[back to menu for this book]
THE LIFE OF CITY CLERKS
CITY clerks may be divided into several distinct classes, the principal of which are stockbrokers' clerks, bank clerks, general office clerks, and lawyers' clerks. The first of these may be dubbed the aristocracy of clerkship, for the young men who comprise it are the most fortunate of their kind, and lead a life far removed from the dull, quill-driving existence of the others. To get into a stockbroker's office is a matter of extreme difficulty - with which, however, the advantages are commensurate - and is entirely the result of influence. The salaries are good : a youth of eighteen commences with from £80 to £100 a year, and receives an annual rise of £20 and a present of from £10 to £15 at Christmas. The only drawback is that the salary is paid quarterly, which is apt to keep the youth very short of money for a time, and then overwhelm him with a sudden access of wealth, Twenty-five sovereigns is a demoralising sum of money to the boy who has not been accustomed to more than five shillings a week pocket-money, and it is small wonder if he is at first inc1ined to think that its possession warrants him in launching into petty [-32-] extravagances which make difficulties for him before the next three months expire. The duties of stock-broking clerks are varied and interesting, and by no means confined to the desk. The hours of business are from 10 in the morning to about 5 in the afternoon, and quite half of the seven hours are spent in the neighbourhood of the Stock Exchange itself, or in the multifarious outdoor transfer and registration duties which are a necessary result of the constant buying and selling of stock. Consistently enough with their "aristocracy," brokers' clerks dress themselves very much better than other clerks, and can always be distinguished by their scrupulously shiny hats, their clean linen, and well-cut clothes. Fastidiousness in dress has its disadvantages, but t is oddly enough something of a safeguard in many cases. The youth who comes up to town in a top-hat and well-polished boots, carrying gloves and umbrella, and displaying a watch-chain, is aware that he has a character to keep up, and tries to do it. He will not be seen smoking a pipe nor entering a public-house, an his walk suggests more dignity than that of the ordinary clerks. Stockbrokers' clerks are implicitly trusted, and walk about the streets with thousands of pounds' worth of bonds under their arms on the Stock Exchange settling days. The principal temptation that they are open to is the growth of a spirit of speculation, born of constant intercourse with the rises and falls in the prices of bonds. There are upwards of three thousand members of the Stock Exchange, and it has been computed that all the investment business that is done there would only keep about two hundred [-33-] employed. The balance, therefore, derive their living from speculation.*
* German competition has made itself more felt upon the Stock Exchange than, perhaps, in any other city profession. Previously to 1881 the number of members was fourteen hundred; but in that year it was doubled, and amongst the new batch were a great number of naturalized Germans. It is a rule on the Stock Exchange that no foreigner who is not naturalized can be admitted, and yet quite a sixth part of the members are foreigners. These Germans at once commenced showing their gratitude by cutting down commissions. The usual broker's commission is ½ per cent, on the amount of stock bought or sold. The Germans by rapid gradations reduced this to 1/32 per cent.. half of which they were willing to give to any one who should introduce business to them. A thirty-second is 7½d. on a hundred pounds, and by giving half of it away to the introducer of the business the broker nets 3¾d, for himself. It is needless to say that the Germans are more considered than loved on the Stock Exchange.
Bank clerks are a much-envied class, but they
are envied principally by those who know nothing about them. A boy's fortune is
supposed to be made if he gets into a bank; but experience teaches that, beyond
the fact of its being, under ordinary circumstances, a permanency for him, it
possesses little advantage. Considering the large sums of money that are
constantly entrusted to the keeping of junior clerks, as well as the amounts
that are left constantly in the custody of cashiers and others, the
flagrant under-payment that is the rule in several well-known banks
cannot be too severely censured. Youths, to get into a bank, must be
well-educated and have powerful friends; but having got into the bank, it is by
no means a novel experience to discover that they might have done better
outside. One of the most widely known banks) whose head office is in Lombard
Street, and whose branches are all over the country, starts its clerks - who
must not [-34-] be less than seventeen years
old - at a uniform salary of £50 per annum. Out of this they have to pay £2 10s.
a year to an insurance society which then becomes answerable to the bank for
their possible defalcations up to £1,000. The salary increases at from £5
to £10 a year, according to the arbitrary decrees of the chief clerk.
One of the paying cashiers, who has been thirteen years in the bank's
employment, receives a salary of £155 a year. As he is married, this is
obviously not enough, and yet he is in permanent charge of an amount averaging
daily from £500 to £600. Christmas presents are not allowed in banks, and the
clerk never receives any of these extra douceurs that sweeten the lot of
young men in other businesses. There is another bank which follows
closely on the business lines marked out by the one just described, and also
upon the same plan of salary; but here clerks are admitted from the age of
fifteen upwards, and the commencing salary is £20 a year. This advances at the
rate of from £5 to £10 nominally according to merit, but more often to
favouritism. This bank has of course to earn as large a dividend as it can for
its share-holders, but what it saves in salaries it loses by the dishonesty of
its clerks. Young men are placed in charge of suburban branches with salaries of
from £75 to £90 a year The few shillings a week that these salaries represent
are of course swallowed up in supplying the necessaries of life, and as
the average sum in the keeping of these branches is £2,000, it may surprise no
one to hear that within one year this bank had to prosecute five of its
employés for embezzlement. The chief clerk (who [-35-] is
a sort of usher to look after the behaviour of all the others) was, until
recently, a young man of about twenty-seven, of limited education and
proportionate narrow-mindedness, The annual increases depended upon his
recommendations, and it was fully recognized that those who laid themselves out
to please him stood the best chance of preferment. He was a great believer in
obtaining information, and encouraged tale-bearing to an annoying extent. If he
took a dislike to a clerk he could wreak his vengeance on him by means of the
"holiday list." Every bank clerk is obliged to take a fortnight's
holiday, and he is allowed to choose his time according to seniority. The time
during which all holidays had to be taken extended from March to November
inclusive, and by merely omitting to hand to a clerk his proper turn he
could seriously limit his choice of a pleasant time of the year. One clerk whom
he disliked remained fixed at a salary of £65 for three years, although he had
a widowed mother and two or three you rig brothers and sisters who were mainly
dependent on his earnings.
Foreign competition is not felt by bank clerks, as only English young men are admitted. Some banks, we must inform our readers, treat their employés very well indeed, especially the London and Westminster Bank the Bank of England, and several private banks. But these are closed against all but favoured applicants. Rothschild's Bank is the ne plus ultra for bank clerks. The lowest salary paid there is stated to be £200 a year, bonuses are frequent and large, and a month's holiday is given to every officer. Several of the clerks here are [-36-] drawn from stockbrokers' offices. This may be called an oasis in the desert of clerk life.
General office clerks are, however, far worse off than any of the others, excepting solicitors' clerks. In this class must be included that vast army of penmen who can do little more than read and write, who come straight from the Board School or the National School to the desk, at ages varying from thirteen to fifteen, and remain at it from 8.30 in the morning until 7 o'dock at night for the rest of their lives - if they are lucky. If they are unlucky they devote various periods of time to the search for similar employment. The hungry competition for employment that exists among clerks naturally reduces wages to the very lowest point at which body and soul can be kept together; and thus it is we have the heartrending spectacle of some five or six hundred men, of all ages and positions, applying for a vacant clerkship the emoluments of which amount to no more than 25s. a week. Indeed, even to get such a wage as that, the applicant must nowadays possess more than the usual qualifications. He must understand shorthand; he must correspond in French and German; he must have a thorough acquaintance with English composition. If he can do all this he will find that he takes rank amongst the first twenty or thirty out of the five hundred competitors, and in that twenty or thirty quite five or six will be Germans.
This brings us to the great festering sore in the heart of city clerk life - to wit, German competition. It is forcing wages down year by year, and at the same time raising the standard of excellence. The [-37-] Germans possess that plodding industry and stubborn perseverance which is so necessary to the man who wishes to obtain the greatest amount of success - small though that be - which is possible in the serfdom of clerkship. But they can be energetic when necessary, and their education is much above that of English city clerks. Of course it is undeniable that the men who come over here are to an extent picked men, for the mere fact of rooting themselves up from their soil and venturing into such a city as this, the overcrowded state of which is a matter of world-wide notoriety, shows the extra force of character which bodes ill for those with whom it comes into competition. There are houses in London - not unfrequently headed by Englishmen - where an English clerk would not be admitted and where all the employés are Germans, so that a knowledge of English is unnecessary, and a young German may commence business at once, and learn English at his pleasure. The German learns nothing that he does not consider to possess a marketable value. He is a business man. He will accept wages that an English youth would refuse, though he makes those wages the standard for all in the end. He is assiduous in endeavouring to please his employer, and will receive what an Englishman considers indignities or injustice with meekness. He is remarkably frugal, is greatly disinclined to spend, and he is not particular as to the duration of the hours of labour. He is not disposed to be sociable with his English workmate. He keeps to himself and his compatriots, and is scarcely ever seen in other than business hours; he follows German tastes [-38-] and enjoys German amusements in German ways and in German society. This is, however, only natural and is perhaps rather to his credit than otherwise. But we regret to say that we have abundant testimony that many German clerks arc conspicuous for immorality - not reckless vice, but cold-blooded sensuality We have an instance before us where, through influence, a Prussian youth was permitted to attend an insurance office for the purpose of learning the language and gaining an insight into the principles of the business. As he slowly picked up the language, and commenced conversing with the other clerks, he became an object of interest, and could always command an amused audience, eager to laugh at his slips of pronunciation. As soon as he could master enough English he commenced telling indecent stories. The mischief that this young man wrought amongst the other clerks may well be described as incalculable: and yet in himself he was a gentlemanly looking youth youth of modest demeanour, plentifully endowed with the deferential politeness so characteristic of Germans and so pleasing to those with whom they come in contact. The drinking-clubs, of which mention will be made hereafter, where young men can drink and dance from 12 o'clock at night to 6 o'clock in the morning, and young women can do the same, are mostly conducted by Germans. German employers of clerks have greatly extended the practice of engaging lady writers instead of men. Their opportunities as masters are, we fear, very greatly abused.
Female competition for clerkships is only less keen [-39-] than the German, and between the two the English youth is going to the wall. The advantages of employing women as clerks are obvious. They are neater and more exact in their work, they are less demonstrative in their behaviour, they will work for smaller wages., and they never want to go out for "drinks " or on any of the numerous errands that young men are so apt to find compulsory. But they are driving their brothers farther and farther into despair. We know of three families in which the daughters have situations as clerks and the sons are out of employment. It stands to reason that when young men and women are competing for the same posts, if the latter get them the former must lose them, Twenty-five shillings a week is a good salary for a young woman and a poor one for a young man. Lady clerks are much more widely employed every year; and the type-writing machine, which is especially adapted for the working of young women effectually does away with any objection that might be taken on the score of handwriting.
Clerks engaged in the business of the law may be said to reach the nadir of clerical existence. Article pupils are of course not included in this statement, inasmuch as they are virtually students in training for solicitors, paying large premiums for their instruction, and intending, as soon as they have assed examinations and obtained their articles, to start in business for themselves. The ordinary clerk in a solicitor's office leads a life of monotonous drudgery. His wages vary from 18s. to 25s. a week, and he has little prospect of advancement. The same work that he does at the age of twenty [-40-] he will still be expected to do when he is fifty, and experience teaches that his employer is not inclined to recognise any claim for increase of salary based solely upon the service of years. The necessary qualifications are limited to shorthand and caligraphy, for which a salary of £1 a week is usually paid. That may be regarded as the Alpha and Omega of the clerk's career. He is not expected to dress well, and tall hats are by no means as indispensable in connection with solicitors' offices, as they are with most of the others. Long working hours are the rule, and it is thought nothing unusual to sit at the desk from 8.30 in the morning to 7 o'clock at night. Taking an average day's work at half an hour less than this., it will be seen that he earns about 4d. an hour, or less than half as much as a carpenter. In common with all other clerks, he is expected to work as late as may he needed without receiving additional payment. This is one of the instances of the injustice the penman must submit to by reason of the overcrowded state of the market. He never receives any extra pay for extra hours of labour.
Law-copving clerks lead a precarious existence. They are paid a certain sum per folio of seventy-two words - usually about 4d., but competition has reduced this in many cases to as little as 1d. Yet even at this very fair wages could be earned if the men could get plenty of work. The long vacation is a terrible time for them, and many travel down into Kent to make a little money at hopping whilst it lasts. Here is an incident from life: There is a public-house restaurant in Chancery Lane [-41-] which is much frequented by law-writers. Two clerks, who were habitués, announced their intention of walking down to a well-known hopping centre, as they were quite out of funds, and could not expect to earn anything at their business until the end of the then present month. They arrived at their destination, but could not get taken on. Walking being a novel experience to than, and much too arduous for their ill-nourished constitutions, they found it quite impossible to walk back. Their slender funds were exhausted, so they wrote a letter (the postage of which they could not even pay) to the barmaid of this public-house, and she made a "whip-round" amongst the frequenters of the place, and collected enough money to enable them to return to London by train.
A word must he said upon the subject of Civil Service clerks. There are two or three open competitions every year for fifty to sixty vacancies, for which seven or eight hundred youths enter. There is no standard to be passed, and the fifty who obtain the highest number of marks receive the appointments. The young men who compete are naturally better educated than the ordinary run of clerks, but it is obvious that the vast majority of them must fail. Many, however, continue to go up for five or six examinations ; as they are not eligible under the age of eighteen, it follows that the majority must seek for different employment when they are upwards of twenty. The kind of education they have been crammed with renders them of no more value in ordinary mercantile pursuits than the youth of sixteen who has attended a Board-school and spent [-42-] the previous two years as an office-boy. The Junior Civil Service is open to boys of sixteen, who enter on the understanding that their appointment is to cease when they have attainted the age of nineteen. Superannuation at nineteen is not a pleasant prospect, and if they fail to obtain appointments in the regular Civil Service - for which they must compete as ordinary candidates - they go to swell the drifting crowds that are fiercely fighting among themselves for the few crumbs of employment that are annually thrown out to them. Those, however, who obtain the coveted posts receive a salary of £80 a year, which is slowly raised until it reaches the maximum of £200.
The enormous competition that exists for clerkships is but only comprehended until it is too late to turn in other directions : if parents would only give the subject their attention it can hardly be doubted that the first step would have been taken to remedy the evil. Defective and wrong ideas of education, with the accumulated prejudices of years, have to answer for the keen competition now existing amongst penmen. There is too much regard for the "office," and too much contempt for "trade." Every teacher in a middle-class school can tell how parents demand that their sons should be prepared for office life. "Quick at figures" is the one thing insisted on by all Education is simply despised. Even now, badly as clerks are paid, there is no disposition to alter this condition of things. The only tendency is to cram more clerical qualifications into the boy's brain, that he may he able to outstrip or underbid his fellows. The causes of this struggle [-43-] for precedence are many. The rapid spread of instruction - for it cannot be called education - is the chief The Education Acts of 1870 and subsequent years have to answer for a great deal of misery, whatever their beneficent effects may be. Every year has seen an increasing multitude of youths issuing from the lower-grade schools to compete for the office stool instead of the loom or the lathe. Men who are clerks themselves make clerks of their sons, simply because they are too poor to make them anything better, and too foolish allow them to put aside the black tail-coat for the artisan tweed. The father who intends his son to be a clerk, if he have any wisdom or knowledge of the subject, will not waste precious time upon his education. The younger he is when he gets into an office the better it will be for him. The lower-class youth leaves school when he is thirteen or fourteen, and receives a wage of six or seven shillings a week. The better-class youth, whose father, although be may be ill able to afford it, is anxious to give him a year or two's extra schooling, enters the office at fifteen or sixteen, but receives no more to commence with than the other. It therefore often follows that the better-educated youth is the office junior of his intellectual inferior, and the painful complications that will assuredly arise from this may be easily comprehended. Indeed, there is every inducement to the parent to refrain from spending his slender store upon teaching his son the luxuries of education. The man who can read and write will receive as good a salary as the one who is educated up to his finger-nails. Let the following [-44-] advertisements, taken from the daily papers, speak for themselves in proof of this :-
"Wanted, for a London warehouse, young gentleman of good address, able to correspond in French and German. Thorough knowledge of book-keeping. Shorthand preferred. Salary £50 to commence. Apply Box 17O9V., Daily News Inquiry Office, Fleet Street."
"Clerk wanted. Smart, active, and quick at figures. Knowledge of German. Not afraid of work. Salary 25s. Apply by letter, stating age and full particulars, -, Fore Street, E.C."
"Drapery. In a city warehouse, young man wanted for the prints. Knowledge of French indispensable. Abstainer. Salary 25s. State where last employed, and how long. Horncastle's. 61, Cheapside, E.C."
"Wanted, first-class English, French and German correspondent for large export firm in the city. Knowledge of shorthand and slight Spanish desirable. Opportunity for willingness. Commencing salary £60. Apply, personally, between 11 and 1, -, Cornhill, E.C."
One would almost think that such impudent demands would meet with no response; but the city
man knows that these announcements result in his being inundated with applications, the writers of each
of winch would willingly accept two-thirds of the salaries advertised rather than lose the opportunity.
Temporary relief is obtained, no doubt; but the man who has once accepted half a loaf finds it
irnpossib1e to increase his demands to a whole one. There are many young men
from the country who are willing to accept any salary in order to get an introduction
into a business house, whilst others are so happily placed that they can afford to work for nothing for
a period, just to gain experience. There are firms [-45-]
in the city, to be counted by the dozen, that take advantage of
this condition of things. They obtain clerks, anxious for experience, by offering
certain advantages, but paying no salary for the first six months, at the end of which time the luckless young men are
discharged for some trivial reason, and others engaged on the same terms. Thus
the means provided, perhaps with great difficulty, by the parents or friends are exhausted, and no advantages beyond the
"experience" have been gained. A clerk who has passed through the experience
of the almost hopeless search for employment informs us that he met young men
applying with him for a situation who had tried for several months without success. One, who had no appearance of
inability or want of energy, had been thrown out of employment in consequence of his employer's bankruptcy, and had
remained without work for nine months. He then obtained a situation for four
months, which he subsequently lost, and spent another three months in the attempt to re-establish himself. He had a mother and a young sister
depending upon him. It is a matter of great difficulty, in consequence of the
number unemployed, to change from one occupation into another; employers naturally prefer young men
who are thoroughly acquainted with the details of a business.
Consequently each has to wait until an opening occurs in his own particular
Many young men of good education, who, through misfortune or otherwise, have no prospect of support but by their own exertions, arc frequently compelled, when their small means are exhausted in their search [-46-] for employment, to enter whatever occupation gives them the readiest offer of subsistence. This is exceedingly unfortunate for them, as they have the greatest difficulty in reaching again their proper position in life. A young man went into a well- known hatter's in Cheapside, in answer to an advertisement for a porter at 10s. per week. Though dressed in superior clothes, he pressed his application, and stated that they might find him useful, as he was well acquainted with French, Latin, and Greek. It was largely out of humanity that the manger of the firm declined his offer. At Morley's, too, one of the porters had been educated at a public school.
The greater number of clerks hail from various conditions in life; some have risen, as they think, from the ranks of the artisan and small shopkeeping multitude, and others have fallen, in the estimation of their neighbours, from much higher positions. hose compete for their posts amongst themselves upon a fairly even footing, but the increase of foreign candidates causes the bulk of' them to take only a secondary place.
A correspondent writes, "There is not only a more marketable familiarity with foreign languages to be found in Continental candidates for office work, but a readier submission to discipline and a greater indifference to physical comforts than our insular habits display. A Swiss or a German will subsist upon and save out of a stipend an Englishman would scorn. What to a young Englishman is wretched parsimony to him is generous living. In his Continental home such matters as we consider necessaries are unheard-of luxuries, and thus he [-47-] contrives not merely to live, but to flourish and enjoy himself upon a salary a Briton would consider penury.
Another correspondent takes a somewhat different view of the case. He says, "The German parent, if he is able to afford it, will send his son to England, not merely to learn English, but also to study English systems of trade, the better to take advantage of them for his own ends. And though English is taught in all the schools of the lower middle classes in Germany - which of course produce a good many aspirants for employment in England - it must not be forgotten that the majority of German clerks in London come from the upper middle class, and even the aristocracy of Germany. A young man will come from Germany, staying some time in Paris on the way - say two years, the general average - and on arriving here will accept a salary of £20 per annum. He will dress well, better than his English fellow-servant; he will smoke and drink, and lodge in good apartments at Brixton or Bayswater ; and he will spend an amount of money on pleasure that proves he must have considerable means at his disposal. A German, who is one of the Commissioners of the Schwarzwald, has a family of thirteen sons, nine of whom he has sent to England. They went first to commercial houses in Paris to learn French, and then came to England as volunteer clerks to learn English.
Both of these sketches, although of a somewhat opposite character, are undoubtedly true pictures of the foreign competitor. No large offices are without a proportion of German clerks, and it has been [-48-] estimated that they will be found in one out of every five offices in the city.
The German clerk is much better educated, as a rule, than his English fellow. The system of moving from place to place is adopted as far as possible by the poorer Germans, who advance by stages through France until they arrive in this country, the Arcadia of German dreams. It gives them a wider field of practical experience, wit lithe advantage of gaining a thorough knowledge of various systems of business, which is of enormous value to them when. they arrive in this country. There are societies in London, subscribed heavily to by the German manufacturers, and indirectly by the Government, which take them up in London and introduce them into business houses.
Although the majority of German clerks receive very poor wages, they are gradually securing the better posts in London offices, and a great number of them now hold positions of importance in many city houses, from which they have effectually ousted their English rivals.
Another element of competition, which is keenly resented by those who regard themselves as trained clerks, is the influx into trade of the sons and dependencies of the gentry, who feel acutely the pressure of circumstances and the changing aspects of that political life which gave them comfort and security. Great families are breaking up all over the country, and young men with brilliant educations are competing for the only class of occupation open to them. The son of a major-general is working as a clerk, at a salary of 35s. per week, in an office not [-49-] a mile from where we write, and rather startling evidences of the pressure of circumstances may be witnessed in many of the city offices.
The spread of School Board education has produced a large number of young men who are unacquainted with trade and who are without the smallest technical knowledge, but who are ambitious of rising above the condition of their artisan parents. They have but the merest elements of learning, and in the endeavour to escape from bench and tools they are reducing each other below the level of the dock labourer.
The question of wages is a sore one with the clerk. If the trade maxim that a thing is worth what it will fetch were carried into office work, the clerk would find himself priced very low indeed. But a man must live, and clerks' wages are now at so low a point that there is little to be feared in the way of reduction. Let a man be ever so much in need of employment, he cannot keep himself, his wife, and his children on less than £1 a week. For the clerk who has no claim upon his employer for long services or special usefulness this may be regarded as the average stipend. Beginning with 7s. a week as a boy, he may hope to attain to 25s. in a few years; but unless he displays uncommon ability or possesses extraordinary push, he may limit his ambition to £100 or £150 a year as the utmost market value he can expect to reach. Of course there are exceptions. There will always be cases of the adventurous youth who comes to London with the traditional half-crown in his pocket, and by dint of sheer industry dies a millionaire. But it is [-50-] wit; not industry, that gain the day now. A smart man is more in request than a plodding man. But, except in large houses of long standing, this life, unprofitable at its best is exceedingly precarious. The hungry watchers and waiters upon opportunity are ever at hand to "push us from our stools," if by a slip or a fault that opportunity is given.
Prospects are not as bright as they were and the future of the young city man is not altogether an encouraging one. There are a great many young men who receive what may be termed comfortable salaries of £2 or £2 5s. per week, but the number is on the decrease. Young men who six or seven years ago were receiving that salary are now being satisfied with £1 10s. or £1 15s. per week, and the sliding still continues. Where so many superior young men may be obtained at from 18s. per week, up to 30s., the general average, employers are less disposed to regard the service at its just value, to consider their duties to the State in the matter, or to suffer the want of that sharpness and agility in their old hands which is possessed by young.
It is a fact no less true than disturbing that the older a general office clerk becomes, the less valuable he is to his employer. A clerk at the age of fifty is "nobody's money," and if, as is too often the case, he loses his situation through incompetency, as the result of mental and bodily decay, prematurely brought on by the hard and prolonged struggle to keep himself and his family respectable on insufficient means, his position is a hopeless one.
Strange as it may appear; the insecurity of tenure by which these positions are held does not conduce [-51-] to either industry or honesty. And why not? In the first instance, all hope is crushed out of the man, all ambition is deadened. He knows he cannot command much in the future. Position, respectability, "love, honour, troops of friends," will never be his; and leaving his God and the sacred constraints of religion out of the question, what is there to inspire him? Nothing. He cannot be very much worse. Why should he not live as much as he can in the present? He can scarcely hope to have a comfortable home of his own to which he may bring a wife such as his fancy delights in. Is he, therefore, to deny himself the solace and pastime of female society? He thinks not and therefore he goes into the street to find it there. The dull monotony of figures, wearing on from day to day, drives him to seek artificial excitement in the gambling den or the drink-shop, or in something viler still.
The evening employment that is occasionally to be got is of a character the reverse of relaxing, and calculated only to accentuate the dull monotony of clerk life. Addressing envelopes at from half a crown to four shillings a thousand is not very lucrative work, yet we know of cases in which the whole family, including children, in the evenings set to work on them. The enormously increasing number of new joint-stock companies - many of which are cheats pure and simple, and intended to fill the pockets of the promoters - provide a lot of evening work for clerks and others in this way. The prospectuses are sent out to all the shareholders in companies of a similar nature. They are folded [-52-] in wrappers which have to be addressed. The rate of payment for addressing is about the same as for envelopes.
Notwithstanding all the heaviness of the future, and the smallness of the pittance on which he has to subsist, a proportion of clerks get married. They will marry on £100 a year and in many cases every morning, as they go up to business, by the 8.30 train, they will wish that they had not. When single, they can get rooms in the neighbourhoods of Islington and Kensington at from 2s. 6d to 10s. a week ; if they share with another they can live even more cheaply. But marriage alters all this, and the wives are driven to add to the funds by millinery or dressmaking.
The offices in which clerks have to work are in many cases conducive to ill-health. They are dark and ill-ventilated, and in some of them the gas is always lighted. The continual stooping posture of the penman is bad for his lungs, and the habit of keeping the eye close to long columns of small figures, illumined by an unprotected gas-jet, is damaging to the sight.
The daily dinners of clerks have been improved by the competition amongst restaurants, but even now a large proportion can only afford to frequent the dirty coffee-shop, where "a good dinner may be obtained for 6d." and where the tablecloths are unchanged for a week, the knives smell of stale onions, the cabbage has always a long hair lying across it, and the meat consists of a piece of fat embedded in muddy hot water. The vegetarian restaurants and the shops of the Aerated Bread [-53-] Company bring light and clean repasts. within the reach of every one, but meat is not to be obtained at either of them.
Much might be said of the daily struggle to make both ends meet and keep up a respectable appearance. Wearing apparel, travelling, a hundred other things encroach rapidly upon the pittance of the poor clerk. But enough has perhaps been written. But enough has perhaps been written to give an idea of the unrelieved monotony of his life, which naturally makes him a ready subject for those temptations which come within his means.