« PreviousContinue »
cessity for such interference, and I have added two letters to this edition containing the results of my investigations.
It has been rather strangely inferred that advocacy of the factory system is identical with vouching for the character of the entire body of manufacturers; I beg leave to protest against any such inference: while human nature continues what it is, there will be unreasonable masters as well as unreasonable men. But this by no means refutes my position that the factory system may be so conducted, and in instances within my own knowledge has been so conducted, as to create and diffuse social happiness. It has also been insinuated that I have taken too favourable a view of the Lancastrian character : I can only say in reply that I have no special motive for flattering the inhabitants of the Duchy ; that the proofs of their industry, enterprise, and intelligence are obvious to every one who visits them; and that their moral strength has been fully tested in the recent disturbances, for never was so much of forbearance, moderation, and avoidance of violence displayed in any similar movement.
September 10, 1842.
NOTES OF A TOUR,
Manchester, 1842. It was originally my intention to have sent you the following letters privately and in manuscript; my change of purpose has been caused by the great interest which the present condition of the Factory population of Lancashire excites generally, and by my own earnest anxiety to enlist public sympathy in favour of a noble and a suffering people. In print as in private I shall state my observations and reflections with
perfect freedom and candour, writing as if these letters were designed only for your eye, and as if the public had only got at their contents by peeping over my shoulder. · Aperto vivere scripto” is perhaps an improvement on “ Aperto vivere voto," and, as the public is to enjoy the benefit of my confessions, I trust that it will not refuse to join in the absolution which I am sure of obtaining from you.
I well remember the effect produced on me by my earliest view of Manchester, when I looked upon the
town for the first time from the eminence at the terminus of the Liverpool railways, and saw the forest of chimneys pouring forth volumes of steam and smoke, forming an inky canopy which seemed to embrace and involve the entire place. I felt that I was in the presence of those two mighty and mysterious agencies, fire and water, proverbially the best of servants and the worst of masters; and I felt eager
to discover how their powers could be employed to the uttermost, and the perils of their ascendency at the same time averted. Sure I was that such physical agencies, developed before me to a startling extent, must exercise a most important influence over the social, the intellectual, and the moral condition of the community; and I resolved to study their effects in order to discover whether they were productive of good or evil, believing them equally potent for either. Years have passed away since that morning, but repeated visits to Manchester have not weakened the effects of that first impression. These visits, however, have enabled me to correct many hasty errors and mistakes; and I think it right to point out some of these corrections, not because I feel any particular pleasure in the exposure of my own blunders, but because my example may serve to prevent others from falling into similar errors.
* “ It is a singular circumstance that at this day the factory system and its influence on society should be so little known in England; and that it should be possible for persons to advance established innovation."*
Like most strangers, I formed at the first an unfavourable opinion of Manchester and the Factory system, because I estimated both by an inapplicable standard,—by the results of previous reading and experience. A second error was that I was disposed to regard factories as modes of social existence placed upon their trial,--to be retained if they were found worthy, and to be rejected if they were proved to be injurious. It was scarcely possible to have made two greater errors at the very outset of my investigations ; so long as their influence continued, I was perplexed by the most simple facts, and incapable of discovering their most obvious relations. A great step was gained when I comprehended that the subject I proposed to examine was an
the most contradictory opinions on the working of that system, and the morals and conduct of the people employed under it. Grafted as it now is in our political and social existence, its real character is yet to be learned by the people at large.”-Athenæum, August 20.
* “ It was the misfortune of the factory system that it took its sudden start at a moment when the entire energies of the British legislature were preoccupied with the emergencies of the French revolution. The foundations on which it reposes were laid in obscurity, and its early combinations developed without attracting the notice of statesmen or philosophers; and the concomitant development of national wealth having been unfortunately made subservient to the wasteful necessities of war, and its results consumed, the natural connexions of the labour-market were disturbed in a way that added very materially to the difficulties of a new and untried phasis of social life. There thus crept into unnoticed existence a closely condensed population, under modifying influences the least understood, for whose education, religious wants, legislative and municipal protection, no care was taken, and for whose physical necessities the more forethought was requisite, from the very rapidity with which men were attracted to these new centres. To such causes may be referred the incivilization and immorality of the overcrowded manufacturing towns, and some part of the still more fearful miseries of fluctuating markets and unsteady prices. Whatever may be thought of the oppressive weight of the interest to be paid to the national creditor, commerce has suffered far more severely by the want of the capital it represents, and which was utterly destroyed in just and necessary' warfare. From this consideration, something more than a prima facie suspicion arises, that the imputed evils of a manufacture are foreign to it, as a cause—that they are an episode (a dismal episode) in its history, and (to use a trivial expression) much more its misfortune than its fault.”—Athenaum, August 20.
The Factory system is a modern creation; history throws no light on its nature, for it has scarcely begun to recognise its existence; the philosophy of the schools supplies very imperfect help for estimating its results, because an innovating power of such immense force could never have been anticipated. The steamengine had no precedent, the spinning.jenny is without ancestry, the mule and the power-loom entered on no prepared heritage: they sprang into sudden existence like Minerva from the brain of Jupiter, passing so rapidly through their stage of infancy that they had taken their position in the world and firmly established themselves before there was time to prepare a place for their reception. These potent novelties also made their appearance in a land already crowded with institutions: the force and rapidity with which they