Page images
PDF
EPUB

Art. VII.-Illustrations of Political Economy. Nos. 1-12.

By Harriet Martineau, London, 1832-1833. HERE we have a monthly series of novels on Political Eco

nomy-Malthus, M'Culloch, Senior, and Mill, dramatised by a clever female hand. The authoress has, moreover, the high recommendation of being an Unitarian.* How could such a series fail to be considered as an important ally of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Kuowledge? What wonder that, from the Woolsack down to the Penny Cyclopædia, there should be a general chorus of exultation over the Sibylline leaves of Norwich?

There is, we admit, much which it is impossible not to admire in Miss Martineau's productions—the praiseworthy intention and benevolent spirit in which they are written,-and the varied knowledge of nature and society, the acute discrimination of character, and remarkable power of entering into, and describing the feelings of the poorer classes, which several of her little narratives evince. But it is equally impossible not to laugh at the absurd trash which is seriously propounded by some of her characters, in dull didactic dialogues, introduced here and there in the most clumsy manner; and what is worst of all, it is quite impossible not to be shocked, nay disgusted, with many of the unfeminine and mischievous doctrines on the principles of social welfare, of which these tales are made the vehicle.

This young lady's work consists of the several chapters of the • Principles of Political Economy,' according to the doctors we have named, rendered into popular stories. Each tale has attached to it the principle it is intended to illustrate ; and the readers of each little volume are expected, we suppose, by the time they arrive at the end, to have duly imbibed and digested the substance of these principles. We can only say, if any individual has accomplished this feat, his powers of deglutition and digestion are such as an ostrich might envy. Hear, however, how complacently the fair writer talks of her own doings in her preface :

• We do not dedicate our series to any particular class of society, because we are sure that all classes bear an equal relation to the science, and we much fear that it is as little familiar to the bulk of one as of another. We should not be so ready to suspect this ignorance, if we did not hear so much of the difficulty of the subject. We trust it will be found that as the leading principles come out in order, one after another, they are so clear, so indisputable, so apparently familiar, that the wonder is when the difficulty is to comc,'—p. 13. Miss Martineau has no modest misgivings:

* Her theological works are all, we believe, published at the expense of 'The Unitarian Association. Such, at least, is the case with her •Essential Principles of Christianity,' addressed to her dear Roman Catholic brethren.' London. 1831.

• She

She can deep mysteries unriddle

As easily as thread a needle.' The first story, Life in the Wilds,' is intended to exhibit the elements of wealth, and the advantages of the division and economy of labour. A small body of South African settlers are represented as suddenly stripped, by an incursion of savages, of their whole stock of valuables, including houses, furniture, arms, tools, down to a knife, a batchet, even a nail ;-left, in short, in possession absolutely of nothing but the clothes they had on, the seeds buried in the soil, and their wits. The latter article seems to be monopolized in joint-stock partnership by a Mr. Stone, the chaplain, and Captain Adams. By the advice of these gentlemen the disconsolate colonists set to work to make the best of their position, -shooting game with bows and arrows, seeking caves for houses, carving their meat with Aints, and digging the soil with hedge-stakes. All this gives occasion to many lectures from Mr. Stone on the elements of wealth, and the necessity of labouring in some form or other to produce it, and to many experimental proofs of the vast progress that has been made by civilized nations in facilitating, by various contrivances, the labour of production. But to our mind, if we must be candid, this chapter of Political Economy has been illustrated' long ago in a much more amusing and instructive story than any of Miss Martineau's-viz., Robinson Crusoe-a story which has the advantage of making our little people fully sensible of the value of civilization, with all its hardly-earned blessings, without puzzling their intellects with such unintelligible and fantastical refinements as the following:

""I am afraid, Sir," said Hill, “ that your doctrine would go far towards doing away the distinction between labour that is produclive and that which is unproductive." " It is impossible,” replied Mr. Stone, “ to do away that difference, because it is a difference of fact, which no opinions can alter. It must always be as clear as observation can make it, whether a man's labour produces any of the things which constitute wealth. .... However industrious or useful they may be, domestic servants are unproductive labourers. .::. Fulton, the currier, produces leather out of what was only the hide of a beast; and Harrison makes bricks out of what was only clay; Links, the farrier, is unproductive as a farrier-but he is also a smith, and makes horse-shoes and nails, and implements out of what was only a lump of iron. Here he is a labourer of both kinds.That is curious !" "And so are you, Mr. Hill. You make medicines; but when you give advice, or bleed patients, or shave your customers on a Saturday night, you are an unproductive labourer.” [This is curious too.] And how do you class yourself, my dear ?" said Mrs. Stone. “Unproductive in my pulpit and the schoolroom," replied her husband,

" and

“ and productive when I am working in my field.”

16 You have cleared up the matter completely, Sir," said Hill.'-p. 54.

Only to think of lectures on such subjects among a parcel of poor houseless wretches, struggling for existence on the sands of Caffreland ! - But to overlook this absurdity,--instead of the wise and wonderful Mr. Stone's having cleared up the matter completely,' as the Unitarian chaplain's admirer, Hill, thinks he has done, we are of opinion, that no chaplain, even of the Established Church, could possibly have rendered a plain matter more obscure. If wealth nieans (and we know no better definition of it) all that is valuable in exchange, then it is obvious that all labour which is bought and sold is productive of wealth. Can there be sillier nonsense than an attempt to draw a broad line of distinction between the labour of the farrier while he is shoeing a horse, and that of the same individual while making the shoe; to call the grazier and the farmer productive—the butcher and the cook unproductive labourers? It seems no labourer is to be called productive who does not make something! Why, even this silly verbal distinction will not carry Miss Martineau out in her exclusion of domestic servants, (after Malthus,) for a cook makes puddings, and a housemaid makes beds. Miss Martineau quite forgets that, by her own definition, (and she is quite correct in this,) no labour creates anything, but only changes the form or the place of natural objects ; * and is not this done to as good a purpose, that is, as productively, by the cook who roasts a leg of mutton, as by the grazier who fattens it—by the man who fastens the shoe on the horse's foot, as by the man who hammers it into shape on the anvil ? Here, as elsewhere, the doctors are only too faithfully dramatised.

Tale the second illustrates the utility of capital, and especially of machinery, in a clever and agreeable manner. «The Hill and the Valley' is decidedly, in our opinion, the best of Miss Martineau's productions. We cannot say much for the next; the moral of which is the advantage of the consolidation of small farms into large ones. This has long been a favourite principle of the political economists, and has been practically acted upon in this country to an extent which we believe landlords, as well as statesmen, are now deeply regretting. The truth, we take to be, that the capital saved upon small farms has of late years been spent upon large ones. The analogy of manufactures does not hold good. A manufactory can be carried on upon the most extensive scale within a very limited space, such as the eye of the master can easily superintend ; and the power of thus bringing every link in the chain of operations to be forged on the same spot, occasions a great saving of time and carriage, and admits of the introduction of a methodical organization, by which the general productiveness is increased. But it is just the reverse with agricultural operations. The space on which they are carried on extends in exact proportion with the size of the farm. And in the same proportion must the cost of carriage of the manure and crops, to and from the central farm buildings, be increased; as well as the difficulty which the master experiences in exercising the necessary vigilance over the work of his labourers, and enforcing the perfect tillage of his fields. When a farm is of such a moderate size that the farmer bimself does not think it beneath him to work on it in company with his sons, and two or three helpers, this small body are apt, we believe, to put far more substantial labour into their day's work than an equal number of hired labourers, employed on a distant part of an extensive farm, and but occasionally visited by their master, as mounted, perhaps, on his crack hunter, he makes his way to the cover-side. Even if the amount of rent payable by either class of farms be taken as the sole criterion, we believe dearbought experience of late to have convinced landowners that, though small farms may give a little extra trouble to their agents in collecting their rents, the gross amount will be larger than if they were consolidated. But the question has likewise its moral bearings. And in this light there is much, we think, to regret in a system which goes to destroy all the intermediate gradations of rural society between a 'bull-frog'farmer (as Cobbett calls him) and his day-labourers ; leaving no steps within the sphere of vision of the latter, upon which they can ever hope to raise themselves above the flat level of the situation in which they were born.

spot,

P. 27.

• Demerara,' the fourth tale, is powerfully written. The picture it contains of slavery, is, however, evidently drawn from imagination and the accounts of the anti-slavery missions, not from observation or the reports of unprejudiced bystanders. For example, a runaway slave is represented as hunted and torn to pieces by blood-hounds! Will Miss Martineau favour us with an authenticated relation of any such occurrence of late years in Demerara, or any of our West Indian colonies? In the summary of principles, at the end of this tale, the injustice of slavery is proved in the following manner :

• Property is held by conventional, not natural, right. As the agreement to hold man in property never took place between the parties concerned, i. e., is not conventional, man has no right to hold man in property.'

If there were no stronger argument against slavery than this, our slave-owners need be under no apprehension of its abolition. Why, by this rule, what have we a right to hold in property? The agreement to hold a horse or a house in property. never took place between the parties concerned,' and, therefore, there can be no property in horses or houses! Or if Miss Martineau means, by

agreement

the parties concerned,' all who have any desire to use horses or houses, let her say where the convention sat, consisting of all these parties, which • agreed to make a present to the Marquis of Westminster either of his stud or his streets. Miss Martineau is said to be high authority in the law courts.

We would strongly recommend, therefore, the next thief who is tried at the Old Bailey, to plead that property is held by conventional not natural right;' and as he, Timothy Tomkins, never agreed that the prosecutor should hold his silk

handkerchief in property, he had no more right to it than he, Timothy. It was nullius in bonis, and therefore liable to the maxim capiat qui capere possit. The theory which derives rights exclusively from a social contract' . entered into by all parties concerned,' is as foolish as it is dangerous. Has Miss Martineau ever read Blackstone ? or does she write works on the principles of legislation in total ignorance of all that has been previously written on the same subject ?

• Ella of Garveloch,' the fifth tale, is improbable, but amusing, —that is to say, if we skip the political economy in it, which consists of sundry long and doleful dialogues on the nature of rent. Miss Martineau formally adopts the Ricardo definition of rent as that which is paid to the land-owner for the use of the original indestructible powers of the soil'—(p. 143); and yet with a droll inconsistency, makes her young she-farmer, Ella, begin by paying rent only for the house and fences on her occupation, and a further rent at the end of a few years for the kelp-ground and herring-fishery attached to it; and even the rent she is ultimately charged for the land of her little farın, is expressly set down to the account of the vicinity of the sea-shore rendering it capable of fertilization by the refuse weed; so that there is not a single particle of the rent she at any time pays which can be said to arise from the original indestructible powers of the soil! This is illustrating a definition in an odd fashion. But thus it is, when the axioms and definitions of these political economists are tested by an application to facts, they are found not to fit above one in a hundred.

The sixth tale takes up the history of Garveloch (a rocky islet among the Hebrides) at a later period. A fishing company had established a station upon it; a fishing village had been built; and encouraged by the demand for labour thus occasioned, a considerable population had settled there from the neighbouring islands, and was rapidly increasing - herrings and bannocks being a prolific diet. This is a state of things to alarm a Malthusian

and

« PreviousContinue »