Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter IV.: HAND-WORK AND HEAD-WORK. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 1 (Life in the Wilds, Hill and the Valley, Brooke and Brooke Farm)
Return to Title Page for Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 1 (Life in the Wilds, Hill and the Valley, Brooke and Brooke Farm)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Chapter IV.: HAND-WORK AND HEAD-WORK. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 1 (Life in the Wilds, Hill and the Valley, Brooke and Brooke Farm) 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1832). Vol. 1.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
HAND-WORK AND HEAD-WORK.
The heat of the weather was, as we have said, very oppressive during the middle of the day. It was hard work to dig in the trench, for the badness of the tools more than compensated for the lightness of the soil. The labourers, fully aware of the importance of conveying water to the crops, toiled most diligently through all hours of the day, till it became evident that such exertion was injurious to their strength. A new regulation was made, according to which they began work two hours earlier in the morning, and rested in the shade for two hours at noon. Some slept, while others, who were stronger or more industrious, employed themselves in some light occupation, either preparing flax with the women, or looking for honey or fruit, or cutting the reeds of proper lengths, and binding them in bundles ready for the builder, or helping to make bows and arrows. This was the most pleasant and refreshing time of the day. It was the only time for conversation; for in working hours they were too busy, and at night too weary to enjoy it. Mr. Stone was always ready for cheerful talk at these intervals, both because he was sociable, and because he knew it to be a very important thing to keep up the spirits of the people by all such natural and proper means. A few days after the labours of the settlement were got into train, he was sitting with a party of companions on the trunk of a. tree which served as a workbench, and which was drawn within the shadow of a noble chesnut. He was making sandals for some of the people whose shoes were worn out, by fastening leather thongs to slips of wood made as nearly the size of the foot as the saw could bring them. Some of the men bad been for walking barefoot; thinking shoes too great a luxury for the present state of their affairs: but Mr. Stone would not hear of this, on account of the venomous reptiles in the grass, from whose bite there could be no security to the barefooted. He engaged to furnish each man with sandals as his shoes wore out, till there should be leather enough to make a sort of socks with wooden soles, which would serve the purpose better still. While he was thus busied, his wife was beside him mending his coat, which had received a terrible rent. It was amusing enough at first to see her set about this new sort of tailoring; for she had neither needle, thimble, nor scissors. George had furnished her with a porcupine's quill from the stock which had been placed in his hands for his arrows. With this she pricked holes in the cloth, through which a string of flax was passed; and thus, by slow degrees, the edges of the rent were brought together. To be sure, it did not look much like a gentleman's coat after this; but, as all clothes were now worn for a covering and not for ornament, it did not much signify. Next Mrs. Stone sat Hill, sorting and picking the herbs and roots he had gathered, that he might not be without medicines in case of sickness or accidental bruises. He had also furnished a poison in which the points of the arrows were dipped, as it was found that though the bristles wounded the game, they were not strong enough to bring it down. Hill had discovered how the natives procured, from a venomous snake, poison so powerful as to destroy all animals which it could be made to reach; and having provided himself with it, he suffered no one else to touch it, for fear of accidents. George, who formed one of the party, was therefore obliged to give up his arrows as they were made, and did not receive them again till the venom was dried on their tips. All the game, as it was brought in, was given into the charge of the butcher, who carefully took out the parts round the wound the arrow had made. His wife was now plucking partridges, which had become abundant since the best way of bringing down game had been discovered. The feathers were carefully dried and preserved to answer various purposes of clothing and bedding hereafter.
While the little party were thus busily employed and sociably conversing, they saw Arnall at a distance, practising shooting with bow and arrow at a mark.
“I wonder at the captain,” said Hill, “for calling that gentleman yonder a labourer, as he did the other day.”
“Arnall himself was surprised,” said Mr. Stone; “and I do not wonder at it: but I should have expected you would allow him the title. Remember, the captain spoke of him as he had been,—a shopkeeper.”
“He led a pretty genteel life as a shopkeeper,” replied Hill. “Look at his delicate hands and his slight make, and it seems ridiculous to call him a labourer.”
“Did he not buy his goods at Cape Town, and have them brought in his waggon; and did he not purchase various productions of his neighbours in large quantities and sell them by retail?” asked Mr. Stone.
“Certainly,” replied Hill; “but there was no hard work in all this. It would have done him good to have driven his own team over the mountains, and to have stuck fast among the rocks, as many a waggoner does, unless he can put his own shoulder to the wheel.”
“I should have liked to see him kill his own meat,” added the butcher's wife, “or thresh the corn he used to sell. A heavy flail would be a fine thing to put into hands like his.”
“We are not inquiring,” replied Mr. Stone, “what sort of discipline would be good for such a man; but whether he can properly be called a labourer. You seem to think, Hill, that there is no labour but that of the hands, and that even that does not deserve the name unless it be rough and require bodily strength to a great degree.”
“I don't mean to say so,” replied Hill. “I consider that I work pretty hard, and yet my hands shew it more by being dyed with these plants than roughened by toil. And there are the straw-platters of my native town in dear old England;—the Dunstable folks labour hard enough, delicate as their work is.”
“And you, sir,” said Mrs. Prest, the butcher's wife, “have done so much, setting aside your farm, that it would be a sin to say you have not toiled night and day for us. If there was a person sick or unhappy, or if your advice was wanted any hour in the twenty-four, you were always ready to help us. But you would not call yourself a labourer, would you?“
“Certainly,” replied Mr. Stone. “There is labour of the head as well as of the hands, you know. Any man who does anything is a labourer, as far as his exertion goes.”
“The king of England is a labourer,” said Mrs. Stone. “If he does nothing more than sign the acts of parliament which are brought to him, he does a very great thing for society. Those acts cannot become law till they are so signed; and the man, whoever he be, who performs a necessary part in making laws, is a labourer of a very high order, however little trouble the act of signing may cost him.”
“Arnall did take more trouble than that, to do him justice,” said Hill. “He kept his books very well, besides purchasing and looking after and selling goods: but still I cannot think he was so useful a man as the ploughman who helps us to food; for food is the most necessary of all things.”
“A great deal of harm has been done,” said Mr. Stone, “by that notion of yours, when it has been held by people who have more power to act upon it than you. In many states, it has been a received maxim that commercial labour is inferior in value to agricultural; and agriculture has therefore been favoured with many privileges, and manufactures and commerce burdened with many difficulties. This seems to me to be a very unjust and foolish policy; for the greatest good of society cannot be attained without the union of both kinds of labour. The thresher, and the miller, and the baker, do not help to produce food like the ploughman; but they are quite as useful as he, because we could not have bread without their help. They are manufacturers, and the retail baker is engaged in commerce; but it would be absurd to say that they are on that account to be thought less valuable than the sower.”
“But is not the case different, sir, said Hill, “when things of less importance than food are in question? is not a weaver worth less than a ploughman in society?”
“Suppose,” said Mr. Stone, “that in our society, consisting of fifty-four persons, “fifty-three were engaged in tilling the ground every day and all day long, and that the other was able to prepare flax and weave it into cloth and make it into clothes. Suppose you were that one; do not you think you would always have your hands full of business, and be looked to as a very important person; and that, if you died, you would e more missed than any one of the fifty-three ploughmen?”
“Certainly,” said Hill, laughing. “But what a folly it would be to raise ten or twenty times as much corn as we could eat, and to be in want of everything else!”
“It would,” replied Mr. Stone: “and in such a case, we should be ready to pass a vote of thanks to any man who would leave the plough and turn tanner or weaver; and then we would spare another to be a tailor; and, at last, when we had gathered a good many comforts about us, we would thank another to set up a shop where we might exchange our goods. Now, would it not he ungrateful and foolish, when we had reached this point, to say that the farmers were, after all, the most valuable to us; and that they must have particular honour and particular privileges?”
“To be sure,” said Hill. “The natural consequence of such partiality would be to tempt the shopkeeper to give up his shop, and the weaver his loom, and the tailor his sheers, to go back to the plough; and then we should be as badly off as before.”
“This would be the consequence in larger states, as well,” said Mr. Stone, “if the practice of the people well,” said not wiser than the principles of the policy by which they have hitherto been governed. People buy clothes and furniture and other comforts as they have need of them, without stopping to pronounce how much less valuable they are than food.”
“All the world seems to have agreed,” said Mrs. Stone, “that the right leg is worth more than the left; and if a man had the choice which he would lose, he would probably rather part with the left: but it would be a sad waste of time to argue about which is the more useful in walking.”
“All labour, then, should be equally respected,” said Hill, “and no one kind should be set above another.”
“Nay; I was far from saying that,” replied Mr. Stone. “Our friend George, there, makes beautiful little boats out of walnut-shells, and he must have spent a good deal of trouble on his art before he could carve the prow and stern and put in the deck as he does. If he were now to set to work and make us each one within a week, he would no more have earned his dinner every day than if he should lie down and sleep for seven days. We do not want walnut-shell boats, and his ill-directed labour would be worth no more than no labour at all.”
“The captain was telling me, though,” said George, “that if I were at some place he mentioned in England, I might get a very pretty living by those same boats. He said the quality would give me five shillings a-piece for them.”
“Very likely,” said Mr. Stone; “and in that ease your labour would not be ill-directed. The rich, in any country, who have as much as they want of food and clothes and shelter, have a right to pay money for baubles, if they choose; and in such a state of things there are always labourers who, not being wanted for necessary occupations, are ready to employ their labour in making luxuries.”
“The lace-makers and jewellers and glass-cutters, and even those who spin glass for the amusement of the wealthy, are respectably employed in England, where there is a demand for their services,” observed Mrs. Stone; “but they would be sadly out of place here, and very ridiculous. All labour must be directed by the circumstances of the state of society in which it is employed; and all labour, so regulated, is equally respectable.”
“I am afraid, madam,” said Hill, “that your doctrine would go far towards doing away the difference between labour that is productive 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. But the respectability of labour does not depend on this circumstance. I hope you do not think it does?”
“I have been accustomed, certainly, to think productive labourers more valuable than unproductive.”
“It depends upon what you mean by the word valuable,” replied Mr. Stone. “If you mean that productive labourers add more to the wealth of the society, the very way of putting the question shews that you are right: but we may see, in the case of every civilized state, that a mixture of productive and unproductive labourers is the best for the comfort and prosperity of society.”
“What would the English nation do,” said Mrs. Stone, “without household servants, without physicians and soldiers, and clergy and lawyers, without a parliament, without a government? If they were a nation of farmers and graziers and builders, without any unproductive labourers, they would have abundance of corn and cattle and houses; but no towns, no commerce, no law, and no king. They would be a savage nation.”
“Ours was not a savage settlement,” said George, “and we had no unproductive labourers. Everybody worked very hard.”
“However hard our people worked,” said Mr. Stone, “they were divided into productive and unproductive labourers, as the people of every civilized society are. If you will just run over a few names, we will try to divide the two classes.”
“Let us begin with the lowest,” said George. “The labourers on Robertson's farm and on yours, sir, are productive labourers, because they produce corn for ourselves, and hay for the horses, and flax for our clothes. Then there are the other servants, who have wages paid them,—the captain's errand-boy, and your maid, ma'am, who nurses the child, and kept the house clean when you had one, and Goody Fulton, who attended to Arnall's shop when he was out shooting———”
“Well: go on,” said Mr. Stone; “tell us what they produced.”
George laid down his bow to consider; but he could not think of anything produced by these last-mentioned people. He owned that however industrious and useful they might be, domestic servants were unproductive labourers. Then he went on with his list.
“Fulton, I suppose, sir, produces leather out of what was only the hide of a beast; and Harrison makes bricks out of what was only clay; and Links———let me see, what does the farrier do? He puts on horse-shoes: that is not making anything. He is unproductive, I suppose.”
“As a farrier;—but he is also a smith, and makes horse-shoes and nails, and implements of many sorts, out of what was only a lump or a bar of iron.”
“Then he is a labourer of both kinds. That is curious. And so are you, Mr. Hill. You make medicines; but when you give your advice, or bleed your patients, or shave my father on Saturday night, you are an unproductive labourer.”
“And at the same time, one of the last men we could spare,” said Mr. Stone. At which, Hill rose and bowed low.
“I am afraid my father is an unproductive labourer,” said George. “I cannot think of anything that a butcher makes.”
“Why should you say ‘afraid’?” inquired Mr. Stone. “Your father is of the same class with the captain.”
“Why, that's true,” cried George; “and there's an end of all objections to unproductive labour; for who works harder than the captain, and how should we get on without him?”
“And how do you class yourself, my dear?” said Mrs. Stone.
“Unproductive in my pulpit and in the school-room,” replied her husband, “and productive when I am working in my field. I leave it to my friends to say in which capacity I am most useful.”
“You have cleared up the matter completely, sir,” said Hill. “We see now that the words relate to wealth and not to usefulness. I am only sorry I eve runderstood any reproach by the word unproductive; but I shall never fall into the mistake again.”
“It is as well to observe, however,” said Mr. Stone, “that the prosperity of a nation depends much on the proportion between these two classes of labourers. If it would be a bad thing to have a population that could do nothing but produce food, and clothes, and habitations, with as many other comforts and luxuries as the industry of man can supply, it would be worse by far to have more unproductive labourers among us than the labour of the productive could maintain.”
“Our settlement would soon be ruined,” observed his wife, “if we had a great many soldiers, and two or three clergymen, and four or five surgeons, and several household servants in every family. However skilful all these might be in their several ways, they would soon eat us out of house and home. In the same way the welfare of an empire depends on its productive resources being abundant enough to supply the wants and reasonable wishes of the whole people. But, my dear, what noise is that?”
The little party started to their feet as they heard the sound of a horn. For a moment they were alarmed by the fear that an enemy was upon them; but some labourers passing by informed them that the captain had ordered the horns of the bullock which had been slain to be taken care of; and had turned one to the best account by using it as a summons to call the people together. It was, from this time forward, to be blown at the hours of work, of eating, and of rising and going to rest. The two hours of repose being now over. Mr. Stone went to his work in the trench, and the little party broke up.