Christmas and the Poor in Reynolds’s Newspaper

by Sophie Raine

For our Christmas blog last year, I wrote about Reynolds’s Christmas story The Pixy (1848). This year, I was interested in what issues Reynolds covered in his non-fiction during the festive period, particularly in Reynolds’s Newspaper. Readers may not be surprised to learn that during this period, Reynolds did not diverge from his Chartist agenda and made a point of discussing those less fortunate during this period. What I found particularly interesting when reading through the Christmas articles in Reynolds’s Newspaper is the way in which they appear to get more radical throughout the years.

In 1850, the paper published the article “Christmas-Day in the Metropolis”, which began discussing the ‘cheerful peals from the bells of most of the metropolitan churches’.[i] The article goes on to give a detailed and lengthy report of several workhouses in the metropolis giving details as to the increase or decrease in their number of paupers and the specific menu each of these establishments had available. Of these, St Pancras was highly praised and it was reported that ‘pudding was pronounced excellent, and the children who had most tastefully decorated their hall in evergreen in the most tasteful manner, sang some very pretty and appropriate pieces of music’. The piece read rather neutrally for what we may expect from Reynolds’s Newspaper, likely due to the report detailing how numbers of individuals in the workhouses had dropped significantly since 1848.

Five years later, the newspaper released an article of the same title which began with a far more bleak and bitter tone, though the writing was primarily focused on the weather.[ii] It is remarked briefly at the end of the piece that there had been an increase in 10,000 in poor relief compared to 1854 though does not provide any of the social rhetoric associated with Reynolds.

These two previous articles are in startling contrast to the 1859 piece “Christmas and the Poor”[iii] which does not shy away from unveiling the state of the poor at Christmas. The article begins in a sermon-style attack on capitalism and those who profit from it, asking the reader ‘Is it not still the fact, that men are ruled by the first favourites of the Prince of Darkness, and that the golden crowns, the imperial purple, the sceptres, and the thrones of earth are bestowed upon immortal persons, and for satanic considerations?’ This scathing reproach identifies the irony that those who are the fabricators and the manufacturers of worldly goods who themselves do not even have basic necessities. The piece made no apologies for its potentially provocative content:

We might, like the rest of our contemporaries, have treated our readers to a Christmas dish of sentimental syrup, made up of flatteries of the rich-felicitations on “progress” and self-laudatory contrasts between the present and the past condition of the inhabitants of this country. But sweetstuffs are proverbially pernicious to those who consume them.

The unapologetic nature of this article marks a dramatic move from Reynolds’s Newspaper’s previous Christmas issues which, while addressing pauperism, seemed to be reluctant to engage in any meaningful discourses surrounding it, perhaps out of concern of alienating readers at this merry time of the year.

Many thanks to our readers this year and wishing you all a wonderful Christmas.

 

[i] “Christmas-Day in the Metropolis”, Reynolds’s Newspaper, 29 December 1850, 6.

[ii] “Christmas-Day in the Metropolis”, Reynolds’s Newspaper, 30 December 1855, 10.

[iii]”Christmas and the Poor”, Reynolds’s Newspaper, 25 December 1859, 1.

 


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