parts. This volume with its knowledgeable introductions is a welcome contribution to the Mayhew revival.

[Anne HUMPHERYS. “The Unknown Mayhew, by E. P. Thompson and Eileen Yeo, pp. 489. Pantheon Books: New York, 1971” (reseña), in Victorian Studies (Indiana), vol. XV, nº 2, diciembre de 1971, pp. 243-245]