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Chapter IX.: SIGNS OF THE TIMES. - 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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SIGNS OF THE TIMES.
It was just such a bright morning as every body had hoped for. The children, always ready to make a festival, had been stirring early, and with two or three grown-up playfellows had gone into the wood for green boughs, of which they stuck up some at the doors of the houses, made a sort of canopy of others over the precious vehicle which contained their treasures, and carried a waving grove about the settlement, singing and tossing their hats. They gave three cheers to the captain when he came forth to see what was doing; and they would have bestowed the honour of three times three on Richard, had not his mother appeared, holding up her finger as a signal for silence. Her son, over-wearied with his journey, was still unawakened by the bustle before the door, and she was unwilling that his rest should be disturbed. Eager as these boys and girls were for the pleasure of the unpacking, they were considerate enough to leave their hero to his repose, and marched off in silence, resolved to wait patiently till noon, if need should be, for the commencement of the grand ceremony of the day.
The gentlemen meanwhile were planning how this ceremony might be best conducted. It was well worth consideration; for, as they agreed, the introduction of machinery into a society which had depended on pure labour was a far more rational occasion of public rejoicing than those which, in larger communities than theirs, light up candles in the windows and bonfires in the market-places. In rejoicings for national victories, there is always much to trouble the spirits of many. Some are mourning the death of friends, and others grieving over the woes of the millions who suffer by war; and many feel shame and horror that so barbarous a custom as war should subsist among those who profess a religion of peace. But, on the present occasion, the joy of one was the joy of all; and it was fully justified by the acquisition the society had made. If some one had discovered a gold mine in the midst of their dwellings, he would not have conferred such means of wealth as Richard by his single waggon-load of wood and iron. Labour was that of which there was the greatest deficiency in the community; and the means of shortening and easing labour was therefore the most valuable present which could be conferred. While the gentlemen understood this fully, the children picked it up after their own manner. One had heard his father say that if he could but lay his hand on a plough again, he should feel as much at ease as a prince; for bread itself was hardly worth the slavery of tillage without tools. Another had seen his mother sigh when she looked at the tattered garments of her children and remembered that she had not wherewith to repair the old or make new. Another had observed the captain cast many an anxious look upon the frail walls and slight roofs of their dwellings, and had learned, therefore, to dread a summer tempest or a winter snow. And now the remedies for these evils and fears had arrived. The fathers might drive the plough and rejoice in their manly toil: the mothers might ply the needle and sing over their easy task; and soon the thunder-cloud might burst overhead, or the frosty winds sweep by, without fear that tender infants would be driven forth from a tottering house into the storm. It was truly an occasion of rejoicing; and none were more sensible of this than Richard, as might be seen by the brightness of his countenance when he at length came out, refreshed and full of apologies for having kept every body waiting.
The waggon had been drawn into the shade where there was open space large enough to admit every body to a perfect view of what was going on; for, the contents being common property, the captain desired that there should be an equal knowledge among his people of what their riches consisted of. The old people were seated in a row under the tree; and the others ranged in a circle, with the exception of Richard and two or three more, who were engaged in the centre, and Arnall, who, with a look of prodigious importance, placed himself somewhat in advance of his companions. He folded his arms and looked on in silence while the larger articles were being unpacked, displayed, and carried to the place appointed for them by the captain. But when some smaller packages appeared, containing the carpenter's lesser tools, or drugs, or linens and woollens, or needles and hardware articles, &c., &c., he stepped forward towards the captain, and proposed that, as the society was now restored to a state of civilization, he should resume the employment for which he felt himself most fit, and should take possession of these articles in order to retail them to customers as before.
“By what right do you propose to take such possession?” asked the captain, as much amused as he was astonished.
“By right of purchase, like an honest man,” replied Arnall, pulling out a canvas bag from some corner of his apparel, and displaying a pretty large amount of gold coin. “I did not presume upon this ground of superiority to my companions while we had nothing among us to buy or sell; but now that we are coming out of a state of barbarism, it is time that we should be resuming our several stations.”
“I wonder you do not perceive, sir,” said the captain, “that a new test of rank has been introduced by our late circumstances. Our members rank according to the comparative utility of their labours; and many here possess a better title than the having saved a bag of their own gold from the flames. There are some, sir, who, while you were looking after your gold, snatched infants from destruction, which is a somewhat greater service to the community. Pray, to whom do you propose to pay your gold in exchange for these goods?”
“To yourself, as governor.”
“This property is not mine. I am only the trustee in whose hands it is placed. If you wish to trade with money, it must be in some other society where money is valuable, which it will not be here for some time to come,”
Observing that some of the people looked surprised at hearing that money could be otherwise than valuable, the captain continued,
“Keep your coin, sir, and take care of it, I advise you; for I hope to see the time when gold and silver will pass from hand to hand; but much must be done first. We must have more productions before a regular system of exchange can take place; and that exchange will be of the productions themselves for some time before we find it convenient to pay in coin: and before coin can come into common use among us, there must be more of it than your bag holds, Mr. Arnall.”
“What is to be done then, captain? How am I benefited by the arrival of these goods?”
“Your labour will be made easier, that is all. Labour is still the purchase money of every thing here.”
Arnall had no heart to remain any longer. He walked away by himself, vexed that he had let out the secret of his gold, and sighing for the gentility of keeping a shop in preference to the drudgery of hand-labour. Nobody looked after him, and nobody wished for his money-bag while so many better things were spread before their eyes.
One package, directed to Mr. Stone, drew more tears from the beholders than had been shed since the first day of their misfortune. The governor's chaplain at Cape Town having learned from Richard that every book in the settlement had been destroyed with other possessions, had sent a supply of such as he imagined would be most useful in their circumstances. On the first day of the week the people had assembled regularly for worship, when Mr. Stone, in addition to his addresses, had recited such portions of the Scriptures as he could sufficiently remember to convey the sense. It was not to be expected that his flock in general should know and remember as much of the sacred books as himself; but many an one was surprised and humbled to find how imperfect and how unconnected were his own notions of the sense and design of even the most important parts of the sacred volume. Finding amidst their distresses the need of that which they had not hitherto sufficiently prized, and having in Mr. Stone a friend ever ready to help them to what they wanted, when, with a Bible at hand, they might, perhaps, have put off the inquiry to a future day, it strangely happened that some learned more of what was in the Bible when there was not a copy within many miles, than they had done when there was one in every family. They were much assisted by Richard's old mother, whose memory was better stored with some parts of Scripture than even Mr. Stone's. When she found her sight beginning to fail, she applied herself to learn that which she could never more read; and, by the help of her good son, she accomplished her wish. During his absence, it had been a frequent custom for groups to gather round the aged woman in the porch, when the toils of the day were done, to listen to a psalm, or a parable, or a discourse, which would send them home to their rest full of calm and serious thought. They were thus prepared to value the precious gift which they received from the chaplain; viz. several copies of the whole Bible, many more of the Testament, and some other works of a kind likely to turn to the best account the impressions which late events could not but have made upon them.
This gentleman had been thoughtful enough also to send a file of newspapers, just arrived from England. They were by this time of old date; but never did the most eager politician, the most anxious speculator, open his wet newspaper at a London breakfast-table so impatiently as the dullest and slowest of readers in our settlement devoured every paragraph from the newest and most important to the very advertisements of a year and a half before. Every thing was presently forgotten for these papers; the accustomed labour, the unusual festival, the new riches, all were nothing in comparison of news from England. They even forgot their good manners towards Mr. Stone, peeping over his shoulders and pressing upon him while he glanced over the intelligence of the latest date. He was able to make allowance for their eagerness, and with a good-natured smile gave up the sheet he held, and invited his wife to walk with him, judging that his people might communicate more freely, and enjoy their new pleasure with less restraint, in his absence.
He had seen enough to fill his mind with thoughts of his own land; but in a little while his interest returned to the society in which his lot was cast, and he encouraged in his companion and himself the most cheering hopes of the improvement of the social condition of all. He directed her attention to the particular circumstances on which he founded his hopes.
“See, my dear,” said he. “On that fall of the stream will be our mill; in that nook our saw-pit; behind that inclosure our forge. The stables for the bullocks are to be built yonder. I began to be afraid the sheep and cows would arrive from the mountains before we had produce to give in exchange for them, or a winter fold to secure them in: but there is no saying how rapidly we may get forward now we have so many means of saving our labour.”
“That reminds me,” said Mrs. Stone, “of what I was wishing to ask you. I see clearly, and I suppose the most ignorant person in the settlement sees, how useful machinery is in a case like ours, where the great object is to save labour. But are those in the wrong who dislike the extensive use of machinery in countries, such as England at the present day, where the great object is to find employment for labour?”
“Clearly wrong, in my opinion,” replied her husband: “because, till the human race reaches its highest point of attainment, there must be always something more to do; and the more power is set at liberty to do it, the better. Till all the arts and sciences are exhausted, till Nature has furnished the last of her resources, and man found the limit of his means of making use of them, the greatest possible supply of human labour is wanted, and it is our duty to make the utmost possible saving of it.”
“I remember,” said his wife, “what the captain said about labour being a power of which man is the machine; and I see how it must be for man's advantage to economise this power to the utmost. But I cannot reconcile this with the evils caused by the introduction of machinery where labour is abundant.”
“I do not deny the evil,” replied her husband: “but I see that the distress is temporary and partial, while the advantage is lasting and universal. You have heard of the dismay of those who got their living by copying manuscripts, when the art of printing was introduced?”
“Yes; and that many thousands now are maintained by printing to one who used to copy for bread. The case is the same with cotton-spinning, I know. Where one was employed to spin by hand, hundreds are now maintained by spinning with machinery; and thousands of times as much work is done.”
“Such a result in any one case, my dear, shows that the principle is a good one; and if, in any other case, it appears not to be good, we may be pretty sure of finding that the blame lies, —not with the principle,—but with some check or other which interferes with it. Such checks are imposed by the bad policy of some governments, and by the want of union between the different parts of society. While the race at large has still so many wants and wishes ungratified, it ought to be an easy thing for any quantity of labour which is turned away from one kind of work to find employment in another. That it is not easy, is the fault of the constitution of society, and we should be far from remedying the evil by repressing the principle and restricting the power of labour.”
“So you think that if labour had its free course, all over the world, machinery might be extended to the utmost perfection without doing any thing but good to the whole of the race?”
“I do.—And I see yet further evil in restricting the use of machinery in any one country;— that it invariably increases the amount of distress on the very spot. Since no power on earth can stop the improvement of machinery in the whole world at once, it does nothing but mischief to stop it in any one place. Wherever it is done, that place is thrown back in the race of competition, and will soon suffer under a failure of demand for its productions and manufactures; because, by the aid of machinery, they can be furnished more cheaply elsewhere.”
“Then the only thing to be done is to open as many channels to industry as possible, and to remove all obstructions to its free course?”
“Just so.—Those in power should do this by pursuing the ‘letting-alone’ course of policy; and private individuals like you and me, my dear, can do no more than form right opinions, and when we are sure of them, spread them. We can only influence by forming a fraction of that mighty amount of power,—Public Opinion.”
“It will be long before we shall be wanted as advocates of the use of machinery in this place,” replied Mrs. Stone. “I can scarcely imagine that in our lifetime there will be any complaints of too great an abundance of productive power.”
“When we can afford it, my dear, perhaps we may indulge ourselves with a visit to England, and then we can judge for ourselves whether it has been a good thing or not for our Yorkshire friends and neighbours that improved machinery has been introduced there. If they have any trade at all, it is owing to this cause, for they could never have supported a competition with other manufacturing places by any means but this.”
“Your father seems well enough satisfied with his trade,” said Mrs. Stone. “He and his people have suffered occasionally, as all do, from a temporary glut in the market; but he has witnessed, through a long life, a gradual and steady extension of trade with the gradual introduction and improvement of machinery. I only wish that our settlement may have the same experience on the small scale which will suit our numbers,”
“Perhaps,” said her husband, “if we should live to see our grand-children grow up in this place, we may be able to give them a lesson out of our experience. I can fancy you, a venerable grandmother, sitting at a window of a handsome stone house on yonder slope, and saying to a grandchild,—
“‘I well remember cutting up our meat with stones, and cooking it in a hole in the ground on the very spot where those tanpits are in use, preparing leather enough to maintain a hundred people by its sale. There, where the threshing machines turn out corn on which thousands are to feed, stood our labourers with their flails, toiling to supply our little band with a scanty provision. There, where that range of mills is preparing dye-woods to be sent east and west, were hands which could ill be spared once employed in chopping fuel for our nightly fires: and, beyond, where the straw-platting and basket manufactory employs a hundred and fifty of our population, sat little Betsy on the grass, trying to make a frame-work of twigs. And, on that side, where the brick-grounds and potteries extend over three acres, did our first potter attempt his first basin, unsteady and crooked as it was, for want of the machinery which now enables us to make such ware as we may well be proud of. There is now not a house within a hundred miles that has not some of our blue and white teaware, or a dinner service of our yellow ware, or, at least, some of our brown basins.’”
“Some of our grand-children will surely be potters, if you be a true prophet,” said Mrs. Stone, laughing.
“Very likely. And if they are, I hope they will be always on the watch to introduce every mechanical improvement into their business, as a duty to society and to themselves.”
Just then Kate was seen approaching. With many blushes, she asked permission to speak with Mrs. Stone in private. Mr. Stone immediately walked away, when Kate explained that her lover was gone to consult the captain about his matrimonial plans, and that she wished to know whether Mrs. Stone saw any impropriety in their marrying while the settlement was in its present state. They did not mention it, she said, while every thing was in a precarious condition, and nobody knew whether they should remove or stay; but now that help had arrived, and there was a general disposition to remain, her lover urged her to delay no longer, and assured her that his work would be worth all the more to the society for the help she could give him, as well as for the domestic comfort he should enjoy.
Mrs. Stone was quite of Robertson's opinion. As long as the young people were sure of being able to provide for themselves so as to be no burden to the society, nobody had any right to object to their marrying. In England, at present, this was too often not the case: but in their infant settlement, where there was more than work enough for every body, she could see no possible objection to the parties pleasing themselves. She offered to ask Mr. Stone's opinion, for Kate's further satisfaction, though she knew very well what it would be.—Mr. Stone was within hearing, and when the case was put to him, smiled, and said that he should be happy to marry them on any day they might appoint. It was well for the young people that that rule of the former Dutch government at the Cape was given up, which obliged every body to go to Cape Town to be married. It would have been a wearisome and expensive journey, and have caused a great waste of time and much inconvenience to all concerned.
As it was, the affair was soon settled. The captain not only gave his approbation, but insisted that a cottage should be built for Robertson before the foundations of his own house were laid. Every body showed the same good will, so that the young couple enjoyed the firstfruits of all the mechanical labours of the settlement, taking care to repay them by their own exertions. Harrison's first bricks went to build their walls, and the first pottery that came off his wheel graced their shelves. Links and Richard (who had become a carpenter) furnished Robertson with a complete set of farming tools, and the labourers employed their spare hours in repairing his fences and laying out a pretty garden, which Betsy and her young companions stocked with the gay flowers and rich fruits which abounded in the neighbourhood. Mr. Prest furnished hides, which were tanned by Fulton into a set of chair-bottoms and some articles of bedding. Mr. Arnall and Kate's brother-in-law, Hill, ornamented the best room with some stuffed birds of rich plumage, and a collection of the gay insects of that country. Kate was almost ashamed of possessing ornamental luxuries, whilst so many comforts were wanting to those who, she said, deserved better than herself; but Mr. Stone told her that it ought to be gratifying to all lovers of the public good to witness tokens of pure tastes as well as of good will. His present was a range of beehives; both the stand and the hives being of neat workmanship, and placed just above a bed of sweet-smelling herbs, arranged and stocked by his wife. Kate determined in her own mind that her first bottle of mead should be sent to the parsonage before the return of her wedding-day.
The first week-day holiday in the settlement was on the occasion of Robertson's marriage,—a joyful day for all who were disposed to look round and see what, under the protection of Providence, had been effected, and what more was in prospect for the good of this united little community.
“Let us still be united, let us still be industrious,” said the good captain to one and another; “let us, as one man, discountenance crime, if such a scourge should appear,—let us be tolerant of mere folly, and honour wisdom and reverence virtue, and we shall be sure of enjoying all the happiness a benignant Providence thinks good for us. Let us try whether it be not true of societies as well as of individuals, that Providence places their best happiness within their own reach.”
London: Printed by W. Clowes, Stamford-street.
HILL AND THE VALLEY.