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Chapter VI.: MANY HANDS MAKE QUICK 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.
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MANY HANDS MAKE QUICK WORK.
The death of George Prest was lamented as a public misfortune in the settlement; for he was not only a dutiful son and an amiable companion, but one of the most ready and industrious of the labourers for the community. A sudden damp seemed to be cast over all the plans and doings of the little society by this event, and the affairs which had been most interesting in the morning had lost their interest by night.—The water flowed into the finished trenches, and no one looked on but the one labourer and Mr, Stone who finished the work; and when, the next morning, the young corn which had been parched and withered began already to show signs of revival, no one smiled at this promise of fruitfulness. The little company walked in silence to their cave at night, and seemed unwilling to be roused by the dawn. The fathers grasped the hands of their children, as if some danger was at hand; and it was long before any mother in the settlement would allow her little ones to go out of her sight. It was an affecting thing to observe how George was missed by every body; a sure sign what a valuable member of society he had been. His father and mother mourned him in silence, but the little children, who could not be made to understand what had happened, were continually asking for him.
“I want George. Where is George?” was the daily complaint of little Mary and some of her playmates; and long after they had become accustomed to his absence, and had ceased to mention him, his older friends felt the same want, though they did not express it. The captain himself often said in his heart, “I wish George was here.”
As the captain was going his rounds a few days after the funeral, he stopped to look on while Harrison worked at the reed-house. Harrison looked grave,—almost sulky.
“I'll tell you what, captain,” said he, “it is too bad to expect so much of me as you seem to do. Unless I have more help, I shall never get a roof over our heads before the rains come. 'Tis a folly to expect it.”
“That is just what I was thinking about,” said the captain. “Mr. Stone told me this morning that the wind has changed a little, and that he thinks we shall be in for the rainy season ten days hence. What help would you like?”
“As much as ever you can spare me,” answered Harrison. “If we had half a dozen hands, the work would go on a dozen times as fast, for I lose much of my time in turning from one thing to another, and so does my man. Before he has brought reeds enough, my I want them made up in bundles to my hand; and before he has tied three or four bundles, he wants more thongs. And then again the clay might be drying on the parts that are done if it was ready, and somebody was here to plaster; and if I set about that, I am directly told that the first thing to be done is to cover in the part that is reared, in case of the rains coming; but then the wood (whatever it is to be) for the roof is not ready, nor yet the thatch: and so we go on,”
“I was sorry,” said the captain, “to Call off the men I promised you at first; but the trench was the great object, you know. Now that is finished; and I hope the folks will be home from the hunt to-night, and then you shall have as much help as you wish for.”
Harrison touched his cap, and hoped no offence from his manner of speaking; but it wounded him, he said, to think how he had lost the little help he had. It was poor George who had worked the clay, and who had plastered the chief part of the wall that was done.
The captain himself took up the spade that lay idle, and watered and worked the clay till he was called away; and this, and the prospect of more help to morrow, put Harrison into good humour again.
The hunt, of which the captain spoke, proved grandly successful. As there were neither horses nor guns, and a very few dogs, it could scarcely be called a hunt, in comparison with many which take place in that country. All that could be done was to alarm the herds of buffaloes and antelopes with noise, and so to echo the din as to drive the animals towards the pits which had been dug and carefully covered over, that they might not be observed by the prey. On they rushed; and though some seemed to escape the traps by a hair's breadth, others fell in: and when one herd after another had been driven over the ground till dark, it was found that out of seven pits which had been prepared, five had caught a prey. The huntsmen then lighted their torches, and proceeded to examine their gains; two or three of them with secret hopes that they might find a stray horse or two out of a small number they had seen crossing the plain in the morning. As it does not appear that there is now a breed of wild horses at the Cape (though it is supposed there formerly was), these were probably once the property of settlers in some neighbouring district, who had either lost them after turning them out to feed on the mountains, or had set them free on quitting their settlement. However it might be, these horses appeared of so elegant a form, and so rapid and even in their paces, that our hunters could not but long to have them in possession; and their wishes were partly gratified. A fine grey mare was found in one of the traps. The fear was that she might have been injured by the fall; and great was the anxiety of the lookers on till, one noose being securely slipped over her head, and another prepared for her fore-legs, she was got out of the pit. She appeared to be unhurt, and sound in every part, and began to neigh when she felt herself on open ground again, as if she would have called all her companions round her. One only answered her; her own foal, which came bounding to her, fearless of all the enemies at hand. He was presently secured, and this valuable prey led home. In three of the other pits they found three antelopes, which were led home for stock, and in the fourth a buffalo. He alone was destined for slaughter. He was slain and removed at once, that the pits might again be covered over for the chance of a further prey. It was very late before the whole was finished; but it was a satisfaction that most of the hands thus employed would be at liberty for other work the next day.
Before they slept, the captain and Mr. Stone had a consultation on a matter of increasing importance.
“I am afraid,” said the captain, “we are on a wrong plan. Indeed, I hope to find we are, for unless some change can be made in our mode of operation, I shall be quite at a loss to know what answer to make to all the entreaties for help in the works we have in hand. Our people seem to think I can command labour to any extent.”
“All governors,” said Mr. Stone, “are supposed to have boundless resources, and are doomed to disappoint their subjects. You only pay the regular tax for your dignity. But do you think there is a proper economy of labour in our society?”
“That is what I want to consult you about. I think not. I think we have too many undertakings at once for our number of hands.”
“It has occurred to me,” said Mr. Stone, “that we should get on faster by putting all our strength into one task at a time, than by having a dozen at once on hand, with little prospect of finishing them. Look how poor Harrison frets over his building; and well he may. The weather is beginning to change, and instead of having three sheds, I doubt whether we shall have one finished by the time the rains come on.”
The captain here interrupted him with an ac count of what had passed in the morning; and it was agreed that building should now be the first object.
“I could not help thinking,” said Mr. Stone, “that the women and children set us a good example as to the wisdom of saving labour, when they laid their own little plans for doing their appointed tasks. Have you observed the boys making their bows and arrows, and other weapons?”
“I saw by the number they made that they must be proceeding on a good plan. What was it?”
“The first day,” said Mr. Stone, “they sat down, each by himself under a tree, to cut his piece of wood the right length and thickness for his bow. It was weary work with any tool but the hatchet, which was lent them while it was not wanted for other purposes. There was but one hatchet among three, after all; so while Joe used it, little Tommy stood by waiting. He would not go to seek reeds for arrows like John, because he expected every moment that he might have the hatchet; so there he stood, with the wood in his hand, winking at every stroke of the hatchet, and looking disappointed as often as Joe shook his head and began again. At last, he got possession of it; but he was very awkward, and first chopped his wood too short, and then shaved it too thin; and by the time he had spoiled one piece, John came up and wanted the tool. ‘Presently,’ said Tommy; and in his hurry he split the next piece all the way up, so that it was fit for nothing. Then he lost his patience, and cried out, ‘I wish you would look and see what Joe is doing, instead of staring at me in that manner.’ So John turned to observe his friend Joe.”
“And what was Joe doing?”
“He was getting on little better than Tommy. The next thing to be done was to twist the gut for the bow-string—an easy task enough: but Joe's hand shook so with using the hatchet, that he could scarcely fasten the ends ready to twist. Besides this, it was all uneven and knotty, and not fit to be used at last. ‘Dear me,’ said Tommy, coming to see, while he fanned himself with his cap and took breath, ‘I can twist a bow-string better than that any day.’ ‘Well, then,’ said Joe, ‘I wish you would do my job for me, and I will do yours for you.’ ‘And while your hand is in,’ said John, ‘you may as well do mine too, and I will make your arrows; for that is a sort of work I am accustomed to.’”
“A good bargain,” observed the captain.
“Indeed, they found it so; for instead of wounding themselves and spoiling their materials and losing time by going from one kind of work to another, they each did what he could do best, and thus made a great saving of time and labour. The three bows were finished so soon, that the little lads were inclined to make more to change away for something they wished for; and they have set up a regular manufactory under the great oak. There is a block for Joe to chop upon; and a hook for Tommy to fasten his bow-strings to; and a sharp stone fixed into a chink, for John to point and barb his reeds with.”
“So with them the division of labour has led to the invention of machinery,” said the captain.
“A certain consequence,” replied his friend. “Men, women, and children, are never so apt at devising ways of easing their toils as when they are confined to one sort of labour, and have to give their attention wholly to it. That puts me in mind of what our ladies are doing.”
“What is that?”
“They have divided their labour according to their talents or habits, and daily find the advantages of such a plan. My wife was telling me how little she could get done while she had to turn from her cooking to her sewing, and from her sewing to take charge of the children when they strayed into the wood.”
“It was a new sort of sewing and a new sort of cooking,” said the captain, “and I dare say it was some time before she got her hand in, as we say.”
“To be sure; and it is clear that if each person had only one new method to practise, and was not disturbed when once her hand was in, the work of every kind would go on faster. My wife's neighbours found that she used the porcupine's quill—her new needle—and the threads of flax more handily than they; so they offered to do her other work, if she would mend their own and their husbands' clothes. She was very willing, because she could thus keep our little girl always beside her. The child is too young, you know, to play in the wood with the others.”
“And what becomes of them?”
“Kate goes with them to take care of them; and while she watches their play, she plats dry grass to make hats for us all. She is a neat and quick hand at this, and it is a work which can be done as she goes from place to place. By the time the sun shines out again after the rains, there will be a large light straw hat for each labourer—a very good thing in such a climate.”
“I wondered,” said the captain, “what made Robertson steal away into the wood so often, so steady a workman as he is; and I thought it was a new fancy in him to have some pretty wild flower in his hat or his breast when he came again.”
“I dare say the lovers do not turn off less work on the whole,” said Mr. Stone, “for these few moments' chat during the day. Did you not observe that he is the first man in the settlement who has had a straw hat?”
“I did. Well: who undertakes the cooking?”
“Mrs. Prest; whose husband helps her with the management of the oven and the more laborious parts of her business. Then little Betsy and her mother are our housemaids. They stay behind when we leave the cave in the morning, and sweep it out, and strew fresh rushes, and pile the wood for the night fire. And between this division of labour and the little contrivances to which it gives occasion, we are certainly better waited on and taken care of by our wives and companions than if each had to do all the offices of one household.”
“True: and as long as we cannot have the comfort of a private home to each family, such a division is wise in every way. But it will not be long before the state of things will change.”
“Even then,” said Mr. Stone, “it will be desirable to continue the same plan till labour becomes less precious than it will be to us for months to come. When each family has a house, let each family eat in private; but why should not the cooking go on as at present? There will soon be baking to do in addition, and an increase of labour in proportion to our increased means of comfort: so that we must spare labour to the utmost till we can get a stock of labourers who do not require to be fed and taken care of.”
“You mean machines.”
“I mean, in the first place, the tools which will soon be on their way from Cape Town, and which will be our simple machinery: and, in the next place, the more complicated machinery which those tools will make. When we get such a fund of labour as this at our command, we may begin to indulge in the luxury of having everything within our houses done for us by those we love best, and according to our own fancy. Our society must be much richer, one and all, than now, before I think of having one of my wife's Dorsetshire pies, made by her own neat hands, and baked in an oven of our own.”
“There must be an extensive division of labour,” said the captain, “before even that single dish can be prepared.” To say nothing of what has already been done in our fields in fencing, ploughing, sowing, and trenching, there is much work remaining in reaping, threshing, and grinding, before you can have the flour. Then the meat for your pie is still grazing, and must be brought home and slaughtered and cut up. Then the salt must be got from the lake yonder; and the pepper,—what will you do for pepper?”
“The pepper must come from over the sea; and only think of all the labour that will cost: the trouble of those who grow and prepare it in another land, the boxes in which it is packed, the ship in which it is conveyed, the waggon which brings it from Cape Town; all these things are necessary to afford us pepper for our plainest pies.”
“And how much more would a plum-pudding cost! The flour and the butter may be had near home; but the sugar must be brought from one country, and the raisins from another, and the spice from a third, and the brandy from a fourth There could be no plum-puddings without such a division of labour as it almost confuses one to think of.”
“No, indeed; for we must consider, moreover, the labour which has been spent in providing the means of producing and conveying the things which make a plum-pudding. Think of the toil of preparing the vineyards where the raisins grow; of the smith and the carpenter who made the press where the grapes are prepared, and of the miner, the smelter, the founder, the furnace-builder, the bricklayer, and others who helped to make their tools, and the feller of wood, the grower of hemp, the rope-makers, the sail-makers, the ship-builders, the sailors who must do their part towards bringing the fruit to our shores. And then—”
“Nay, stop,” said the captain laughing; “you have said quite enough to show that it would cost more than the toil of a man's whole life to make a plum-pudding without the division of labour which renders it so easy a matter to any cook in England. I have heard it said that the breakfast of an English washerwoman has cost the labour of many hundred hands; and I believe it. If we think of nothing but the tea and the sugar, we may fairly say this; for the one comes from the East Indies and the other from the West, and innumerable are the hands which have been engaged in growing and preparing and conveying them to the table of an English kitchen. Our countrymen little think how much the poorest of them owes to this grand principle of the division of labour.”
“They little think,” added Mr. Stone, “how many kings and princes of countries less favoured than theirs would be glad to exchange their heaps of silver and gold for the accommodations of an English day-labourer. Many a sovereign, who covers himself and his courtiers with jewels, or who has absolute power over the lives and liberties of a million of people, could not, if he would, have anything better than a mat or a skin to sleep on: he could not, if he would, have anything better than a wooden trencher to eat off, or the shell of a large nut to drink out of; and as to what he eats and drinks, he might give the wealth of his kingdom in vain for any thing so good as a plum-pudding, or a Dorsetshire pie, or a breakfast of tea and toast. And all this, because he and his people know nothing about the division of labour.”
“Well,” said the captain, “we are not yet in a condition to have tea and toast; but we will try to-morrow what a division of labour will do towards rearing a house over our heads.”
“And next,” said Mr. Stone, “in getting some earthenware utensils. I see Harrison is in a hurry to begin his pottery. I tell him that we can eat off wooden trenchers for a while; but I believe we shall be glad to have a better draught than we can fetch with the palms of our hands.”