Roger Langdon: “Never a moment’s idleness”; Labour, Politics and Class

I’m sure by now a common through-line has been established in all of my writings on Roger Langdon’s personality; he valued hard work and perseverance above all else, with honor, christian values and astronomy all following in their natural places. Roger Langdon left his home in Chiselborough before he was old enough to vote, so he never wrote on whether his village took part in any voting, petitions or politics beyond village politics. As discussed earlier, there are writers such as Reverend John Eddowes who portray the villagers as being quite oblivious: “village politics are the only politics he cares to discuss: of the great questions which agitate out nation, he knows literally nothing.” Whether it is a matter of personal interest or not is irrelevant compared to the fact that Chiselborough’s remote location likely did ensure it was not affected greatly by the political developments of the wider world. I do find it telling that Robert Langdon’s first exposure to a book he wanted desperately to own was in a neighboring village, Crewkerne, rather than his own home. This is a pretty clear indication that the growing literacy of England, a huge change in the global landscape, was not relevant to Chiselborough at all, and they were either too far away or too uninterested to be affected by this phenomenon. The remoteness of politics likely led to Roger Langdon’s lack in interest with politicians; he simply voted for what he understood to be best and most in-line with his principles. Ellen Langdon recalls an incident where a “gentlemanly looking person” came up to her father in an attempt to bribe and harass him into giving them his vote, whereupon he held held his ground that he was “not to be bought”. Roger Langdon’s feelings in later life about politics weren’t always elaborated on, but he certainly seemed resilient to the corruption laden within the system, and his pride came before short-term gain.

As always, for Roger Langdon, work came before politics. He was, for all his life, primarily a manual laborer, and he took pride in this fact. But he was also no stranger to the negative connotations of the virtues of “hard work”, best exemplified when he began to work in the canvas factory. Here, he regales us with stories of employers looking for any excuse under the sun to deny their employees their well-earned paycheck. He spoke of “poverty and wretchedness and oppression supreme…. Any frivolous pretext was resorted to to fine the workers. Many a time have I seen poor men or women after toiling hard all the week coming to the pay office for their wages, but instead of receiving any being cursed at and told that it was a very great favour on their employers’ part to give them work at all.” This, understandably, is a perversion of Roger’s morals and values, and as we’ve seen above, principle is something Roger Langdon takes very seriously. Roger Langdon had much to say about the urban exploitation of the lower classes: “Work was scarce and wages very low, and if any one wanted a small job done, there were always about a dozen men ready to do it for almost nothing… Thousands of poor people were half-starved and half-clothed, and when they asked for work and wages to buy bread for themselves and their little ones, the Commander-in-Chief was ready to fire a volley of grape shot down the street.” In such a fearful environment, the canvas factory took in those who had nowhere else to go, offered them a wage of “eight shillings a week, and this was considered very good wages then”, and then refused to pay them on flimsy pretenses in order to essentially force free labour. This was to such a point where Roger Langdon described them as “poor slaves”; not a lightly used term, considering that they were indeed conducting very difficult and tiring work for long hours without payment, to say nothing of their living conditions: “The cottages where these poor people had to live and do this weaving were shocking hovels.” Compare this to Roger Langdon’s home village in his youth, where hard work was respected, rewarded, and valued. Competitions with real prizes were held simply as a celebration of their strength and resilience. While in this canvas factory in Somersetshire, no respect whatsoever was given to these hard-working, honest people, and they were denied even the most basic of fair treatments. The contrast between Roger Langdon’s descriptions of his home compared to this silently outlines his growing understanding of the world, and disillusionment with it, in the face of such abhorrent and demonstrable neglect and depredation.

Roger Langdon managed to escape by virtue of the factory burning down, and having found a job as a gardener and writ-deliverer for a solicitor, a position that many others would not be so lucky as to find. Up until this point, when he turned 25 years old, he had been living an almost nomadic lifestyle, going wherever the work was and living relatively freely. It was only for his wife-to-be, Miss Anne Warner, that he finally got a permanent job position in the railway. Were it not for this, he would have likely seen much more of the world, but by this point I think he felt, as I felt, that he had seen enough. From his rural, lower-class background, he had reached the limit. He had seen great employments, betrayals, exploitation, challenges to his beliefs, reunions, friendships, and all the ins and outs of pursuing livelihood in the life of the manual laborer. It was time for something different. And it was only in finally taking his well-deserved rest, with wife and many children, even among poorer wages and a tough job that he says: “And I was glad I was born!”

I will leave you on the same note he left me, contemplating the balance between nature and the material dome; between his life in the country, and his life now, coming together in harmony over this long retrospective:

God in His Works
Dost them love nature? Dost thou love
Amid her wonders oft to rove,
Marking earth, sea, the heavens above,
With curious eye?

Read, then, that open book; see where
The name of God, inscribed there,
Urges thee on till thou declare,
“My God, I see!

“Yet venture not, my soul, to come
Within fair earth’s material dome
Without thy God: thou hast no home
To compass thee.

Nature’s fair works must e’er be read
As penned by nature’s Sovereign Head;
Else were its loveliest pages dead—
Without His key.

But by the Polar Star of Grace,
Nature assumes her proper place,
And thou mayst safely lead and trace
Her harmony.

Bibliography

1:420 LANGDON, Roger, The Life of Roger Langdon, told by Himself. With Additions by his Daughter Ellen, with a preface by H. Clifton Lambert (Elliot Stock, London, [1909]), pp. 104 [55pp. of autobiography, 20pp. written by daughter, 18pp. of appendices, 1.0420

The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Life of Roger Langdon, told by himself.

Eddowes, John, The Agricultural Labourer as He Really Is; Or, Village Morals in 1854, etc., The British Library: James C. Blaketon, 1854. Digitised 13 Aug 2014

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