But away with this question! I find I am getting the whip out, although I promised not to thrash this wretched old economic hack. Only just one little parting crack of the lash. Dealing with “unearned increment” being an impracticability, perhaps it would be well for landlords who benefit immensely by the accident of circumstances to recognise the fact that they do pocket a great “unearned increment,” and be ungrudgingly generous in return for benefits received. If this were done the names of suburban landlords would not be received with such derision and contempt as they are sometimes now, and “unearned increment” would become all but an obsolete phrase.
Then and now.
Great indeed are the changes that have taken place in Birmingham during the past forty or fifty years. I do not speak merely in regard to the growth, appearance, and the commercial progress of the town and city, but in respect to the life and habits of the people—especially the better class of the inhabitants.
Half a century ago many of the well-to-do prosperous manufacturers were practical men—men who had worked at the bench and the lathe, and, from being workmen, had become masters. There were not so many manufactories then as now, and the leading manufacturers found themselves in the happy position of men who were “getting on” and becoming rich. Men as a rule are, perhaps, more happy when they find they are making money than when they have made it, and have nothing to do but to spend it, or to puzzle their brains as to how they shall do so. “Oh! Jem,” piteously said a man I knew, to his nephew, “what am I to do with that ten thousand pounds a-lying at the bank?”
When “getting on,” men go to their various businesses day after day and find orders rolling in and goods going out, and themselves prospering and becoming better and better off, they are disposed to be contented, well pleased with their neighbours, and well satisfied with themselves. So with these old Birmingham manufacturers. They were well content, genial, and hospitable. They did not give themselves any fine airs or pretensions; indeed, they were often proud of their success and prosperity, and would sometimes delight in openly boasting of their humble beginnings, not always to the joy and delight of their children who might hear them. They were sociable, hospitable, generous-hearted, open-handed men. They gave bountiful entertainments, not of a mere formal give-and-take character in which the feast largely consists of plate, fine linen, and flowers, the eatables on the side table, and too much remaining there. They delighted in welcoming their friends; they liked to put a good spread on the board, and to see their guests eat, drink, and be merry.
In my younger days I knew what it was to enjoy the hospitalities of some of these wealthy manufacturers, and I can call to mind some little—I should say large—dinners, in which I have participated, the like of which are, I fancy, rarely seen now. Let me briefly describe one of these informal, old-fashioned, friendly feasts.