Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VI.: hannover.—manufactories. - Travels in the North of Germany, vol. 2
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
CHAPTER VI.: hannover.—manufactories. - Thomas Hodgskin, Travels in the North of Germany, vol. 2 
Travels in the North of Germany, describing the Present State of the Social and Political Institutions, the Agriculture, Manufactures, Commerce, Education, Arts and Manners in that Country, particularly in the Kingdom of Hannover (Edinburgh: Archibald Constable, 1820). Vol. 2
About Liberty Fund:
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
Linen the staple of Germany.—Quantity manufactured in Silesia.—In Westphalia.—Cotton.—Wool.—Paper.—Iron.—Imperfect division of labour.—Wages of.—Imperfection of German manufactures wrongly attributed to the national character of the people.—Caused by the monopoly and interference of governments.—The guilds.
There is much cause for melancholy, and even for despondency, when we look on the decay of any great national establishment. It is with a feeling of this kind I read the accounts (which I have met in more than one book) of the decay of the linen manufacture, which may be considered as the great staple of Germany. This feeling is not a little heightened by observing, that the people whose ingenuity has driven the Germans from the market have profited so little by their success, that they are involved in greater calamity than their unsuccessful competitors. The manufacture of linen is not confined to particular places; it is carried on in every bauer’s house. “The same hands that cultivate the field, that cut wood, and thrash corn, turn from these occupations to the weavers’ loom. They are agriculturists to-day, and to-morrow manufacturers.” The peasants are in winter weavers, the women weave, and they also spin at every moment when they have nothing else to do, “without their various employments destroying their dexterity.” The linen which they do not themselves need is collected by dealers, and sent by them to all parts of the world. Silesia and Westphalia are the principal exporting countries.
In 1805, the value of all the linen manufactured in Silesia amounted to 10,676,000 R. Thalers, (L. 1,779,000,) and of this, 6,091,559 Thalers (L. 1,015,000) were exported. There were in the same year 34,910 looms, and 30,000 families employed. The spinning was done by 500,000 persons.∗ But the writer adds, “This great branch of industry, the chief source of the wealth of Silesia, is at present far less than it was before the battle of Jena. The want of a market reduces it almost to nothing.”†
The linen manufactory of Westphalia was equally prosperous at the commencement of this century. Between the years 1792 and 1798, the yearly average of bolts of linen brought to the linen-halls for inspection was, fine linen, 18,570, middling fine, 22,767, and coarse, 19,680, with 5,331,543 hanks of thread. There is reason to believe, that this quantity is now diminished by one half.
I have met with no modern accounts which can be relied on of the quantity of linen made in Hannover, but the amount of the value of what was shewn at the different linen-halls in 1793 was 295,116 R. Thalers, (L.49,189.) Without being able to tell precisely to what degree the quantity manufactured is now diminished, I yet know from various sources, that not only plain linen, but damasks and table linen, which were formerly made in various parts of Hannover, are now much less made. The diminution of the linen manufactory has been attributed to the late war, which prevented the linen from finding its way to the West Indies and America. This cause for the want of a market was aided by our machinery, which enabling us to sell our cottons cheaper than the Germans could sell their linen, has in some measure diminished its consumption. A proof of this is, that many Germans now wear cotton shirts, who a few years ago never wore any thing but home-made linen. This alteration must be most mischievous to the peasants. Thinly scattered as they are over the country, and destitute of any large capital or ingenuity, there can be little hope that they can supply the place of this manufactory with any other equally advantageous. Perhaps it is desirable that they should attend exclusively to agriculture; but, till the land is appropriated in larger portions, and used on easier conditions, and till they acquire a sufficiency of capital and skill to enable them to live solely by farming, they must suffer much by losing one of the means they formerly possessed of contributing to their own maintenance.
The manufacture of cotton is increasing. There is one considerable manufactory at Osterode, and at various places in Hannover smaller ones are established. Several have, however, failed. In the dominions of Prussia cotton is manufactured very successfully, and is on the increase. It is so well made in the provinces on the Rhine as to compete successfully with that made in our country. There were twenty-two spinning machines established, in 1813, on the left bank of the Rhine, belonging to Prussia. In Silesia the number of looms employed, in 1805, was 3490, and the value of the cotton prepared amounted to 975,998 Thalers, (L.162,666.)
The manufactory of wool is next in point of importance to that of linen; but of this I have not been able to collect any details which can be relied on, except for Prussia. In the provinces on the Rhine, woollens are manufactured equal to ours. It is surely a high honour that the manufactories of England should be the standard by which other nations judge their own. In the former department de Rure, the manufactory of wool employed, in 1812, 50,000 persons, and the value of the product was 30,000,000 Francs. Both in Saxony and in the dukedom of Berg, casimirs are extensively made. In Berg, in 1812, there were seventy manufactories of cloth and casimir. Brandenburg has also several woollen manufactories. The value of the woollen cloth, of every sort, manufactured in Silesia in 1805, amounted to 4,982,933 Thalers, (L. 830,489.∗ ) A coarse woollen cloth, which is the usual wear of the peasantry, is made in all parts of Germany. Sometimes it is made by the bauers, and sometimes by regular cloth makers.
That the manufacture of woollen cloth in Hannover has decayed, is evident from the fact, that formerly there were not less than 800 clothmakers in Göttingen; now there are but two manufactories, which do not altogether employ 400 persons. When I visited them it was autumn, and all work was fully suspended, that the people might gather in the harvests. Here, again, we see the advantage of machinery. We can bring the wool of Hannover to England, manufacture it into cloth, and send it back there for sale.
Paper is made in considerable quantities in all parts of Germany, but it is chiefly of the coarse kind. The finer sorts are made on the Rhine. Thirty-three paper-mills are enumerated in Hannover, seven of which belong to the crown, and paper making is on the increase.
Ironstone is found in most of the mountains and hills of Germany. The principal places, however, where iron founderies are established on an extensive scale in northern Germany, are the Harz, Westphalia, particularly in the neighbourhood of Siegen and Altenkirchen, and in Silesia. From the mines of the Harz belonging to various sovereigns, no book is known in which the whole of their products are enumerated. Those which belong to Hannover are divided into three districts or berg amts; 1 st, That of Clausthal, all the mines and founderies of which deliver 21,357 marks of silver, 22,597 hundred weight of lead, 582 hundred weight of copper, 100,338 hundred weight of various sorts of iron, yearly; 2d, That of Cellesfeld, the mines and founderies deliver 10,841½ marks of silver, 16,144 hundred weight of lead, and 142 hundred weight of copper, yearly; 3d, That of Goslar, the products of the mines in this district belong to Hannover and Brunswick in the proportion of four-sevenths to the former, and three-sevenths to the latter. The quantity of their yearly produce which belongs to Hannover is estimated at 6½ marks of gold, 2039½ marks of silver, 3205 hundred weight of lead, 1416 hundred weight of copper, 2987 hundred weight of zinc, and some hundred weight of sulphur, copperas, and potash. Hannover also possesses some other iron and copper works, which may supply 700 hundred weight of copper, 500 hundred weight of brass, and 2000 hundred weight of iron.∗ These products are not the tithe of what the north of Germany supplies. While I regret not being able to furnish a correct account of the whole, enough has been said to prove that it is deficient in none of the materials of a manufacturing country.
Porcelain and common earthenware are made in various parts, particularly in the royal manufactories at Meissen in Saxony, and at Berlin. Some of the potteries of Hannover presented rather strange examples of the imperfect manner in which labour is yet divided. At one which I visited, near the small town of Münder, five men were at work, who made, in the course of a year, 26 fuder of a coarse earthenware. Each fuder contains 36 hundred weight. The workmen had to bring the earth they used three miles. They went every summer and brought as much as served them the whole year. The only machines they had to prepare the earth were knives, with which they cut it into thin slices, and thus were enabled to separate all the stony and rough particles. It was cleaned by the same hand that dug and moulded it, and that placed it in the oven. Other examples have already been given of an imperfect division of labour, which must undoubtedly be considered as a cause of the slow progress of many of the manufactories of Germany.
One of the manufactories whose increase deserves to be mentioned is spirits. In every part of the north of Germany distilleries have increased and brewhouses decreased.
The wages of the workmen in iron have been mentioned in the 10th Chapter of the First Volume, and I shall here add such other wages of manufactural labour as I learnt. Carpenters and such trades gained in Hannover from 18d. to 2s. a-day. The latter was, however, for extraordinary work. Shoemakers working by the piece earned from 3 to 4½ Thalers (10s. to 15s.) per week; tailors about 13d. per day and their breakfast. A law of the guild of tailors forbids paying them by the piece. Glassblowers working by the piece make, when trade is brisk, between 4 and 5 Thalers, 13s. 4d. to 16s. 8d. per week; coal-miners, who were paid at the rate of 28 gute groschen for every himpten of coals, made, on an average, little more than a shilling a day. It is, however, to be remarked, that many of the journeymen live in the families of their employers, and then receive so much per year. I have found the sum given varying from L. 5 to L. 8 Sterling per year for journeymen mechanics. From some accounts which I have seen of the wages of labour in the year 1796, they appear not to have increased since then in nominal value, and to have decreased in real value. In fact, the rate seems remarkably equal and steady throughout Germany.
The fact mentioned above, that many of the journeymen tradesmen still live with their employers, is a specimen of the equality and homely state of society in Germany. The progress of refinement, if such an alteration can be called refinement, seems to be to banish this homely state. It once existed in England. Both masters and journeymen, I believe, like our present mode better, and an individual cannot decide that their judgment is wrong. I can but remark, however, that when masters describe the former state as a “grovelling situation,” they like the present one better, chiefly because it ministers to their pride; and, while they boast their democratic feelings, it lessens the distinction between them and their employers, and makes a more marked boundary between them and their journeymen. It renders more perfect that aristocracy of wealth, which is already stronger in our country than in any other. It can only be known from the experience of future ages, if this aristocracy, now first coming to its full growth, be not more pernicious than that aristocracy of birth which is sinking to decay, and which has so long been the plague of the world.
After visiting the greater part of the manufacturing establishments of Hannover, it would have given me pleasure could I have recorded any thing of them that indicates rapid improvement; but to me it appears as if they were yet in a most backward state. There is not a single steam-engine in the whole country, and, with the exception of the rolling machine at Oker, and the boring machine at Konigshütte, I know of nothing that deserves the name of an improvement. The greater part of the people supply their own wants, and make little or nothing to exchange. It is admitted by German authors, that Hannover, and a great part of Germany may be added, is not a manufacturing country. They attribute this to a want of enterprise in the people; they admit that it is an evil, but they charge it on the natural character of their countrymen. Other persons follow on the same ground, and the indolence, which is perhaps derived from other causes, is all attributed to nature. To me it appears to be of much more importance to rescue nature from those unfounded imputations, which ascribe to her the characteristics of evil, and which, classing man as little better than a sloth, make him worthy to be a slave, than merely to enumerate the number of iron bars or bolts of linen which are made in a year: and I shall, therefore, here offer some observations on the causes which have impeded the manufactural industry of the Germans.
When we turn our view to the localities of Germany, and find the most valuable metals, such as iron, copper, lead,—the most useful minerals, such as coal, lime, salt,—and the most beneficial plants scattered profusely throughout the country,—and, at the same time, merely glance at what is performed in it, we must conclude that its natural advantages have never been adequately employed. This is indeed an admitted fact, and the Germans themselves attribute it to a natural heaviness of character. It has already been mentioned that this characteristic does not apply to the people of Hamburg, who are as keen speculatists as any of the world; and if we turn our view to the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries, we shall also be convinced that it did not then form any part of the character of the inhabitants of the free towns of Germany. Then the inhabitants of the smallest towns, such as Stade, Lüneburg, Uelzen, to say nothing of the more distinguished Nuremberg, Magdeburg, and many others, and the progress they made in industry and the arts; were distinguished by a commercial and enterprising spirit, which equalled that of any other people of Europe. In proportion, however, as these towns came to be governed by a self-elected magistracy of lawyers, or fell under the power of some sovereigns, their trade decayed. Many of the motives for which men desire wealth were destroyed by the change in their political relations, and their enterprising spirit ceased with their freedom. Prior to the seventeenth century the Germans were next to the Italians in mechanical ingenuity and the useful arts. Southern Germany then surpassed northern Germany, but since the Reformation, which brought freedom with it, or rather protected, in some measure, what before existed, the latter has surpassed the former. At present, the inhabitants on the Rhine do not want enterprise. The Germans who emigrate and cultivate Russia and America, and the individuals who acquire fortunes in other European lands, are as enterprising as any people of the world, and an opposite characteristic only distinguishes those who live in Germany from the numerous governments of that country regulating and hampering every branch of industry.
Some examples of the minuteness of their interference have been given in the chapter on Government, and to these may be added the fact, that no man can establish any new species of industry in almost any part of Germany without the royal sanction. The monarchs are manufacturers and monopolists, and they allow nothing to be undertaken that might render the value of their monopolies less. The monopoly of salt is a striking example, and I have been informed, that the principal motive why the coals, which are found in abundance in Saxony, are not permitted to be imported into the territories of Prussia, bordering on the Elbe, is, that the importation would reduce the price of the domanial woods. When it is considered that every sovereign of Germany is a monopolist, and that the principle of regulating every branch of industry is in full operation in every one of its numerous governments, we may rather be surprised that, under such a disadvantage, any portion of the Germans should have retained either enterprise or industry, than that they should be slow and indolent.
Several individual instances have fallen under my observation of enterprise whenever there was room to exert it. No persons are more accused of wanting this quality than the bauers; yet, whenever they have had an opportunity, they have adopted the cultivation of tobacco and summer fruits. They have improved much within this last fifty years. I may also quote the enterprise of an individual who was rather favoured by government. Mr Chief Factor Schachtrupp has lately established at Osterode a white lead and a shot manufactory, which is not only complete as a manufactural establishment, but is built with great neatness and taste. The vinegar for acidifying the lead was made in the house, the grinding mills, though all the machinery was of wood, were very good, and the article was entirely prepared for sale in the same building. Shot were made after the English method, by being dropped from a great height, and might possibly compete, as it was evidently the proprietor’s intention they should, with English shot. The bags in which they were to be packed were marked with the king’s arms, and “Patent Shot, London.” Numerous attempts, also, which have been made without success, to establish manufactories, are proofs that the people do not naturally want enterprise. This acknowledged feature of their character is rather to be attributed to their governments, than to nature, or original sin; though these are the imagined causes to which all men refer those evils which they are either too indolent to inquire into, or too vain to imagine can be brought on by themselves.
It has not been from a want of wish to promote the manufactural industry of their subjects that the sovereigns of Germany have erred, but from ignorance. They have established boards of trade and departments of ministry for its encouragement, they have given premiums on particular productions, they have directed how linen is to be made, and that people must not burn their cloth in pressing it. In short, every manual art seems to have been more subjected in Germany to prescribed forms than in any other country. The monarchs have carried the tactics of the camp into the concerns of commerce,—they have tried to drill it into neatness and order;—they have constrained and partially destroyed it, till little more remains of it than the drill-serjeants. There was a time when our own government was equally ignorant, when it prescribed all the arts of life, but the intelligence of our people has surmounted the difficulty it threw in their way, and we have grown rich and ingenious in spite of regulations. To this day in Hannover both woollen cloth and linen must be made according to prescribed forms, and they are both examined to see that they are so made. This regulation, which was made by consumers, was intended, according to the declaration of the law∗ itself, “to ensure the consumer good cloth at a reasonable rate.” With such restrictions, we surely need not seek in nature for any occult cause why the Hannoverians are neither enterprising nor ingenious.
It was a part of this same system of policy to fix the price of every article consumed. Formerly the magistrates of the towns did this on every article of food which was sold. At present, it is done by the police, and prices are regularly fixed by it on meat and bread. The facts on which its judgment is founded are unknown, but “the wish to procure good articles at a cheap rate,” is undoubtedly the motive for the interference. We can hardly say the police is to blame in doing this, for it only fulfils the wishes of the inhabitants. They all think the markets ought to be under the control of the magistrates. On the same principle strangers are forbidden to purchase any thing in the market at Hannover before twelve o’clock, on pain of being fined. Every body who purchases to sell again is also forbidden to lay in his store before the same hour, and this is also done that the inhabitants of the town may buy cheap.
There may be traced, not only in the present regulations, but in the regulations of times past, a constant opposition of interest between the towns and the bauers, and it is still an opinion of their inhabitants, that, but for these regulations, the bauers would impose on them. They trust nothing either to the interest or the virtue of men, but expect everything good from the interference of the magistrate. These minor but impolitic regulations seem not to be sufficiently remarked. Most of the enlightened writers of Germany are inhabitants of towns, and it is probable this circumstance has had an influence on their judgments. They do not seem to be yet interested in procuring a free market for all sorts of produce. The bauer is himself ignorant of his rights and his interests. He belongs to that class which has nobody to speak for it, because it can reward nobody. He neither reads, nor buys books, and literary men as necessarily suit their commodities to the market as any other sort of labourers. It is the inhabitants of towns and rich people who reward the labours of the literary man; and while a few writers are found who flatter the passions of the mob, by much the greater part of them flatter the prejudices and passions of the wealthy and the powerful. It is one of the most absurd of modern opinions, that they who have nothing to give will be the general objects of adulation; and that they who have both the power to punish and reward will always be told disagreeable truths. The passions and prejudices of the pen-holding and wealthy part of every society seem to be sacred idols, to which the passions and prejudices of the rest must submit without inquiry. They have long been exclusively worshipped, and are now become the legitimate guides of all men.
It must be from the natural resources of a country that its manufactories can be established, and if the whole of these are seized on at the outset by people who produce nothing, it is obvious that the country never can be manufactural. Sovereigns can never manufacture to advantage. Every person they employ is necessarily destitute of that impulse to exertion which is derived from individual interest, and subjects can have neither enterprise nor ingenuity when all the materials on which they can be exerted are monopolized by the crown. One great material of manufactories is metal, and this is monopolized by the sovereigns throughout Germany. When the mines themselves are not the property of the monarch, yet all their produce must be delivered to him; and sometimes, as is the case on the Harz, at a fixed price. Most of the sovereigns of Germany are manufacturers of cast and wrought iron, makers of porcelain, and salt, the owners of large portions of territory, and sole proprietors of most of the forests. The sovereign of Hannover is both papermaker and miller. He fattens his own fowls, and makes his own butter. He has lime-kilns at Lüneburg, and brick-kilns at Herrenhausen; he employs factors in various places to dispose of his products; in short, he is the only extensive manufacturer and merchant in his own dominions. All the original sources of wealth are, therefore, monopolized by the sovereign, and as these are employed in supporting an idle state, it is impossible that the people can be manufactural. If the produce of the country were the property of individuals, it would only be consumed by those who were employed in creating more. The interest of the sovereign not only operates on him to make laws which check and restrain the industry of individuals, but he monopolizes the whole resources of the country, and he can at least have only himself to blame that they are ill employed. According to the genius of his government, most of the produce of the country is divided in small, very small portions, amongst his numerous servants, who are obliged to support a certain dignity of appearance, and can never accumulate capital. In truth, he is the only capitalist of his dominions. His monopoly and his laws are two of the great causes why the “exertions of his subjects do not keep pace with his wishes for their improvement.”
It is a strange prejudice which makes nobles think themselves disgraced by being farmers or merchants, and honoured if they receive from the monarch an appointment to inspect his salt-works or his mines, or to manage one of his estates. It seems to be still stranger, that they should imitate the sovereign in all things but one, and disdain to be merchants or manufacturers when he is the greatest merchant and manufacturer in his dominions. But this may have its source in a dread of competition; he honours soldiers with medals, but a noble who should engage in trade would be excluded from royal favour. Men have unfortunately brought themselves to reverence the decrees of sovereigns somewhat more than the laws of nature, and hence the honours sovereigns bestow on some occupations have brought dishonour on others. Tradesmen, mechanics, and merchants, are in general both poor and despised in Germany; they are promoted to no dignified places;—they receive no honours, and they acquire very little wealth. No merchant whatever has any political power, and hence his occupation is contemned. A gentleman of Hannover, who held a situation under government without being a nobleman, told me he had taken what was considered as a most extraordinary step, in sending one of his sons into a counting-house at Hamburg. Not merely nobles, but all those persons who may be called professionalists, look on manufactures and on commerce as degrading. And hence all the ingenuity of the people is directed to the army, to the law, to literature, or to medicine, and every one seeks to escape from dishonoured employments. There can be no question that this opinion has originated in the rewards bestowed by the sovereigns on particular professions, and it must be considered as one cause of a want of mechanical skill, ingenuity, and enterprise.
I have dwelt perhaps rather longer on these causes than I ought, but nothing seems to me so likely to be pernicious to the welfare of our race as an unfounded opinion, that nature gives us those bad qualities which are caused by systems of government; and that, at the same time, teaches us to look to government to remedy an evil which, if it be really natural, must be beyond its power to cure.
The manner in which the capital of Hannover is disposed of prevents accumulation. Persons who can live on profits are rare, and what would be called a rich merchant or manufacturer in Britain, is unknown in Hannover. I am far from thinking that large capitalists and numerous destitute workmen are desirable. A large quantity of useful machines, and of necessaries, and luxuries, divided into tolerably equal proportions, are much to be desired, but when they are collected in the hands of a few, they neither minister to greater production, nor to happiness and morality. Hannover wants the benefit of a large capital, but she is equally free from the curse of large capitalists.
It cannot be supposed that the people who are both farmers and weavers are less happy than those who only plough or weave;—that it diminishes the enjoyment of the individual both to prepare the clay and mould the jug, but the imperfect division of labour which has been mentioned, must be considered as a cause of less production. The minute division of labour which exists in our country, and the direction of the labours of many to complete one article, is what is wanted in Hannover. This is generally obtained through the means of large capitalists, but they are by no means necessary to its existence. We must distinguish, therefore, between the two things, and while we wish the mild and gentle people of Germany may acquire a large capital, and adopt a more minute division of labour, we must hope they will so acquire the one, and adopt the other, that their produce may not centre in the hands of one or a few individuals.
The chapter on Manufactories seems to be the proper place to say all that may be necessary on the trade corporations, Zünfte, of Germany. It is not necessary minutely and particularly to describe them, because similar corporations exist, or have existed, all over Europe; and I shall only remark those particulars in which they appear to differ from the corporations of the rest of Europe; and which must have had, and must still have, a powerful influence on the skill, ingenuity, character, and manners of all the mechanics of Germany. You meet travelling on foot on every road a great number of young workmen; some are dirty and ragged, others are decently clad, some have money enough to pay their expences, others are privileged to beg. All these are set in motion, and kept in motion by a law common to the corporation of every trade. According to this law, every apprentice is obliged to travel, or, as it is called, wandern, for three years from the expiration of his apprenticeship, in search of knowledge, before he is allowed to settle in any city as a master in which guilds are yet in existence. This is one of the most important regulations of these guilds in which they differ from the corporations of our own country.
From the minute division of landed property which has been described, it might be expected that Germany would be, like Ireland, overrun with a famished and a degraded population. It is certainly far less so than our sister island; and possibly much of this evil may have been prevented by the wisdom of a regulation also common to all the trades. This is, that no journeyman shall marry. If he do,—if he even impregnate a woman,—he is banished from their society, he can obtain no employment in the trade, and he has no resource but common daily labour to save him from starving.
These two regulations, which seem very important, are not, however, invariably praise-worthy. It is not a rational objection to a man marrying, that he is a journeyman, though it be a very rational one, that he is not able to maintain a wife and family; and many men set up for masters before they otherwise would, in order to obtain the privilege of marrying. Most of the mechanics and tradesmen throughout the countries where the guild laws are in existence, have seldom more than enough, with their labours, to support themselves and family. I have met with shopkeepers who were comparatively rich, but opulent mechanics, though the nation be frugal, are extremely rare. Part of the eagerness which has been remarked to become masters, may be attributed to the restraint on journeymen marrying.
There is possibly no method by which men who have a sufficient stock of previous knowledge, and who desire to increase it, may improve themselves more than by travelling. It appears to have been from this idea that the law was made which obliges every young man, after his term of apprenticeship is expired, to seek work abroad as a journeyman, for three years, before he can settle as a master. Many people of this description, however, must be perfectly unfit to travel, and it leads them into much dissipation.
It is degrading, and often destructive to the upright independence of young men, to wander about the country with a privilege to beg. I have had various opportunities, in fact, of witnessing the dissipation which the practice of wandering produces, to say nothing of the idleness necessarily occasioned by so frequently being out of employment. All the trades have different rules as to the manner of treating their wandering brethren when they arrive at any town in which guilds are established. Some make it a rule to give them only a lodging, others a lodging and a certain sum of money, and others, as the smiths, assemble at their house of call whenever any brethren arrive, and pass the night in jollity and mirth. All travelling journeymen have regular passports called wandering-books, and the regulations by which they are to be governed, such as not to stay longer than twenty-four hours in any one town, if they do not find employment, such as to beg in a regular manner, and apply to the magistrates for what is called the Zehrpfennige, subsistence-money, are printed in the first page. Such passports were formerly given by the magistrates of the towns, and were then called certificates. I have reason to believe, from some police reports that I have seen, that a great part of all the persons sent out of different towns as vagabonds are wandering journeymen.
The German mechanics, from seeing various cities, from mixing with a variety of men, possess in general a great deal of knowledge, and of freedom in opinion and action; but they are poor in spirit, averse to labour, and more given than the other classes of the society to joviality and dissipation. The advantages of travelling, when men themselves like it and choose it, and are fit to travel, are very great, but to compel the whole of so large a class of men as the journeymen mechanics to travel, by a law, is so absurd as to prescribe precisely the same regimen to the sick and to the healthy. When it was first made, also, there was little other communication between towns than what arose from people visiting them; there was no post, no press, and no periodical publications to give an account of improvements; and then, compelling the younger members of the guilds to travel in search of knowledge was much more rational than at present. One great advantage, apparently, of this law is, that it keeps the journeymen on a level with the demand for their labour. The assistance afforded them by the corporations when they are compelled to wander, protects them from absolute distress, and, constantly circulated about the country, they are always conveyed to the spot where they are most wanted. Yet we know from experience, that this beneficial effect can be produced by the mere demand for labour, without a law to enforce and compel men to go where they are wanted.
The makers of guild laws have erred, as almost all law-makers err, from not distinguishing two things which are in themselves essentially distinct and different. These are, a desired line of conduct, and a law to compel that line of conduct. It is one thing, that a man ought to do a certain action, it is another and a perfectly distinct thing to make a law to compel him to do it, or to punish him if he neglect it. It is, for example, much to be desired that bank-notes should not be forged. The effects of not doing this are confidence in the bank, security to property, and preserving a very convenient money in circulation; but it is perfectly a distinct thing to make a law that men shall not forge bank-notes, or to sentence them to be hung if they are detected in doing it. The effect of this is, to encourage a line of conduct directly contrary to that desired. Experience has shewn it; and when men are told they must not do any certain action under the penalty of being hung, they are immediately persuaded that it will be a great advantage to them to do it, provided they can escape detection. Neither the makers of guild laws, nor the makers of laws for nations, will ever make good laws till they seize and preserve this distinction, nor till they invariably ascertain what will be the effect of making a law forcibly to produce a desired line of conduct.
The guilds are not at present universally established in Germany, though formerly there was not a single trade through the whole country, not even that of floating rafts down rivers, but what had its own guild laws. Whether this corporation compelled their apprentices and journeymen to wander in search of knowledge, I am not informed; but it monopolized the management of all the floating wood, and nobody dared conduct a raft on the Danube or Elbe without being one of the brethren. Guilds are abolished through the whole of the Prussian territories, and in Bavaria. The monarchs have laid a tax on every trade, by requiring every person to pay for permission to exercise it. They pay soldiers, but tradesmen must pay them. Guilds were abolished wherever the French power reached, but they are now again restored in various places, in Hannover for example, to all their former privileges. There are some towns free from them, but they are the offspring of towns, and are still generally found in all the large ones. They were originally combinations of men, so well for political as for other purposes, but they have long ceased to take any part either in the government of the towns, with the exception of the Hanse towns, or in the government of the country.
Two of the guild laws, whose influence is most important, have been mentioned. A third regulation is, that every person wishing to practise any art, whose members form a guild, must serve three or four years as an apprentice to learn that art; and there is no one, not even that practised by merchants, which has not a guild; so that every species, almost, of industry, is subject to this restriction. No journeyman can be employed who has not served a regular apprenticeship. Some trades, such as butchers, bakers, chimney-sweepers, are called close trades. Others are open. In the former only a limited number of masters is allowed in any one town, from a supposition that more could not obtain a living; in the latter the number is not limited. Some curious examples are known of the former mode. For example, in Lüneburg the privilege of brewing was attached to particular houses, while the right to distil brandy was hereditary in twelve families, and no other person than the twelve representatives of these families could keep a distillery. Such limitations as these, which were very general, appear to have been made by masters in order to secure themselves a subsistence. After serving an apprenticeship, and travelling as a journeyman, every person who wishes to establish himself as a master must first make some finished piece of work, called a Meisterstück, to prove his capability to work. If he is not the son of a citizen, he must buy the right of citizenship in the town where he wishes to settle. The price, of course, is various in different towns. It has long been a law that certain trades shall be only carried on within the walls of towns, and no journeyman dare do a piece of work on his own account. He must be employed by a master regularly established in a town. Formerly this privilege was confined to fewer towns than at present, and formerly those masters who settled in the country were obliged to enrol themselves in the guild of some town, and contribute to its expence. There were formerly still more hindrances to becoming a master. A man was obliged, for example, in some towns, to have a house of his own before he could be a tailor, and to prove himself not to belong to any family which had been ennobled.
These regulations were originally made by members of the trades themselves, and not by the governments. They have failed in their laudable efforts to ensure good workmen by sending them to travel, and by making them give proofs of their ability. I can safely assert, that all the common trades, such as tailors, shoemakers, bakers, smiths, have not attained so great a degree of perfection in Germany as in England. What may also possibly be deemed a proof of their uselessness is, that milliners, who have no guilds, are as clever in Germany as in other countries. It has been justly observed, that most of the great improvements which have of late years been made in the machinery and manufactories of England, have been made by persons not apprenticed to the arts they have improved, consequently, even the fewer restrictions as to apprenticeships which are found in England than in Germany, by hindering ingenious men from following the bent of their inclination, have been pernicious to improvements. The most manufacturing part of Germany is the country about the Rhine, and there, I believe, guild laws have been long abolished. The guild laws, therefore, of Germany, extending to every trade, may be considered as having in part caused the Germans not to make the same progress in manufactures as we have made. And as they regulate so many of the actions of men, they may also be regarded as aiding to produce that unenterprising character which is ascribed generally to the Germans.
The partial abolition of these regulations, and the works which have been written in Germany on the subject of guilds, prove that our neighbours are sensible of their injurious nature, and that, in this respect, so well as in respect to many other minor regulations, they are making a rapid improvement. In looking, however, at what has been written, it is impossible to avoid remarking, that the observations have been chiefly or wholly made by men whose profession was learning, and that it would be difficult to find an instance where the mere citizens in Germany have thrown light on this subject, as they have in England. In fact, I have talked to several tradesmen on the subject, and never met with but one individual, and he was a journeyman, whose years of wandering were expired, and who could not get settled, in which the tradesmen did not approve of the guild laws. The momentary abolition of them by the French gave a sort of licence to journeymen. Every one who could pay the tax on trades set up for a master, and a vast deal of poverty and misery were the consequence. This fact by no means proves the wisdom of the guild laws, though it throws some light on the effects of abolishing them by an arbitrary decree. It is, indeed, at present, an admitted fact in Germany so well as in Britain, that all such regulations as the guild laws prevent much good.
The organization of men according to their trades, gave the citizens of the middle ages a spirit and a power which enabled them to protect themselves and promote civilization. At present every man finds protection in general opinion supporting the laws of the society, and these combinations now do nothing but promote monopoly. It ought not, however, to be the government which should abolish them. Its interference is above all things to be deprecated, and its only duty on this subject is to refuse its support to them, and leave them to be abolished by the rest of the society refusing to submit to them.
[∗]Demian’s Handbuch der neuesten Geographie des Preussichen Staats, pp. 66, 67.
[†]There have lately appeared some accounts of the King of Prussia having given a sum of money for the relief of the linen manufacturers of Silesia.
[∗]Neueste Land und Volkerkunde, 19th Band. Weimar, 1818.
[∗]This law was made in 1768, and so late as 1816 regulations were made for the manufacture of linen.