Saturday, April 27, 2013


The Caste System

Charles Mackay (1812-1889), Under the Blue Sky (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Low and Searle, 1871), pp. 2-3:
Though the rich may not know it or wish it, there is almost as great a distinction of "caste" in England as there is in India. It is something more than money that divides the rich from the poor, and the poor from the rich; and something else than money or education—or the absence of one or both—that separates trades from each other, or one class of work-people from another; and it is exceedingly difficult for one whose dress, manners, and conversation mark him as belonging to the professional, commercial, or gentlemanly classes to establish friendly and intimate relations with the peasantry and lower orders of labourers, or to get at the secrets of their moral and intellectual life. To call upon poor working people in their homes, suggests to them that you have a "mission "—religious or otherwise—to reform or lecture them, and they immediately—whether male or female—put on a mental armour to defy you. They do not like to be preached at, or lectured, or patronised, by "unco' guid" or "rigidly righteous" people; and though they will most likely take your money if you offer it, you will get but little insight into their mode of life or habits of thought, if you talk to them for a twelvemonth. They are on their guard against you, and will not admit you into their confidence, strive as hard as you may. If you sit with them in their beerhouses, they discover at a glance, in whatever way you may have dressed yourself, that you are not one of them; and they look upon you as a flock of sheep might look upon a wolf, or a congregation of crows upon an alien magpie, who had obtruded into their clan or companionship.

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