Saturday, 11 February 2012

1903-04-04 Saturday Musings

Saturday Musings
Spectator April 04, 1903
        Should bachelors be taxed? is a question in large headlines in almost every newspaper one picks up nowadays. Why shouldn’t he be if for no other reason than he enjoys all the benefits of civilization in the country in which he lives? Why should he have the use of good sidewalks, the protection of the city government, or, for that matter, the right to live, without paying for the privilege? It is alright to talk about man’s right to live and the world owing him a living, but that is all boah. The world owes nothing to anybody unless he earns something. There is a deal of injustice in throwing all the burdens on the shoulders of the men who build the homes and are industrious members of society. Talk about the single tax benefit, it is exemplified to the utmost in the manner in which the city, county and provincial expenses are raised by the present system of taxation. A bachelor plods along through life with no responsibilities resting upon him, except to pay his board and stand off his tailor and laundry bills as long as possible. He pays no taxes, yet he enjoys all the privileges of good sidewalks, asphalt, and tar macadam roads to run his bicycle on well-lighted streets at night, and in winter, the householder is compelled to shovel the beautiful from the sidewalk that his bachelorship may not have to wade through snow and slush. And what does he give for all these blessings? Nothing. If he goes to church, he gets a comfortable seat and hears a fine sermon and charming music and when the collection plate is passed, he rarely sees it, but sits with a stony stare, looking away off into space. Now and then he may drop a nickel on the plate but often not. Then, when church is out in the evening, he will sneak up to some sweet girl and invite himself to her home. He toasts his shins at the family fire and spends the evening pleasantly, and then goes back to his boarding house congratulating himself that he has enjoyed call there is to be had in life, and it did cost not him a cent. O, the selfishness of those bachelors! Why shouldn’t they be taxed? Not to force them into matrimony, but that they should pay their share to keep the wheels of government revolving. If the advocates of the single tax will only apply the principle to single men, then we are with them to the end of the chapter. “Where singles is bliss, ‘tis folly to have wives,” says the bachelor cynic, adapting the old adage to suit his selfish views.


        Who pays the expenses of keeping up the city of Hamilton? Why the married men, of course. They are taxed from the hour they apply for a marriage license, for which they pay $2 to some fellow who is authorized by government to issue a license, and then when he dies and his bereaved wife must have an official certificate that he is really and truly dead so that she can settle upon his estate, if he was fortunate enough to have anything, the city clerk must have fifty cents before he will sign the certificate. When he marries, he saves up money to buy a home of his own, and then the taxing begins in real earnest. He buys a bit of property for $1,000, but when the assessor makes his annual call, he declares in substance that the purchaser got it too cheap, and he adds a hundred or two more dollars, not to the value, but for the purpose of bleeding the man who wants a home for his wife and himself. The bachelor escapes all this, for he has use only for a boarding house. As time goes on, the married man has a nice lawn and flower beds around his place, and he brightens up the house with a fresh coat of paint. The assessor calls around in a few weeks and takes in all the beauties, and adds a hundred or more dollars on which the poor devil must pay taxes. The family is the foundation and prosperity of the city, and all the burdens must be borne by the good-natured family man, while a loose-footed bachelor glides along without a thought of the tax collector. Think of the 3,000 surplus females in Hamilton, and then wonder why the fair sex do not arise in their might and demand that a tax be placed on bachelors? And here the question arises, is not the poor bachelor miserable enough without adding a tax to make his sorrows more intense? One of the greatest reforms of the twentieth century would be the abolition of the voluntary bachelor – those gay old larks who want to slide through life without having to account to their wives for the late hours they keep or in whose company they are spent. Every father who has a family of daughters on his hands and no prospect of marrying them off, would vote for a heavy tax on bachelors. That by-law would be easier to carry than the one passed by the board of aldermen for a new reservoir on the hill and other needed improvements.


        It would be hard to get Mike Nelligan or any other road foreman to believe it, that on the 25th day of February, 1857, a French-Canadian woman was walking along King street, about midday, when she fell from an embankment into a post hole full of water and was drowned. They tried to make out at the inquest that the woman had been indulging in the cup that inebriates, in order to retrieve the city of the responsibility of her death, but the coroner’s jury did not believe it. Fancy an accident of that kind on the principal street of this city as late as forty-six years ago. Don’t forget, however, Hamilton was circumscribed even in those days, for when you crossed Wellingtton street on the east, you were getting out where the town cows roamed at will, and the same was true when you passed the Bowery on the west.

        Away back in the fifties, the printers of Hamilton were not the bloated bond-holders such as now hold “sits.” The old boys had to stand up to the case and set their 6,000 or 8,000 and were glad to get home by the time the morning sun was rising from the far depths of Lake Ontario in the east. The compositor who managed to get a $12 string by the end of the week thought himself lucky. Things were better then than they were a few years earlier, and the man was fortunate if he even got part of it in cash on Saturday night. While the printing business was considered above the common run of trades, there was no much money in it for either the proprietors or the workmen. The proprietor was an all-round hand, for he wrote the biting editorials – local news was not deemed important – made up his won forms, and then if the pressman was not fit for duty, he would take a whirl at the hand press. The scissors were mightier than the pen in the editorial sanctum. However, out of all that tribulation came a class of printers that could turn their hands to anything and everything in a printing office. Nowadays the men who set type for the daily papers have a life of ease compared to which the man who lives by clipping coupons from his banded wealth is a veritable slave. All he has to do is seat himself luxuriously before a machine and run his fingers over a keyboard – just for all the world as if he were amusing himself at a piano – and the skillfully planned linotype does the rest. And then when Saturday night comes, the foreman passes around the pay envelopes, containing $16 or $18. The laborer is worthy of his hire, and he gets it in good, crisp notes, and does not even have to wait the pleasure of the proprietor, who was cashier with all his other accomplishments, and then were lucky if they were paid half the amount coming to them in cash; they could get orders for the balance on a store, and the merchant always made it a point to charge a big profit on the goods. The barter system was necessary in every department of business, as money was a scarce article, but it was death on the poor workman, for he had to pay the freight. It was a happy day for labor when the men were able to demand cash. It was not the fault of the employers that they paid in orders, for business was done on that basis, and they were glad when it came to an end.


        It must be a sign of old age when one gets to talking of things as they existed half a century ago, but, possibly, it may interest the workingmen of the present day to know that they are living on the fat of the land compared to what the old-timers had to endure. But with all their tribulations, the printers of the fifties were a grand lot of fellows. There was a friendship existing between the employer and the employed, for all hard work up from the roller and hand press. After the Hamilton hand printers had organized a union in 1854, and raised the scale from $6 to $7 a week up to the dizzy height of $9, they began training for bank presidents or a job under the government; or, better still, in the city hall. They looked with pity on men who were only getting $7 or $8 for sixty hours of hard work, and they began at once to enter upon a life of luxury. When Ben Franklin’s birthday came around, nothing less than a banquet at the Anglo-American would suit their fastidious tastes. It was a grand spread we had in March, 1857. Don Mitchell presided; W. J. McAllister in the vice chair, and around the table sat as a royal a lot of typos as ever set a line of brevier. After a feast fit for the gods, there came the cigars, the toasts and the speeches, with a generous supply of wine to tickle the palates of those who had been satiated all their lives on common whiskey and beer. Don Michell was an ideal chairman, and every toast was done justice to. William Gillespie, of the Spectator; John Hand, of the Banner, and John W. Harris, representing the job printing business, made short, bright speeches, and song and mirth prevailed till it was time for the morning paper hands to get to work to set up any stray items of news that had been gathered during the night. Ah ! The memory of those days is pleasant to hark back to. How few who sat in the Anglo-American banquet hall in 1857 are still in the land of the living? Five of the veteran printers are still in Hamilton, but only one of them now holds a case. Probably when the Old Boys come back in August, there may be two or three more to answer the roll call.

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