William Morris. Commonweal 1886

"The Husks that the Swine Do Eat"

Source: "The Husks that the Swine Do Eat", Commonweal, Vol 2, No. 12, January 1886, p. 7;
Transcribed: by Graham Seaman, May 2022

"At the Aldershot police court, on Thursday, Henry Smith, labourer, was charged with stealing refuse food, value 3d., the property of William Newland. George Squires, provost corporal of the Medical Staff Corps, stated that he saw the prisoner taking food off the men's dishes as they were taking it to swill tubs for the contractor. In cross-examination the witness said that no soldier had any right to give any portion of his food away, whether he paid for it or not, as all broken food was sold to the contractor. Smith, for his defence, stated that he was hungry, and that a soldier asked him to take a little food off his dish. The accused was sentenced to a month's hard labour."— Daily Telegraph, Dec. 12th, 1885.

The Prodigal Son is starved out, then; "the husks that the swine do eat" are to have their full share in the apotheosis of property; they are become holy things, which no unprivileged person must touch. Ghost of William Cobbett: here is another "vast improvement" for you on the Scandinavian law that decreed a thousand years ago that he who stole from necessity of hunger was to go scot free. The whole case seems like a cruel practical joke, and it may be hoped that the Home Secretary will at least carry the jest on by pardoning Henry Smith for the crime of eating when he was hungry.

But when Henry Smith comes out with his prospects brightened by his having been in jail, if he has any leisure to think amidst the pangs of hunger, he might ponder on the meaning of the words free, freedom, enfranchisement, as they are used in political language to-day. He may have the leisure, if it be true that at one period in the process of death by starvation it is possible to think, or at least to dream.

Apart from the question of what punishment was given to a Roman slave at the worst period, or a plantation nigger for "stealing" 3d. worth of hogswash, I feel a curiosity on the following questions: How much hogswash Henry Smith ate? How it agreed with his digestion? What is in scientific accuracy the amount of nourishment (to a man, not a hog) in 3d. worth of hogswash ? What weight of hogswash one can buy for 3d.?

It seems, though, this matter of hogswash for men is becoming a burning question; for I have noticed in the papers charitable suggestions that collections of that article shall be made and sold to our "poorer brethren"; sold, if you please, not given, lest pauperisation should result.

Two more questions yet: How much worse — or better — is Aldershot hogswash than the ordinary food of Henry Smith and of the many thousands that he represents? And lastly, How long is it to be borne?

W. M.