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just claim on their more fortunate brethren for such a share of their wealth as will at least ensure their existence when their own efforts fail.'
Thus, too, the poor-laws were regarded by Defoe, when he affirmed, that infirmities merely providential, such as 'sickness of families, loss of limbs or sight, and any other natural or accidental impotence to labour, ever were, will, and ought to be, the charge and care of the respective parishes wherein the unhappy persons who may be thus disabled chance to dwell.' In Defoe's days the country was burdened with a crowd of clamouring, unemployed, unprovided-for poor people, who made the nation uneasy, burdened the rich, clogged the parishes, and made themselves worthy of laws and peculiar management how to dispose of and direct them.' He imputed the evil wholly to the want of good husbandry, which, he said, was no English virtue, a profuse, extravagant humour,' keeping the labourers always poor, although wages were then so high, that any man who exercised a just frugality in the days of his strength might lay by a comfortable provision for his old age. No man in England,' he affirmed, of sound limbs and senses could be poor merely for want of work; for there was more labour than hands to perform it, and consequently a want of people, not of employment.'
Few men have been more accurate observers of life and manners and of the mechanism of society than Defoe; yet, in the very treatise wherein these assertions are contained, he touches upon certain circumstances which might have led him to distrust the opinion thus confidently advanced. He lived at a time when the enterprising spirit of trade, which had, in former ages, chiefly taken the direction of foreign adventure, was beginning eagerly to engage in speculations at home; and this he saw had disturbed our inland trade, which, he said, 'perhaps was, or had been, in the greatest regularity of any in the world.' Of this settled trade, a settled prosperity in those parts of the country where it was carried on, had been the sure consequence. But it is a strange thing,' says a writer in the British Merchant, to observe how trade runs in channels and eddies, and will sometimes, like the tide, shift its course, change the streams, and remove or fix banks and sands here and there, and on a sudden return to them again.' Such changes perplex the most experienced master; and many a good ship, notwithstanding careful pilotage, has at such times grounded and been cast away. A change of this kind, brought about during one of the great political hurricanes which have shaken Christendom, transferred the manufactory of woollen cloth from the Low Countries to England. Another such Defoe himself witnessed, when the persecuting spirit of the Roman Catholic
church, directed by such prelates as Bossuet, and under such a monarch as Louis XIV., introduced into this country as many of what he calls true-born English families with foreign names,' as the earlier, and, if there be shades of criminality in such deep-dyed guilt,—the less flagitious persecution in the Netherlands. Wherever the refugees from that French persecution fled, a blessing followed them. They sacrificed everything for the sake of conscience, and in no instance has righteousness ever more visibly received its temporal reward.
Before the revocation of the edict of Nantes, the balance of trade between France and England was greatly against* this country, even without taking the wines of France (then in as general use as those of Portugal were afterwards) into the account. The French had as much the advantage over us in the lower rate of living, and of wages, at that time, as they have now. single article of linen, the imports from France were nearly equal in value to that of all our exports thither of all kinds; it amounted almost to thrice that of all the woollen goods which the French received from us in return. And their paper, though charged with a duty exceeding a hundred per cent., undersold that of our own making. The refugees, who, with their own knowledge of business and habits of frugal industry, brought with them that ingenuity and hopefulness, and fertility of resources, which never fail a Frenchman in distress, (such is the peculiar and happy characteristic of the nation,) began immediately, instead of engaging in manufactures which they did not understand, to set up such as they were masters of, which had not before been known in this country, and to introduce improvements in others. The war against Louis XIV., which, with little intermission, lasted about as long as that against the French under their democratic and military tyrannies, procured for them all the protection they could desire; and it is one among the many observable parallels which these wars present, (the most arduous in which Great Britain has ever been engaged, the most necessary, and the most glorious,) that the former gave as great an impulse to the manufactures of these kingdoms as the latter did to its agriculture.
But, as even healthful changes in the human system are not brought about in their due season without occasioning some disorder during their progress, the impulse which was thus given disturbed the regularity of our inland trade. ‹ The manufactures of England,' says Defoe, in describing this regularity, are happily settled in different corners of the kingdom, from whence they are mutually conveyed by a circulation of trade to London by whole
In Charles the Second's reign as much as 800,000. per annum; in those days a very considerable sum.
sale, like the blood to the heart, and from thence dispersed, in lesser quantities, to the other parts of the kingdom by retail.' A breach of this circulation, he said, must necessarily distemper the body; and he saw that the disturbance was made, and the ill effect pearing. For most enterprise, as well as capital, being found in London, when both were brought into full employ by the impulse which a long war had given, manufactures were established there in rivalry of those which were flourishing in the provincial towns. The consequence was, that as their trade declined in the country, those persons engaged therein, who were not ruined by the change of affairs, and could bear the expense of removal, removed their property to London, engaged hands there, and left those whom they had employed at their old establishments, to shift for work. Norwich, Sudbury, and Canterbury are specified as suffering by this shifting of the channels. In the latter city, of two hundred broad looms, not fifty were in employment; and, in consequence, business of every kind was declining, the people removing, and houses standing empty. " These,' said he, are the effect of transposing manufactures, and interrupting the circulation of trade.'
This might have led Defoe to perceive that employment was not, as he had affirmed, always to be obtained by men who were able and willing to work; and that the most industrious labourers might be reduced to want, not by any misconduct of their own, not by any affliction befalling them in the course of nature, not by any natural visitations of pestilence, or famine,—not by the ravages of war, but by those changes in trade, which, though improvements in themselves, and at length greatly beneficial upon the great scale, are injurious and even ruinous to many in their immediate effects. Indeed, he saw that the introduction of machinery into our manufactures must bring with it this consequence. The stocking-frame had been brought into use within his memory, and with it the effect of almost wholly transferring the manufacture of stockings from Norwich to London.
'Now,' says he, as the knitting-frame performs that in a day which would otherwise employ a poor woman eight or ten days, by consequence a few frames performed the work of many thousand poor people; and the consumption being not increased, the effect immediately appeared-so many stockings as were made in London, so many the fewer were demanded from Norwich, till, in a few years, the manufacture there wholly sunk: the masters then turned their hands to other business; and whereas the hose trade from Norfolk then returned at least five thousand pounds per week, and, as some say, twice that sum, 'tis not now worth naning. All methods to bring our trade to be managed by fewer hands than it was before, are in themselves pernicious to England in general, as it lessens the employment of the
VOL. XXXVII. NO. LXXIV.
poor, unhinges their hands from the labour, and tends to bring our hands to be superior to our employ, which as yet they are not.'
The evil which was thus apprehended more than an hundred years ago, has in our days come upon us in a greater degree than the most far-sighted sagacity could at that time have anticipated; and there would be little utility here in inquiring whether it might have been averted or mitigated by any prospective enactments. The introduction of machinery, for the purpose of performing more expeditiously, and in greater perfection, by few hands, the work which used to be done by many, is a necessary consequence of advancing science, and of that increased activity and spirit of enterprise which accompany the progress of civilization. King Canute, if he had really been serious in the act which was intended as an histrionic reproof to his flatterers, might as well have attempted to stop the flowing tide, by forbidding it to advance, as a legislature to check this tide in the affairs of a commercial nation. The very persons who were themselves suffering most severely from the depreciation of their labour, which had been thus brought about, declared, on their examination before the committee, that they were clearly convinced of this; and this distinct perception and fair acknowledgment, under such circumstances, is the best proof that has yet reached us of the march of intellect.' The representatives of the Glasgow weavers, at a time when they could obtain only four and sixpence or five shillings for the same work, which, only twenty years ago, would have produced them twenty, were asked if they attributed the insufficiency of this remuneration for their labour to the introduction of machinery, and if they considered that, on that account, the introduction was objectionable? There could be no doubt, in this case, of the immediate relation between the cause and the effect; but they replied in these remarkable words:
The weavers, in general, of Glasgow and its vicinity, do not consider that machinery can, or ought to be stopped or put down; they know perfectly well that machinery must go on, that it will go on, and that it is impossible to stop it. They are aware that every implement of agriculture and manufacture is a portion of machinery; and, indeed, everything that goes beyond the teeth and nails (if I may use the expression) is a machine. I am authorized by the majority of our society to say, that I speak their minds, as well as my own, in stating this.'*
The whole evidence, which these persons gave before the committee, is characterized by the same good sense † and good feeling,
Second Report, p. 12.
One gentleman, indeed, who appeared on the part of certain emigration societies in no hesitation in saying, that the poor people themselves have sufficient
which are apparent in this declaration. Nor, when they alluded to those moral causes, which had rendered that power, whereof they acknowledged the utility and the necessity, thus injurious, and even ruinous to themselves, did they evince the slightest impatience or resentment; but spoke with the same calmness of that over-production which had glutted all their markets, and of that competition among the master manufacturers which had been the immediate cause of the evil; for the merchants selling lower, who could bring their goods lower to market, the manufacturers, when they wished to have a large profit, reduced the wages, and so brought them down to the present price.'
It is gratifying to observe, that the English weavers also, upon whom the late pressure bore with equal weight, manifested the same good feeling, and the same spirit of patient endurance under privations of the severest kind. The Bishop of Chester, whose exertions for relieving the manufacturing districts cannot be more justly represented, nor more highly praised than by saying, that they were such as might be expected from the energy of his character, his sense of duty, and his goodness of heart, went through those parts of his diocese, in which the greatest distress prevailed, and the quietness, and good order, and resigned contentedness which he found among the people, under circumstances so trying, excited, he says,+ his admiration.
'The moral condition of the people,' said he, I confess, appeared to me to be considerably better than I had always been told that it was. The hand-loom weavers are a very orderly, and, generally speaking, a well-disposed body of men: they manifest a great readiness to listen. to good advice; and, from personal inquiries amongst the poor, I am led to hope, that a considerable moral improvement has taken place in many of them, in consequence of their sufferings.'
This disposition, on the part of this large body of people, is the more meritorious, because they clearly perceived what were the causes of the distress which they were then enduring, and were, at the same time, fully aware, that although intervals of comparative prosperity might be expected, the same causes would continue to act, and the same consequences must, of necessity, be again brought on. They knew that, however low the price of labour might be, and however deplorable, on that account, the condition of the labouring artisans, machinery would not be withmind not to ascribe the evils they have endured to machinery, but to taxation weighing upon labour, and restrictions preventing markets.' This gentleman has no hesitation' on many other points, upon which it might be better if he would hesitate; but he belongs to a profession (that of the newspaper press) in which hesitation seems to be seldom allowed. He thinks that if taxation were abated, and restrictions abolished, there would not be a redundant population in any part of Great Britain, not even with all the Irish that come over!' + Ibid. p. 203, 209.
* Second Report, pp. 10-13.
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