THE UNKNOWN MAYHEW by Eileen & Edward P. Thompson - Eds. Yeo


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An enigmatic polemicist of short fame but very considerable talent, best known for his massive work London Labor and the London Poor, Mayhew wrote 82 letters in 1849-50 for the conservative Peelite journal The Morning Chronicle. These letters depicted the ruin of craftsmen and the destitution of the majority of workers in the textile, garment, millinery, woodworking and tannery trades, with a keen social scientific eye for using interviews to highlight the condition of the trade as a whole. The interviews are crisp question-and-answer with no mawkish or condescending overtones, although Mayhew (undoubtedly to satisfy the Chronicle readership) stated his original object as that of determining ""the will to work"" among the London poor. In his door-to-door survey he finds they are willing to work eighteen hours every day of the week, suffer unemployment as well as incredible wage-cheating, hunger, poor health and wretched housing. Mayhew was led to advocate cooperative schemes and then to oppose free trade; this undid him since the Chronicle, content with do-good exposure and enjoying the large readership of Mayhew's articles, remained Free Trade to the marrow. Mayhew's reports give us a wealth of data on a cross-section of midcentury London workers -- socially broader than the contemporaneous Blue Books: their attitudes toward their conditions of life, their mores, their often Chartist hopes. Eileen Yeo and E. P. Thompson (author of the noted Making of the English Working Class, 1963) provide two introductory essays, both as clinically conscientious and insightful as the letters themselves.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1971
Publisher: Pantheon